The Nicaraguan presidential elections were held on November 7th, 2021. There were seven ballot options for the North and South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions: the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, Independent Liberal Party, Alliance for the Republic, Nicaraguan Christian Way, Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party, Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Aslatakanka Party (regional opposition party for the Carribean Coast), and the FSLN Front/Sandinista Alliance (led by Daniel Ortega). The voter turnout was about 65%, with 75% of those votes going to the Sandinista Coalition. These numbers have matched that of previous elections such as in 2016 the FSLN received 72% of the votes with a 68% voter turnout according to the Organization for American States (OAS) and in 2011 the Sandinistas received 62% of the votes according to the Carter Center. There were also more than two hundred foreign election observers from more than 27 countries and 67 of these people were also journalists.
However, despite these signs of a normal functioning democracy, American and European media have decried these elections as unfair and Ortega a dictator. They allege that Ortega has imprisoned opposition candidates and banned foreign observers. It’s true that Ortega is running for his fourth term. However, it’s also important to remember that term limits aren’t very common outside the United States. Even then, the cap on term limits only became established in the United States after 1951 with the passage of the 22nd Amendment. Franklin Roosevelt won the presidency four times, yet no one would call him a dictator, in fact he is one of America’s most beloved presidents. Angela Merkel, in Germany, also served for more than fifteen years as Chancellor of Germany, yet no one is calling Germany a dictatorship. Ortega maintains a strong base of support among the Nicaraguan people, this is a fact recognized by the Carter Center and M&R Consultores (an apolitical polling group in Nicaragua).
Ortega and the Sandinistas were vital in overthrowing the US backed Somoza government, who after murdering Augusto César Sandino, a general who organized a rebellion of workers and peasants against the occupation by the U.S Marines, installed Anastasio Somoza and his family as puppets. The Sandinistas made Nicaragua into one of the safest countries in Central America and one of the most gender equal countries in the world. They uplifted millions of people from poverty and redistributed land from the landowners to the peasants. They are also one of the most food sovereign countries in the world with 80% of their food being produced within their own borders. Another fascinating fact is that 51% of property titles in Nicaragua were given to women, according to the World Bank.
This is a number that’s far greater than in Panama where women only own 34% of the property. Nicaragua also doesn’t suffer from the same amount of gang violence as its neighbors in El Salvador or Honduras. Its homicide rates are also the lowest out of all Latin American and Central American countries: 3.5 out of 100,000 inhabitants are killed by homicide in Nicaragua, compared to 37.6 inhabitants out of 100,000 in Honduras. The re-election of Daniel Ortega is a rejection of US imposed neoliberalism. The people of Nicaragua are not blind or stupid. They can see what neoliberalism has done to their neighbor Honduras, where gang violence, homicide, and most egregiously femicide are rampant. There is a reason why people support the Sandinistas and it’s not because they are brainwashed.
In addition, the notion that “opposition candidates” were arrested is very easily contradicted by the fact that there were up to seven ballot options and that Ortega’s name was not even the first to appear on the ballot. The first person to appear on the ballot was the leading opposition candidate Walter Espinoza Fernàndez, from the Constitutionalist Liberal Party. However, the majority of western sources claim that Ortega has arrested and silenced opposition candidates.
This is patently untrue when according to observers who were actually in Nicaragua during the elections one could find flyers and posters for the opposition everywhere. It’s also worth noting that the most popular TV channel in Nicaragua (Channel 10) isn’t owned by the government or the Ortega family but by a Mexican businessman called Ángel González. The vast majority aren’t in the hands of the government, instead they are in the hands of businessmen and entrepreneurs. TV stations in Nicaragua broadcast a variety of opinions both anti and pro-government.
While it is true that Dora María Téllez and Cristiana Chamorro and both did oppose the Ortega government, it’s also worth pointing out that they were found guilty of a variety of crimes that would have gotten them arrested in the United States or anywhere else in the world. Téllez conspired with the United States and played a part in the bloody 2018 coup, where hundreds of Nicaraguans were killed and Sandinistas were hunted down by right wing militias. If such an act occurred in the United States, Téllez would have been promptly imprisoned for treason if not worse. Chamorro, head of the Chamorro foundation and a descendant of the old colonial elites, received millions of dollars from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
The Chamorro foundation has in turn sponsored tabloids and newspapers that call for the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government and the Nicaraguan government also found inconsistencies with the amount of money they reported compared to the amount that they received. The Chamorro family, nonetheless, has repeatedly rejected investigations from the Nicaraguan government. Money laundering, tax evasion, advocating for the overthrow of the government, and use of foreign funds in elections are all illegal in the United States. However, when an independent country that rejects neoliberalism or American imperialism tries to enforce these very same laws it gets labeled as authoritarian and is punished with sanctions, just look at Iran, Venezuela, Chile in the early 1970s, Iraq, and Syria.
The RENACER Act was passed on November 3rd, four days before the elections. The RENACER Act calls for heightened sanctions on Nicaragua and restricts lending international financial institutions from lending money to the country. This comes despite the fact that Nicaragua is still a very poor country and that despite claiming these sanctions are only targeted towards the Ortega family and high ranking government officials, history has shown that “targeted sanctions” rarely harm the targets, instead it’s the people that suffer the most.
However, despite the various obstacles that has been thrown at them, Nicaragua, led by the Sandinistas, is no less deterred from continuing the legacy of General Augustino César Sandino in kicking out the American occupiers, whether that be in the form of US Marines stationed off the Coast of Honduras, puppet governments in the form of Somoza, right wing paramilitaries in the form of the Contras, or the use of astroturfed candidates and political movements to overturn the Sandinista Revolution. These elections have shown not only that the Sandinistas are overwhelmingly popular but that there is an alternative to neoliberalism.
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.
How the Build Back Better Bill Will Help Millions of Americans With Hearing Impairments Lead Better Lives. By: Tom ConwayRead Now
Growing up, Tom Hay helped to raise hogs and crops on the family farm, never thinking to protect his ears from the din of tractors, combines and other machinery.
And while his United Steelworkers (USW) contract provided safety controls and protective measures during his decades at Titan Tire, he wasn’t surprised when hearing tests revealed his ears aren’t as sharp as they used to be.
Right now, Congress is on the cusp of helping millions of Americans like Hay live better lives. In addition to enhancing access to prekindergarten and battling climate change, among many other overdue improvements, the Build Back Better legislation would expand Medicare to cover hearing aids and other auditory care for the first time.
Hay knows that just like a strong heart and powerful lungs, robust hearing is essential for seniors’ health, safety and fulfillment.
They need to hear honking horns warning them that they’ve stepped into oncoming traffic. They need to hear the sirens of police cars and ambulances that zoom up behind them in traffic. And they need to hear the alarms alerting them to fires, intruders and other dangers at home.
Yet even though about half of Americans 60 and older struggle with hearing loss—and even though voters overwhelmingly support Medicare coverage for auditory services—the nation has long relegated hearing care to the back burner.
As a result, many seniors delay getting hearing aids or forgo them altogether because of the expense, which can run to thousands of dollars. Numerous retirees shared these sorts of stories with Hay while he served as president of USW Local 164, the union representing workers at Titan Tire in Des Moines, Iowa.
“They go get a hearing test and realize they can’t hear anything,” Hay recalled. “Then, when they find out what it’s going to cost, it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t know where the money is going to come from.’ They about fall over.”
Today’s hearing aids provide more help than ever before, and that’s all the more reason to get them to those in need.
They’re compact and highly sophisticated, delivering superior sound quality along with Bluetooth capability that connects users with their electronic devices. Vendors even offer remote support.
The demand for hearing tests and assistive devices is so great that some chapters of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), including Chapter 31-9 in Southeast Chicago, negotiate special rates with local providers.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” said Bill Alexander, the chapter president. “You don’t even know when people are telling you they love you, if you can’t hear.”
While he’s pleased to be able to make these services more readily available to SOAR members, Alexander believes all seniors, wherever they live, need access to affordable, high-quality hearing care.
Because Medicare covers other essential health needs during retirement, Alexander explained, it only makes sense for the program to cover hearing care as well. He’s eager for Congress to heed Americans’ call and complete work on the Build Back Better legislation, already passed by the House.
“If Medicare will give us a blood pressure monitor, why can’t it give us a hearing aid?” asked Alexander, who retired from Acme Steel and Iron and predicts that he’ll need hearing aids one day. “It’s just as important. I know high blood pressure is a silent killer. But I don’t know what life would be like not being able to hear.”
People with hearing loss are more likely to experience depression, loneliness and isolation. They’re also at increased risk of dementia and falls.
And untreated hearing loss is also a potential barrier to care in medical facilities, especially in conjunction with COVID-19 mask protocols that make one-on-one communication in hospitals and similar settings more difficult. Caregivers can have difficulty assessing and treating patients who are hard of hearing, and impairments rob seniors of the right to actively participate in their care.
“There’s a lot of times they don’t hear you, and they don’t respond,” Chris Sova, a licensed practical nurse, said of some of the patients at Bay County Medical Care Center in Essexville, Michigan. “There’s just that breakdown.”
Sova hopes that expanding Medicare to cover seniors’ auditory care will spark a broader, nationwide conversation about hearing health.
“It’s not just about the elderly,” explained Sova, president of USW Local 15301, which represents workers at the Bay County facility. “Hearing loss doesn’t magically happen in old age. It gradually occurs over years and years. It’s something that could be prevented.”
By “opening the door” through Medicare, he continued, “maybe we can get more preventive care as well.”
Hay, who retired at the beginning of November, knows that Medicare expansion would have a real impact on his retirement.
As his hearing continues to decline, he wants to be able to follow the chatter at his grandchildren’s sporting events and enjoy their school concerts and other activities. He’s earned that after a lifetime of hard work.
“If I had to ask somebody what they said all the time, it would be kind of embarrassing,” he explained. “You get to the point where you’re not going to ask and just pretend you know what is going on.”
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
After a Year of Struggle by Farmers, Indian Government Forced to Withdraw Farm Laws. By: Orinoco EditorsRead Now
Featured image: Cpimlliberation / Twitter
Editorial Note: Since the three Farm Laws were already passed in the Parliament (by unconstitutional means) and signed by the president of India, they can only be withdrawn by the Parliament, that is, the government has to bring another bill stating that the laws are being withdrawn, the MPs will vote on it, then the resolution is to be sent to the president. Long process.
