Friday, November 11, 2016

Clintonism is dead. Does the Democratic Party know it?

I’m an old protester. My first (in a long line) was way back in 1966 or 1967 when as a teenager I took part in a sit-in at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement, something that makes me look back with pride. This was in Greenville, North Carolina, and we were taunted and spit on throughout, a badge of honor today.

Still I’m having a hard time ignoring my friends on the Right as they point today to the irony of the protests taking place in cities across the country as a result of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election. Didn’t a lot of those same protesters excoriate Trump when he said during the campaign that he might not accept the results of the election if he loses?

Of course, the protests are about much more than the election. They are about the xenophobic, misogynistic, racist comments and attitudes exhibited by Trump and his supporters during and since the campaign, and they are about the fear that now exists about the country’ future.

Still, a hesitation other than irony haunts me about these protests, and it has to do with Hillary Clinton and the idea of a protest that could actually be interpreted as saying, “Long Live the Status Quo!”

Let’s face it. Hillary Clinton was the quintessential embodiment of the political establishment, the status quo, the polar opposite of change. As bad as Trump was and is, and that’s really bad, he represented the only voice (by a major candidate) for change in the general election for millions of non-racist voters who cast their ballots for him.

How could a seasoned veteran like Hillary Clinton, backed by deep-pocketed moneymen and a Democratic Party establishment that helped scuttle Bernie Sanders' primary challenge, lose against a foot-in-the-mouth opponent with zero political experience?

Sure, Trump tried to appeal to the worst of many people with his “Build the Wall” talk and so forth, but he also tapped into a deep working class malaise that the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party has too long been too busy wooing Wall Street to see. When Trump talked about bringing jobs back home from oversees and ending lousy trade deals that Bill and Hillary Clinton both championed workers listened, and many of them defied their union bosses to vote for Trump.

I don’t expect Trump to deliver much on those promises or hopes. When you boil his big talk down, he’s still calling for tax cuts to big corporations and the rich, and his treatment of his own workers and contractors don’t bode well for an enlightened attitude toward worker rights.

Which means working class folks are likely still going to be left out in the cold once the dust settles. Malaise and frustration make fertile ground for demagogues—always have—particularly when the so-called party of the people decades ago began ape-ing the Republican Party in servitude to the rich and powerful.

The neoliberal establishment still doesn’t get it. The New York Times wondered this week whether losing Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine may be “the future of the Democratic Party.” Give me a break. New Yorker magazine conjectured in its latest edition that veteran Wall Street insider Thomas R. Nides was well-positioned for a major role and maybe even Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff had she won. Democratic National Committee interim leader and television commentator Donna Brazile has been unapologetic about her role in slipping the Clinton campaign debate questions.

If the Democratic Party s going to survive this debacle, it has got to reclaim its roots and turn to folks like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for guidance. Clintonism is dead. Dead. Even so, it is going to take a long time for the Democratic Party to reclaim the trust it has lost among working folks. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Labor South: Doing something I vowed I'd never do--Vote for a Clinton

OXFORD, Miss. – I drove back from my 50th high school reunion (yep, I’ve been around that long) in Sanford, North Carolina, Oct. 9, leaving behind the flooded creeks, downed power lines, and punishing rain Hurricane Matthew inflicted while my old school mates and I traded laughs and half-century-old memories.

The second presidential debate came on the radio somewhere near the Alabama-Mississippi state line, and my wife Suzanne looked at me as if to say, “Out of one storm into another!”

Listening to the debate--rather than seeing it--we missed Republican contender Donald Trump’s menacing stalk as Democrat Hillary Clinton tried to deflect her opponent’s charges regarding the 33,000 missing emails from her time as secretary of state.

Actually, the number jumped to 39,000 a few minutes later, as Trump borrowed a leaf from ‘50s-era communist witch-hunter Joseph McCarthy, who would waive a list of “known communists” in the Department of State ranging in number from 10 to 205. It depended on which speech as to whether there were 10, 57, 81 or 205.

Clinton’s responses to Trump’s attacks weren’t always encouraging. Regarding WikiLeaks revelations about her secret speeches to Wall Street executives, she essentially resorted to an ad hominem charge against the Russians for “directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election.” She did the same in the third debate on Oct. 19.

