Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't Whine. Organize.

Okay. I'm personally disgusted and disheartened. But it is a legitimate criticism to say that being disgusted is not a plan for life. Certainly it is not a worthy theme song for anyone who claims to be a progressive.

Let's talk about what the situation is, and what are the available options.


The Democrats In The Bush-Cheney Years

The Democrats have been overwhelmed in recent years by the Bush-Cheney administration and their fanatical supporters, including Rupert Murdoch's Whorehouse, the 24-hour-per-day Fascist propaganda organ for the right wing which promotes war, hatred, and violence. It has been a somewhat terrifying time for many people in this country, although I think the Democrats mostly have been terrified at the thought of losing their own job.

The response of many Democrats has been to simply go along with Bush-Cheney, try to wait it out without drawing too much attention to themselves. Maybe they were afraid of being shot by the crazies who supported Bush-Cheney, a legitimate concern. But those who voted for the Wars, who voted for the tax-cuts, who supported silly new laws to make it a crime to burn a flag, who supported imprisoning more and more non-white poor young men as a solution to a failing economy, those who supported "free" trade policies which took more and more good-paying jobs out of this country and threw more and more Americans out of work, seem to have the heart and soul of Republicans.

But nonetheless, the Democrats are all we've got. So when they started telling us several years ago that we need to elect more Democrats so they could get the majority in Congress, we needed to fund-raise and make phone calls and campaign to elect Democrats, and donate, then donate some more, many of us got on board. Okay. We'll do our part. Save the nation.

Democrats Get Controlling Majority in 2008

Now the Democrats have control of both houses of Congress and the white house. Even though people blame Obama for the apparent failings so far to change anything, the fact is that Obama has no authority to pass laws. Congress is charged with the responsibility to pass laws. Congress holds the purse strings when it comes to war. Only Congress has the authority to declare war, to authorize war. So let's see how they're doing.

Democrats Provide Working People With No Economic Assistance

The economy is the key to people's ability to have a decent life. But from the Democrats, when it comes to helping the working people, nothing so far. No jobs programs from Congress. Obama has a big "recovery" program but it has pennies for a jobs-creation program, compared to billions in give-aways to the Wall Street criminals. Congress has failed to raise minimum wage to a living wage -- it probably should be double what it currently is. No discussion of that. Congress refused to cap interest rates on credit cards. I just got a notice from my credit card company that they are raising the interest rates to 14%. So they borrow money from the government for .25% -- 1/4 of 1% -- and they loan it to me for 14%. Do you know what an incredible con that is? But Congress refused to cap how much they can charge in interest, which should be tied within a few points of what they pay to borrow. If they pay 1/4 of 1% to borrow, maybe they should be capped at 3%. But 14% is outrageous.

As for ending the war as they promised they would do, they didn't. Instead, they keep voting to give billions more for war, to extend the wars indefinitely, to expand the wars, to kill more people, drop more bombs. Nothing for the working people and citizens, but everything for war. All of which is a corporate subsidy because we are in the middle east to provide private security for the Oil Corporations as they steal Iraq's oil, build a pipeline across Afghanistan. Maybe next steal Iran's oil. It's all about oil. And corporate control.

Speaking of which, not only is our reliance on foreign oil the direct cause of our starting wars to steal oil, it is also destroying the planet. The Democrats know this. So where is our major green push from Congress? To get off of oil. Green jobs, R&D money, development, funding? New community planning, new shelter/home/apartment designs, materials, concepts. Where is the Congress's major new proposal -- like A New Deal, or The Great Society -- where is the Congress in funding green work, developing industries, creating jobs, getting the universities involved, retrofitting people's homes, creating non-automobile transportation? Where are they on this subject? Not much there either.

On Health care, which they claim will be a radical reform to help the people -- all the rumors have it that there will be no real change, no help for the people. The Medical Industry -- Doctors' lobbies, Hospital groups, Drug Dealers -- have paid so much money in bribes to Congress that Congress will do nothing to stop them from continuing to rob us blind.