Movements across India celebrated the struggle by the farmers during which they faced great repression and vilification. Around 750 people are believed to have died during the agitation which saw thousands camp on the borders of Delhi
After fighting for almost a year, farmers in India finally won a victory against the three farms laws enacted by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government last year. Prime minister Narendra Modi announced on Friday, November 19, that the three laws would be repealed and all legal processes related to the matter will be completed during the upcoming session of parliament.
The news of the announcement led to celebrations all across the country. People hailed the victory of the farmers’ movement and took to the streets and social media to express their joy, while recalling the sacrifices made by the farmers in their year-long agitation. Several called it a victory against the arrogance of power.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), which is spearheading the farmers’ movement, issued a brief statement welcoming the prime minister’s announcement. However, it also reiterated that some of its crucial demands are yet to be met and the fate of the ongoing agitation will only be decided after a detailed review later.
The full statement of the SKM can be found here.
Welcoming the announcement, Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), saluted the farmers and their brave struggle against the three farm laws. He called the over 750 farmers who had died during the agitation “our martyrs.”
Yechury also demanded that the prime minister apologize to the farmers for causing “hardships and troubles by his dictatorial step of farm law to benefit his crony business partners,” and fulfill the other demands of the farmers.
The All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) also hailed the announcement of the withdrawal of the three laws calling it a victory for the peasants and the patriotic people of India.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress, the main opposition party, congratulated the farmers in a tweet for defeating the government’s arrogance with their struggle for truth.
Welcoming the announcement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation tweeted that farmers will not leave the protest sites until all the formalities of the withdrawal are complete and other demands of the farmers are fulfilled.
Reacting to the farmers’ victory, author and columnist Vijay Prashad wrote on Facebook, “first time in seven years the Man with the Saffron Beard had to admit defeat. Modi repealed the farm laws, not because he saw the light of their hideousness but because the farmers & the working-class would not budge.
Reacting to the prime minister’s statement, Hannan Mollah, secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), called it a partial victory as some of the crucial demands of the farmers have not been met yet.
After failing for months to persuade the government to withdraw the three farm laws, the SKM, a platform of more than 500 farmers’ unions from across India including the left-oriented AIKS, began its indefinite sit-in at all major border crossings to national capital Delhi on November 26 last year. The SKM argued that the three farm laws enacted promoted corporate interests at the cost of the farmers, and would eventually lead to the destruction of the farm sector in the country by endangering the livelihoods of millions and enabling the corporate takeover of agriculture.
The SKM had also demanded the enactment of a law on minimum support prices (MSP) and the withdrawal of the electricity amendment bill. MSP is a set of basic prices declared by the government in India based on which it procures certain farm products. Though it is expected that the market price of farm produce will not fall below the MSP, it is hardly the case and most of the time, farmers are forced to sell their produce at prices less than the MSP or less than the basic cost of production.
The electricity amendment bill provides for private players in electricity distribution, which farmers think will lead to a rise in the price of electricity and the overall cost of production due to the withdrawal of government subsidies.
Following the protests at the Delhi border, India’s Supreme Court had suspended the laws for a year and formed a three-member committee to examine them. The farmers rejected the Supreme Court’s intervention and called the committee biased in favor of the government and the laws. Following this rejection by the farmers, some members of the court-appointed committee withdrew from it. However, proving the farmer’s apprehensions correct, on Friday, one of the members of the committee, Anil Ghanwat, called the prime minister’s announcement “the most regressive step” and accused him of choosing “politics over farmers’ betterment,” Press Trust of India reported.
The SKM took out numerous protest actions through their year-long movement, including the march of tractors on the occasion of Republic Day in January. The farmers also faced numerous oppressive measures from the state, the arrest of several leaders on false charges, and a vilification campaign targeting the agitating farmers as terrorists and accusing them of destabilizing the country.
The BJP has maintained that the three farm laws were in the interest of the farmers and will benefit agriculture in India. In October, the son of one of the ministers in the BJP government was accused of ramming his car into five farmers protesting the farm laws in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district. The SKM has asked for the sacking of the minister, Ajay Kumar Mishra, from the union government and punishment for all the culprits of the heinous crime.
This article was produced by Orinoco Tribune.
Featured image: A voter in Caracas. (Photo: Federico Parra/ AFP)
These elections should put the Biden administration on notice that continuing to support the MUD, and in particular, the fiction of Guaidó as “interim president,” is a failed policy.
For the first time in four years, every major opposition party in Venezuela participated in elections. For the fifth time in four years, the left won in a landslide. Voters elected 23 governors, 335 mayors, 253 state legislators and 2,471 municipal councilors. The governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won at least 19 of 23 governorships (one race remains too close to call) and the Caracas mayoralty in the November 21 “mega-elections.” Of the 335 mayoral races, the vote count has been completed in 322 of them, with PSUV and its coalition taking 205, opposition coalitions 96 and other parties 21. Over 70,000 candidates ran for these 3,082 offices, and 90% of the vote was counted and verified within hours of polls closing. Turnout was 42.2%, eleven points higher than last year’s parliamentary elections.
Here’s why chavismo, the movement behind the Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, won:
1. Good governance in health, housing and food. Venezuela’s health policies in response to Covid-19 have been exemplary. The expectation in the U.S. was that the coronavirus would overwhelm Venezuela’s healthcare system, which has been devastated by years of sanctions. And yet, per million population, Venezuela registered 15,000 cases and 180 deaths. For the sake of comparison, the figures in the U.S. are 146,000 cases/million and 2,378 deaths/million, Brazil’s are 103,000 and 2854, and Colombia’s are 98,000 and 2,481. Unlike images we saw in Ecuador or Bolivia, there were no bodies of victims left on the streets, nor were there overflowing morgues like in New York.
In terms of housing, the Venezuelan government has built 3.7 million homes for working class families over the past ten years, the majority of which were built and delivered by the Maduro administration while under sanctions.
As deadly as the sanctions have been, things would be significantly worse were it not for Venezuela’s most important social program in the past five years: the CLAPs. These consist of boxes of food and other necessities, some of which are produced locally, which are packaged and distributed by communities themselves. Seven million Venezuelans families receive CLAP boxes every month, out of a country of 30 million people. Not only has this program been instrumental in keeping people fed, it has invigorated the base of chavismo and reconnected the government with grassroots after the PSUV’s defeat in the 2015 legislative elections.
2. The economic situation is improving. According to an August 2021 survey by opposition pollster Datanálisis, 50% of Venezuelans consider that their lives have improved compared to the previous year or two. Despite sanctions that have caused a 99% drop in government income, the Venezuelan economy is stabilizing. Inflation is down to single digits for the first time in four years. Credit Suisse projected 5.5% growth in 2021 and 4.5% growth in 2022. Oil production hit an 18-month high in October, helped by a trade deal with Iran.
3. The left is united (mostly). The PSUV didn’t win the elections alone, they were united with 8 other left parties in a coalition known as the GPP (Great Patriotic Pole). The PSUV itself held internal primaries in August, the only party to do so. Over half the GPP candidates were women, 52%, while another 43% were youth. Overall, 90% of the candidates hadn’t held office before, suggesting a renewal of the party from the grassroots. However, this marked the second election in a row in which the left wasn’t completely united. A coalition that included Venezuela’s Communist Party ran its own ticket. These parties got less than 3% of the vote in the 2020 parliamentary elections and their decision to run separately appears to have had no impact on the gubernatorial races.
4. The opposition is divided. Never known for their unity, the Venezuelan opposition suffered a major split as a result of some parties opting for boycotting elections and attempting to overthrow the government, while others preferred a democratic path. Despite all the major parties participating in these elections, the opposition was split into two main coalitions, the MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable) and the Democratic Alliance. The vast majority of the 70,000 candidates are in the opposition and they were running candidates against each other in almost every race. Of the 23 gubernatorial races, six were won by PSUV candidates with less than 50% of the vote and by less than six points – more unity between the MUD and Democratic Alliance could have made the difference.
A count of the votes in the gubernatorial and Caracas mayoral races show the PSUV coalition taking 46% of the total vote, with the rest split between the various oppositions. A united opposition could win in Venezuela, but “united opposition” is an oxymoron.
5. The opposition is deeply unpopular. While much is made about the alleged lack of support for President Maduro (the millions of votes his party got will never be acknowledged by the U.S.), it’s less known that the opposition is deeply unpopular. Here are the disapproval ratings for some of the opposition’s key figures: Juan Guaidó, 83% disapproval; Julio Borges (Guaidó’s “Foreign Minister), 81%; Leopoldo López (Guaidó’s mentor and mastermind of coup attempts), 80%; Henry Ramos Allup (longtime opposition leader), 79%; Henrique Capriles (2012 & 2013 presidential election loser), 77%; and Henri Falcón (2018 presidential election loser), 66%. All of these but Falcón are part of the MUD.
The MUD coalition spent years claiming they represented a majority, a claim which couldn’t be verified by their strategy of electoral boycotts. However, their return to the electoral process only marked a ten point increase in voter turnout compared to 2020. Moreover, the MUD placed below other opposition parties in 9 of 23 states and in Caracas. The MUD only won one of the three governorships taken by the opposition. This might be due in part to widespread rejection of U.S. sanctions. The MUD has repeatedly endorsed deadly sanctions despite the fact that 76% of Venezuelans reject them.
The MUD enjoys the political, financial and logistical support of the United States and the EU, while members of other opposition parties have been denounced and sanctioned by the U.S. for negotiating with the Maduro administration. These elections should put the Biden administration on notice that continuing to support the MUD, and in particular, the fiction of Guaidó as “interim president”, is a failed policy.
This article was produced by Orinoco Tribune.
Why an Army of Union Workers and Other Activists Coalesced Around America’s Infrastructure Bill. By: Tom ConwayRead Now
Donneta Williams and her coworkers at the Corning plant in Wilmington, North Carolina, hail from different backgrounds and hold diverse views.
But just as they team up on the production floor to make top-quality products powering the internet, they banded together to push for a long-overdue infrastructure program that’s destined to lift up their community and countless others across America.
They didn’t fight alone. Williams and her colleagues were among a veritable army of Steelworkers and other activists from all over America whose unstinting advocacy helped to propel a historic infrastructure package through Congress and into the Oval Office.
Their rallies, letters, phone calls, tweets and visits to congressional offices provided the heft behind the bipartisan legislation that cleared the House during the first week of November, just as their steely resolve helped to deliver the Senate’s vote in August.
“It unified us,” Williams, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1025, said of the bill, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on November 15 and which will invest billions in roads, bridges, seaports, locks and dams, manufacturing facilities, energy systems and communications networks.
