News from the U.S. and Canada
Iran Revolutionary Guard Chief Assassinated; U.S. Soldiers Deployed; Retaliation Expected
THE ASSASSINATION OF General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, the elite overseas unit of the IRGC, has brought tensions in the volatile region to a breaking point.
The January 3 execution took place shortly after Soleimani arrived at Baghdad International Airport from Lebanon and met with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, second in command of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of Shi’a-based militias attached to the Iraqi Armed Forces. The two men, along with a small entourage, left together. On their way to their destination, they were killed by four Hellfire missiles fired from two separate Reaper drones.
The assassination, a clear act of war, was allegedly in response to the December 31 partial occupation of the U.S. embassy complex by Iraqi Shi’as, including elements of the PMF. That, in turn, was in response to U.S. airstrikes against the Kata’ib Hizb’allah militia, a part of the PMF, in Iraq and Syria.
Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago resort retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., President Donald Trump insisted that the assassination of Soleimani was somehow an act of insuring peace. “We took action last night to stop a war,” Trump told his sycophantic audience. “We did not take action to start a war.” He continued by painting Soleimani as “the number one terrorist anywhere in the world” who was “plotting imminent and sinister attacks.” In fact, far from stopping a conflict from breaking out, Trump’s successful assassination plot has accelerated the push toward another war — possibly the prelude to a world war.
In response to the murder of Soleimani, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh revenge” against the U.S., while the Tehran government called the assassination “state terrorism” in a letter to the United Nations. One of Germany’s newspapers of record, Die Zeit, compared the killing of Soleimani to that of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, which was the spark that set off the First World War. The governments of Russia and China, along with other states, called the act a willful violation of international law.
As we go to press, it is clear that some kind of retaliation by Iran is imminent. It is likely to be a direct military action by Tehran against U.S. interests inside Iraq, either inside Baghdad’s “Green Zone” or against one of the many military bases that house U.S. soldiers. What form it takes remains to be seen.
However, regardless of what comes next, it will only be the opening salvo in a drawn-out conflict that points toward an all-out war between rival imperialist cartels. Even if the coming retaliation by Iran is the last shot fired for some time, that period can only be seen as the calm before the next tempestuous outrage.
The showdown between rival cartels has been building for some time — indeed, since the end of the Cold War. Washington’s push for control of the Middle East oil spigot, beginning with the 1991 Gulf War, was part of an overall strategy to maintain U.S. dominance through military power while its economic position was eroding. By controlling the flow of oil to Europe, Japan and China, backed by a Navy and Air Force that can reach around the globe, Wall Street saw a chance to bend these countries’ productive powers to its will.
The overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003 opened the door for Iran to rise and begin reasserting itself as a regional power. It has strengthened its ties throughout the “Shi’a Crescent,” which stretches from far-western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, as well as with the Yemeni Houthis and Islamist groups like Hamas, while improving its alliances with Moscow and Beijing.
Tehran has emerged as a strong pole of opposition to both the U.S.-backed coalition led by Sa’udi Arabia, and to Washington’s long-standing ally, Israel. However, both Iran and its Shi’a-majority neighbor, Iraq, have been gripped recently by popular protests, as well as by occasional strikes and workers’ actions, over low wages, eroding living conditions and worsening corruption. Protests in both countries were brutally crushed. In Iraq, this bloody repression was carried out by Iranian-aligned Shi’a militias; Soleimani was its architect.
As a result, Trump’s assassination of Soleimani needs to be seen in the larger context of inter-imperialist maneuvering. The attack was a signal not only to Iran but also to Russia and China that the U.S., in spite of all its talk of achieving “energy independence,” intends to continue having a dominant presence in the region. In reality, the U.S. still depends on Middle East oil, for stability in world prices, for emergency production and for keeping its Gulf Coast refineries operating. Therefore, it will not concede one inch to regional or world rivals.
The central importance of those three factors in keeping Wall Street from entering into an economic tailspin, as well as the aforementioned control of oil flow to their rivals, makes the threat of full-scale war, including a third world war, very high.
Workers — in the U.S., in Iran, anywhere — have no side in the wars of this decadent imperialist epoch. Through world capitalist production and its market, states are grouped into cartels under the dominance of one or more great powers. Even the smallest, weakest country stands somewhere on the imperialist ladder, under the protection of a master.
Even those reactionary states that posture as “anti-imperialist” or even “anti-capitalist” hold a place in the cartel system, with their rhetoric only serving to thinly mask their own appetites — propaganda for the hungry fool.
However, while we have no side, we do not stand neutral or indifferent to war. Communists fight for workers to resist the ruling classes’ drive for war through its own actions and self-organization aimed to bring about the defeat of “our own” exploiting classes through transforming imperialist war into class war.
Concretely, this means advocating and fighting for strikes, occupations and secondary boycotts (“hot cargoing”) to prevent the movement of troops and materials, as well as mass strikes and actions to shut down production and paralyze the exploiters’ ability to make war, not just in the U.S., but internationally, in all the belligerent and profiteering states.
A coordinated internationalist strategy, based on a communist program, that can draw together the nucleus of a proletarian communist international. This how the working class can begin to put an end the threat of war.
Real Motivations for Removing Trump Exposed as Impeachment Hearings Go Public
AS WE GO TO PRESS, the first round of public impeachment hearings in committees of the House of Representatives are coming to an end. The second round of hearings, which are expected to last until mid-December, will likely end with formal impeachment charges voted on by the House.