Certainly the United States would never try to interfere in the elections of another sovereign state, right? Well, there was Honduras and the brutal coup there in 2009 that had the implicit blessing of Secretary of State Clinton. And, of course, there was Libya and the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 that Secretary of State Clinton convinced President Obama to support.

Clinton’s frequent evocation of Trump’s alleged ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin is a little unsettling. “Clinton wants an air war with Russia,” Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein told hundreds of students and local citizens in Oxford earlier this month.

If Trump indeed is too buddy-buddy with Vladimir Putin, he’s also more than willing to go to war with Iran, vowing in a speech last month in Pensacola, Florida, that Iranian ships would be “shot out of the water” if they so much as inappropriately approach U.S. vessels. He also took aim at Iran in the third debate.

Chalk up another reason many American voters are profoundly unhappy with the candidates from both major parties this election. Fifteen years of war are enough, you two! Americans are sick of war.

Over the years, I have aimed my pen many times at the Clintons. I think President Bill Clinton’s so-called “triangulation” of politics was an effort to neuter any passion for social justice that might remain from the old Democratic Party that brought us the New Deal and the Great Society. His subsequent repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act deregulating Wall Street set the stage for the 2007-8 financial disaster. His wife has done little to distance herself from these policies of her husband.

Yet I’m going to hold my nose election day and vote for a Clinton, something I once vowed I would never do.

Donald Trump, for all his anti-system appeal and legitimate criticism of Clinton-pushed trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (Hillary Clinton now says she opposes TPP), is a reckless, dangerous demagogue, the crowning achievement of Fox News’ years-long, 24-7 intravenous injection of poison into American minds. Just like Fox News, Trump is perpetually factually challenged, hysterically biased, contemptuous of others’ ideas, so asphalted into his own mythos that he no longer can know what he doesn’t know.

Remember, it was Fox News that helped promote Trump’s ridiculous “birther” campaign to try and discredit President Obama by saying he wasn’t born in the United States.

It’s no accident that accused sexual predator and former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes has been in Trump’s camp, advising him in his debates with Clinton. For Ailes, Trump is a dream come true.

Not for me. Trump is so bad I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton. I’m hoping pressure from her primary opponent Bernie Sanders and the millennials who are forcing the Democratic Party establishment to shift away from the Bill Clinton model are going to keep Hillary Clinton from breaking the progressive promises she has made on the 2016 campaign trail.

At my recent high school reunion, I thought a lot about my own youth and youthful idealism. I like to think I’ve held on to a little of it.  Maybe that’s why I’m hopeful the United States is going to survive this political storm, just like my wife and I escaped Hurricane Matthew--with a lot of war stories but no serious bruises.

This column, which appeared recently in the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Mississippi, is a folo-up to an earlier posting on Labor South.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Standing Rock protest by the Sioux and their supporters: an effort to break from a long, sad history

(Famed 19th Century Sioux Indian Chief Sitting Bull, who was killed at Standing Rock in 1890)

The Dakotas lie outside the U.S. South, but the struggles of indigenous people such as the Sioux have parallels throughout the Global South.

In the 1934 Warner Brothers film Massacre, Joe Thunder Horse (played by Richard Barthelmess) tries to navigate the white majority world by playing an Indian in a Wild West show. After reconnecting with his Indian heritage and seeing the depth of injustice whites have done to that heritage and his people, he goes to Washington, D.C., to plead with the Indian Affairs Commissioner to do something about it.

“Every move I make is blocked by the same organized groups that have been bleeding the Indians for years,” the commissioner tells him. “Water power, oil rights, cattle ranges, timber—whatever the Indian happens to own, they manage to get it away from him. They control public opinion and legislation, and they’ve got me hog-tied.”

The same could be said today as American Indians from across the nation join in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Indians along the North and South Dakota border to protest plans by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners to build the so-called Dakota Access pipeline, part of which would be on Sioux land and under the Missouri River. The river is the tribe’s only source of water.

Tribal leaders say the pipeline seriously threatens the water supply on the reservation and could destroy ancestral lands considered sacred. In taking their stand, they and hundreds of their supporters have created the largest joint effort by American Indians in the nation’s history.