“Everyone benefits,” she said, noting the infrastructure program will create and sustain millions of union manufacturing and construction jobs while modernizing the nation and revitalizing its manufacturing base. “It’s not about one particular party or one particular person. It’s about the nation as a whole and our future and what can be accomplished when everybody works together.”
Williams and her colleagues make optical fiber, the backbone of broadband networks, a product as fine as thread that carries voice, data and video over the information superhighway at tremendous speed. Across the nation, however, the availability of high-speed broadband remains grossly uneven, and even some of Williams’ coworkers can’t access it for their own families.
That absurdity inflamed Local 1025’s support for an infrastructure program that will deliver affordable, high-quality internet to every American’s door while also bringing urgently needed repairs to school buildings, expanding the clean economy and upgrading crumbling, congested roads in Wilmington and other cities.
Williams and her coworkers sent their representatives and senators hundreds of postcards and emails championing the infrastructure legislation. And when the USW’s multi-city “We Supply America” bus tour rolled into Wilmington in August to promote the bill, many of Williams’ coworkers donned blue-and-yellow T-shirts and turned out for a rally to show they were all in.
“They were the wind behind everything,” Williams said of the Local 1025 members, who clapped and cheered when it was her turn to speak.
Miners on Minnesota’s Iron Range also pulled out all the stops to press for the legislation, knowing it will support family-sustaining union jobs for generations to come by increasing demand for the materials and components needed to rebuild transportation networks, upgrade drinking water systems and tackle other improvement projects.
“This is something that we needed. We still have pipes in this country that are made of wood. That’s crazy,” said Cliff Tobey, the benefits and joint efforts coordinator for USW Locals 2660 and 1938, who wrote postcards, dropped in to congressional offices and even penned a column on the bill for the local newspaper.
But he didn’t stop there. Just a couple of days after the bill passed the House, Tobey was part of a USW delegation making one more visit to local congressional offices to ensure the package contained exactly what America’s workers expected.
“I think we understand what infrastructure means,” Tobey said, stressing the legislation’s importance for workers across a giant swath of industries. “It’s not just steel. It’s paper. It’s rubber. It’s glass. They’ll all gain from this.”
His own advocacy was driven partly by the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis, a tragedy that sent cars and trucks, commercial vehicles and a school bus plummeting more than 100 feet. The collapse killed 13 and injured dozens of other motorists during their evening commute.
Investigators eventually attributed the collapse to a design flaw. But the span, which carried 144,000 vehicles a day, had been previously classified as “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical” because of maintenance issues.
There was no reason for that kind of neglect, Tobey said, noting how long America’s skilled workers have wanted to overhaul the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Now, they’ll get that chance.
“It shows that when Steelworkers put their minds to something, they fight, and they keep fighting until they get it done,” Tobey observed.
The new infrastructure legislation will stimulate manufacturing and job growth all along supply chains.
That’s because construction projects require not just steel, aluminum, glass and other raw materials but paint, insulation, roofing products and electronic equipment, among many other items. Builders also need trucks to transport materials and heavy equipment for use at job sites.
“They’re going to be buying Bobcats,” said William Wilkinson, president of USW Local 560 in Gwinner, North Dakota, noting the Steelworkers fought to include domestic procurement requirements in the infrastructure bill, ensuring the nation rebuilds with highly skilled union workers.
Wilkinson represents hundreds of workers who make excavators, skid loaders, utility vehicles and various attachments. And when the infrastructure program increases demand for those products, many other businesses, like Bobcat’s suppliers and local stores, will also benefit.
“Everyone supported it,” Wilkinson said of the infrastructure bill.
After the many months they spent advocating for the legislation, USW members want nothing more than to get to work rebuilding America.
“It’s dear to our hearts,” Williams said of the historic opportunity she and her members helped to create. “It makes you feel good knowing you did your part.”
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
After two months of non-stop protests and two weeks of hunger strikes, drivers under the banner of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance reached an agreement with city authorities and the largest medallion loan holder.
After a prolonged struggle, drivers with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) won their fight for a fair debt relief plan on Thursday, November 4. The victory came after drivers protested outside the City Hall for 46 days and nights, with some of them going on a hunger strike for over two weeks. Chanting “No more suicides!” the drivers rejoiced after the announcement that a plan had been negotiated with mayor Bill de Blasio, senator Chuck Schumer and Marblegate Asset Management, the city’s largest medallion loan holder. Drowning in debt, nine drivers have committed suicide since the price of the medallion crashed in 2014.
“After a long and painful journey, we made it home to victory,” exclaimed Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the NYTWA. “Today marks a new dawn, a new beginning for a workforce that has struggled through so much crisis and loss. Today, we can say owner-drivers have won real debt relief and can begin to get their lives back. Drivers will no longer be at risk of losing their homes, and no longer be held captive to debt beyond their lifetime.”
The workers who drive New York’s famous yellow cabs fell victim to a debt crisis manufactured by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission and predatory lenders financed by Wall Street.
Drivers have an average loan balance of USD 550,000. Over 900 have filed for bankruptcy since the price of the medallion was artificially inflated to an all-time high of USD 1 million in 2014 before falling dramatically.
The NYTWA proposed a plan to reduce and restructure this debt so that workers can pay it off while still making a liveable wage. Under the agreement, Marblegate will restructure loans to a maximum of USD 200,000, and with a USD 30,000 grant from the city, the highest loans will be reduced to USD 170,000. The interest rate will be capped at 5% over a 20-year term, equaling monthly payments of USD 1,122.
The deal will work alongside the city’s federally-funded USD 65 million Medallion Relief Program, which went into effect on October 30 and has provided USD 21.4 million in debt relief for 173 medallion owners so far.
Victor Salazaar, a worker who has been driving yellow cabs in the city for almost three decades, said, “We can live with some respect and dignity. This victory will mean a lot of dignity for families who have been ignored for far too long.”
This article was produced by Peoples Dispatch.
Sean O’Brien (right), leader of New England Joint Council 10, campaigned at plant gates. O'Brien and the Teamsters United slate have clinched a victory. It’s the first time in almost a quarter-century that a coalition backed by Teamsters for a Democratic Union has taken the driver’s seat in the international union.
This article was updated November 19 to reflect the final election results.
A new administration will soon take the helm of the 1.3 million-member Teamsters union. The Teamsters United slate swept to victory in this week's vote count, beating out their rivals 2 to 1.
It’s the first time in almost a quarter-century that a coalition backed by Teamsters for a Democratic Union has taken the driver’s seat in the international union.
The incoming president is Sean O’Brien, leader of New England Joint Council 10. He says his top priorities are to unite the rank and file to take on employers, organize Amazon and other competitors in the union’s core industries, and withdraw support from politicians who don’t deliver on union demands.
Essential to organizing at Amazon or anyplace else, O’Brien argues, is winning enviable contracts for the existing Teamsters. “Our biggest selling point to potential members is showing in black and white what a union contract can do,” he said. “We’ve got to have a grassroots campaign to engage our members working in similar industries and showcase what Teamsters can do—and that means negotiating strong contracts that people want to be part of.”
In UPS negotiations in 2023, he says, the union must abolish the second tier of drivers, raise the starting pay of part-timers from $14 an hour to $20, and crack down on subcontracting and Uber-like deliveries by “personal vehicle drivers.” He and his running mates have pledged to strike UPS if necessary.
Five years ago, O’Brien won an Eastern region vice president spot on the incumbent slate of longtime President James P. Hoffa, who is retiring this year. But in 2017, Hoffa fired him as package division director after O’Brien insisted the UPS bargaining team should include opposition leader Fred Zuckerman, president of Local 89 in Louisville, who had led the 2016 Teamsters United ticket that nearly toppled Hoffa. Now Zuckerman will take the number two seat as secretary-treasurer.
Teamsters United has won a controlling majority on the union’s 27-seat international executive board.
WAVE OF FURY
NOW THE HARD PART
It took years of organizing to get here. But the bigger task is what comes next—not just pointing to the problems confronting the union, but tackling them.
“We have to right the ship,” said John Palmer, a current Southern region vice president who will become an at-large vice president. (In 2016 Teamsters United won in two regions, giving the coalition six seats on the union’s executive board.) “It takes many, many miles to turn a battleship around in the middle of the ocean, and that’s what we have to do here.”
“If you want change, you have to change,” said Local 572 steward Frank Halstead, a Los Angeles grocery warehouse worker and TDU steering committee member. “The structure determines effectiveness. They’re going to have to reallocate money.”
For instance, rather than continue padding officers’ salaries with multiple titles, he wants the union to hire energetic full-time division representatives who can help locals in the same industry build a strategy to coordinate their bargaining, raise standards, and fight threats like automation.
“Under the current administration there are no full-time warehouse division reps,” Halstead said. “You have officials from certain locals who hold that title, but they can’t do two jobs; you can’t be a business agent at a local and a division rep. That’s the kind of stuff that has to stop.”
The organizing department needs restructuring too, said Palmer, who worked there for years. “We waste a tremendous amount of money flying organizers around the country,” he said. “That time and resources could allow us to train people out of locals to do this. We need to have that skill on the ground everywhere; we don’t need a lot of specialists airdropped from D.C. who disappear the minute a campaign is over.”
UPS STRIKE IN 2023?
August 2023, when the UPS contract expires, isn’t as far away as it might sound. “A contract campaign basically needs to start on day one,” said Chicago Campaign Coordinator Dave Bernt, another TDU steering committee member. “We need to have a national coordinated contract campaign to get members engaged, to use their engagement as leverage in negotiations.”
Making the strike threat more than a bluff starts with “basic communication,” Bernt said. He means headquarters should use methods like texting and social media to inform the 320,000 UPS Teamsters of the timeline and what’s at stake. But he also means member-to-member: “Just as we campaigned for office, we need to have members go out to their gates and engage their membership, talk about the issues and talk about how to prepare for negotiations. Start socking away money; don’t make any major purchases.”
Braswell agrees: It’s time to encourage members to put away $20 or $50 each pay period, and to make the word “strike” more familiar, less scary. (The union also has a strike fund of more than $300 million that hasn’t been used in decades, O’Brien says—and he plans to put it to use.)
“UPS, they’ve had a free ride for the past 23 years,” Braswell said. “They didn’t have to take us seriously when we came to the negotiations table. That’s going to change.”
NOT JUST AMAZON
Organizing Amazon will be a “massive long-term task,” Palmer said. “It’s going to require the help of religious groups, community groups, environmental groups, and other unions. We have to have a really deep, well-thought-out strategy.”
But other targets are in closer reach: industries and companies where the Teamsters already represents part of the workforce, and could gain leverage by organizing more.
