As I write this, the Washington Post reports that the federally- imposed eviction moratoriums are fraying under legal assault from landlords. The article notes that as the pandemic has continued, and the moratorium extended, that pressures have increased on smaller landlords who lack the financial capacity to go month after month without revenue. What the article does not say is that even if evictions go forward, there is a likelihood that many of these smaller owners will fail financially. Eviction is an expensive process, and finding replacement tenants who can pay is not easy when large numbers of potential takers are themselves facing hardship.
In emphasizing the impact on property owners, I am not attempting to downplay the destructive impacts of eviction on renters. The wave of evictions will take its greatest immediate toll on those families and individuals. This situation was created by a failure of the federal government to meaningfully fund relief for the millions who lost jobs and income as a result of the pandemic. The rent moratorium was at best a short-term fix, unsustainable over any extended period of time, and no substitute for the material relief Congress and the Trump Administration failed to provide. The $40B in rent assistance finally passed by Congress in March as part of the larger American Recovery Plan is likely too little, and very much too late for many.
What happens with the real estate, however, will likely have a larger long-term impact on the prospects for housing affordability for most tenants. And a lot of that real estate is likely to change hands over the next couple of years, as small-scale landlords, under financial stress, sell or are foreclosed upon.
I’d like to refer readers to this article by David Abromowitz and Andrew Jakabovics, published last October in Shelterforce, a progressive housing journal. It lays out a persuasive case for the importance of rental housing stock owned by smaller, non-corporate landlords, who own about 7 million apartments in communities of fewer than 50 units, many of them in small 2 – 4 unit buildings. These are often the most affordable rental housing available, except for the small slice of the market that is already publicly owned or publicly-assisted. Roughly 1 in 6 of these small private landlords are in serious financial distress. Abromowitz and Jakabovics argue for a dedicated fund to assist mission-oriented owners to purchase these buildings, either from their current owners, or from foreclosing banks.
This echoes the situation during the last financial crisis, when millions of U.S. homeowners lost their homes through foreclosure. The federal government, which ended up as temporary owner of these properties through its control of FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac allowed them to be sold off to the richest bidders. The immediate pain for the foreclosed families and individuals was bad enough, but in the aftermath huge private equity firms swooped in to buy these houses at fire sale prices, most of which remain high-priced rentals. We should not allow this dismal result to be repeated, with corporate owners jacking up rents on affordable units as the market recovers. But that’s exactly what will happen if the federal government once again takes the approach of “let the markets work.”
Fortunately, as I noted in a previous Voices article, we have on hand a nonprofit lending system, Community Development Financial Institutions, which are ready to channel public capital to recover this important housing resource. And we have a class of nonprofit owners of affordable rentals who can take on the long-term ownership of these buildings as high-quality affordable housing. All it takes is the money.
Matt Perrenod is a consultant to nonprofit community development and finance organizations working throughout the United States.
The historic union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, AL appears to have been defeated.
As Voices for New Democracy covered earlier this year, the union drive of 5,800 Amazon warehouse workers with the RWDSU represented the largest labor challenge to Amazon yet in the United States. The effort drove national attention, to the point that even President Biden released a video affirming the workers’ right to hold their election. The efforts heroic, and had it succeeded, it likely would have sparked union elections in other Amazon warehouses across the country. It is no surprise, then, that Amazon pulled out all the stops to defeat it.
From forcing workers into overtly anti-union meetings, to conspiring with the Bessemer city government to change traffic light patterns to throw off union organizers outside the warehouse, to colluding with the Postal Service to illegally add a voting dropbox to the Amazon site itself, to countless other nefarious efforts — the deck was stacked against the workers from the beginning.
But the loss cannot be blamed on entirely on Amazon’s massive opposition. If the labor movement and new union drives are to succeed, then we must reflect on our defeats soberly to make sure we do not repeat them. Fortunately, Jane McAlevey’s recent article in The Nation offers a much-needed retrospective of the campaign — where it went wrong, and what we can learn from it.
McAlevey highlights three general reasons for the loss: Amazon’s own union-busting, weaknesses in the union’s strategy, and the local context within Bessemer.
The union-busting is nothing novel. On top of the previously mentioned actions, Amazon effectively threatened layoffs if the union drive was successful. In a city suffering from a stagnant economy, such an outcome would be unacceptable. And given Amazon’s enormous influence within the city as a major employer, it is understandable why workers would fear going up against it. Especially considering reports that Amazon was ramping up surveillance and heightening tensions within its sites over the union drive, many employees likely developed concerns that joining the union would lead to Amazon permanently instituting these tensions and hostilities.
Messaging against such a behemoth is no easy task. But difficult opposition is no excuse for giving up. These fights can be won, and to make sure we win the next one, we must explore our mistakes.
McAlevey offers an important summary of the weaknesses within the RWDSU campaign. For one, the union had a widely inaccurate assumption of how many workers were in the warehouse — while they assumed ~1,500, Amazon quickly countered with a demand to include all 5,800 workers in the campaign, significantly raising the number of employees they would have to win to their side to clear the 30% threshold required to start the election.
The organizers also fumbled their messaging, particularly around the question of dues. Because Amazon is a right-to-work state, organizers explained that unionization would not necessarily mean workers have to pay dues — but dues are essential to build the power required to take on monstrous employers like Amazon, and the organizers missed an important opportunity to “ask workers why the company suddenly wants to discuss how workers spend their own money.” The organizers also treated the union as an external entity with messages like “the union is on your side,” missing an important opportunity to highlight that the workers themselves are the union.
Organizing tactics were another key issue in the trajectory of the campaign. The majority of face-to-face contact between workers and organizers was happening at the plant gate, effectively giving Amazon a home court advantage. Successful campaigns require house calls because, as McAlevey explains, “[t]he last thing nervous workers want is to be seen near the place they work, talking with union supporters.”