It has been a little over a month since the House voted to proceed with an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, ostensibly over his role in holding back hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine.
In return for releasing the aid, Trump sought information that could discredit his likely Democratic challenger in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, specifically about Biden’s son, Hunter, who held a lucrative $50,000-a-month position on the board of directors of Burisma, the country’s largest natural gas and oil extraction company, since 2014.
While this may legitimately raise some eyebrows, it is hardly unusual. Capitalism regularly makes use of quid pro quo, sweetheart deals and behind-the-scenes maneuvering as part of its day-to-day functioning. Much more revealing, though, is how the exploiting classes moved past the attempted quid pro quo, focusing on the specific quid that was offered in exchange for the quo.
What gored the exploiting classes’ ox? It was not Trump’s sleazy effort to dig up some dirt on Biden. If it was, the Democrats wouldn’t be fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the former vice president and his son completely out of the process. In fact, the quid pro quo itself is not even an issue, insofar as it being seen as a breach of ethics or violation of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.
It only factors in due to what Trump was holding back as part of his side of the deal: $390 million in lethal military aid to Ukraine. Almost six years ago, in January 2014, the U.S. bankrolled a coup in Ukraine to the tune of $5 billion. Using neo-Nazis as shock troopers, the goal of this coup was to secure a strategically-vital region on the southern flank of the Russian Federation that could be used as a base of operations by the U.S. and NATO in the event that a new cold war ever turned hot.
But, for the last five years, the war has been hot, with Ukrainian soldiers fighting pro-Russian militias and, quite likely, Russian “volunteer” military units in the Donbass region. The last two years of the Obama administration focused on reorienting the U.S. from fighting the “war on terror” to preparing for inter-imperialist Great Power conflicts, such as war with Russia or China.
This preparation continued into the Trump administration. However, conflict soon broke out between the White House and the state apparatus over whether Russia or China was the bigger threat. For the state (the military, CIA, FBI, NSA, etc.), it was unquestionably Russia. And any show of friendship toward Russia or its leaders was seen as weakness and tantamount to treason.
This has been the basis of the last three years of anti-Russia hysteria from the Democratic Party and its mouthpieces, from the accusations of interference in the 2016 elections to the Mueller report to now. Desperate to regain power in Washington and finish the job started by Obama, the Democrats have aligned themselves with the state apparatus to see to it that Washington is returned to the road to war against Moscow — a road to the next world war.
The end result is that the impeachment hearings have been initiated and pushed forward on perhaps the most thoroughly reactionary basis possible.
The so-called “choice” being offered by the U.S. exploiting classes is either side with Trump and his radical reactionaries, and excuse or even accept the numerous crimes against human decency he and his faction of the exploiters have committed, or side with the state apparatus and Democrats, and sign off on a renewed war posture against Russia that can only end in a nuclear moment.
In our view, that is not a choice. That is a mortal threat to all of humanity.
It is time for the working class, not just in the U.S. but around the world, to stand up and put an end to this madness, to organize ourselves as a class, to build the organs we need to wage an effective and successful fight, especially an international proletarian communist party, to liberate ourselves from capitalism.
As Populism Surges among Democrats, the Ruling Classes Step Up Their Efforts to Maintain Ideological Dominance
THE 2020 PRIMARIES and caucuses for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president begin in less than two months, and the state of the campaigns, particularly the ongoing success of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, continue to vex the party leadership and the faction of the exploiting classes supporting it.
This surge in left populism among Democrats, on a scale not seen since the days of William Jennings Bryan at the end of the 19th century, has led to all kinds of efforts to cut this movement off at the knees: whisper campaigns, media falsifications, social media hatchet jobs, intra-party bureaucratic maneuvering, almost endless talking-head gossip.
The big bogeyman, according to the Democratic leaders and their Wall Street masters, is “socialism.” It it also Trump’s favorite specter. While each side uses it for their own ends, the convergence on this line of argument should give pause.
Nevertheless, large sections of the Democratic Party base continue to cast their lot (in lieu of their vote) with the populists — either the one who is using vague socialist phraseology (Sanders), or the one who is not (Warren) — forcing the exploiters to take stronger measures to maintain dominance.
Of course, the point of their stepped-up intervention is not to engage in a great “battle of ideas” with the populists, but to close down the thinking process entirely, to narrow down the differences in opinion and solution, and restore “normalcy.”
This is why the last six months have seen numerous Democratic “superstars,” up to and including former President Barack Obama, offer up warnings to the party about “crazy stuff” like extending Medicare to all, or that the “moderate” Democrats, independents and “moderate Republicans” [sic!] “are not driven by the same views that are reflected on certain, you know, left-leaning Twitter feeds … or the activist wing of our party.”
And if it’s not Obama, then it’s someone like liberal economist Joseph Stiglitz pleading with the Democratic base, saying “don’t go socialist,” because Trump might use that in the election (as if accusing Democrats of being socialists is something never done before by the Republicans).
Certainly, someone can look at all this and simply declare it to be part of the latest temper tantrum by Wall Street. And they would not necessarily be wrong. But there is something deeper, something more institutional to these attacks.
It was revealed to a large extent by one of Obama’s comments at the Democracy Alliance donor gathering in Washington, D.C., last month.