Company officials insist the Indians’ concerns have no foundation and that they have met with tribal representatives numerous times over the issue as well as provided the U.S. Corps of Engineers—which owns the land and approved the pipeline—with extensive data backing their claims. They say the pipeline meets and exceeds existing safety standards.

A federal judge denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop construction on the pipeline, but the Obama Administration proceeded with temporarily shutting down the part of the project that was a half-mile from the reservation.

The protest has led to dozens of arrests, including the filing of trespassing and riot charges against Democracy Now reporter Amy Goodman for filming a confrontation between Indians and the pipeline security officers. These confrontations have included the pepper-spraying of protesters and unleashed dogs lunging at them. The charges against Goodman were later dropped.

The dispute has gotten minimal attention from the mainstream media—no big surprise there—even during a presidential election when it would be interesting to hear the candidates’ positions.

It’s the latest chapter in the long, sad history of American Indians in this country. Four years ago, New York Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof traveled to the Sioux Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and called it “the poster child of American poverty and of the failures of the reservation system for American Indians in the West.”

Kristof said Census data showed that Shannon County there had the lowest per capita income in the nation in 2010 and that several other counties that included Sioux reservations were among the nation’s poorest. The jobless rate in Pine Ridge was 70 percent, 50 percent of the over-40 population suffered from diabetes, and as much as two-thirds of the adult population were alcoholics. Tuberculosis was rampant—eight times the national rate—and life expectancy was under 50 years of age.

The Pine Ridge reservation includes Wounded Knee, the village where the U.S. Seventh Cavalry slaughtered Chief Big Foot’s band in 1890, the last of the 19th century battles between U.S. military and American Indians.  Famous Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was killed at Standing Rock that same year in a shooting melee related to government efforts to crack down on the so-called "Ghost Dance" movement. The Ghost Dance was a mystical ceremony Native Americans performed to rid their land of the white man.

Maybe it’s better if the mainstream media stay away from Standing Rock. When they do come, they tend to treat American Indian issues like a John Wayne movie, such as the coverage by many news organizations of the Wounded Knee protest and hostage crisis on the Pine Ridge reservation back in 1973,  the Navaho-Hopi land dispute near the Grand Canyon 10 years later, and the so-called “Navaho flu” health crisis in New Mexico in 1993.

“I feel a sadness for the white man,” American Indian Movement leader Russell Means once said. “He has no roots. No foundations.”

And too often, the white man, in his greed, attacks those who do have roots and foundations but stand in the white man’s way.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Labor South roundup: Trump & Joe McCarthy; prisoners strike & Native Americans protest; Jim Beam workers in Ky vote to strike; and longshoremen solidarity

It’s time for another Labor South roundup as the nation slouches toward election day, Jim Beam workers in Kentucky vote to strike, and the International Dockworkers Council meets in Florida.

Echoes of Joe McCarthy while no one’s talking about the nationwide prison strike and the Standing Rock protest

(U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisconsin)

Back in February 1950, U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin appeared before a crowd in Wheeling, West Virginia, waving a sheet of paper that he said included a list of 205 communists in the U.S. Department of State. In later speeches, the number of communists he would cite ranged from as few as 10 to as many as 81 or even 205.

I was reminded of Joe McCarthy as I listened to Sunday’s presidential debate en route back to my home in Oxford, Mississippi, from a trip to North Carolina. At one point, Republican contender Donald Trump blasted his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for destroying 33,000 emails from her time as secretary of state. At another, that number jumped 6,000 to 39,000.

It’s the same old demagoguery, and Clinton herself is not above a certain degree of it. When asked about the Wikileaks revelations of her speeches to Wall Street financiers, she quickly went ad hominem by attacking the Russians for leaking the material to Wikileaks. My old logic professor would have flunked me if I had tried that trick in his course.

I served on a panel discussion titled “Civil Discourse and the Role of the Media in the 2016 Presidential Discussion” here at the University of Mississippi Wednesday of this week. I joined the other panelists in acknowledging the challenges facing journalists in holding the candidates’ feet to the fire of truth this election, particularly Trump. A group of reporters found that Trump either misspoke, mislead or out-and-out lied 72 times in a single speech back in March.