Finally, McAlevey highlights that the campaign simply had not built up the capacity that they needed to win the election. Rather than pursuing public structure tests — where a majority of workers publicly declare their support an action — the organizers declined to ask workers to go public with their support in a misguided attempt to protect the workforce. But what really protects the workers is the collective action of the majority. Ultimately, the organizers ended up reinforcing the atomization and fears of collective action that workers already experience at Amazon.
Regardless of these weaknesses in the campaign strategy, the final nail in the coffin was the lack of local support. While the campaign quickly garnered national media coverage, it did so at the expense of building relationships with local groups with more direct ties to the community.
It should be noted that this is not the end of the fight. The RWDSU has already announced that it will dispute the election and file a number of “Unfair Labor Practice” charges against Amazon — and some are still holding out hope for another election down the line. The tenacity is inspiring, and progressives should applaud efforts to try again. But if the union is going to win next time, it must be careful not to make the same mistakes.
As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, panelist Eric Gill delivered a presentation on his experience in driving labor and union transformation. The following is a summary of the key points he presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.
Given the state of the American labor movement, it’s critical that the left renew its commitment to labor transformation. When unions transform, it happens from the bottom-up. And as many unions have seen their power decline and their administrations fail their workers, they will need activists to help renew and transform them.
With this analysis, Eric and his cohort pursued the transformation of the hotel workers’ union in Hawaii. Eric himself joined as a janitor in Waikiki after a discussion about strategic industries in the islands, recognizing the major role that the tourism industry plays in Hawaii’s economy. But the union had long been a reactionary one, and was in desperate need of reform.
Knowing that the union is defined by its membership, Eric and his cohort worked to develop a core of activist left workers within the union as the vehicle for change. And ultimately they were successful, managing to transform union leadership.
This work was not without its challenges. The cohort had to immerse itself within the union, learning which leaders could be allies and which were opposed to their aims. Organizing within the union, they made a point to unite with leaders when they were doing the right work, and were not afraid to expose them when they didn’t. Strike actions were especially fertile ground for driving change, since they move workers’ class consciousness rapidly and move the economic struggle into a political struggle. Nevertheless, the “price of admission” was high, as Eric’s cohort had to contend with participating in both of the administrations they eventually deposed.
Transforming union leadership is not enough, though. Eric and his cohort continued to build out their progressive core by finding worker leaders and starting a committee-building program. The reason is clear: worker leaders are much more effective than anyone else at getting through to people. Their efforts have largely been successful and continue to pay off, as much of the union’s work is now led by the committee leaders they trained.
After their successful takeover, the renewed union began to focus on what was important. They began to turn their attention towards development of worker leaders among immigrant members — the large majority of the membership, which had previously been neglected. These efforts continue to pay off, as the support of immigrant workers has made their continued work possible.
With this transformation, the union has since been able to achieve a number of major victories. During a strike, the union created the slogan “one job should be enough,” which went beyond the very small $1.50 wage increases the union previously devoted attention to. Not only did this strengthen the resolve of the workers, but it also transformed the union’s public relations. As Eric explains, they were no longer seen as the corrupt guys, but rather the guys in the red shirts out there fighting and supporting the other movements in the community. As a result, they were able to build support among tourists, some of whom even donated to the strike fund.
The union also developed new capacity to shape change on a national level. During the 2020 Presidential election, the union deployed 1,700 trained organizers to the field to work doors in swing states like Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. As one of the only unions deploying an effort like this, their work was invaluable and ultimately succeeded in helping flip the states and ensure a Trump defeat.
Eric’s experience demonstrates that we have an extraordinary moment where we can build worker power and start shifting the balance, as public perception of unions and labor is high — but we must not miss our chance. Now is the time to salt the unions with progressive activists who are focused on long-term unity with workers and wider social change in unions. And it’s vital to remember, workers want this. They want the union to be powerful, they want a program that advances their conditions, and they want solidarity.
As Eric concluded, “Solidarity for many years has been a word. Now, we need action.”
Hear the full presentation from the Forum on Labor’s Future below.
As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, panelist Joe Alvarez delivered a presentation on his experiences and insights around the relationship between the labor movement and the growing social justice movements across the country. The following is a summary of the key points he presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.
The Black Lives Matter uprisings of summer 2020 shook up the labor movement significantly. In one illustrative protest in Washington, D.C., protesters defaced the AFL-CIO building, putting up signs challenging the inclusion of police in the labor movement. This was followed by calls across the country to expel police unions from the AFL-CIO. A number of unions even joined the calls, with some teachers unions going so far as to launch their own campaigns to expel police from their schools.
While labor would typically be a natural ally in the fight for social justice, events during the uprising suggest a rift between social justice movements like BLM and unions. In this national moment of reckoning, we will continue to see fights and debates around the role that unions have to play in these social justice struggles. But if unions can find the right ways to ally with these movements, it could reignite the labor movement’s momentum in tremendous ways.
In fact, we are already beginning to see these trends in the new generation of labor leaders. New generations of young Black and other activists of color have been creating pressure on their unions to support social justice struggles — and notably, they have not always been doing so from a position of power. Even as outsiders, rank-and-file union workers are increasingly organizing to make demands of their unions and of the labor movement more broadly to advance a bolder vision of both social and economic justice.
There are a few key trends driving this momentum:
Changing paradigms around bargaining
New organizing, for one, is bringing new populations into the labor movement, particularly people of color. In doing so, we are seeing a dramatic transformation of the face of labor. And with that comes new insight into the concerns of those communities and the need for the unions that represent them to fully stand up for the rights and needs of their communities.
Efforts to diversify union leadership are likewise transforming the what unions stand for. Diversity is important in and of itself to ensure that leadership reflects the demographic makeup of the membership. But this also comes with new understanding of the role that unions can and should play in advancing rights of workers and their communities, both in and out of the workplace.