“In the waste industry we have New York, Chicago, L.A. with relatively high density,” Bernt said, “but we have whole areas particularly in the South where we represent hardly any waste workers, [even though these are] companies we already have contracts with.”
Grocery warehouses are another example. The Teamsters represent some Costcos and some Krogers. “Why not all?” Halstead said. “With those numbers comes increased strength, increased resources. Then you can start to think about going after the Amazons and these giants.”
TDU: HERE TO STAY
What happens to an opposition group like TDU when it’s in coalition with the leadership?
“It’s a lot less complicated than people think,” Bernt said. “Our strategy, I think, will continue to be the same. Our goals are to build union power through engaging the rank and file in fights against the bosses. That’s been our goal when we were in the opposition, and that’ll continue to be our goal as we’re part of a coalition that’s running the union.”
TDU leaders argue the union needs more leaders coming up from below. It’s TDU’s mission to encourage and train them.
O’Brien said the campaign had proven the value of the coalition behind it. “I love the relationship, and I’ve committed we are going to work hand in hand moving forward,” he said. “TDU, Teamsters United, and all Teamsters are going to play a significant role in policy-making in the International. I always told people—I grew up Irish Catholic, and there were always disagreements around that dinner table. But reasonable people will find reasonable solutions for reasonable problems.”
“I’m just excited,” Braswell said before the vote count began. “I’m at the end of my career here. When I first came in, they taught us, ‘When you leave here, you need to leave it in better shape than what you found it.’ It was always my fear because of Hoffa I was going to leave my union and it was going to be a total mess. But I see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“In my small way I contributed to it. I did my part. I left my union in a better place.”
Jonah Furman contributed reporting to this article.
This article was produced by Labor Notes.
Two major gains took place at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Scotland, which concluded on November 13: the first was that there would be another COP in 2022 in Egypt, and the second was that the world leaders expressed their aspiration to keep global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius alive. These were, however, the only gains made at the end of COP26 to address the pressing issue of climate change.
After more than two weeks of intense discussions—and many evenings of corporate-funded cocktail parties—the most powerful countries in the world left the convention center pleased not to have altered the status quo.
The focus of the discussions and negotiations by world leaders during COP26 seemed to be on the change of a word in the Glasgow Climate Pact, the final document that will be adopted by nearly 200 nations. Initially, the countries had begun to agree to the “phase-out” of coal; the final version of the document, however, merely said that the countries would “phase down” coal. During the last hours of the COP26 summit on November 13, Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga took the microphone and expressed her “profound disappointment” with the change. “The language we had agreed on coal and fossil fuel subsidies has been further watered down as a result of an untransparent process,” she said.
Sommaruga is correct. The process has been “untransparent.” Only a handful of world leaders—from the most powerful countries—had the opportunity to put pen to paper on this pact; the majority of world leaders only saw a draft of the Glasgow Climate Pact and were then provided the final document. Civil society associations were barely allowed to enter the hall, let alone to have the opportunity to sit with the pact and give their input on it. As President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen put it bluntly, “never before has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few.” Why this “responsibility” was, however, entrusted to the “hands of so few” goes unremarked in her speech.
Words and Meanings
During the COP26, thousands of documents appeared on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, which included reports, statements and proposals relating to COP26. It would take an army of lawyers to scour through the text of these documents and make sense of them. Most of them are submissions made by a range of governments, corporations and corporate-funded platforms as well as civil society organizations.
It was clear from the first day of COP26 that the focus of achieving “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050 was going to be on coal and not on all fossil fuels. Right through the negotiations, this was the fault line, with the Western countries—which are largely non-coal reliant—putting the emphasis on coal—which is used mainly in the Global South, with India and China in the lead. To make the COP26 about coal allowed fossil fuel use in general (including oil and natural gas) to receive a breather. While pressure mounted to cut subsidies for fossil fuels, the Global North was able to gather consensus that only “inefficient” subsidies would be cut with no timetable provided for these cuts. Sommaruga, who spoke so forcefully against the phrase “phase down” when it came to coal, said nothing regarding the allowance for “efficient” subsidies to underwrite fossil fuel use. It is far easier to blame India and China for their reliance on coal than to agree to phase down all fossil fuels.
On November 15, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that China “attaches high importance to energy transition.” But he specified that there are some issues that need to be looked at before that. First, no energy transition can take place without awareness that “not everyone has access to electricity and energy supply is not adequate.” Cutting coal tomorrow will condemn billions of people to a life without electricity (about 1 billion people still have no electricity connection, with most of them living in the Global South). Second, Zhao said, “We encourage developed countries to take the lead in stopping using coal while providing ample funding, technological and capacity-building support for developing countries’ energy transition.” The developed countries had agreed to fund the Green Climate Fund to the tune of $100 billion per year by 2020, but the actual amounts disbursed have been far smaller. No agreement on finance was reached at the COP26. “We need concrete actions,” said Zhao, “more than slogans.”
Glasgow’s COP26 was filled with corporate executives. They swarmed the hotels and the restaurants, holding private meetings with government leaders and with Prince Charles. The International Chamber of Commerce told governments to “wake up,” while the U.S. Business Roundtable said that “the private sector cannot shoulder the burden alone.” The implication here is that the corporations are on the right side of the climate discussion, while the governments are being hesitant. But this is partly the work of the spin doctors. Most corporations that have made “net-zero” pledges have done so in a nonbinding way and without a timetable. At the conclusion of the conference, it seemed that neither the powerful governments nor their corporations were willing to tie their hands to a real agreement to mitigate the climate crisis.
Just some blocks down from the grand halls of the official summit, people’s movements, Indigenous organizations, trade unions, youth groups, migrant groups, environmentalist organizations, and many more met as part of the People’s Summit for Climate Justice from November 7 to November 10. Their message was simple: corporations and their pliant governments would not do the job, so people need to find a way to set the agenda “for system change.” The more than 200 events organized as part of the People’s Summit addressed a range of topics from the role of militarism in emissions, to building a global Green New Deal, and even holding a People’s Tribunal to put the ineffective UNFCCC on trial.
Emotions at the People’s Summit oscillated from excitement over being together in the streets after nearly two years of confinement due to COVID-19, to dread at the imminent disappearance of the low-lying island states. Participants from Tuvalu and Barbados talked about the impact of the inaction by the Global North as they see their islands disappear, their homes flood, and their present vanish. “Why are you asking us to compromise on our lives?” asked Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a climate activist from the Philippines and spokesperson for Fridays for Future.
The People’s Tribunal called for the disbanding of the UNFCCC and its reconstitution from the ground up as a Climate Forum that does not allow the polluters to make the decisions. This newly constituted Climate Forum would demand meaningful financing for a green transition as well as an end to the plunder of natural resources and to wars of aggression.
Asad Rehman of War on Want spoke to the presidency of COP26 with words that resonated far from Glasgow: “The rich have refused to do their fair share, more empty words on climate finance. You have turned your backs on the poorest who face a crisis of COVID, economic and climate apartheid because of the actions of the richest. It is immoral for the rich to talk about the future of their children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.”
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
The Glasgow Climate Pact kicks the climate can down the road.
After more than two weeks of negotiations during the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, diplomats from almost 200 nations finally agreed on two major points: ramp up the fight against climate change and help at-risk countries prepare. Specifically, governments agreed to meet again next in 2022 with more robust plans to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent by 2030, significantly reduce emissions of methane (which has even more global warming potential than CO2), and nearly double the aid to poor countries to help them mitigate the effects of climate change. Notably, nations agreed to initiate reductions in coal-fired power and to begin slashing government subsidies on other fossil fuels, representing the first time a COP text mentioned coal and fossil fuels.
Alok Sharma, COP26’s chief organizer, called the Glasgow Climate Pact “a fragile win.”
Acknowledging the deal is imperfect, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry registered his support. “You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and this is good. This is a powerful statement,” he said. “We in the United States are really excited by the fact that this raises ambition on a global basis.”
And while the agreement represents a step forward, it has been roundly criticized by scientists, climate activists and representatives from small, poorer nations who will feel the brunt of the climate impacts much sooner than big, richer ones.
Shauna Aminath, environment minister of the Maldives, denounced the final COP26 deal as “not in line with the urgency and scale required.” The Maldives has supported life and human civilization for millennia, but 80 percent of the archipelago of low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean is poised to be uninhabitable by 2050 due to rising sea levels caused by global warming. “What looks balanced and pragmatic to other parties will not help the Maldives adapt in time,” Aminath said. “It will be too late for the Maldives.”
“COP26 has closed the gap, but it has not solved the problem,” said Niklas Hoehne, a climate policy expert from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
Long before the annual climate chinwag, there was an air of futility about what has been described as our “last and best chance” at securing a livable environment for future generations. How could there not be? The leaders of more than 150 countries have been trying to lower humankind’s global warming emissions since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks started more than a quarter-century ago. And since the first summit was held in 1995, global emissions have, instead, skyrocketed.
The summit’s host, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson—who joined activists in invoking the mantra “keep 1.5 alive”—was unimpressed with his guests, saying during the G20 summit (held in Rome in the days leading up to COP26) that all the world leaders’ pledges without action were “starting to sound hollow” and criticizing their weak commitments as “drops in a rapidly warming ocean.”
Science has put a deadline on us. In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels—a limit decided by the Paris agreement—humankind must achieve “net-zero” emissions (i.e., whatever amount we emit into the atmosphere, we must also remove) by 2050. But that target seems highly unlikely. Big polluting nations like the United States, China and Russia not only continue to burn fossil fuels at an alarming rate but also continue to drill for more oil. China—the world’s biggest emitter, responsible for more than a quarter of humanity’s total emissions—and Russia have pushed their own net-zero targets to 2060. India has pushed it to 2070. That is kicking the climate can down the field, to be dealt with by future leaders. (A quick glance at a graphic created by the Economist showing the quick and steep drop in emissions that China must undergo to achieve its own target underscores the magnitude, and perhaps folly, of winning the war against the climate crisis.)
In the United States, a divided nation has ossified a gridlocked legislature that hasn’t passed many game-changing climate laws. Much environmental protection has been exercised through executive actions, such as regulations imposed by federal agencies, which can be simply overturned by the next administration. When a Democrat is in the White House, environmental protection is higher on the priority list. When a Republican is in the White House, it’s more about protecting polluters. The country lacks the necessary strong federal and state climate legislation to protect people and the environment from toxic, global-warming pollution, protect fenceline communities (which are often poor communities of color and Indigenous communities) and hold polluters to account.