“This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement,” Obama told the crowd. “They like seeing things improved. But the average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”
This world view, also expressed in the famous quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” is properly known as the ideology of Whigism.
Those of you who remember your U.S. (or British) history class from school may recall hearing about the Whigs. Your teachers were referring to the political parties, which is different than Whig ideology and historiography. Whigism as an ideology is the view that human history and society is made up of a long series of incremental improvements that come together into an inexorable march toward liberty, progress and enlightenment.
While the Whigs as a political movement in the U.S. only lasted about 24 years before shattering into several factions (some of which helped to form the new Republican Party in 1856), Whigism increasingly became a dominant bourgeois ideology, especially when there was a need to defend against other world views that could destabilize
the exploiters’ order. Indeed, Whigism in America was born out of the 1832 fight against the populism of Democratic President Andrew Jackson.
For nearly two centuries, Whigism has occupied a leading position in the ideologies motivating bourgeois politics and elections. That is, until now.
For the first time in 188 years, there is a real chance that neither of the candidates of the two major parties in the U.S. will carry forward the ideology of Whigism. To make matters worse, in the eyes of the ruling exploiters, both parties’ standard bearers could be avowed and unapologetic populists.
The lack of a viable candidate standing as the torchbearer of Whigism has pushed the exploiting class toward undertaking extreme measures. (Former Vice President Joe Biden is apparently looked upon as a “Mr. Magoo” candidate who is expected to crash any time.) Enter Michael Bloomberg.
The billionaire financial services and media magnate, and former mayor of New York City, has jumped into the race specifically to counter the two populists, as well as offer a more stable “moderate” option for the exploiters to support. Bloomberg’s $37 million ad buy at the end of November was one of the largest single purchases in electoral history, especially for a primary contest. It was aimed specifically at undermining the progress made by Sanders and Warren in promoting their platforms.
In fact, looking at the strategy Bloomberg is employing, it is clear that he is conducting a campaign to ensure that the party never again falls out of Wall Street’s hands. His focus on Super Tuesday is designed to collect enough delegates to deny any candidate a majority at the Democratic National Convention next July, giving him and his fellow exploiters a veto over who will be chosen.
In the end, there’s very little that Democratic primary voters can do about this situation. In a period where the Democrats’ only real slogans are, “Anybody But Trump,” and, “Vote Blue, No Matter Who,” the rise of a slightly-more coherent and colorless version of Trump to be the party’s standard-bearer should come as a surprise to no one.
The Humiliating Defeat of GM Workers Offers Many Lessons about Today’s Trade Unions and Tomorrow’s Labor Struggles
As we go to press, it has been announced that a tentative agreement has been reached between the United Auto Workers and Fiat Chrysler, effectively ending 2019 contract negotiations. Moreover, it has been reported that Gary Jones has resigned his position as UAW president, in an effort to avoid being removed and stripped of his pension. Look in future issues of Workers’ Path to Power for analysis on these and other important developments.
The Problem with Reforming Unions
WHEN A STRIKE ends, especially in defeat, talk inevitably turns to the future and what needs to be done. Discussion focuses on how to ensure that the failures, the betrayals and the defeats become a thing of the past. The starting (and, often, ending) point of these talks is union reform.
For almost as long as there have been unions, there have been calls for union reform. In this respect, union reform was a part of unionism itself, not a challenge to it. The reformers were there as a kind of steam valve that could be utilized to release the pressure and stresses that workers felt as a result of the unions submitting to the demands of capital.
Union reform movements continue to play this role today. They allow workers to vent the feelings of anger, frustration and betrayal they develop during the course of a defeated strike in a manner that, in the final analysis, does not challenge the unions themselves or even the bureaucratic officials running them. Indeed, these reform movements don’t even cause the bureaucratic officials enough consternation to interrupt their nightly rest.
(Some “official” reform movements, such as Teamsters for a Democratic Union, even provide a safety net for bureaucrats, giving them a path to redemption … and power).
Of course, there are reforms and there are reforms. Some might even package up their reforms as a kind of “revolution” in the union, or see the best road to reform through the switching out of one union with another. Whatever the form chosen, the content of the union and of unionism remains unchanged.
Nevertheless, we proletarian communists mustn’t be cynical when workers themselves call out for reform, even if we understand quite well that they do not resolve the fundamental problems of unions as labor contractors and mediators of the price of one’s ability to work.
We should always bear in mind that workers struggling with coming to an organic class consciousness are going to start with reform, since that is the only form of opposition with which they are familiar. At the same time, it is our responsibility to be honest with our fellow workers, to point out the sordid history of union reform, to work with them so they can analyze for themselves and understand why these movements are a dead end.
Central to this is explaining that no amount of reform can change the character of unions under capitalism as labor contractors and wage mediators. The labor laws adopted by the exploiting classes, especially throughout the 20th century, require unions to take on these roles and operate within the framework of capitalism. This was not so much a choice, but rather the price of legalization. If the unions did not accept, they would not receive legal protection or recognition by the state.
This is why unions, no matter how many reforms are enacted, how “militant” or “rank-and-file” the leadership is, or how sincere the pledges to fight for the membership, cannot act as organizations for the defense of workers’ rights and living standards beyond the most narrow of economic issues. This means that gains they might make today are under constant attack and will be reversed at the first opportunity. Moreover, many issues workers raise today, such as an end to mass precarity (e.g., making large sections of the workforce temporary), are increasingly political and require a measure of state intervention to maintain. Thus, unions won’t even seriously consider them as legitimate demands to advocate.