Fox News journalist Chris Wallace, chosen to moderate the Oct. 19 debate,  has now famously said “I do not believe that it’s my job to be a truth squad” when serving as moderator. In other words, Wallace sees himself simply as a referee. Granted it’s mighty hard for anyone to be a “truth squad” this election cycle, much less a debate moderator. However, writing for Moyers & Company, Todd Gitlin had this to say: “If the boxer comes out of his corner with his glove dripping with some unknown substance, is it not the job of the referee to interfere?”

Beyond lies and misstatements, perhaps the worst disservice to the public this election is what’s not being discussed. Where are the statements from Trump and Clinton on the nationwide prison strike against poor prison conditions and what is largely unpaid labor by convicts in prisons in Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and beyond? This is labor that benefits huge corporations such as Walmart and McDonalds.

What about the huge protest by Native Americans against the Dakota Access pipeline planned near Standing Rock Sioux tribal lands in North and South Dakota? It’s an issue that pits a Dallas-based private company against one of the most put-upon groups of people on the continent, Native Americans, who want to protect their ancestral lands against a potential environmental disaster.

Jim Beam workers in Kentucky vote to strike

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 111D voted overwhelmingly this week to strike at two Jim Beam distilleries in Clermont and Boston, Kentucky, after weeks of bargaining failed to produce a new contract to replace the one that ends Friday.

Suntory Holdings Ltd., a Japanese company, owns Jim Beam. Company officials defended their offer of a contract that they said did away with a two-tiered wage system and included wage hikes.

Bourbon consumption on the whole is on the rise worldwide--most of it is produced in Kentucky--and the relative prosperity has led to generally good relations between management and labor in recent years. However, apparently all is not well with workers in bourbon land.

Dockworkers and longshoremen of the world unite!

Last month’s meeting of the International Dockworkers Council (IDC) in Miami, Fla., provided an opportunity for many delegates to praise the 97,000-member organization that has kept its grassroots identity with the rank-and-file.

The IDC prides itself on international solidarity with dockworkers and longshoremen around the world and keeping alive the old IWW/Wobblies motto of “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

In yours truly’s 2008 book Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press (University Press of Mississippi), I wrote about the importance of such solidarity in the International Longshoremen’s protest against a union-busting Danish shipping line in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2000.

“Hundreds of battle-ready, black-clad police and highway patrol officers stood in formation, armed with riot helmets, wooden clubs, and plastic shields” to put down the protest. Before long, protesters were throwing rocks at the police, and the police were beating protesters with sticks and firing smoke grenades at them, according to varying accounts of the event.

As indictments were filed against the so-called “Charleston Five”, dockworkers around the world kicked into gear and joined the protest, including the West Coast-based International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) (which the legendary Harry Bridges formed in the 1930s) and workers as far away as Spain. Criminal felony charges eventually were dropped against the Charleston Five, and the Danish shipping line agreed to work with the International Longshoremen’s Association local (ILA) in Charleston.    

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The South tops the nation in union membership growth, and mainstream media could care less, labor writer laments

Below is a link to a compelling article by labor writer and newly arrived Southerner (from Pittsburgh) Mike Elk about the growing labor movement in the South and the dearth of reporters covering it (lamentably he doesn't mention Labor South).

"Just as attitudes about race are changing in the South, attitudes about organized labor are changing just as rapidly," Elk writes, pointing out the growing pro-labor attitudes of young people in particular.

Elk says union membership is growing faster in the South than any other region in the nation, and "five of the top 10 fastest-growing states for union membership" in 2015 were in the South. Hey, maybe Labor South helped moved that process along!

Here's the link

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trump denounces both TPP and its victims while a top Clintonista raises questions about Clinton's born-again opposition to it

An earlier posting touched on some of these issues, and this is the resulting column that ran recently in the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Miss.

OXFORD, Miss. – I didn’t make it to the recent Donald Trump rally in Jackson, Miss., but I’m sure my ears would have perked up as soon as the Republican presidential candidate began attacking NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

“We will rebuild roads and bridges and infrastructure, and we will do it with our companies and our steel and our labor,” Trump told the cheering, chanting crowd. “I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created!”

To add fuel to a long-simmering fire, one of England’s top “Brexit” leaders, Nigel Farage also took the stage and urged American voters to do like his fellow Brits and take their nation back from the “big banks” and the professional “political class.” The British vote to exit the European Union was in part a rejection of EU neoliberal policies that push free trade for corporations and “austerity” for citizens.