Changing paradigms around bargaining and campaigns are also driving these transformations within the labor movement. While major union campaigns have traditionally focused almost exclusively on economic issues (e.g., the workplace, safety, conditions of employment, etc.), there has been a recent rise in bargaining that involves the broader community and that demands more fundamental changes, often targeting finance and Wall Street. Teachers, in particular, in places like Chicago have recently led campaigns demanding changes in how education is funded, as well as changes in non-workplace issues like municipal relationships with banks. Likewise, strikes in West Virginia have demanded taxes on the wealthy, and strikes in Oklahoma have targeted tax breaks for oil and gas interests. Increasingly, the labor movement is embracing a new understanding of its role in driving broad social change.
The growing emphasis on leadership development within unions is also changing the trajectory of the labor movement. Union leaders are increasingly grappling with questions about how to change culture within unions themselves to make them a stronger vehicle for leading social change: i.e. “How do we change ourselves to better lead change?” And importantly, leaders are not only thinking about leading change in the workplace, but also about how unions can contribute to broader social movements. By cultivating relationships between labor and social movements, leaders can strengthen their own unions and also play a larger role driving in social change.
Finally, the generational changes in the labor movement are also transforming it. New generations of union members are advancing new visions for social and economic justice, and the role that labor can play in both. It bears noting that these changes are themselves the result of historic victories that enabled new workers to enter into the labor movement to begin with. While these are important victories in and of themselves, they have also laid the groundwork for further change and we are currently seeing the baton being passed to new generations bringing new momentum to the labor movement.
Labor organizers must take note of these trends and recognize where momentum is growing to strengthen our movement. If we can do this and embrace new visions for our unions and social/economic justice more broadly, the labor movement will only grow more powerful.
Hear the full presentation from the Forum on Labor’s Future below.
As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, UCLA Labor Center Director and moderator Kent Wong began the discussion with a recap of the state of the American labor movement. The following is a summary of the key points he presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.
On May 1st, 2006, 1 million immigrant workers in Los Angeles held the largest May Day action in US history. Billed as a “day without immigrants,” the informal strike brought the city to a standstill and successfully defeated a major anti-immigration bill. But while this represented a major victory for the immigrant rights movement and demonstrated the power of organized labor, it is notable that this action was not led by the American labor movement.
The May Day action is just one illustrative example of broader issues facing the labor movement in the United States. It has faced years of assaults by federal and state governments, shocks of austerity and deregulation, and fissures within the labor movement that have sometimes left it at odds with other social justice movements like the struggle for immigrant rights. With that in mind, it is critically important to understand how we got here, so that we can craft the right strategy to rebuild stronger than ever before.
Since the 1950s, union density in the United States has been steadily on the decline. American unions reached their height in the 1950s with roughly 35% union density across all sectors of the American economy. But since then, this number has declined to just ~10% today, with only 6% of private sector workers represented by unions. Today, the public sector is the last stronghold of the American labor movement, with major unions like SEIU, AFSCME, NEA, AFT, UFT holding strong.
Faced with this reality, the key task for the labor movement is rebuilding. And these five strategies and tactics may hold the key to doing so:
Build labor-community unity with a broad vision for social & economic justice (like Fight for $15)
Embrace racial justice
Organize the unorganized
Fight for immigrant rights
Link organizing power and political power
By embracing these principles and expanding the scope of its vision – both of the working class itself and the social transformation it seeks to build – the labor movement can recapture momentum and power.
Recent campaigns are a testament to this fact. The Justice for Janitors campaign, for example, successfully reorganized the industry through pathbreaking organizing strategies and tactics. Likewise, the hotel workers campaign embraced nonviolence and use of direct action/civil disobedience, pioneering creative organizing tactics resulting in the reorganizing of the hotel industry across LA.
Even beyond the workplace, recent events show that the labor movement can also exert major strength in the political sphere, provided that it adopts the right strategies and visions. The LA Federation of Labor, for example, recently developed a major political mobilization campaign that successfully flipped the political alignment in LA and California based on a union organizing framework. This battle was won precisely because the Federation tapped rank-and-file union members to engage in political process, offering lost-time wages paid for by the union to members who were doing political organizing.
Likewise, the Biden-Harris presidential victory was won by an alliance of labor and communities of color. The context is important: Trump had won (by thin margins) former union strongholds like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania (which have been the target of robust anti-union attacks and legislation). But in 2020, they flipped back — in part, due to massive union infusion of organizing, which also played out in Arizona and Georgia. Hundreds of full-time canvassers were sent by their unions to do door-to-door mobilization even during the pandemic, which decisively helped flip Arizona and secured the victories of Senators Warnock and Ossoff in Georgia.
Labor organizers and unions must take note of these trends and these case studies as we continue working to build the power of the labor movement. If we can do so, labor’s future looks bright.
Hear the full presentation from the Forum on Labor’s Future below.
If you’ve been paying attention to the stock market over the past two months, it would be hard to avoid the incredible saga of video game retailer GameStop, which in early February became a flashpoint for a “very-online” revolt against hedge funds.
Doug Henwood summarizes the situation well, but the gist of the story goes like this: GameStop, a brick-and-mortar video game retailer, was being heavily shorted by a number of hedge funds due to the overall decline in brick-and-mortar retail even before the pandemic (as well as the gaming economy moving more and more online). GameStop got some good news with a few new investments and signals that it was beginning to move to e-commerce, which led to mild skepticism about the short positions. What really matters here is that a number of users on the reddit forum “Wall Street Bets” got wind of the short positions, realized that the shorts were oversold (113% of the company’s outstanding shares were being shorted), and started to take advantage of the situation by effectively pumping the stock. Overnight, GameStop stock skyrocketed as small individual investors motivated by the reddit board (and goaded on by each other) poured their money into the stock — not only driving up GameStop stock price by orders of magnitude, but also decimating the hedge fund short-sellers in the process.