One of the bright spots of the summit was a landmark $19 billion agreement between more than 100 nations—together responsible for about 85 percent of the world’s forests—to end deforestation by 2030. Healthy, intact forests are critical in the climate fight as they prevent around one-third of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
But in a press statement, Dan Zarin, the executive director of forests and climate change at Wildlife Conservation Society, said that the Glasgow Climate Pact “does not mean that the world has solved the climate crisis.” He pointed out that even if all the participating nations’ pledges to reduce emissions (known as “nationally determined contributions” or “NDCs”) were achieved, the world would not hit the 45 percent reduction needed by 2030 to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the Glasgow Climate Pact, countries only agreed to strengthen their NDCs by the end of 2022.
President Joe Biden, who attended the summit, hailed the forest agreement, which aims to restore almost 500 million acres of ecosystems, including forests, by 2030. “We’re going to work to ensure markets recognize the true economic value of natural carbon sinks and motivate governments, landowners and stakeholders to prioritize conservation,” said Biden, adding that the plan will “help the world deliver on our shared goal of halting natural forest loss.”
But activists were less enthused. The forest agreement “is one of those oft repeated attempts to make us believe that deforestation can be stopped and forest can be conserved by pushing billions of dollars into the land and territories of the Indigenous Peoples,” said Souparna Lahiri of the Global Forest Coalition, an international coalition of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations defending the rights of forest peoples.
“[R]eferences to the rights of Indigenous peoples are relatively weak” in the Glasgow text, said Jennifer Tauli Corpuz, a lawyer from the Igorot people in the Philippines and chief policy lead at Nia Tero, a nonprofit advocacy group for Indigenous peoples. Specifically, she said that “[w]e will have to watch closely the implementation of [COP26’s] new carbon scheme,” referring to the finalization of rules that will manage the creation of the international carbon market, and were part of the 2015 Paris climate accord.
In addition to the lack of Indigenous representation in the final text of the Glasgow Climate Pact, people from poorer island nations that are most susceptible to the impacts of sea level rise were also underrepresented at the talks, mainly due to COVID-19 restrictions. Just three out of 14 climate-vulnerable Pacific island states were able to send delegates to COP26, while the fossil fuel industry sent more than 500 delegates.
Ultimately, the climate pledges made by nations do not match the climate policies of those nations. And since the pledges are non-binding, there is no legal stimulus to ensure that actual policies line up with those pledges. “The NDCs are voluntary measures,” said Lakshman Guruswamy, an expert in international environmental law at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “There’s no way of implementing, imposing, or trying to enforce a non-binding agreement.”
No penalties, no legal ramifications, no climate court, no climate police. All people have is civil society. It’s up to us “regular people” to stand up, speak up and mobilize; to inspire care for the climate and the environment in young people; and to rethink and retool our own personal behaviors to be in line with the ultimate goals we have for the future. There can be no significant change without both the political will behind candidates who will fight against climate change and public pressure to hold elected officials to their word. What many engaged citizens in the U.S. don’t realize is that it’s not enough to participate only once every four years by voting in presidential elections. Real change happens when people take an active role in their local communities. It starts at home, with our families, our friends and our neighbors.
Make no mistake: Our personal decisions as consumers play a decisive role in the state of the global climate. “While large oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, we consumers are complicit,” writes Renee Cho, a staff writer for the Columbia Climate School. “We demand the products and energy made from the fossil fuels they provide. One scientist found that 90 percent of fossil fuel companies’ emissions are a result of the products made from fossil fuels.”
Sadly, according to a recent poll, even though a majority of people believe that climate change is a serious issue, few are actually willing to change their lifestyles to help save the environment. “Citizens are undeniably concerned by the state of the planet, but these findings raise doubts regarding their level of commitment to preserving it,” according to the survey of 10 countries, which included the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. “Rather than translating into a greater willingness to change their habits, citizens’ concerns are particularly focused on their negative assessment of governments’ efforts… The widespread awareness of the importance of the climate crisis illustrated in this study has yet to be coupled with a proportionate willingness to act.”
Even if consumers become more willing to adapt their behaviors to make them more climate-friendly, they are not necessarily knowledgeable as to how to make those changes. “[I]ndividual consumers are not capable of identifying the behavior changes that are really worth doing to help the climate,” writes John Thøgersen, an economic psychologist at Aarhus University, in the journal Behavioral Sciences.
Emmanuel Rivière, director of international polling at Kantar Public, which ran the 10-country survey to coincide with COP26, said the poll results contained “a double lesson for governments.”
First, they must “measure up to people’s expectations… [b]ut they also have to persuade people not of the reality of the climate crisis—that’s done—but of what the solutions are, and of how we can fairly share responsibility for them.”
Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy’s Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, CounterPunch, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Viewpoint: Beneath Striketober Fanfare, The Lower Frequencies of Class Struggle. By: Luis Feliz Leon & Maximillian AlvarezRead Now
Six months in, strikers continue to picket in a tough strike at United Metro Energy in Brooklyn. Photo: New York Teamsters
As the rich and comfortable stayed indoors and rode out the worst months of the pandemic on their Peloton bikes, workers around the country shifted into a different gear. Ten thousand farming equipment workers in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, and Georgia walked out of their jobs, joining 1,400 cereal workers at Kellogg’s plants in Nebraska, Michigan, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania, as well as 1,100 coal miners at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama and nurses in New York and Massachusetts. And thousands more are waiting in the wings—from workers in academia, to health care workers at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon, California, and Hawaii, to film and television workers in the entertainment industry who averted a strike after threatening to walk off the job and reached a tentative agreement, which will now be voted on.
That’s not all. New York City taxi drivers have idled their iconic mustard-yellow cars and camped outside City Hall for more than a month, holding a 24/7 protest vigil that escalated to a hunger strike last week. The hunger strike by members and supporters of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance is taking place before a fast-approaching quarterly budget modification deadline on Oct. 31. Before the deadline, if he so chooses, Mayor Bill de Blasio can add a loan guarantee to lower the monthly payments on the crushing debts that drivers have accrued (averaging half a million dollars per driver) as a result of predatory licensing schemes.
Whatever you want to call this marked uptick in worker militancy, one thing is clear: In general, and on an individual level, workers are more confident than they’ve been in a long time, and they are seizing the crisis in front of them to their advantage. Members of the vast “order-taking class” are deploying their newfound leverage to command better wages as employers struggle to fill vacancies in a tight labor market while the pandemic still rages across the nation. And it’s not just big, headline-grabbing strikes—the increasing boldness and assertiveness of workers is manifesting in other important ways.
“We are witnessing a unique opportunity for many workers who have been on the front lines of a global pandemic and recognize that employers are struggling to hire,” said Johnnie Kallas, project director of Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker, an online database that documents labor actions and strikes no matter their size.
“For example, we have documented six separate strikes by bus drivers—union and nonunion—since late September involving anywhere between 20 and 200 workers,” Kallas added. “Nearly all these strikes include demands related to higher pay. Health and safety concerns have also been voiced by striking workers.”
THE GREAT RESIGNATION
Meanwhile, in what some are calling the “Great Resignation” and others have described as an “unofficial general strike,” some 30 million U.S. workers have quit their jobs from January to August, a stunning collective rebuke—expressed on an individual level—to the common degradations of low-paying, demeaning jobs.
Stephanie Luce, professor of labor studies at the City University of New York, notes that strikes extend beyond formal strike authorizations called by unions. “We may be seeing a lot more work stoppages that are not formal strikes called by unions, or formal strikes in smaller workplaces, and informal work actions.”
“We should consider the range of workplace actions workers engage in to protest their conditions of work, from formal strikes to work slowdowns, sick-outs and quitting. Workers have always employed a range of tactics that should be considered part of striking.”
And why not throw in the towel? The average worker is more productive now than ever but has seen their real wages stagnate for decades as the cost of living rises and the lion’s share of profits have been siphoned off by those at the top. (The fact that the wealth of the 1% has exploded over the course of the pandemic has only made it clearer that we are all playing a rigged game.) While workers struggle to keep their heads above water, they’ve seen CEO pay soar to stratospheric heights, ballooning by 19 percent in 2020, or $24.2 million on average, according to an August study by the Economic Policy Institute.
Some have channeled their discontent into the throes of collective bargaining and bustled about the perimeter of picket lines. However, while workers have, indeed, turned the heat on the bosses, the flame of worker militancy is not yet a blowtorch capable of setting off conflagrations of work stoppages across the country.
A LONG WAY TO GO
From January 2021 to today, there have been 258 strikes—39 of those strikes, involving approximately 24,000 workers, have occurred in October alone, according to the Labor Action Tracker. By contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which only tracks work stoppages involving at least 1,000 workers, puts the figure of strikes at 12 since January 2021, based on data up to September 2021.
Here’s the sobering truth: The discontent fueling the current uptick in strikes and protests is incredibly important, but that uptick still pales in comparison to the 485,000 workers who went on strike in 2018 and the 425,000 in 2019 during a strike wave involving teachers in states from West Virginia to Arizona, as well as workers in auto plants and hotels. Go even further back to 1971, when more than 5,000 work stoppages involving over 3,000,000 workers occurred, and the comparison to today’s strike numbers puts the reality of labor’s situation in even starker relief. Tens of thousands of workers fighting back in 2021 is significant, but there are roughly 14 million union workers in the U.S. alone, according to the 2021 annual report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Basically, it’s a big country—and we still have a long way to go.
“I think the term ‘strike wave’ gets thrown around too much, because it depends on what you are comparing,” said Kallas. “We also know that changes in our economy have made striking much more difficult since the 1980s, making it important to contextualize these historical comparisons.”
We need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time; we need to identify and cultivate the passions among America’s rank and file that have made this a special moment, but we also need to be clear-eyed about the deep challenges preventing this moment from becoming a movement. For instance, while it’s become a routine journalistic genuflection to cite a September Gallup poll showing more than 68% of Americans approve of unions, the amount of new workplace organizing efforts doesn’t match up to these shifting trends in public opinion. At the very least, this should temper our feverish excitement about the potential of a new worker upsurge expanding to encompass millions of workers who can bring the bosses and our rigged economic system to their knees. We’re not there yet.