Unions capitulated to capital in order to become legal and their bureaucratic officials respectable. Meanwhile, workers were left to twist in the wind, subject to an intensified wage slavery and lacking any viable alternative.
Beyond Unions and Unionism
It is clear today, based on the lessons of the last century, that the existing unions and union models (corporatist/business, “rank-and-file,” “revolutionary”/syndicalist, and so on) have long since become obsolete as instruments for the workers’ class struggle, both in an historical and practical sense. No amount of reforms, “boring from within” or “capture of the summit” can change their basic character.
However, what is not obsolete is the desire for workplace organization. That basic impulse among workers to unite and defend their class interests, from the immediate to the historic — that impulse that once motivated the formation of the earliest unions, as well as other forms of workers’ organizing — is perhaps more important today than at any time in the past. Indeed, it is the self-organization of the class into its own bodies of struggle that drives the fight against capitalism today.
A glimpse of this kind of workers’ self-organization could be seen in the mass wildcat strikes of maquiladora autoworkers in Matamoros, Mexico, last February. Facing off against the bosses, the charro unions, the capitalist state and various NGO leftists who are tied to the AFL-CIO and the U.S. government, tens of thousands of workers organized to defend their own rights and livelihoods, building workers’ assemblies to organize, expand and coordinate strikes at over 85 auto parts factories around the central demands of a 20 percent raise and a 32,000 peso bonus.
After nearly two months of fighting, which slowed down (and, in some places, shut down) production in North America, the maquiladora workers won their demands. Moreover, they were joined in victory by others in the area, most notably teachers, who were able to win their own raises and bonuses.
But Matamoros is not an isolated incident. Over the last 50 years, in Europe, Asia and Latin America, some of the most intensive strikes have seen workers break with the unions, establishing strike committees, workers’ committees and assemblies as the means of waging their own fight for the well-being of themselves, their families and their class.
In periods like today, where large class battles are few and far between, the rise of these mass class-struggle bodies are inevitably a temporary phenomenon. It is only when the class is in an ongoing state of open struggle — when strikes, occupations, mass strikes, etc., occur on an almost daily basis, such as when entering a revolutionary period — that these organs look like something more permanent.
(In a period of workers’ revolution and the victory of the workers’ republic, these bodies will assume a semi-permanent character as key bodies responsible for production.)
Nevertheless, other, smaller, class-struggle bodies may emerge in these periods, such as workers’ discussion circles or agitational struggle groups. These often emerge relatively spontaneously, without any kind of prodding or outside guidance. Working with and, to the extent it is possible and principled, within these bodies is key to intervening in our class to move beyond mere unions and unionism.
At the same time, proletarian communists can have both a complementary and parallel role to that of the discussion and struggle groups. For example, we can support, encourage and publicize the formation and work of such class-struggle bodies, not only through literature, such as articles and leaflets, but also through promoting engagement with these groups by their fellow workers, both inside and outside of the workplaces they cover.
That said, our role is not simply to be a passive tag-tail of the class struggle groups/assemblies, nor is it to substitute ourselves for them in any way. Rather, our role is to intervene in these bodies and movements on a conscious, organized political basis, directly connected to the proletarian communist organization as a fraction or section, with the goal of winning our fellow workers to the program for a workers’ republic and workers’ control of production.
This would be a two-fold mission. First, educating about the history and lessons of the class struggle, and how they apply to today’s and tomorrow’s battles, especially how even seemingly narrow economic conflicts have, at their root, an inescapable political character.
Second, our organized intervention would assist the class-struggle groups in avoiding the errors that would drag them on to the path of mere unionism. Often, demoralization due to a lack of struggle can pull these groups toward desperate attempts to hold on to its numbers and even its existence. History shows this only results in them transforming into unions and losing their overall class-struggle character.
Finally, we must realize that progress will move at the pace of the class struggle, not our own. We must be realistic in our intervention, be patient and prepare for the long haul.
Greta Thunberg, Climate Change and the ‘Greening’ of Capitalism’s Desolating Nature
THE UNITED NATIONS’ annual “Climate Week,” culminating this past September 23 with a summit meeting of most of the world’s leading capitalists and their politicians, was less of a policy gathering and more of a coming-out party for the new wave of eco-capitalist rock stars, with top billing at the media circus going to 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Thunberg came to prominence in 2018, when she began protesting outside the Swedish parliament, calling for a student strike to stop climate change. Since then, she has become the poster child for “green” capitalism, meeting with all manner of celebrities, politicians and CEOs. Her arrival in New York City by yacht on August 28 began over three weeks of appearances, meet-and-greets, protests and speeches, culminating in a “climate strike” protest in Battery Park on Sept. 20.
However, it was her speech at the UN summit that garnered Thunberg the most attention. Proclaiming humanity to be at “the beginning of a mass extinction,” she chastised those in attendance for stealing “my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” concluding that, “if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.” In response, the politicians and capitalists sympathetically nodded and offered up such platitudes as, “my generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change” (UN Secretary-General António Guterres), and “we need such a youth to help us to change things” (French President Emmanuel Macron).
