Monday, May 29, 2017
Watching "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" with Kris Kristofferson in Lexington, Kentucky--It's a film still that resonates today
(Kris Kristofferson at the Kentucky Theatre in Lexington, Kentucky, last week)
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Billy the Kid is fighting a hopeless battle in Sam Peckinpah’s classic 1973 Western, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. He refuses to concede the freewheeling West that is fading around him to big landowner John Chisum or the Big City moneymen who are coming in Chisum’s wake to divide among themselves the spoils of an emerging new West.
However, Billy’s longtime friend-turned-lawman Pat Garrett has made his peace with Chisum and the moneymen and accepted their offer to hunt down the West’s most notorious gunfighter.
Folks in Lexington, Kentucky, last week got a chance to see Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid again on the big screen at the downtown Kentucky Theatre, a fundraising event for the upcoming Harry Dean Stanton Festival. Actor-singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, who starred as Billy the Kid, spoke at the event and even sported the same pair of boots that he wore in the film.
“Working with Sam Peckinpah was definitely a wild ride, one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Kristofferson told the crowd of 650 at the May 23 showing. “Working on this film was a dream come true. We got to ride horses, shoot guns.”
The film showing was organized by Lucy Jones, creator of the annual Harry Dean Stanton Festival in Lexington. Stanton was also in the cast of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Your Labor South correspondent attended as part of his research for an upcoming biography of Stanton.
Peckinpah’s film, written by Rudy Wurlitzer with a musical score by Bob Dylan (who also co-stars), tells a different side of the story than the 1970 Western Chisum, which starred John Wayne in the title role. In that film, Chisum teams with Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett to fight the bad guys.
Peckinpah’s film depicts Chisum as the last of a dying breed of uniquely American landowners, larger than life, often self-made, hard-working men of achievement but also rigid in their views, unwilling to relinquish power, judgmental of others less fortunate and removed from their daily struggles. Coming in Chisum’s place are new-fangled city investors and finance men, anonymous and rapacious, interchangeable, early versions of those modern-day venture capitalists who don’t make or create but enrich themselves by skimming off the hard-earned gains of others.
This is a 44-year-old film that still resonates today as Wall Street continues to further separate itself from the rest of America, and its servants in the White House and halls of Congress make that separation ever more profitable, much as they did in the Teapot Dome Scandal of 1920. In that scandal, which inspired Peckinpah in the making of this film, officials in the Harding Administration colluded with wealthy oilmen to help them grab lucrative oil leases in the West that had earlier been under the control of the federal government.
Filmgoers in Lexington applauded loudly at the Kentucky Theatre last week. They watched a great movie with one of its stars sitting among them. They also got a chance to see the importance and value of art well done, how it can remind us that we face many of the same challenges our ancestors faced, that we have yet another chance to overcome those challenges, that the human story goes on, debased at times, sure, but noble and inspiring, too, and ever in need of compassion.
Friday, May 26, 2017
The Clinton Old Guard in the Democratic Party is not backing Berniecrats in elections even if it means Republicans win
OXFORD, Miss. – Thousands cheered back in March when Bernie Sanders stood on the podium at the “March on Mississippi” in Canton, Mississippi, and told them “the eyes of the country and the eyes of the world are on you!”
The Vermont senator and unsuccessful Democratic presidential contender was the big draw of that event, and his presence indeed put a national spotlight on the longstanding struggle of Nissan workers in Canton to be able to have an intimidation-free union election.
“One worker has zero power,” Sanders said, “but when workers stand together, you have power. There is a reason why large multinational corporations have come to the South. They’re told workers in the South will not stand up. It’s a race to the bottom. Our job is to tell Corporate America they cannot have it all.”
If the eyes of the nation and world were on Canton that day, were the eyes of the national Democratic Party?
It’s unlikely, a great irony when you consider how organized labor has been the party’s most stalwart supporter since before Franklin Roosevelt.
Under the leadership of the Democratic National Committee and its new chair, Tom Perez, today’s party looks backward, not forward. Its eyes are still searching for excuses for its miserable failure in the 2016 presidential election.
Why? The Clinton wing still rules the DNC, and thus the endless groaning about alleged Russian interference in the election rather than the soul searching it needs to move forward.