SOME STRIKES FAIL
Momentum building is crucial to movement building, and successful strikes are indeed contagious, emboldening workers elsewhere to take action in their own workplaces. But “a failed strike that ends with the strikers permanently replaced by scabs can spread fear and hopelessness across communities and industries,” Shaun Richman, program director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College, wrote for In These Times. Translation: as much as new strikes and public excitement about worker struggles can help lift the labor movement off its back, failed strikes and fizzling public commitment to those same struggles can push the movement farther in the wrong direction. Even if worker militancy is growing, workers have a deliberately narrowed path to navigate to victory, shaped by decades (even centuries) of anti-worker laws and anti-union culture. This is why, in the same piece for In These Times, Richman makes the case for labor law reform, including the right to return to work after a strike (remember that fateful day in 1981 when Scab-in-Chief Ronald Regan fired over ten thousand air traffic controllers). It is also why many workers, labor leaders, and labor advocates have pushed for the passage of the Protect the Right to Organize Act—doing so, they argue, would open up pathways for workers to take today’s militancy and turn it into forms of worker organization that have real teeth and muscles.
If such changes to U.S. labor law happened overnight, for example, it would have huge implications for miners in Alabama, who are going on eight months on strike and have seen scabs replace some workers (and hit picketers with their cars). Likewise, nurses in Massachusetts are approaching eight months on strike with their Texas-based employer Tenet Healthcare refusing to rehire striking workers while hauling in $448 million in profit in the third quarter.
“Leverage to win is obviously different in different industries and companies,” said Peter Olney, a former organizing director of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, pointing to the St. Vincent nurses and a national day of action he’s coordinating with the Democratic Socialists of America. “Tenet has over 450 facilities and just brought in $2.4 billion during COVID and they are gushing with cash. They are making a political statement to unions that dare to challenge them. The path to settlement would be labor solidarity, but only 30 facilities are union nationwide and SEIU has a national ‘organizing’ agreement with Tenet that forbids solidarity.”
While Olney welcomes the new militant attitude and workers’ desire for better jobs, he sounds a sober note about how that desire alone “cannot overcome pre-existing realities of union weakness and lethargy. Organizing the massive un-organized private sector remains key.”
Luce from City University of New York agreed. “As much talk as we hear about workers gaining power in a tight labor market, these long strikes show the tremendous power imbalance that still remains between the average employer and the average worker,” she said. “Employers have far more rights, resources, lawyers and political power than do workers, which means that despite their cries of helplessness, the average employer will be able to outlast the average union on a picket line.”
Since April, two dozen workers at the United Metro Energy Corporation fuel terminal in Brooklyn, New York, have been out on strike after more than two years of negotiations broke down between Teamsters Local 553 and billionaire John Catsimatidis. Six months into that strike, eight workers have received permanent replacement letters. The Teamsters had already filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board for the company’s alleged targeting of union activists, and filed new charges as the investigation unfolded.
The original two dozen workers on strike have dwindled to 14 today, as many took jobs elsewhere when faced with permanent replacement letters, according to striking worker Ivan Areizaga, 56, a terminal operator who has been working at United Metro Energy Corporation for nearly six years.
“I dedicated myself to the company. I’ve been working from 10PM to 7AM. They didn’t even have consideration that I have a family. I want to have a weekend with my kids,” he said. “The only time I took off was when my mother passed. Three days after, I came back to work, never missed a day, and did everything I was asked for.”
Beyond the long hours, Areizaga also discovered that he was earning $27 when the industry standard for the same job is $37 hourly. A father of three, he began thinking about retirement and a pension. So he joined up with his co-workers and formed a union, leaping at the prospect of financial stability.
“I’m 56 years old. How many years do I have to work in order for me to make a decent living and provide for my family?” he asked himself.
“As much as the Union has the right to strike, we have a right, under federal labor law, to permanently replace employees to enable us to service our customers,” Catsimatidis said in a statement to the local newspaper The City, making explicit that the dictatorship of employers is largely a legal offensive.
Shortly after going on strike, Areizaga said, the company cut his health benefits. He recounted the experience of his son, who has diabetes, calling from college in North Carolina panicked because he couldn’t access his medication. “Dad, what’s going on,” his son asked him. “I can’t get my medication.”
“What we’re asking for he got in his back pocket,” Areizaga said of billionaire Catsimatidis. We were there through the pandemic when everybody was home; we were there providing for New York.”
Areizaga and his co-workers supply New York with heating oil, diesel, and gasoline, which keeps New York City schools, hospitals, and the subway warm; they are also responsible for fueling local gas stations. They and their labor are nothing if not essential for the city and its residents. And yet, existing labor law makes it much easier than it should be for bosses to dissociate the work from the worker, allowing them to replace the latter with anyone willing to do the former while safely ignoring the needs and concerns expressed by employees like Areizaga.
John Catsimatidis of United Metro Energy Corporation didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“We’re not giving up. We have lost a lot already,” Areizaga concluded.
If we want Striketober to be more than just a short, bright moment in time, we cannot forget about workers like Areizaga (or the miners at Warrior Met Coal, or the nurses at St. Vincent Hospital). We must do what we can—all of us—to help them win their struggles, and we must have a concerted strategy for addressing or removing the systemic barriers that make winning so hard.
Striketober may very well be just a viral hashtag, but the growing worker militancy it invokes is unmistakably in the air, fanning like pixie dust down to the lowest number of workers banding together to form unions and strike. What remains to be seen are efforts to rebuild class organizations on an even more massive scale for a lasting rebalance of power in the struggle of the many against the rapacious few.
This piece first appeared at The Real News Network.
Luis Feliz Leon is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes. Follow him on Twitter @Lfelizleon.
This article was republished from Labor Notes.
While the democratic petty bourgeois want to bring the revolution to an end as quickly as possible, achieving at most the aims already mentioned, it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently far – not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers. Our concern cannot simply be to modify private property, but to abolish it, not to hush up class antagonisms but to abolish classes, not to improve the existing society but to found a new one.
-Marx, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, 1850
The latest debacle for the Democrats in Virginia highlights the increasing hollowness of the Biden regime. Ushered in on the exuberant wave of anti-Trumpism, Biden has revealed himself to be just as spineless and reactionary as his detractors from both left and right prophesied.
And yet, there are supposed leftists that continue to cling to the hope that his regime can be ‘pushed to the left,’ or that a people’s movement can force the Democrats into conceding reforms they obviously would never pass of their own accord.
The left must cut through the illusions. It ought to remember its Marxist roots and rediscover its commitment to building an independent workers’ party. Nothing can be gained by supporting the Democrats. By calling the Republicans ‘fascist,’ the left seeks to justify any ‘united front’ no matter how devoid of any real class content. The left is content to abandon class struggle and become a grassroots lobby of the Democratic Party.
No more! Working people are fed up with it - which is why they voted for Youngkin. Until the left offers itself as a fierce and uncompromising alternative, workers’ desire to change the world will continue to manifest in reactionary ways.
A recent article urged the Democrats to put their ‘best’ foot forward and highlight their policy ‘successes’ in order to win voters back. But what successes? Biden continues the anti-immigrant policies left over from when he was the Vice President; there has been no substantive Coronavirus relief, and now rent is back to being enforced and federal student loans are about to be called in again; the U.S. continues its election-meddling in places like Nicaragua and Cuba; and despite the high-profile tokenization of a few people of color in high places, Biden will always be remembered for his support for the War on Drugs and his revealing gaffe that “if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black."
Working people rightly hate the Democrats. To shamelessly sell them the Democratic Party anyway in the enthusiastic language of ‘Marxism’ and ‘class struggle’ is nothing less than betrayal.
These are the same leftists who pronounce in one sentence that it’s all Manchin or Sinema’s fault and in the next claim that the Democrats and Republicans form but two wings of the same party of capital. This kind of inconsistency is why the left has been so marginal and incapable of influencing recent events. These two positions cannot be reconciled. Either we are for the complete political independence and maturity of the working class, or we abuse the revolutionary proletarian tradition to sell out to the Democrats. There is no third way. It is either revolution or liquidation.
But what of “reform?” The Democrats offer no reform. They rely on scapegoats like Manchin and Sinema to throw their hands up and distract from the fact that they literally profit from legislative gridlock. Even if a new New Deal passed, it wouldn’t achieve the same effect as reforms did back in the Gilded Age. Back then, reforms were concessions rendered to the all-powerful left. And they demonstrated to workers their own power and convinced them to keep fighting for more, to not merely be satisfied with the crumbs but to go for the whole feast. But now, if any reforms are forthcoming, they are not the result of the left. They are rather the condition for a new consolidation of capitalism. If the elites ‘reform’ anything they do so to shore up their own basis of power. Working people know that such maneuvers don’t owe themselves to their own intervention because politics has ceased to be contested ground. The left has ceded politics to the Democrats. There is no reform possible when the specter of revolution is not being actively raised.
Instead of bemoaning or softening the Democrats’ defeat in Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere, we ought to celebrate it. To hell with the Democrats! They offer nothing but disappointment for the working people of the world. We ought to remember Marx’s own words quoted above: we struggle “not to improve the existing society but to found a new one.” The future must be proletarian. It cannot be a united front, a lesser of two evils, an evolutionary and gradual road. It can only be won through revolutionary struggle against all class enemies, including every member of the Democratic Party. This does not make us Republicans, of course. It makes us rise above the pettiness of U.S. elections by offering the only real solution to this country’s polarization and economic stagnation.
If the left is unable or unwilling to recapture this, it should openly admit it. That way, the last of the wool can be ripped from our eyes, and we can see the task for what it truly is.
Wes Vanderburgh is a member of the Communist Party USA based in Washington, D.C. They strive to create the conditions for the reemergence of the revolutionary left in the United States and beyond.
Facebook’s announcement has implications about digital life and work—provided it can attract younger users and gamer skeptics and overcome the hate speech and disinformation problems that could still plague Zuckerberg’s vision.
On October 28, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched a new company brand, Meta, at the annual Facebook Connect event. According to Facebook, “Meta… brings together our apps and technologies under one new company brand. Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.”
Is the launch of Meta merely an attempt at rebranding Facebook after the considerable hit its image has taken with the revelations of Facebook whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang? Is it to move away from its sullied past and present to an alternate universe, the metaverse that Facebook will create in the future? Does the company want its users to forget about its hate-filled Facebook pages, which fuel the company’s ad-driven business empire, by moving the focus away from the Facebook brand? Or is this move aimed at winning back the young viewers that it is “losing traction” with?
Facebook’s internal documents, made public by Haugen, reflect this desperation to win back the young users, and they even talk about focusing Facebook’s attention on preteens--children in the age group of 10 to 12—who are viewed as a “valuable but untapped audience.” More importantly, Facebook seems to follow the same logic as the cigarette companies do by targeting children and getting them hooked on smoking. Both Facebook and these cigarette companies seem to believe that once they hook these children onto their products, they stay hooked for life, providing these companies with captive, lifelong customers. Or, in the case of Facebook, this means selling the data of their users, those hooked on Facebook, to advertisers for the lifetime of these users.