Why did the world’s exploiters fall over each other to ingratiate themselves on Thunberg? The answer is found in the vision and perspective that she and her companions in organizations like Extinction Rebellion (XR), which plays a
central role in many of the “climate strike” actions, have chosen to put forward.
It goes without saying that climate change is real and presents a serious problem for humanity to overcome — a serious problem that demands an immediate and comprehensive response. However, the perspective put forward by Thunberg and XR is hyperbolic to the point of recklessness. Put simply, humanity is not facing extinction because of climate change. Even the worst-case scenario put forward by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a rise of 8°C in global temperatures over the next century, will not cause our mass extinction. Indeed, humans have survived such a climate shift before … during the stone age, without the benefit of modern technology and modern science.
So, if humanity is not facing extinction, what is? And, moreover, why the falsification? Second question first. The need for falsifying the scientific conclusions stems from the necessity to rally young people of all classes into taking immediate action without the benefit of having thought through the implications of their acts. As for what is facing extinction, it is not humanity, but capitalism as it exists today, specifically its ability to maximize profits through the discovery and exploitation of new wellsprings of natural resources around the world. It is not humanity that they worry will be extinguished in a century, but the social positions and living standards of the exploiting classes who are at the core of the movement.
To put it another way, Thunberg says she wants us to “act as if your house is on fire.” But her solution is to make an alliance with the arsonists so they can have another 100 years to keep doing what they do best: making the world burn!
All of the grandiose speeches, millenary apocalypticism, neo-puritan moralism, performative martyrdom, puerile “militant” theatrics, and so on, does not hide the fact that they are promoting unity with the people who own and control the system of exploitation that has trashed the planet — albeit with a fresh coat of “green” accents, meant to make it palatable until the next century. Such a program can only be seen as conscious deception. It is shameless and despicable.
Unlike these “green” grifters, communists understand that the climate crisis is inseparable from capitalism, and its mode and methods of production. Over 150 years ago, Marx explained how the cultivation of land, natural resources, agriculture, as well as the production of commodities, etc., that is not “consciously controlled” and planned for need, not profit, “leaves deserts behind it.” (Letter to Engels, March 25, 1868) — i.e., “that climate and flora change” over time as a result of the anarchic process of production of commodities for profit.
To fight climate change, it is necessary to organize and fight for revolutionary change — for a working-class revolution based on a proletarian communist program that will dismantle the old mode of production and build a new one that is consciously controlled by our organized class, that is not only sustainable but also restores the balance in the shared metabolism of humanity and nature.
The Humiliating Defeat of GM Workers Offers Many Lessons about Today’s Trade Unions and Tomorrow’s Labor Struggles
THE END OF THE 40-day strike by the United Auto Workers against General Motors has left many autoworkers across the U.S. with feelings of anger, frustration and some serious questions about where they and their co-workers go from here.
When the strike began on September 16, many of the over 49,000 autoworkers belonging to the UAW were not only supportive of the action, but also very clear about their demands and what they would consider a victory: the end of the multi-tier system, an end to the growing number of temporary workers by giving them permanent status, a rollback of the concessions handed to the company by the UAW in every contract since 2007, a commitment to not close any more plants, and a guarantee that new products are built in the U.S. by UAW autoworkers. Modest thought they are, these demands would have been the first gains that workers would have made in contract negotiations since the late 1970s.
Moreover, because of the practice of “pattern bargaining,” not only GM, but also Ford and Fiat Chrysler workers would have benefited from the fulfillment of these demands.
However, it was clear very early on that the demands of the autoworkers — their open and adamant support for their temporary co-workers, their belief that over a decade of “sacrifice” to keep GM afloat after its bankruptcy and government bailout should be rewarded, and so on — were not shared by the UAW officials chosen to negotiate with GM management. This should have come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the UAW.
The reality is that the UAW as an institution never wanted to go on strike; the reason they authorized it was fear and pressure. But we’re not talking about fear of and pressure from the autoworkers themselves, but fear of and pressure from the ongoing federal government investigation into the close ties between the UAW officials and the management of the Big Three auto manufacturers.
Over the past years, numerous investigations into incidents of corruption, embezzlement and graft by top UAW officials have moved from Regional officials into the heart of the union’s headquarters and uncomfortably close to the office of union President Gary Jones. Several past presidents, vice presidents and regional officials have been indicted or designated as “persons of interest” by the government for their roles either in the use of union funds to enrich themselves or in the receipt of bribes from management to ensure that concession deals are pushed through.
The investigations have so eroded morale and trust among autoworkers that the UAW was desperate and willing to try anything to restore even a small portion of confidence in their leadership, including resorting to a strike — albeit one that was heavily stage-managed.
In many respects, the strike, as organized, was little more than theater. The UAW gave GM ample time to build up a stock of vehicles and other necessary products to help them weather the work stoppage. By the time the action began, GM had a solid supply that could last them 87 days. In other words, even a strike lasting two and a half months would not harm GM’s ability to sell vehicles with desired options, thus allowing them to continue to generate profits while not having to pay for the power needed to produce vehicles (be that the labor-power of the autoworkers or the electricity needed for the machines).
Moreover, it is abundantly clear now that the strike was designed to fail. This is not only because, as usual, it was governed by the “injunction politics” that have robbed workers of their ability to win battles against the exploiting classes for decades, but also because it was never meant to hurt the company or its shareholders (the UAW being a major one). The demands of the workers were never seriously considered to be part of the agenda, only a propaganda tool to keep them “on the line.”