At this point, I might’ve had to pinch myself and ask: Is this a Republican rally? A fair question given the fact that the Republican Party has long been the party of “big banks” and big corporations.

It’s a topsy-turvy world this 2016 presidential election. On one hand you’ve got a populism-spouting billionaire real estate and casino magnate who’s also a former reality TV star. On the other, you’ve got Hillary Clinton, a Wall Street-friendly millionaire Democrat (net worth estimated in the neighborhood of $40 million) who once ardently championed the TPP but now says she opposes it.

Like NAFTA, the TPP agreement pretends to represent modern global reality, a world where capital should flow freely across barrier-less borders. Only problem is, the jobs flow with it toward bottom-feeder countries where low wages, sweatshops, and miserable workplace and environmental conditions are the rule.

The drain on jobs can work both ways. NAFTA dumped so much subsidized U.S. products onto Mexico that it displaced an estimated 1.3 million Mexican farmers, the same farmers and their progeny whom Trump rails against in his speeches. Back home in the States, NAFTA cost Americans millions of jobs that went overseas, most of them in manufacturing.

Mississippi was one of the states hardest hit by NAFTA, a 1994 trade deal that then-President Bill Clinton was only able to secure after arm-twisting fellow Democrats with promises of labor protections that were never delivered.

TPP has been described as NAFTA on steroids, and indeed it takes trade deals to a whole new level by allowing corporations to sue governments that pass laws and regulations that might inhibit profits. Furthermore, those suits are argued in special courts where the corporations have a powerful say in who presides. This is the kind of deal—enthusiastically supported by President Barack Obama—you get when the dealmakers meet in secret without input from the public.

It’s a sign of the tragic decline of the modern-day Democratic Party that its leaders have become champions of jobs-killing trade deals that also force untold millions of migrant workers to leave their native countries in search of work and survival. Those migrant workers are victims of the very trade deals that Trump denounces even as he also denounces the migrant workers.

One of Hillary Clinton’s closest political friends, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the quintessential Clinton insider, told POLITICO this summer that she’ll switch again on TPP once the election’s over and support it. “Yes,” he said when asked if she’d switch. “Listen, she was in support of it. There were specific things in it she wants fixed.” When a public outcry resulted, including a denial from the Clinton camp, McAuliffe did some of his own switching and insisted he only was saying what he wanted Clinton to do, not what she will do.

The Associated Press recently noted that “Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton (are) the two least-popular presidential nominees in the history of modern polling.” Indeed, a recent GenForward poll shows that as many as 72 percent of young people in the country feel neither major political party is doing a good job looking out for their interests. This includes whites, Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans.

Who can blame them? Saddled with unprecedented college debt and an uncertain future with limited options, they don’t know where to turn.

Trump talks big about being the “greatest jobs president,” but his record as a business executive includes a long, dismal trail of citations, lawsuits and liens for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and failure to pay workers and subcontractors.

Hillary Clinton’s husband railed against free-trade agreements as a candidate for president, then he became their biggest champion. Given her own record of switching back and forth, and those recent comments by major Clintonista McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton has given us little reason to believe she’ll be any different than Bill.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

UAW tilling what Sidney Hillman called the "unplowed fields" of the South with lopsided auto seating plant victory in Tennessee

The United Auto Workers continue to till what legendary Amalgamated Clothing Workers leader Sidney Hillman once called the "unplowed fields" of the South.

Workers at Magna Seating International in Spring Hill, Tenn., recently voted 192-1 to join the UAW, bringing a total of 230 workers into what UAW Region 8 Director Ray Curry called "the UAW family."

Located near the General Motors Manufacturing Plant in Spring Hill, the 122,500-square-foot Magna Seating International facility builds seats for the GMC Acadia and Cadillac XT5. It's a new, state-of-the-art facility touted by company officials for its commitment to good environmental conditions and open working relations.

The UAW has been slowing building a foundation in what has come to be called "Detroit South" for years, connecting with community leaders and area university students to change the traditionally anti-union hostility that Southern political, religious and economic leaders have fostered for decades. It has waged a nearly 12-year effort at the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., that could produce a vote in coming months.