So all in all, the Democrats have been a complete failure. And worse -- it is a betrayal of everything that they promised they would do.

Organize: Where? How?

So what should we do, besides whine?

The traditional answer is we need to organize, to get enough people to take action to force the government to work for us instead of working for corporate bribes.

But how, where?

"Organize": The Unions

Traditionally, the term "organize" refers to the union movement, which was very active in the early part of the 20th century, then became somewhat complacent post-war as the anti-communist insanity was directed against them. Some of the unions began siding with the conservatives. After all, when unions become nothing more than an insider organization staffed by white men who get big paychecks, and whose job is to pay bribes to politicians and work with management to guarantee jobs and benefits and pensions and good wages to other white men, to exclude non-whites and women, then the unions actually become a reactionary force in society. By adopting those policies which benefit the insiders, they lay the seeds for their own destruction.

I know people who were union organizers in the 70s, trying to get the established unions to recognize that what was called "women's work" was a great place for expanding unions. But the white men who ran the unions saw "workers" as being macho men, and actually felt like they would be embarrassed to associate with the lower caste of people known as women workers. For example, the typesetters union was all white men, working on big typesetting presses, hard work. But along came computers, and the likely new typesetters suddenly became the class of workers who are typists -- women. But the typesetters union refused to go after the women, refused to include them, so laid the seeds for their own destruction.

The same is true for the building trades unions. They were mostly white male, except the separate laborers union was mostly black male. Male, notice -- women rarely were allowed on a job and if they were brought in, they were subject to malicious sexual harassment -- not off-color jokes, but actual threats of rape, groping of breasts. Not just boys having fun -- malicious conduct designed to force women out of the field. Some of the building trades unions simply became hiring halls for an insider exclusive group of white men. Instead of expanding their union, reaching out to other groups and people, they became a reactionary racist and sexist force, aligned with the conservatives in government. A few decades down the road, the buildings trade unions were undercut by developers hiring coyotes to bring illegal immigrants in by the truckload to take the jobs. If the unions had been more inclusive, had continued to expand their organizing and increase their strength by alliances with other workers, and had brought in women and non-whites, they would have been in a much stronger position to protect their jobs.

So the biggest problem with the unions is that they are sexist and racist, and short-sighted. Why didn't they include as a non-negotiable demand that the pensions be funded on an ongoing basis. In other words, everytime Employee A gets a paycheck, the boss must immediately transfer into Employee A's retirement account a certain amount of money so Employee A's pension will be fully-funded when he retired. And the Employer can never touch Employee A's pension money. It is safeguarded and protected. But the unions didn't take care of that. We now have retired autoworkers who will lose their pensions because the company did not fund the pensions for those employees -- just planned to pay it out of future earnings. A terrible mistake.

Some unions, many unions have agreed to two-tiered plans. They destroy unions. Here's how that works. Company agrees to continue paying current employees at a certain rate, providing them with benefits and pensions. But they get a two-tiered provision in the new contract that says new employees will receive a lot less money per hour, and receive a lot less in benefits. They did a two-tiered contract in one of the grocery stories I go to, and within a few months all the Adults disappeared -- I swear, the place was staffed with 14-year-old checkers within 6 months. All the long-term employees who had the higher pay were re-assigned, often to stores that were a long commute from home, to force them out. Two-tiered contracts are deals with the devil made by the existing employees to benefit themselves, selling out newer employees, and always leading to destruction of the union.

The male-only leadership continues to be a problem with unions. Women don't really want to pay part of their already diminished wages to a bunch of men, mostly paying themselves over $200,000/year as union "leaders," when the unions do not include as a non-negotiable demand the elimination of sexism in hiring, promotion, and wages -- by employers and by the unions themselves.