And then there was the mysterious meeting between GM CEO Mary Barra and her top staffers, on one side, and UAW President Gary Jones and Vice President Terry Dittes a few days before the tentative contract was announced. Little has been said or confirmed about this meeting, but what has been leaked centers around two words that no worker wants to hear: Taft-Hartley. If the rumors are true, the meeting was to inform the UAW that if a deal was not reached soon, then President Trump would have invoked the Taft-Hartley “slave-labor” act and ordered autoworkers back to the plants, deal or no deal.
The Problem with Unions
Even though unions represent only 6.3 percent of all workers outside of government jobs, they continue to be seen as the only effective means of fighting for the interests of the class in the workplace. This is understandable, from an historical perspective, but nevertheless a core problem for workers today.
Historically, unions have been seen as a primary means for workers to organize and defend themselves from the daily attacks by the exploiting classes. From the first craft unions of the 19th century to the industrial and amalgamated unions of the 20th and 21st, unions are still seen as the only viable means of securing and ensuring job security and a better standard of living — even if, in reality, none of these are actually achieved.
The enactment of laws like the National Labor Relations Act fundamentally changed the character of unions. No longer were they, or could they be, an organized expression of the demands and desires of workers themselves. Capitalist “legalization,” with its labyrinth of bureaucracy and regulations that demanded a mirror within the unions, transformed them into a collective mediator and negotiator of the price of a worker’s ability to carry out labor. Thus, instead of its main mission being to defend what workers have won in the past, its role is now to create an “equitable” agreement with the exploiters on their terms. “Stability” and “fairness” — and, most of all, preserving capitalist “competitiveness” — is the order of the day. The workers be damned.
In addition, the legalization process took workers themselves out of the very functioning and leadership of unions, with positions above the local level increasingly (and now consistently) being filled mainly by elements from the exploiting classes: lawyers, “labor relations” experts, professional statisticians and consultants. Occasionally, they include a few workers who once worked for a few months on the floor, mostly for color and cover. Is it any wonder that the staff workers at any large “international” union headquarters are often subjected to the most disgusting union-busting methods?
This transformation, which actually began more than a century ago (the first targets being the railroad unions), initiated the process of integrating unions into the capitalist system as the aforementioned collective mediators of the price of labor-power. That transformation also opened the floodgates, accelerating and intensifying the flow of the exploiters’ ideology into the working class.
The dominance among unionized workers of nationalism, sectoralism and chauvinism, as well as the intensifying of the ideology that tells workers they are “dummies” and incapable of running things for themselves, is specifically designed to maintain the class-based divisions that keep all workers in a position of precarity, fear and subordination.
An excellent example of this is the reaction of the UAW and many autoworkers to the wildcat strikes by Mexican workers in the maquiladoras against the Big Three. Last February, when tens of thousands of autoworkers struck in Matamoros against the low wages and horrific working conditions in the factories — two things that autoworkers in the U.S. and Canada have complained about since the beginning of outsourcing — the response of the UAW was to … hold flag-waving nationalist rallies and call for a boycott of products made in Mexico! At a time when cross-border solidarity between U.S. and Mexican workers, fighting for the same demand against the same companies, could have hobbled the Big Three and weakened them in advance of contract negotiations here, the UAW strengthened the hand of the bosses by keeping workers divided along national lines and preventing real unity.
The view of the unions that gains can only be fought for when the companies are profitable does nothing but shackle the well-being and interests of workers to that of their exploiters. Even worse, it keeps workers divided against themselves, even within a single industry. The needs of the working class are subordinated not only to one sector of the capitalists, but even to a sub-sector, where groveling is the only accepted form of survival.
[CONTINUED IN NEXT ISSUE]
THE RECENT INFLUX of refugees and asylum seekers at the southern U.S. border has begun to overwhelm the system of immigration detention and administration, which is leading to its breakdown. The concrete result is that both adults and children are dying at the border or while in Border Patrol custody.
The December 8, 2018, death of Jakelin Caal Maquin brought the story to light. She and her father crossed the border as asylum seekers two days prior, having fled Guatemala’s political, economic and gang-related chaos. When taken into custody by Customs and Border Patrol agents, Jakelin and her father were not given a medical exam. They and over 160 others were herded into an unheated loading bay, forced to sleep on the cold concrete.
By the time the bus arrived to take them to the detention center, the father was telling agents that Jakelin was sick. By the time they arrived, she was not breathing. After being briefly revived, Jakelin was rush to a hospital in El Paso, Texas. She died about 15 hours later of acute dehydration, shock and liver failure.
Jakelin was not the first child to die in Border Patrol custody in 2018. Last May, 21-month-old Mariee Juárez died after being exposed to illnesses in a CBP detention center, being unable to get a proper medical examination and being given improper medication.
Moreover, less than three weeks after Jakelin’s death, 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, another refugee from Guatemala, died in the late hours of Christmas Eve from an as-yet-undisclosed illness. At first, doctors in the U.S. diagnosed Felipe as having the common cold and fever. However, after he began complaining of nausea and vomiting, he was admitted to the hospital, where he succumbed to his illness.