Almost immediately, Wall Street cried foul with sudden (and extremely out of character) demands for regulation. And their calls were heeded — a number of trading platforms like Robinhood halted all purchases of GameStop stock for days, only allowing holders to cash out. This, of course, only strengthened the resolve of the reddit investors, who have been firmly committed to holding the stock at any cost. Now the saga has evolved from a classic short squeeze by a new type of trader, to what a lot of the GameStop investors perceive as an existential fight to destabilize the system and screw over hedge funds using their own methods — even if they lose their entire investment doing it.
It would be a mistake to read this story as the righteous revolt of the working class against the capitalist class — many of the influential reddit users driving this short squeeze are clearly insiders that have access to Bloomberg Terminals and thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars to spare to play on the stock market. And while many working people have gotten in on the action (and even shared stories of how cashing out enabled them to pay off their medical debt, buy a home, or take the pressure off providing for their families), this is not a mass working class movement. At the same time, the short squeezers are clearly motivated in some way by a deep anti-corporate sentiment, delight in using Wall Street’s own tools against them, and for many of them even small gains (compared to Wall Street norms, anyway) have been life-changing.
But beyond all the spectacle and the trickle of positive stories, the real importance of this whole saga is what it demonstrates about our economic system. The GameStop bubble is a) clarifying the irrelevance of the stock market to the real economy and real people’s lives, and b) exposing the real way that Wall Street is a rigged game for the ruling class, which will immediately turn on its hegemonic principles as soon as money starts flowing in the “wrong” direction. It’s vital that the Left tap into both of these phenomena and channel them into efforts that can actuallychallenge corporate hegemony.
The first point does not come as a surprise — Americans have long understood that what is good for the stock market does not always translate into the mainstream (especially during the pandemic, when capitalist fortunes have skyrocketed amid misery and death for most working people). But what makes the GameStop situation unique is that it exposes the process by which the stock market works, and how absolutely crazy it is. The concept of short-selling alone is nearly incomprehensible to many. Value here is not created by actually producing anything, but by pure speculation and conscious manipulation of markets. It’s obvious to most consumers that a niche brick-and-mortar retailer like GameStop cannot actually be worth more than Delta Air Lines or Kellogg’s — and yet for all intents and purposes, the stock market has no choice but to treat it as such. The fraud and speculation is palpable, and yet the rules of the system make it so.
This is, of course, no surprise to socialists. You couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of Marx’s concept of fictitious capital — that is, “money that is thrown into circulation as capital without any material basis in commodities or productive activity” as David Harvey puts it. This form of capital has no substantive relation to material production, resources, or assets — it’s wealth that exists only on paper, that is based on abstract claims to future wealth, but for all intents and purposes is treated as real and current. What GameStop demonstrates to the general public is that these forms of value (stocks) are disconnected from real production, and are mainly driven by speculation (rather than productive investment) that does not feed back into the real economy.
Is it any wonder, then, why the GameStop story gained such traction and why participants are styling themselves as anti-corporate crusaders? More and more, it would seem that Americans are realizing that working class people, on the one hand, must participate in the real economy and are subject to the discipline of the market, while the owning class, on the other hand, largely deals in a fictitious economy that can be easily manipulated and gamed precisely because it does not correspond to the real economy. And in the Post Industrial Society that we’ve built since the stagflation crisis of the 1970s, this divide is only growing as profit rates fall and workers are squeezed harder, while finance giants increasingly hold the power to shape global markets. It’s as though the financial economy — where most of our collective economic gains are flowing — exists above and independent of the real economy, inaccessible to the average worker because it does not have a physical site of production and is not materially beholden to labor. “All that is solid melts into air,” indeed.
But while many of the reddit short squeezers have embraced a nihilistic drive to “just burn it all down,” it’s important for the Left to highlight the opportunities here. We must go beyond the simple anti-corporate sentiment and demonstrate that this reality is not simply a “corporate” problem, but a systemic problem of capitalism. And if we accept that so much of our economy is based on fictitious capital, created at the stroke of a pen (or keyboard) and existing independently of real assets and production, we can also ask what we could do if we were able to use that to actually benefit working people instead of the owning class. This is the key insight of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), after all — in a world where the economy largely exists on balance sheets rather than bank deposits, the government could simply create more money for new programs and national projects whose benefits would flow to the public; if markets can be manipulated, we could instead manipulate them better ends; and in such a world, what possible justification could there ever be for austerity? We can’t content ourselves with mocking the absurdity of the status quo; we have to use this moment of clarification to posit new ways of organizing our economy that resonate with people’s needs.
Just as significant as the absurdity of the market itself is the way that Wall Street has responded to it. Even on top of exposing (once again) the utter shadiness of our financial economy, the GameStop saga is also reigniting the class war in increasingly transparent ways. The short squeeze is, of course, nothing new to hedge funds — they pioneered the tactic in the 1980s and have used it ruthlessly, to great effect. What’s different now is that, for once, someone else is doing the squeezing and some of them are getting the raw end of it. This has them up in arms. They whined — without any self-awareness — about how reddit users are “manipulating the market” and were quickly able to shut down Robinhood. These swift, unprecedented steps to “correct” the market in these last few weeks over this trivial squeeze have been a slap in the face to anyone with a memory of the 2008 financial collapse. It’s been a “mask off” moment that clearly demonstrates the fundamental class antagonism between the interests of Wall Street and the interests of ordinary people. They all but admit that the game is rigged, and that therefore it must be unfair (or even illegal!) for them to lose. What the Left needs in this moment is to take this understanding further to help people recognize how these class interests are always taking action like this — they just hide it behind the scenes a little bit better. The analysis, of course, can’t end there and must ultimately point to mass movements against the capitalist mode of production as a whole, but the GameStop saga can be an important point of reference for the threat we all pose to the ruling class when we organize.