The general reaction to Facebook’s Meta—or its metamorphosis to the metaverse, described as “a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world”—has ranged from cold to bewildered. For most users of Facebook, their knowledge of science fiction is meager. So the universe as a metaverse that seamlessly transitions from the real world to the virtual world might be quite an alien concept for a majority of people. This is in spite of meeting during the pandemic on various platforms as boxed, talking heads.
Meanwhile, those with a serious bent of mind and knowledge of literature, who find Facebook’s existing world already a dystopian one, are more likely to connect Meta to the prefix in the title of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. In this dystopian novel, the protagonist wakes up one morning as a human-sized cockroach; seen another way, his avatar changes to a cockroach in his metaverse. This potentially Kafkaesque alternative reality has provided fodder for some of the many memes mocking Meta since Facebook announced its launch. This main selling point of the metaverse seems to be the creation of virtual spaces where users can “get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create.” These experiences are made possible by using a variety of augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) devices. While Facebook’s messaging seems intent on proving Meta’s “cool” factor, it is the reception of the news that has been chilly.
Before we dismiss Facebook’s Meta, we need to also remember that it comes with a major cash flow that Facebook has accumulated, combined with Meta’s market capitalization of nearly $1 trillion. As a company, Meta is still a 1,000-pound gorilla in the metaverse of Wall Street. And Facebook alone has a user base of nearly 3 billion, with billions of users on other companies owned by Facebook, such as WhatsApp and Instagram. How many of them are unique users is a different question, but any company that captures the eyeballs of half the world’s population, and has a mountain of cash, cannot be written off.
There are two questions for Facebook, and yes, I am going to call it Facebook for now and not Meta. What is the metaverse that it is planning to build? And does it have a business model? In other words, will it get the young audience it has lost? And can Facebook sell either virtual “properties” or “commodities” in the metaverse for real money, apart from AR/VR devices like Oculus, which the company launched in August?
Let us look at the concept of the metaverse itself. As Zuckerberg himself explains, the difference between playing video games on a keyboard or a gaming console and the metaverse is the immersive experience. With the metaverse, users can use different devices, including special glasses, haptic gloves or suits, and can see or touch objects in the virtual world and “are able to immerse themselves in digital content rather than simply viewing it” by using these AR or VR devices. And yes, there have been enough books and films made on such futures. Those interested can read Isaac Asimov’s Robot series, which is focused on robots, but takes the metaverse of virtual/augmented reality for granted. The more recent iteration on this, and from where the concept of the metaverse as a virtual reality that is an expansion of the internet takes off, is Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash.
There are two possibilities of the metaverse: one is to see it as a version of the real world where people can meet, work or play in the real world but with the help of augmented reality/virtual reality created by using different devices. That is, people will be able to visit different places in the world with their friends, meet in their offices, and even visit their doctors, all while sitting at home. The second is that a person can live as an avatar in an online virtual universe that has similar or different rules to the real world, a superior version of Second Life, backed by Facebook’s huge earnings and market power.
Second Life, set up in 2003, had many of the same goals as Meta. It is still popular among a small set of users, numbering nearly a million. It is an immersive universe—which promotes interaction among its user avatars—that can have a number of worlds with their own different rules and subcultures. It even has a currency, called the Linden dollar, which can be used within this universe, but not outside it. There is still an ongoing debate about what the fundamental purpose of Second Life is: is it an immersive platform or a gaming world?
Both these possibilities exist in Facebook’s Meta. An obvious driver of Meta as an immersive platform is the possibility of working from home. All tech companies are discovering that working from home is an attractive option for their workers. But the company loses the creativity that is available in the collective and controlled environment that an office space provides where employees meet and talk about their work. Zuckerberg’s Meta could sell office property that allows people to “come into work,” but in a virtual space rented or owned by the company as an office in Meta. This will force people to be in the “same space” as their colleagues while providing them with the luxury of avoiding a long commute or relocating to where the company offices are. Zuckerberg could sell or even rent space in his Meta and make a business model out of it. Or people themselves can rent such spaces, choosing where the space is a customizable virtual lounge to meet their friends, the same way people rent Zoom rooms.
The other business model that Zuckerberg can explore with regard to Meta is to have properties, gadgets, tokens, and a host of props that can be sold for Meta cash, which would be used in the various versions of the universe and still have value in the real world in dollars (or Facebook’s money, Libra). This would be unlike the Linden dollar, which can be used only in Second Life.
Both spaces could fall prey to relentless advertising, Facebook’s fundamental business model. In which case, the metaverse will be an immersive space for bringing people in primarily for advertisements. Given the immersive nature of the metaverse, there is a real possibility of Facebook building an even more dystopian world filled with advertisements and fake news, so that people’s eyeballs can be captured and sold continuously to the advertisers.
The gaming world is more difficult for Zuckerberg to cash in on. The gaming industry has been decades in the making and has taken off during the pandemic in the same way that online platforms like Zoom and OTT platforms like Netflix have. There are more than 3 billion gamers in the world, who spend a huge amount of time on their gaming consoles. It is the gamers who have driven high-end PCs and laptops, which have then resulted in other technological evolution relating to high-end graphics, including video editing. This has driven Nvidia’s graphic processing units and a range of Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications. For the gamer generation, Zuckerberg and Facebook are again not seen as cool. They are unlikely to be attracted to Zuckerberg’s version of the metaverse.
Of course, with his bags of cash, it is possible for Zuckerberg to attract companies that can make these games for his brand. If Meta can attract a set of well-known gaming companies to the platform, will that power Zuckerberg’s version of the metaverse? Will such gaming companies give up their independence to Facebook? That is not an easy question, as, after all, cash has its allure: of more cash!
The short-term goal of Facebook was to get away from this image of a sleazy company promoting hate and fake news. But it is also focusing on the new era of connectivity and AI tools that we are entering, which can help power game-like alternate universes intersecting with the real one. But here is the Achilles heel of the U.S. companies: the U.S. is far behind China and South Korea in the 5G race and much poorer in its broadband penetration from many European countries. Can the U.S. overcome this deficit with the state spending on its digital infrastructure?
Can Facebook also overcome its image as a toxic social media company and build a second life for itself with Meta? Facebook can still wield a lot of power and influence, but with its aging user base, it may slowly dwindle in importance. Society may punish Facebook for selling hate and fake news, but of course, only after it has inflicted enormous damage to the world’s social fabric. The caution here is that virtual reality can also be a toxic space, as we know from the misogyny in a significant section of the gaming community. Will Facebook, with its history, add to that and build a dystopian Meta?
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
We fight for Socialism – the police fight for extinction: Young communists respond to repression in Glasgow. By: Peoples DispatchRead Now
Section of the YCL contingent in Glasgow cordoned by police. (Photo: via YCL-Britain)
Braving police cordons, hundreds of members of the Young Communist League (YCL) of Britain protested in Glasgow on Saturday, November 6, raising the banner of ‘Socialism or Extinction’ and demanding concrete proposals from the COP26 summit to mitigate the impact of climate change. While many other environmental activists and youth organizations also marched, the police on Saturday tried to restrict the YCL contingent from taking part. Progressive sections in the UK, including the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and various trade unions, condemned the police aggression against YCL cadres.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties, or COP26, began in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 31 in the backdrop of alarming climate changes and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Progressive sections across the world have expressed outrage at the vague commitments made by the G20 member states towards mitigating climate change in their recently concluded meeting in Rome. Many climate rights groups and progressive youth groups, including COMAC from Belgium and the Portuguese Communist Youth (PCP), among others, have held marches in Glasgow demanding concrete actions from COP26. Young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg denounced the climate conference in Glasgow as a failure which is “sort of turning into a greenwash campaign, a PR campaign, for business leaders and politicians.”
‘Socialism or Extinction’ (Photo: via YCL-Britain)
Following the protests on Saturday, YCL-Britain stated, “YCL was the only group to have been personally escorted by police officers on the demonstration, it is apparent that the YCL are perceived as a credible threat. This increased police monitoring is in wake of the YCL’s unmissable presence at both the DSEI Arms Fair and the Tory Party Conference. While we fight for Socialism – the police fight for extinction.”
“We would like to reiterate that we are neither intimidated nor surprised: as the state begins to see communist youth as a threat once again, as they see large numbers of young people actively confronting capitalism, we expect them to do everything they can to defend the wealth and privilege of the ruling class they serve,” YCL added.
(Photo: via YCL-Britain)
The CPB alleged that “over 150 young communists marching for ‘Socialism or Extinction’ have been attacked and kettled by police during the demonstration.”
The delegates at the 56th congress of the CPB also sent their solidarity to the YCL-Britain.
This article was produced by Peoples Dispatch.
A motorcyclist rides past a mural of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, left, and revolutionary hero Cesar Augusto Sandino during general elections in Managua, Nicaragua, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. | Andres Nunes / AP
People’s World correspondent Christian Guevara is on the scene in Nicaragua to observe the country’s general election with a delegation of the Friends of the ATC, a rural workers’ association in Nicaragua that was central to the land reform policy of the Sandinista Revolution in 1979 to distribute land to the peasants. It represents 50,000 workers from the majority of Nicaragua’s 15 departments and organizes primarily in farmer’s unions (coffee, tobacco, banana, sugarcane, and palm).
MANAGUA—The United States is waging economic war against Nicaragua and the overwhelmingly popular Sandinista government here as the people of the country head to the polls. Just last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the RENACER Act, a slew of additional deadly sanctions, with huge bipartisan support.
The U.S. also continues to make a plethora of attacks on President Daniel Ortega, who is running for a fourth term in office. Washington claims Ortega is a drug trafficker and a dictator, that he imprisoned his political opposition, and even that he has killed his own citizens. The U.S. purports to be a bastion of “freedom” and “democracy,” as a model for Nicaragua, but the opinions of the Nicaraguan people I’ve met the past week differ sharply.
Comparing the U.S.’ approach to other countries in the region suggests some clear inconsistencies in the arguments being used to demonize Nicaragua’s leaders and justify the economic warfare that is at the heart of current U.S. policy toward its people.
U.S. relations with the Honduran government and its president, Juan Orlando Hernández, are instructive. Following the 2009 U.S.-backed coup against progressive Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, the U.S. proudly supported a succession of right-wing governments there and turned a blind eye to blatant corruption. The brother of Hernández is currently serving a life sentence plus 30 years in a United States prison for trafficking cocaine.