Some of the newer more aggressive unions seem to be following very questionable policies. For example, doormen and cleaning crews in commercial building (i.e. offices) in one City were earning about $10-12/hour through their union. But the commercial property owners fired the union workers, busted the union, and started hiring all illegal immigrants at $5/hour (thanks to the program by Bush and Fox to flood the U.S. market with millions of desperate illegal immigrant workers from Mexico). Nobody did a thing to stand up for the Americans who lost their jobs. But soon, a new union came along to represent the illegal immigrants (scabs one might say), and promised them what? First, that if they joined the union, the union would fight to get them $6/hour. And second, if they joined the union, they would have protection against being deported.

So the union comes in, "fights" with the property owner to get $6/hour, but the property owner gladly pays because it means he's protected against having the "American" workers come back and demand the full $12/hour they were making. It's a huge benefit to the property owner. The union works with management to screw the Americans. And the union I'm thinking about has a group of insiders who are paid over $200,000/year for their "organizing" efforts. This same union fought against single-payer healthcare in California because their management friends didn't want it.

Unions have been under assault, there's no question, particularly accelerating under Reagan when he fired all the air traffic controllers and busted the unions. But they also have been uninspired in coming up with a real program to fight outsourcing, fight against companies taking American jobs to other countries, fight against all these "free" trade agreements which have allowed cheap imports to flood our country, throwing more Americans out of work.

I understand the concept of One Big Union, an international perspective. But you need to fight for the jobs of the people in your own country if you expect to grow. Not based on racism or xenophobia, but based on the right of people to be employed, the right to have laws enforced so employers can't throw Americans out of work and replace them with slave labor illegal immigrants. Fight for the rights of all Americans, women and minorities included, instead of having unions remain white men's clubs. And the union insiders should stop paying themselves so much money, and start respecting their members by capping their own paychecks to some nominal multiple of the amount their dues-paying members are earning. Set an example for honesty, fairness and real democracy instead of taking advantage of terrified poor people, desperate for protection.

I think it's 10% of the private jobs are unionized today. And there's lots of infighting. So the unions strike me as a highly unlikely source for organizing people in this country. They may be re-made, but as of today their primary political activity consists of paying bribes to politicians. They can't even get the majority Democrats to pass EFCA. That's a disgrace. It shows that the Democrats are no longer the party of labor, and they don't care one bit what the unions think about it.

Organizing On A Community Basis

So what else? Some people suggest organizing on a community level. Neighborhood by neighborhood. Go knock on your neighbor's door. Engage them in conversation about healthcare. I don't think so. We don't have community in this country, for the most part. We have residences, dwellings. Places where people live as long as they have a job and can pay, and in today's environment there will be lots of moving around by people in foreclosure, unemployed, going somewhere else trying to find work, get a new start. Our society is structured in a manner designed to increase isolation. Go home and watch TV. We should try to change that, but for now, for purposes of using community as a basis for organizing, I can't see it.

Besides, there is little people have in common simply as a result of residing in the same neighborhood. Location of residence says nothing about political beliefs and leanings, gun-loving, hunters, progressives, religious fanatics -- they're so mixed in together. They can live alongside each other, but trying to organize blindly is like making cold-calls from a phone book in trying to sell a product. Lots of effort, little results.

Organizing: Within The Churches

Of course there are the churches which, historically, have in some cases gotten involved in progressives issues such as help the poor or end the war. But many of the churches are extremely conservative. I would suggest this also is likely too much effort, little likely results. Except in the case of churches which have a well-established history of social justice programs and concerns.

What's left? Two things:

Issues Organizing

1. Issues Organizing.

This has worked well in the past on some issues. The problem is that if Congress does something, or votes something, the issue may be co-opted. For example, the anti-war movement should be strengthened. But there is so much public deception about these wars, no draft, lots of mercenaries and private contractors, no real news, it seems this would be easy to co-opt. I think Obama already has done that. When he announced that he had a plan for a phased withdrawal from Iraq -- in the future -- which didn't mean all the troops would leave -- and wasn't writ in stone in any event -- many people seemed to say "Great, war over." But it's not over, and this administration does not plan for it to be over until every drop of oil is sucked out of the sand of Iraq.

Issues organizing, in order to have ongoing viability, needs to include many different issues. Which makes it begin to look more like a political party.