Death along the U.S.-Mexico border is nothing new. In 2018, 281 deaths were recorded. This is down from 297 the year before and much lower than the peak of 471 in 2012. But a large reason for the reduced numbers has been the net drop in border crossings and deportations under the Barack Obama administration.
CBP officials claim that in-custody deaths are “extremely rare” — by which they mean that there were 22 such deaths in custody since the beginning of 2017, not including the three children mentioned in this article. Among those included is Roxana Hernandez, a transgender woman and refugee from Honduras who died after being in custody for less than two weeks.
The increased scrutiny of the CBP and Department of Homeland Security resulting from these deaths is, as one might expect, prompting the exploiting classes — Republican and Democrat — to call for bigger budgets, more CBP and ICE agents, and expanded detention camps for the growing numbers of families arriving as refugees and asylum seekers.
But under decaying capitalism, even refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence and repression are seen as a weapon to be used to stoke nationalism and xenophobia as a means to maintain power and further disorganize the working class. Thus, the politicians and their media transform these people into “invaders.”
While all those seeking asylum in the U.S. should be admitted without delay or detention, and should have full citizenship rights upon admission, communists understand that it will take workers’ revolutions and workers’ control of immigration to create the open and developed society that every worker seeks out.
Government Shutdown an Attack on All Workers
SINCE THE BEGINNING of the latest U.S. government shutdown on Dec. 22, about 800,000 federal employees and agents of the state have been affected, with civilian workers being furloughed and state agents forced to continue working without pay.
In addition, over 4 million government contract workers have also been idled in this current conflict.
At the time of this reporting, there appears to be very little chance of this shutdown ending any time soon. Both Congressional Democrats and the Donald Trump White House have dug in their heels, with each side, surprisingly, refusing to capitulate.
The ostensible reason for this conflict is Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in the federal budget devoted to building a wall (fence, barrier, whatever the term is today) along the U.S.-Mexico border. Congressional Democrats want the government to be reopened before any negotiation on a border wall is begun.
However, it now appears that the wall is more of a pretext. As the days have dragged into weeks, both the Republicans and the Democrats, and those surrounding them, have seized the opportunities presented by the mass layoffs and agency closures to implement the policies of the pirates and privateers of the exploiting classes that pay their ticket to power.
Take, for example, the furloughed civilian workers. Neither side really appears to want to send federal employees back to work with any urgency, and both parties are certainly willing to let these 380,000 workers twist in the wind until their game of procedure over the border wall finally ends. (We call it a procedure game because the Democrats will fund Tump’s border wall; the fight is simply over whether it is done now or done after some more negotiations.)
Then there are the workers under contract with federal government agencies. These workers often make much less and receive fewer benefits than their non-contracted counterparts in the same jobs. It remains to be seen if these workers will be brought back after the shutdown ends, as well as whether they will receive back pay for the time they were idled.
As for the agents of the capitalist state, they are in a different situation. The ongoing government shutdown has provided the exploiters with an opportunity to once again “perfect” its protective bodies. In effect, the practice of compelling individual state agents to continue working without pay has become a kind of loyalty test — loyalty to Trump and loyalty to the ruling classes as a whole. And it has been effective, since it has already exposed a weakness in the state: the Transportation Security Administration.
The sick-outs, the mass quitting, the generally rebellious attitudes on the job — all of these have demonstrated to the owning and managing classes that the TSA is in dire need of “perfection” once this shutdown is over. The agency played a key transitional role in the wake of 9/11, but there is now a need to “professionalize” it, by clearing out those rebellious and “unreliable” individuals and replacing them with more loyal elements, like soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines coming back from Syria and Afghanistan.
And then there is the wall itself. The wall is no more meant to “protect American jobs” than it is to stop unauthorized immigration. On the contrary, it is designed to be a weapon against all workers. As we wrote last issue, such “hard” stances on immigration are designed to keep immigrant workers at a regulated level to maintain not only current production levels, but also to use as a cudgel against non-immigrant workers to keep wages low and the class divided.
Yes, the shutdown is an attack on all workers: immigrant and non-immigrant, organized and unorganized, employed and contracted, and ultimately affecting every section of the class. But the solution is not the ending of the shutdown, which means a return to the status quo. Only mass self-organization on a revolutionary basis can defeat the attacks, which means the defeat of the capitalist system itself.
On the Oshawa Sit-Down Strikes
PLANT AND FACTORY closures can be one of the sharpest forms of class warfare. They not only affect the workers employed there, but also thousands more who work at businesses, both directly and indirectly connected. One needs only to look at the economic devastation of Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s to see how working-class communities are devastated by capitalism’s drive for profits.
It is therefore no surprise that, in response to hearing that their GM assembly plant was going to close by the end of the year, autoworkers in Oshawa, Ontario, staged two short sit-down strikes. As we go to press, however, the small factory occupations have ended — thanks primarily to the officials of the Unifor union.
The plant’s truck assembly line shut down on the afternoon of Jan. 8, immediately after GM bosses announced that, after discussions with Unifor officials, they were going to go ahead with their plans to move the jobs overseas. The spontaneous sit-down idled the entire night shift and continued until the next morning, when union officials arrived and pressured the workers into giving up on their own actions and relying on the union’s public-relations “corporate campaign.”
This was not the first time that the Oshawa GM workers broke with the union and turned toward class-struggle methods to fight the plant closing. When GM first announced its intent to close the facility and four others in the U.S. last November, workers staged a one-day wildcat strike that shut down the plant.