Ultimately, the GameStop saga has not amounted to much and is likely to end up as a historical footnote, if that. It’s a bubble that is already bursting, and ordinary people will be left holding the bag. And Wall Street ultimately won’t feel the hit, outside of a few hedge funds — most of GameStop stock is owned by institutional giants like BlackRock, so the majority of the gains from this bubble are going to stay within the hands of the wealthy, anyway. But what we can take advantage of is what the situation reveals about our political economy, and connect that to the real squeeze that working people are facing every day in neoliberal America. And if we do this well, perhaps we can also begin to imagine new ways of seizing finance power for the collective good.
Walden Bello and I go way back as grad students at Princeton’s sociology department and activists on campus and in the years since. In his recent interview after the events of January 6th, Walden, a famed activist, author and public intellectual from the Philippines, asserted that the United States “has entered the Weimar Era.” In Germany after the First World War, a section of the German capitalist class and its politicians backed right wing mobs to take to the streets in violent demonstrations. Since the Right could not take power through elections, they worked to delegitimize the democratic process and the government. This, Bello contends, paved the way for fascism to replace the representative government ending up with Hitler as Chancellor of the Reich.
As the US is one of the oldest, and certainly the biggest, continuous democracies (in some form) in existence, the sounding of its death knell is a bit premature despite the severity of the crisis. There are a number of reasons for this. These reasons are not to assert that the challenges and crises that democratic governments face from the extreme right in the US are not serious. I agree with Walden’s characterization of neoliberal policies leading to deindustrialization, and therefore feelings of loss and anger among some workers and small business people, who have been manipulated by Trump and other right-wingers. Political violence from the white supremacist right is a historic current in this country and a rising threat. We must counter it by gaining and strengthening cultural hegemony with such values as equality, inclusiveness and thoroughgoing democracy through organizing people and politically isolating the extreme right. When they do resort to violence, we must make sure that they are dealt with aggressively legally, politically, by law enforcement and, if necessary, through armed self-defense.
However, due to their actions against the government on January 6th, the extreme right is now in the crosshairs of the US Government and a large majority of the American people. The events of January 6th has not increased their strength, but has isolated them from the vast majority of the American people who believe in democratic government.
The Curious Case of the Missing Movement
One of Walden’s omissions in this interview is curious. Did he forget about the millions of demonstrators in every major city, localities and small towns across the country after George Floyd’s murder? Did he forget about Black Lives Matter? For some reason, he forgot about the people’s fight against police and racist violence occurring for months during the last year. He also dismisses the hard-won electoral victories through the relentless organizing efforts of hundreds of thousands in places like Georgia and Arizona, and indeed across the country. Here is the problem with this. According to this line of thought if we fight for more democracy, organize harder and succeed, then the Right gets more violent in the streets, the political situation gets chaotic and the military or a tyrant takes over. Thus, his view is that of self-defeat.
That is the problem with his historical analogies, one that compares the United States as the world’s superpower to Third World countries like Chile in the 70’s and the Philippines under Marcos and to Weimar Germany. The United States today is starkly different from any of those examples that Walden Bello uses. For one thing, each of those examples were times of fatally deep economic crises, with runaway inflation in Chile and in the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic. There was relatively sudden, widespread and brutal impoverishment if not outright starvation because of the economic catastrophes they faced.
As their economies were weak, their currencies were devalued to almost worthless pieces of paper and issuing more meant even more inflation and economic ruin.
In contrast, the United States controls the world’s recognized reserve currency, which gives it vast economic power. The US Government issues virtually as many dollars as it wants, knowing it will be accepted as the currency of world trade and commerce. Printing money in this way not only sustains its own economy, US capitalists have also used this tactic to manipulate other currencies and suppress other economies. That can be shown by the Asian currency crises in the 90s and the trade and economic sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela, which are not allowed to conduct trade through the clearing system based on the US dollar.
On top of that our economy is very unlikely to experience the kind of economic collapse that breeds fascism. The 2 trillion dollar rescue plan put out by Biden, impossible in Chile or a Weimar Republic, will not result in hyperinflation, but in real benefit to the welfare of the country’s citizens. The Federal Reserve Bank can and does further prop up the economy by lowering interest rates and directly buying US government, and mortgage-backed bonds through its quantitative easing program. The government can also forgive college loans, lower taxes, and a host of other steps to buoy the economy. This is not the economy of 70s Chile, the Philippines under Marcos and not even close to what Weimar Germany was.
The same facts that Walden Bello uses to promote his view of deepening chaos and military rule in fact shows that the tide is running high against the right wing extremists. The breach of the Capitol was a sign of desperation, not a sign of strength. Their President had been thrown out after one term (the last time that happened was in 1992) and the left had dominated the streets for months, the Democrats had won both houses of Congress and the left is resurging.
Is Military Intervention Likely?
Bello argues that chaos brought on by right wing street violence will trigger a military takeover. In fact, that is the least likely scenario given the circumstances the country is in now. For one thing, we must not forget or belittle the power of the constitutional and normative tradition of the US military’s position being under civilian control. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are, in the military chain of command, directly below the Secretary of Defense and this Secretary under the President. In the 233-year history since the ratification of the Constitution, this has never been breached, though it has been challenged twice — once by General McClellan against Lincoln during the Civil War and by Douglas MacArthur against Truman during the Korean War. Both Generals were fired summarily.
More recently, in light of Trump’s misuse of Federal power, numerous former Defense Secretaries and retired Generals and Admirals have stated their positions clearly: the active military shall not be used in internal politics and that the military should be staunch in its position that, as stated in the in Uniform Code of Military Justice, no illegal order order should be obeyed. The testament of these military leaders has put both institutional as well as political weight behind the military’s non-intervention in civilian political affairs.
Another telling incident on military non-intervention in political affairs was the apology of the sitting Chair of the Joint Chiefs for marching with Trump to his Bible-holding photo op after the site was cleared of Black Lives Matter protestors with federal officers. As reported in the Guardian:
Milley and defense secretary Mark Esper were widely criticized for participating in the photo-op, with many former defense officials saying the two were helping Trump’s efforts to politicize the military.