Organizing: Within A Political Party

2. Political Party.

Another alternative is for people to organize and get active inside a political party.

Within The Democratic Party

The first option is to work from within the Democratic party to try to change it. I do not think this will succeed until and unless strict laws are passed to cut down on the corruption. I would include the following as a minimum:

(a) Campaign Finance Reform, Bribery, Kick-Back Laws. Make it illegal for any candidate to accept any money or anything of value from anyone for any purposes. They get a paycheck, that should be the end of it. Same for any promise to pay in the future. Same for spouses, parents, siblings, kids. Have publicly-funded campaigns, and limited campaigns. It does the public no good whatsoever to have hundreds of millions of dollars spent on these political circuses. It's just decorating corruption with sparkly lights.

(b) No Future Employment Or Compensation For Five Years. We need a law making it illegal for any politician to go to work for, or accept money or anything of value from, any business, or industry that benefitted from any government contracts during the time the politician was in office. For five years. Five years after they leave office, they can do what they want. Until then, nothing. End this disgraceful practice by which a politician leaves office and is showered with hundreds of millions of dollars in kick-backs from foreign countries and corporations that benefitted from the politician's actions while in office. No money received at all -- not wages, not consulting fees, not even in these ridiculous "private" charity scams that have become so popular.

(c) No Ex-Parte Communications. We need a law making it illegal for a politician (or their staff) to receive or originate any communication with any person about any issue which is, or may come before the Congress, except for communications made as part of a public record, recorded or documented at the time of the communication, and immediately disclosed to the public.

Here's the idea. Take a Judge. He's got a trial scheduled in a few weeks in which Attorney A represents Dog-bite Victim who is seeking to recover money from Dog Owner, represented by Attorney B. Let's say that Attorney A and Judge both attend a dinner party, and Attorney A wants to talk to Judge about his case, about his client, about dogs. Let's say Judge listens. The Attorney A could be disbarred, and the Judge could lose his job too. That's because the laws of most states make it illegal for any attorney (or party) to communicate with a Judge about a matter before the judge, or scheduled to come before the judge, unless the other side is present or given notice and the opportunity to be present at the time of the communication, the communication is recorded or documented, and the other side has an opportunity to respond. You don't get to take the Judge in the corner and try to butter him up about how good your case is, when the other attorney isn't even there.

We need the same laws in Congress. Why should the Defense Industry be able to send lobbyists to meet with the politicians and convince them to support some new weapons contract, when the meetings and communications are in secret, the public is excluded, and none of us really know what went on in the communication. Were bribes offered or solicited?

I don't see any reason for any politician or their staff or agents or representatives to ever meet or communicate with a lobbyist or industry or business representatives in private. If the politician wants to learn more about some proposed weapons system, they can hold public hearings at which the public can "attend" either by real-time streaming on-line, or televised hearings, made available on-line for years. Written communications should be scanned and likewise available. We need to stop the secret meetings. Bring some sunshine and light to Congress and try to kill off the rot.

New Political Party

The other alternative to trying to organize within a political party would be to start a new political party. Create a platform with specific positions, demand politicians agree in advance to support each of those positions if they want to run as part of this new party. Would the party likely win immediately? No. Might it throw the election to Republicans? Possibly. Another alternative is that there would be a new conservative party started. After all, if only 20% of the country identifies themselves as Republicans, that leaves 80% up for grabs, many of whom consider themselves to be independent.

We hear a lot of speculation about the Republican Party being on its last legs. I think the Democratic Party is as well. They are just too corrupt. The fact that they did nothing during the Bush years to protect the people, the fact that Bill Clinton changed the party to be the Corporate Party, the fact that now they have the majority of the Congress and yet they do nothing to help us, suggests to me that the party is committed firmly to a policy of corruption, bribes, and kick-backs. They believe they will continue to receive the support of the majority simply because they can always raise the bogeyman "Remember Bush." I do remember. But what I remember is that the Democratic Party, my party, did nothing to help me, or to protect me, from the fascist administration of Bush-Cheney. That's what I remember.

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