The connections between the current president and his drug-trafficking brother are widely known in Honduras, yet the U.S. State Department has never suggested reprimanding the narco-president, much less his country, for his blatant crimes. This is because Hernández is closely aligned with the U.S. economic and political establishment and has no qualms about continuing to allow his people to be exploited by U.S. multinational corporations and eagerly pursues devastating neoliberal policy.
The Nicaragua-Honduras comparison is similar to that between Venezuela and its neighbor, Colombia. Despite ruling over a country that produces 75% of the world’s supply of cocaine, the Colombian state receives absolutely zero accusations of criminal activity from the U.S. government. Nor does it earn condemnation for the violent suppression of mass anti-government protests and the mass killing of protesters from military gunship helicopters. This is, again, because the Colombian neoliberal government is aligned with U.S. economic interests.
The reason for mentioning these examples—which are widely repeated in the streets of Managua—is not to point fingers and ignore the accusations, but to illustrate the view here that U.S. accusations are hypocritical and ludicrous. The motivation behind the unsubstantiated accusations against their country by Washington is quite obvious to Nicaraguans.
President Daniel Ortega does not fall in line with U.S. economic interests—which would still prefer to see Nicaragua be a neo-colony where U.S. companies can exploit low-wage workers and destroy the environment for profit.
The U.S. State Department and mainstream corporate media have been in a frenzy over the past year, blowing up accusations of “political prisoners” in Nicaragua—accusations that local Nicaraguans find laughable.
The most famous of these “political prisoners” is Cristiana Chamorro, an extravagantly wealthy Nicaraguan oligarch and owner of right-wing news outlet La Prensa. Chamorro has a long history with Ortega’s party, the Sandinista Front for National Liberation Front (FSLN). During the Contra War of the late 1970s and into the ’80s, La Prensa was funded by the CIA and used as a tool for the U.S. government to spread propaganda to undermine Ortega when he was president then. Before that, the U.S. also supported and funded dictator Anastasio Somoza’s terrorist war on the Nicaraguans that killed over 80,000 people.
Nowadays, La Prensa is not funded by the CIA, as far as is known. It is, however, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. front group created to destabilize anti-imperialist governments and impose the U.S.’ political will on poor countries.
Despite the ridiculous lies of Nicaraguan business and corporate media, Chamorro is not imprisoned for being an “opposition candidate.” Interestingly, she was never even officially running for president—even U.S. news outlets have used the phrase “pre-candidate” to describe her “campaign.”
Chamorro’s problems with the legal system long pre-date the current election, however. She was caught laundering money from Nicaraguan non-profits and using the funds (as well as U.S. money) to attempt a coup in 2018 that led to the deaths of over 300 people, the majority of whom were Sandinista supporters. These details seem to have been missed by the U.S. State Department and “accredited” news outlets.
As for the accusation that Ortega is a dictator, the charge is a common one made against any leader that doesn’t fall in line with U.S. hegemony, especially those who enjoy mass support from their own people.
Despite having the overwhelming support of the Nicaraguan people (estimated to be 60-70% in pre-election polls), Ortega is accused of “cracking down” on the very same democratic institutions that were established by the FSLN in 1984. For the U.S., it may very well seem impossible for a leader to have the kind of support Ortega has in Nicaragua. But just maybe he has that support because he has followed through with his political promises and drastically improved the lives of Nicaraguans, with policies like:
These are the crimes of the FSLN. They are also among the reasons why the United States is trying to destroy the Nicaraguan government by making its people suffer through sanctions. But the FSLN has been through this kind of economic war before, and for years it’s been preparing alternatives for its citizens to live without the need for U.S. trade.
Managua campesino, Victorio Potosme, provided the general view among farmers and people here:
“No country benefits from sanctions, but despite all the sanctions and struggles, our government has been able to work through it. We have lived for many years under sanctions. During the times of the war, we lived during extremely harsh sanctions. Governments should not get involved in the issues of other countries. We as farmers in Nicaragua don’t get involved in the farmers’ issues in the U.S. We receive guests in Nicaragua with no discrimination. We welcome Americans and their politicians to our country. They can come and visit and do as they please. That is because we do have freedom, not the lie of liberal freedom. But they do not treat us with the same respect. American leaders want the freedom to come to our country, rob our people, and exploit us. That is the “freedom” American politicians want. Our spirit is strong. Stronger than sanctions. We are not worried about sanctions. We will continue to improve, sanctions or no sanctions.”
Christian Guevara is an active member of the D.C. Metro Communist Party USA, Claudia Jones School for Political Education, and the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES).
This article was produced by People's World.
The Democrats in D.C. Promised Consequential Racial Justice Reform—Where Is It? By: Ebony Slaughter-JohnsonRead Now
The message to Black Americans expecting more progress has largely been to wait—for a better political opportunity, for the racial wealth gap to widen, for another Black American to die at the hands of the police.
The lesson of the 2020 U.S. election cycle was clear: Do not underestimate the influence of Black voters. At a time when the electoral process was characterized by voter suppression, Black voters in crucial swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin gave this country renewed hope by securing the presidency for President Joe Biden. Thanks to the Black voters who pushed Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff over the electoral edge in Georgia’s runoff elections on January 5, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. With Democrats in control of the executive and legislative branches, the promise of much-needed progressive change with respect to racial justice seemed to be on the brink of becoming reality.
Instead, in the more than nine months since Democrats have helmed the federal government, all that has occurred in the name of racial justice is the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday that marks the day slavery ended in the United States (June 19, 1865—two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued).
I do not mean to diminish the historical significance of “Juneteenth National Independence Day” as it is officially known or to disrespect the work of Black activists who have advocated for commemorating this important historical milestone for years. And as Republicans in state legislatures battle to keep discussions of racial inequality out of public schools, I applaud efforts to recognize Black history and culture. I also understand that Democrats are in a complicated position. Republicans have long shown hostility to racial justice issues, preferring instead to court white supremacists. The pressure to legislate for the benefit of Black voters has unfairly fallen exclusively on the shoulders of the Democratic Party, but that is the burden the party agreed to bear when it competed for support from the Black community.
Black voters supported national Democratic candidates in reliance on their promises. These candidates committed themselves to enacting consequential racial justice legislation. Where is it?
The tragic murder of George Floyd in 2020 inspired the largest mass protest in American history and brought police reform to the forefront of the national consciousness. Democrats had the opportunity to follow up the historic conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of Floyd with the introduction of aggressive police reform, but, instead, the Democratic Party squandered the moment by wasting time negotiating with Republicans who are more interested in creating a cultural boogeyman out of critical race theory than actually legislating. Although the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, any hope of police reform currently lies dormant in the Senate.
Republican-led state legislatures have passed a number of bills designed to limit the franchise in 2021 alone, an inevitability after the Supreme Court announced its decision in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. The decision essentially castrated the Voting Rights Act, determining that the preclearance formula used to determine which jurisdictions must have their voting regimes approved by the federal government was unconstitutional.
Texas has become synonymous with voter suppression recently. The state enacted a law on September 7 that, among other changes, eliminates 24-hour voting and drive-through voting, measures that are likely to most heavily burden voters of color. The law also provides poll watchers with new freedoms to monitor voters’ activity, presenting ripe opportunities for racial profiling.
State voter suppression, particularly in states with high populations of people of color, ahead of the 2022 midterms intensifies the urgency of enacting federal voting rights protections. Yet, efforts to legislate have stalled. The House passed the For the People Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 earlier this year, but the Senate appears to be more invested in protecting the filibuster than in protecting the right to vote. Senate Democrats rallied support for alternative voting rights legislation, but progress on that legislation has since been thwarted by Senate Republicans. After months of exhortations from constituents, activists, and state officials, including Texas state Democrats who risked arrest and a pandemic to lobby senators, no progress has been made to push reforms to protect voting rights.
Support for reparations has increased in recent years. The 2020 Democratic presidential frontrunners suggested that they supported the idea of at least exploring how the country might go about distributing reparations to the descendants of enslaved Black Americans. Reparations programs have assumed various forms. Several Virginia colleges and universities will atone for slavery through economic and educational advancement opportunities. Evanston, Illinois, broke new ground in the implementation of reparations, inaugurating a $10 million fund for housing grants in March. The state of California and Los Angeles County have returned land to the descendants of a Black couple who were dispossessed of their property during the Jim Crow era. Against the backdrop of progress at the state and local level, precious little has occurred at the federal level. More than 30 years after it was first introduced, a bill to simply study reparations finally made its way out of the House Judiciary Committee only to languish in legislative limbo somewhere within the House.
But at least Democrats, and Republicans, in both houses of Congress could unite to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Even this victory is hollow. Black Americans tend to be concentrated in the types of jobs in the food service and retail industries that are not required to observe federal holidays. Ironically, the day of rest, and hopefully reflection, afforded by Juneteenth could be largely enjoyed by the white Americans who work in government offices and professional offices.
Although they expected deliverables, Black Americans have mostly experienced delays. The message to Black Americans is to wait. Wait for Congress to pass the infrastructure bill. Wait for Congress to negotiate to keep the federal government operative. Wait for the legislative chaos to die down. Wait for the Democrats to expand their majorities in Congress after the midterm elections. Wait for another state to introduce more egregiously restrictive voting rights laws. Wait for the racial wealth gap to widen. Wait for another Black American to die at the hands of the police. Wait for another global protest movement to develop that galvanizes public opinion in favor of police accountability.
Black activists have vocally demanded enhanced voter protections for years. Nearly 90 percent of Black Americans who participated in a 2020 Gallup panel voiced support for police reform. Meanwhile, 74 percent of Black Americans polled by AP-NORC in 2019 supported the implementation of a federal reparations program. These initiatives are not pet projects for Black Americans. They are vital public policy imperatives that Democrats were elected to achieve.
As 2021 comes to a close, congressional lawmakers will transition from governing mode to campaigning mode. Though President Biden and congressional Democrats deserve credit for guiding the country through the coronavirus pandemic, rejoining the Paris Agreement, and expanding child tax credits, all of which have racial justice components, their only specific legislative accomplishment on the racial justice front is the Juneteenth federal holiday. As symbolic as that holiday is, it is no substitute for safeguarding constitutional rights, protecting Black lives, and potentially minimizing the racial wealth gap. When congressional Democratic candidates appeal to Black voters for support during the 2022 election, they may find that the holiday similarly fails to motivate Black voters to head to the polls.
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson is a freelance writer and a writing fellow for Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Her work has appeared on AlterNet, U.S. News & World Report, Equal Voice News and Common Dreams.
This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.