Wednesday, December 6, 2023

2023's "Kaisers, kings & czars", as Carl Sandburg called them, brought war and destruction, but the year also brought union solidarity on the labor battlefield

(Carl Sandburg)

A little more than a century ago the poet Carl Sandburg, young and radical at that time, had this to say about the world situation:


“And what scientist or clairvoyant can go farther and tell us

when the working class of the world

will kick all Kaisers, kings & czars

out of the palaces?”


The famed poet and Lincoln biographer could be speaking about modern times when the Kaisers, kings, and czars occupy corporate boardrooms as well as government palaces. As 2023 draws to a close, war rages on in Ukraine, Israel is ethnically cleansing the Gaza Strip of Palestinians, lunacy reigns in Argentina with the election of Javier Milei as president, and Americans face the prospect of choosing between a brain-fuddled warmonger and a loudmouth, potentially convicted felon for president in 2024.


“The stink of the world’s injustice and the world’s indifference is all around us,” Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day once wrote. “The world has lost a sense of sin. Not personal sin, but social sin.”

(To the right, Dorothy Day)


Yet there’s good news from 2023, too. Major strikes by the United Auto Workers (UAW), the Writers Guild of America (WGA), and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) resulted in major agreements that may be less than ideal but which proved the power of worker solidarity and which, in the case of the UAW, promised to reverse the trend of union concession after concession to Big Industry.


Workers at Starbucks cafes across the country staged a “Red Cup Rebellion” in November, a major walkout on the union-busting company’s annual Red Cup Day to protest working conditions and the lack of a contract two years after they joined a union.


Joe Biden’s claim to become the nation’s most pro-union president ever rang hollow in late 2022 when he sided with the railroad companies and forced workers to accept a contract that did little to end their servitude to profit-obsessed executives.  In 2023 he tried to repair the damage to his image by publicly declaring solidarity with the UAW in its strike against major automakers Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. He actually appeared on the picket line with workers. Still wondering if this was mainly a photo-op.


Nothing can window dress Joe Biden as the world’s leading warmonger, however. He and the warlords in his administration knowingly pushed Russia into its invasion of Ukraine, breaking promise after promise, creating a border threat to Russia that the United States itself would never tolerate. Today Ukraine is in ruins with a large portion of an entire generation of men dead on the battlefield or suffering lifelong injuries. And for what? The same greed and desperation to hold on to world hegemony that left Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan in ruins.


Given the excuse of Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israeli citizens, Israel’s own chief warmonger, Benjamin Netanyahu, unleashed his long-wanted war of destruction on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, bombing hospitals, killing women, children, and old men indiscriminately. Meanwhile Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in the West Bank while the Israeli military looked the other way. What Netanyahu has done is sow the seeds of hate and rebellion for generations to come.


And what did Joe Biden do? Stand by his friend Bibi and pledge undying support. Back in Washington, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nulend and other bloodthirsty neo-cons in Biden’s administration are drooling at the prospect that all this will finally lead to a war with Iran.


Facing potential war on three fronts, Biden tried to offer a fig leaf to China, inviting Chinese leader Xi Jinping to San Francisco. I can imagine Biden’s words: “Forget all the saber-rattling earlier, Xi, those promises to defend Taiwan if you attacked. Sure, you’re a dictator, but let’s be at least friendly until we resolve this Ukraine thing and this Gaza Strip thing.”


Biden’s behavior in this Middle East crisis has cost him much-needed re-election support in the Arab and Muslim community in the United States. All the indictments his Justice Department and local prosecutors have hurled at Donald Trump have done little to dampen support for the former president.


What is likely is that many Americans will stay home on election day next November, and that’s not good for Joe Biden.


Looking to the deep south of the continent below, many are scratching their heads at the election of the Trump-like Javier Milei as president of Argentina, a nation this Labor South blog has long watched with interest.


It’s not so hard to understand. Argentines are deeply frustrated at the failure of successive administrations to end out-of-control inflation and wrest their nation from the deadly grip of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the giant loans that become impossible to pay back, the austerity measures demanded by these neoliberal institutions that gut government programs serving the working class and poor. This frustration led to a shot in the dark, one that is sadly bound to make their lives even worse.


Milei promises to make the U.S. dollar Argentina’s currency, to privatize a wide swath of government services, to break relations with China and other important trading partners. In other words, he’s doing the will of the neoliberals and neoconservatives—I truly don’t know the difference any more—back in Washington, D.C., New York, and European capitals whose behind-the-scenes efforts likely helped propel his ascendancy.


(Carl Sandburg's office in his later years in Flat Rock, North Carolina)

Poor old Carl Sandburg. Few in the United States listened to his harangue against the “Kaisers, kings & czars.” He saw his nation plunge into war and economic Depression as Wall Street ruled while Kaisers, kings and czars fell elsewhere in the world. World War I ended and a decade later the working class gained power under a friendly president, but soon enough Kaisers and kings re-emerged and so did war. By that time, however, the poet was completing his highly praised biography of Abraham Lincoln, a leader who saw and hated the savagery of war and was determined to keep it from destroying his nation.