The party has poured more than $8 million into Democrat Jon Ossoff’s congressional bid in a wealthy suburban Atlanta district in Georgia. Ossoff is the classic Clinton Democrat--a darling of Hollywood celebrities who is fluent in French and studied at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University. He’s also hoping to win conservative support by talking about cutting $16 billion in “wasteful spending” out of the federal budget.
In other words, he’s not a Bernie Sanders kind of guy who can easily work a crowd of blue-collar assembly line workers—whether it’s Mississippi, Michigan, Ohio or Minnesota. Yet many of those are among the folks who used to vote solidly Democratic but turned to Donald Trump last November because at least he talked about issues important to them.
The DNC had a chance last month to support such a candidate in Kansas, James Thompson, a progressive populist in the Bernie Sanders style who was running for Congress in a special election. What did the DNC do? Practically nothing. Thompson had a real shot in the election but lost after getting only token support from the Democratic Party bigwigs.
The same was true in populist Democrat Rob Quist’s congressional campaign in Montana, where he got a groundswell of support from voters during the campaign but little from the national Democratic Party in face of a Republican juggernaut to defeat him. Quist lost the election to Republican Greg Gianforte.
“By refusing to fund the campaigns of anyone but centrist, establishment shills, the Democratic Party aims to make the Berniecrats’ lack of political viability a self-fulfilling prophecy,” The Guardian’s Jamie Peck wrote recently. “Starve their campaigns of resources so they can’t win, then point to said losses as examples of why they can’t win.”
DNC Chair Perez won his position after defeating Keith Ellison, the candidate supported by Sanders. His two predecessors, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile, both resigned amid allegations of supporting and using their positions to push for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries.
Meanwhile, Sanders continues to rally young people and blue-collar workers around the country in an effort offer future voters a real choice in the next election. He has launched an interview show broadcast on Facebook that allows for serious discussion of issues that matter to Americans in their day-to-day lives. In other words, something other than tired conspiracy theories about last November’s election.
Among Sanders’ guests has been the Rev. William Barber, leader of North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” movement and that state’s NAACP president. Barber is one of the most dynamic social justice activists in the country today, the kind of fiery supporter of civil rights and labor that used to be the heart of the Democratic Party.
The Barber broadcast got nearly a million viewers. Another show featuring science educator and global warming critic Bill Nye was watched by 4.5 million viewers. Who were these watchers? Most of them ranged in age from 18 to 45.
Hillary Clinton thought she could win the 2016 presidential race on the same politics of her husband, a politics that seems liberal on the surface—pro-choice, multicultural, racially sensitive—but which is just as wedded to Wall Street, big banks, and race-to-the-bottom corporations as your garden variety Republican.
Bernie Sanders offered a different vision in 2016, and the party under whose banner he campaigned did what it could to undermine him. It’s a vision that still inspires many and gives them hope, but don’t expect the Democratic old guard to be among them.
A shorter version of this column appeared recently in the Jackson Free Press of Jackson, Mississippi.
Monday, May 8, 2017
Here is a guest article from Sindhu Menon, a labor journalist in India who writes for Equal Times, Labour File, International Union Rights and other publications. She was a contributor to my recent book The Strangers Among Us: Tales from a Global Migrant Worker Movement (LabourStart, 2016). The incidents described in this article eerily remind us of the Haymarket Square Tragedy in Chicago in 1886, when law enforcement used a deadly bombing incident to "round up the usual suspects" and crack down on labor activists and the labor movement.
From Equal Times
India: workers vow to fight Maruti Suzuki murder charges
By Sindhu Menon
April 18, 2017
One of India’s most acrimonious workers’ struggles in recent memory continues to reverberate following a court judgment which found more than a dozen workers guilty of murder.
On 18 March 2017, the Gurugram District and Sessions Court in the northern India state of Haryana sentenced 13 workers at the Maruti Suzuki India Limited plant in Manesar to life imprisonment for criminal conspiracy, destruction of evidence and murder for their alleged involvement in the deadly clashes that broke out at the car plant in July 2012.
In 2011, both permanent and contract workers at the plant sought to form an independent union in a bid to end the mass casualisation of jobs and improve working conditions, but they were denied registration by the Maruti Suzuki management, backed by the state government of Haryana. Although the workers eventually managed to form a union in 2012, the management refused to recognise it.