“As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched, and I am not immune,” Milley said.
“As many of you saw the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week, that sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society. I should not have been there,” Milley continued.
“My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”
These are not the words of a military ready to pounce on civilian leadership of the country if chaos in the streets erupts.
Walden Bello has dedicated his life to effectively fight for the people of the Philippines and the world. His contributions are historic and will be remembered for generations to come. Though I believe he does not correctly view the United States at this historic juncture, I look forward to his continued contributions to the people’s movement for justice and democracy in the future.
Racist violence with minimal intervention from a sympathetic police force is a recurring theme throughout American history. The Left has long recognized affinity between the state and white supremacy as a key obstacle to social liberation. But as today’s Left grapples with a rising far-right and historic crises of legitimacy and reproduction, it’s especially critical that we learn from the lessons of our antecedents. Particularly in this moment of growing multiracial movements and a renewed labor militancy, and as we see echoes of this dark history in events like the now-infamous Charlottesville Unite The Right Rally and the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, it is especially important to re-evaluate the legacy of the often overlooked Communist Workers Party (CWP).
In 1979, the CWP organized an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, NC, which was ambushed by white supremacists and neo-Nazis under the watch of a sympathetic police. Ku Klux Klan members and members of the American Nazi Party drove up to the peaceful picket, promptly unloaded several rifles from their cars, and massacred 5 demonstrators. The attack was led by an FBI/police informant, as well as an undercover ATF agent, yet police presence was minimal and attending officers did not intervene. The attackers escaped easily.
Yet what is especially critical about the CWP story is not the massacre itself, but rather what preceded it — and what made it such a target in the first place. The CWP had established a strong presence for several years in Greensboro, focusing on organizing predominantly Black textile workers throughout the area. Greensboro had long been a major textile producer, home to major national mills like the Cone Mills White Oak plant. Immersing themselves in the union, the CWP quickly developed a strong multiracial cadre that was successfully pushing strong organization and militancy among the workers.
In many ways, their approach prefigured the way today’s nascent Left is developing: from the intersectional focus on multiracial solidarity to the emphasis on developing existing working class institutions. And this is precisely what made them a threat to local power structures. What ultimately unfolded was a converging of interests between the state, the local mill owners, and white supremacist institutions that have long used terror to maintain a system of racial capitalism — these forces could not avoid responding in some way to the diverse working class strength that the CWP was building among a particularly strategic set of workers who could bring the backbone of the local economy to a standstill.
What today’s Left must recognize is that this model of multiracial rank-and-file organizing works, that it represents a genuine possibility for social liberation, and that therefore it will inevitably come into conflict with the state or its right-wing proxies. And as surveillance regimes only expand and become more sophisticated, it is especially critical that we remain vigilant about our security as we organize. Fortunately, many are taking these imperatives seriously. Some are even going further, which is why we are seeing the growth of organizations like the Socialist Rifle Association, which aim to coordinate community self-defense efforts.
Ultimately, if the CWP’s history teaches us anything, it is that we must remain committed to organizing multiracial coalitions, informed by our diversity, while centering a common program that speaks directly to shared needs. The severity of the efforts to prevent this kind of organizing are evidence of its efficacy. But we must remember that this makes us the target of a number of powerful and loosely-aligned antagonists. Any meaningful challenge to hegemony will generate a response. If the Left is going to build lasting change, we need to be prepared for these obstacles.
The notion of a Job Guarantee is on a lot of lips these days, led by modern monetary theory (MMT) proponent Pavlina Tcherneva, whose short book (128 pages!), The Case for a Job Guarantee, has captured widespread acclaim. In my opinion, it’s must-reading for anyone trying to define a truly transformative agenda for the period ahead. MMT proponents consistently back this demand, and it’s also a demand of the Poor People’s Campaign. And its roots go back much further.
When he ran for president in 1932, FDR saw the need of a federal job guarantee and called it a human right. Yet, he and the Democrats failed to push it through. When the postwar boom ended in the early 1960s, unemployment returned with a vengeance, creating an ever-larger echelon of precarious workers with depressed incomes alongside a stagnant stratum unable to find any job at all (and dependent on inconsistent and inadequate government support).
In retrospect, the failure to include a federal job guarantee in the New Deal social contract stands out as a crucial revolutionary failure of the 1930s popular uprising against the Great Depression’s version of US corporate capitalism.
This time around, we have to do better. With ecological catastrophe a mere decade away, American society cannot save itself — nor make the necessary contributions to saving the world (that our country has long dominated) — unless it provides the economic security of alternative, life-sustaining, transition employment to every worker who sacrifices a petroleum-based job in order to save our planet. A job guarantee is no longer merely a human right — a mere matter of justice — it has become an ecological and social necessity…and one with no time for delay.
Coming out of the economic devastation of COVID, our newly-cleansed economy must rebuild along steeply modified lines; it will be a wasted opportunity if we fail to keep polluting industries in lock-down. To this end, the Biden Department of Labor should implement a permanent, federal Job Guarantee and provide block grants to state, local, tribal and territorial governments to fund — at $15/hour plus vacation, healthcare and child care — as many full-time jobs as necessary for anyone forced or willing to leave ecologically destructive employment (or finds oneself unemployed for any reason). At the same time, Biden should establish a Green New Deal industrial policy to create an array of employment opportunities in sustained, public and private investments aimed at achieving zero carbon emissions (and other ecological necessities) by 2025.
Below are some additional links to articles and videos on the subject.
“Building Multi-Racial Coalitions Against Trump’s Criminalization Policies”
| Jose Calderon |
The families who are coming here from Central America, Mexico, and Latin America overall are coming as a result of years of this country’s foreign policies toward those countries and the growing violence and poverty. These reasons include the economic inequalities that exist between the U. S. and Latin America, the uprooting of farmers and peasants as a result of trade agreements such as NAFTA that favor the subsidized multinational corporate interests in this country, and policies that result in the undercutting of staple crops such as beans and corn.