Tensions eventually escalated into violence on 18 July 2012. An accidental fire left the company’s HR manager Awanish Kumar Dev dead, and over 100 workers were injured by the police and security guards. Crucially, there is no proof that any of the condemned men were even present when the fire started; they were arrested on the basis of a list of names handed to the police by the management.
Once arrested, it is reported that the workers were tortured while in police custody. Campaigners across India are calling the case a miscarriage of justice.
Of the 148 workers arrested and jailed over the incident, 117 workers were acquitted on 10 March 2017. But four workers have been sentenced to five years in prison for trespassing, unlawful assembly, rioting and possession of deadly weapons, while another 14 workers were sentenced to three years on the same charges.
Kushiram, a provisional committee member of Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU), tells Equal Times: “Out of 13 workers sentenced for life imprisonment, 12 are Maruti union officials. 117 workers are declared innocent by the court, but without any reason they have served more than four years in jail without bail. Who will compensate them for their years in prison? Another 14 workers were sentenced to three years, and the irony is that they have already spent four years in prison. Now who will address their loss and grievances?”
The defence team representing the Maruti workers say that the union leaders are “paying the price of championing the cause of workers”. Since 16 March, solidarity action by various worker, student and human rights organisations have taken place in over 20 cities, as well as internationally, while over 100,000 workers across India have participated in work stoppages in support of the Maruti workers. On 4 and 5 April, an all-India and international day of solidarity and protest was also held. And while the MSWU is not affiliated to any central trade union, it has also won support from various trade unions.
“The workers have been convicted on the basis of concocted evidence manufactured by the state administration, police and employer nexuses by shamelessly misusing and abusing power,” says Tapan Sen, general secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
“The current judgment too blindly acknowledges management’s position without even recognizing the events of the day as part of the persistent attack of the Maruti Suzuki management on the workers’ right to form a union of their own choice and its refusal to negotiate with the union, over fair and just workers’ demands,” states a press release by the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI).
“It is the failure of industrial relations and the management is equally responsible for what has happened”, says Virjesh Upadhayay, general secretary of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the union affiliated to the ruling government and the largest trade union centre in India. “The state government, eyeing foreign investments, were in full support of the Maruti management and had shut their eyes to the violation of the fundamental rights of workers,” he tells Equal Times.
A history of repression
The Maruti Suzuki case is widely considered an attack on the right of workers to freedom of association, and has become an unprecedented example of class solidarity in India. But it is also seen as a case study of the way in which employers work closely with the government and the judiciary to criminalise Indian workers and deny them their fundamental constitutional rights.
The exploitation and harassment of car sector workers – the bulk of whom come from poor rural villages – is nothing new. India’s automotive industry is one of the largest in the world, accounting for 7.1 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to statistics. The Indian government wants to make sure that foreign auto manufacturers feel that their investments are protected in India – even if this at the expense of auto workers who are faced with poverty wages, ever-increasing production targets and insecure work.
In 2005, for example, workers at the Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India in Gurugram, Haryana tried to organise around the issue of fair wages. A number of workers were sacked, leading to violent protests, which resulted in the injury of more than 100 workers at the hands of police and plant security. Similar unrest occurred in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2016.
In 2008, a labour struggle at the Swiss-Italian automotive parts company Graziano Trasmissioni in the northern city of Greater Noida resulted in the death of its CEO/MD Lalit Kishore Chaudhary and the termination of more than 200 jobs. Unrest has also been reported at other plants in India including Hyundai, Bosch and Toyota.
“They expect the workers to continue working in any situation and do whatever the management demands,” says AD Nagpal, national secretary of the Indian trade union centre Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS). “But once they try to form union and raise their voices on their fundamental rights, the suppression and oppression begins.”
According to DL Sachdeva, national secretary of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the situation in Manesar provides a clear example of this. “The Maruti Suzuki management refused to recognise the union and negotiate with them. It’s quite obvious that the intensification of the [situation] on 18 July 2012 was a ploy of Maruti Suzuki management to get rid of the union and its leadership,” he tells Equal Times. “Besides the criminalisation of labour, large scale victimisation too happened. 546 permanent and 1800 contract workers were terminated from their jobs.”
Maruti Suzuki has not yet released a statement following the judgment and the press office failed to respond to our request for an interview.
While the defence team for the convicted workers plans to challenge the judgment at the High Court, Maruti workers have promised to increase the pressure on the management to free those convicted, reinstate victimised workers and improve working conditions at the plant.