These policies have historically tended to separate immigrants coming to this country into political and economic refugees. Those coming from Cuba, for example, have been labeled as political refugees, as running from a country that this country has decided is persecuting them, and has welcomed them with speedy and immediate legalization status. This was also true for Vietnamese refugees who were also labeled as political refugees.
Those coming from Mexico or Central America are labeled as “economic refugees.” In practice, the U. S. during the Reagan administration continued to grant refugee status to immigrants from Southeast Asian and Eastern Europe while making it difficult for others fleeing places like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Being a refugee then has not been a matter of personal choice, but of government decisions based on a combination of legal guidelines and political expediency. How one is classified, as either an economic or political refugee, depends on the relationship between the U. S. and the country of origin and the international context of the time. It is problematic because it is not an economic mode of incorporation but a political status, validated by an explicit decision of the U. S. government.
The immigrant and refugee families from Central America come from countries where U. S. companies have been using their cheap labor and resources historically. The immigrant and refugee families are also running from drug cartels who would have no success were it not for the demand of the consumers that are primarily located right here in the U. S. Many are hoping to be reunited with parents or relatives already living in America, and they cross the border without papers because there are virtually no legal ways for them to immigrate. Nor can their undocumented parents return home to get them.
The media primarily blames the immigrant and refugee families for leaving because of gang violence but there are deeper issues here. A lot of the gangs in Southern California were formed as part of the great migration from El Salvador when Ronald Reagan and the U. S. government in the 1980’s intervened in that civil war resulting in 75,000 deaths. Many were arrested and deported and, in El Salvador and other central American countries we saw the rise of death squads and the mass incarceration of gang members. After the war, there was a rise in gangs and, although the U. S. government has not played any role in developing programs to deal with this issue, it has been organizations such as that of Homies Unidos who have been in the forefront of organizing and reducing the incarceration of gang members. Similarly, the Central American country of Honduras, from where many recent refugee children and families are coming from, has had a long history of wars that have displaced thousands. More recently, in 2009, the U. S. supported a military coup in Honduras that resulted in the ouster of the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya. Following the coup, there has been mayhem in the government with oppression of any groups that protest. The economy has been in dire stress and thousands of children and families have been thrown into the streets and, with nowhere else to go, have joined the thousands of refugees who have made their way to the U. S. Mexican border. This is also true for the thousands climbing on trains and leaving Guatemala, a country where the U. S. supported a military junta that killed thousands of indigenous people.
The media and politicians in this country bypass this history when they present the reasons why immigrant and refugee families are coming here and seeking asylum. As a result, we have had rabid racism and nativism displayed by angry mobs in places like Murrieta, California with cries that these families have no rights to be here and should be immediately deported.
This goes against the official reports by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which documents that almost 60 percent of the children and the families fleeing to the United States from Central America are legitimate asylum seekers.
It is only our efforts that can ensure that the asylum-seeking immigrant and refugee families stuck in places like Tijuana and those who are coming here are not removed through a non-judicial process but receive the opportunity for fair and full consideration of their legal claims with access to legal counsel. The cost of pushing these refugee and immigrant families back into dangerous or deadly situations is simply too high.
These children and families, under international law, are entitled to be classified as refugees from violence and war. They have the right, as refugees, to have legal assistance and to have their cases heard before a judge. Those who are found to be refugees from violence or persecution have the right to asylum. However, instead of the U.S. asylum system recognizing the unique forms of persecution that these immigrant and refugee families have faced in their host countries, they are being denied any opportunity to articulate their claims for asylum — they are simply detained for long periods of time in inadequate facilities with little regard for their best interests.
In recent years, we have learned that it is only our organizing work at the grass-roots that can ensure legislation that is truly just and that rewards, not criminalizes, immigrant families and refugees for their contributions. We have moved forward from the period in 2004-2006 when California Governor Pete Wilson used Proposition 187 to get re-elected, when the Sensenbrenner bill was advanced by the anti-immigrant conservative right, and when there was a cutting of bilingual education and affirmative action. It was not that long ago that many labor unions were anti-immigrant. Now, in a recent session of the CA legislature, it was unions that helped to pass Assembly Bill 450, requiring an employer to require proper court documents before allowing immigration agents access to the workplace or to employee information. Alongside this, it is important to recognize the role that Dream Act recipients played in moving policy at a federal level like no other organization has been able to do in recent years. It was Dream Act recipients, before the 2012 elections, that showed their capacities for exerting this political power by presenting 11,000 signatures, courageously leading protests in the streets, and holding a series of sit-ins across the country that, along with many community-based legal teams, led to Obama’s executive order granting “deferred action status” and implementing a Deferred Action Policy.
The best strategy that these combined forces have been able to advance has been one that has organized multi-racially at the local, state, and national levels. On the local level, in the city of Pomona, I have been part of coalitions that have included immigrant, labor (UFCW), student, faith-based, and community-based organizations. The Pomona Habla coalition, on a local level, was an example of a coalition that took a local issue about immigrant rights and connected it to policy changes statewide (while building support to change immigration policies nationally).
The coalition became a model for the passage of ordinances in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Baldwin Park allowing an unlicensed driver that permit an unlicensed driver to allow another licensed driver to allow another licensed driver to take custody of the vehicle rather than having it impounded. These statewide efforts led to the introduction of a bill by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, restricting local police from impounding cars at traffic checkpoint simply because a driver is unlicensed. This ultimately led to the passage of a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
In connecting the local to statewide efforts it is no accident why our political representatives have taken positions of “no ban and no wall,” supporting California as a sanctuary state, and vowing to protect the rights of our immigrant and targeted communities regardless of what oppressive policies Trump tries to force the states and cities to carry out. In recent years, it is the immigrant rights and worker movements who have pressured legislators in passing landmark pro–immigrant legislative policies such as: in-state tuition, driver’s licenses, new rules designed to limit deportations, state-funded healthcare for children, a new law to erase the word “alien” from California’s labor code, and the passage of SB-54, called the Sanctuary bill, which prohibits California officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status and limits cooperation between California police officers and federal immigration agents. There are other bills in recent legislative session that have included measures to block the expansion of immigration detention centers, to protect undocumented immigrants from housing discrimination, and to stop unjust workplace raids.
The roots of these changes on the state level have their foundation in the organizing that is taking place at the grass-roots. On the local level, we have our coalitions that have been exemplary in the development of a partnership between the community-based Latino and Latina Roundtable organization, the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, the Pomona Valley Chapter of the NAACP, the Inland Valley Immigrant Justice Coaltion, and others. In creating connections between the educational and immigrant rights needs of families, the partnership has implemented workshops for hundreds of students and parents in how to qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, how to obtain a Matricula Consular card (an official identification document issued by the Mexican government), and (with a coalition with the Pomona Day Labor Center) workshops on how to obtain a California driver’s license. The partnership on K-12 and college pipeline issues has led to further action, including family summits and some parents who have gone with us to Sacramento to educate our representatives on bills to provide safe schools for immigrant children and to ban the use of public funds to aid federal agents in deportation actions, as well as other legislation to protect vulnerable students and advance educational equity. We have also been organizing by getting our members and others to understand the Real ID, after the California DMV began offering a compliant Real ID driver license or ID card as an option in order for its holders to be able to board a domestic flight or enter a federal facility as of October 1, 2020. Most of the undocumented community is not eligible to receive these documents, which exposes them to vigilantism, profiling, and persecution. We therefore have been calling on our communities to opt for a non-compliant I.D. or driver’s license for use in our daily life in California instead – and in this way our documentation will be the same as that of an undocumented person with a driver’s license, thus making the distinction between “compliant” and “non-compliant” documents less effective as a mechanism to isolate our undocumented community.
As part of these efforts, we have been organizing to defend the rights of our Central American families who have faced deportation with Trump’s actions to abolish the Temporary Protected Status program affecting many Central American families (some whom have been here for over twenty years) with children who have grown up in this country and are now attending school or college or have full-time jobs. When the Trump administration sought to deport over 400,000 immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a coalition made up of organizations such as the National Day Labor Organizing Network, CARECEN-LA, and the National TPS Alliance led a campaign to defend the program. This multiracial coalition has been exemplary in organizing a grassroots network of over 70 TPS committees from across the country, in training new immigrant rights leaders, and in bringing two class-action TPS justice lawsuits that initially blocked Trump’s termination of TPS status for nearly half a million people from six countries: Haiti, El Salvador, Sudan, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Nepal. These efforts, while initially successful in achieving a one-year extension for all six countries covered by the two lawsuits, received a setback on October 12 when the Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Trump administration and cleared the way for ending the protection of the 400,000 families covered under this program. In response, the coalition is embarking on a “Road to Justice” bus tour exposing how Trump’s TPS terminations were motivated by racism, going to 54 cities in 32 states, and ending with advocacy actions and meetings with congressional legislators in Washington, D.C.
We continue to point out through forums and our research that the focus of this administration on enforcement and against a speedy process goes against the many studies that show how much undocumented immigrants would stimulate the economy if they were allowed legalization as quickly as possible. According to the American Progress organization, a speedier legalization would result in: an additional $1.4 trillion to the Gross National Product between the present and 2022; resident workers benefitting with an additional $791 billion in personal income; and the economy creating an average of an additional 203,000 jobs per year. Within five years of their legalization, undocumented immigrant workers would be earning 25% more than they are earning resulting in an additional tax revenue of $184 billion (with $116 billion to the federal government and $68 billion to state and local governments). Overall these statistics sustain the argument that the sooner asylum and legalization can happen, the more the significant gains for all working people and the greater the gains for the U.S. economy.
A progressive immigration policy will take fighting for supporting the allocation of funds for processing and not for enforcement — to take the millions being proposed for more fence and more border officers and use it for a more efficient means of doing away with a backlog of thousands waiting in line for legalization. It needs to include additional resources to allow for hearings that ensure the rights and interests of the children and families in all proceedings, so that they can be released as quickly as possible from Border Patrol facilities that are inadequate.
Beyond the short-term need to ensure protection of rights and safe environments for our immigrant and refugee families, it is important to deal with the reality of conditions that are occurring in Latin American countries. What is true is the reality that immigrant workers will remain in or return to their homeland when the economy in these countries improves. If the U. S. federal government was really interested in doing something about immigration long-term, it would work to strengthen the sending countries’ economies. There is no reason why the U.S. could not develop bilateral job-creating approaches in key immigrant-sending areas. What is needed now and long-term is moving away from policies that merely focus on an enforcement that racially profiles our communities to policies that will speed-up the process to legalization, and advance a commitment to enhanced funding streams for economic development in the immigrant-sending countries (such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras).
It was refreshing after Trump’s announcement of non-support for DACA to see how people from all backgrounds walked out of schools and jobs to protest in support. Our support for the DACA program has been further bolstered by a study that just came out from Professor Roberto Gonzalez, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, how DACA has benefited over 800,000 of our young immigrants, contributed to the nation’s workforce, and added billions of dollars to the economy. This study comes at a time when the Supreme Court opposed the Trump Administration’s policies to terminate DACA (sending the decision back to the Department of Homeland Security) and brings forward the significance of the November presidential elections in deciding its future.
With this administration’s attacks in opposing DACA and TPS, it is more important than ever to continue organizing marches and protests by our individual organizations alongside building multi-racial coalitions who are collectively carrying out voter turn-out efforts to ensure the election of representatives who truly represent the interests and issues of our communities; fighting alongside our communities against immigration and refugee policies that only focus on enforcement; and fighting for policies that will immediately lead to permanent residency and citizenship for our immigrant and refugee families with no expansion of temporary guest worker (bracero) programs and with labor law protections.