Many of those involved in the spontaneous workplace actions have expressed their view that a proper fight against GM requires Canadian, U.S. and Mexican workers acting together across borders. However, the response from Unifor, like its American equivalent, the United Auto Workers, has been a seemingly relentless wave of racism and national chauvinism, especially against workers in Mexico.
At events, union officials and backward workers have worn sombreros and talked in caricatured accents while appealing to “patriotic consumers” and parroting their masters by demanding “punitive tariffs.” In this age of capitalist decline, the unions are a major way that nationalism, chauvinism and racism — that hatred and fear of one’s fellow workers — are made “normal” within our class.
By feeding the Oshawa workers a steady diet of national-chauvinist poison, the Unifor union has effectively disarmed them at a time when cross-border workers’ unity and action is needed to break the cycle of pitting Canadian, American and Mexican workers against each other. By pressuring the workers to end their wildcat actions, the union has betrayed their fight for a decent standard of living.
It will take workers’ self-organization and action, on the basis of their own organizations of struggle, and fighting against both the bosses and business unions, to not only win back past gains, but move forward to workers’ emancipation.
Exploiting Classes Use Riot Police, Tear Gas to Disperse, Terrorize Refugees
FOR MONTHS, the approach of thousands of Central American refugees (the so-called “Migrant Caravan”) has been a specter for politicians on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, with the reality of the situation lost behind grandstanding and pandering. But with the recent clash between refugees and U.S. forces at the Port of San Ysidro, the exploiting classes on both sides of the frontier are joining together to attack the refugees, a large section of whom are women and children seeking peace and the freedom to live without fear of being murdered at any moment.
The eventual skirmish that took place on November 25 began as a peaceful march of nearly 5,000 to the Mexican side of the border. Thousands of mostly women and children began assembling at the Tijuana sports stadium where the local government of Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum have chosen to warehouse the asylum seekers. They walked toward the Mexican side of the Port of San Ysidro, carrying handmade U.S. and Honduran flags, as well as repeatedly chanting, “We are not criminals! We are international workers.” Moving closer to the border, the protest swept past a line of riot police to get up to Mexico’s side of the line.
It is here that reports from the capitalist media say that small groups of protesters spread out on both sides of the port entry. Most groups did nothing more than come up to the border fence and yell or hang banners on it. But one of those small gatherings attempted to pass through a hole in the barbed wire and fencing placed by the Mexican government on the border. In response, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents fired flash-bang grenades and tear gas — a chemical weapon banned in warfare since 1993 — across the frontier into Mexico to forcibly disperse the protesters, at least 90 percent of whom were women and children that were peaceful, and stayed away from the fences and walls.
In the aftermath of the skirmish along the border, the propaganda machines in both the U.S. and Mexico went into overdrive. The intent was to tar the refugees as dishonest, dangerous, violent and even parasitic, with the goal of building up “public opinion” against their legitimate claims of asylum. The media dutifully lined up, playing up incidents of refugees impotently throwing rocks at CBP agents (incidents that, according to the CBP Commissioner, resulted in no injuries and only involved four agents) and echoing the White House’s lies about “lawlessness” and “tremendous violence.” News outlets in both countries repeated the lie-by-implication told by Mexico’s Interior Ministry that hundreds of refugees were being deported because they sought to “illegally” and “violently” cross the border — even though only 42 were arrested for attempting to enter the U.S. and none of them actually succeeded in crossing.
Nevertheless, the “provocation” (as Mexican authorities called it on Sunday, but buried on Monday) along the border allowed the exploiting classes, especially Trump’s White House, to effectively make the thousands of refugees into criminals. It also allowed Washington to successfully ignore long-standing U.S. law regarding the right of refugees to residency in the country while awaiting the processing of their asylum applications. It also allowed Mexican officials to continue to deny the refugees basic assistance and services.
The Facts Hidden by Propaganda
Since October, the so-called “Migrant Caravan” has been a favorite punching bag of propagandists and politicians alike. From the moment that the first 160 refugees gathered together in Honduras, the group was declared a serious threat by nearly every government in continental North America. At nearly every stop, the caravan was met by riot police or soldiers (or both), participants were removed or arrested, often for no cause, and regularly denied basics services, such as places to sleep or food to eat — all because virtually every official and news outlet along the path declared the people in the caravan to be “dangerous.”
But who was in this caravan? Contrary to the lies of the Trump White House, these were not “criminals and unknown middle easterners.” Quite the contrary. Most of those in the caravan were women and children fleeing gang violence and the epidemic of femicide, the murder of women for misogynistic reasons and in the name of machismo.
Since 1990, thousands of women have been killed by men for such things as talking to another man, refusing the advances of a man, challenging male-dominated authority, and so on. These murders are often accompanied by incidents of rape, assault, mutilation and torture, but tens of thousands more women have been victims of these crimes and have lived to tell their stories. But as many of these women will attest, there are few, if any, political, religious or media institutions in Honduras interested in listening to or doing anything about this wave of misogynistic brutality.
The most well-known incident of femicide in Honduras was the 2014 murder of María José Alvarado, who had recently won Miss Honduras. She and her sister, Sofía Trinidad, were brutally murdered by the sister’s boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz, after he became jealous of her attending a party where other men were present. He shot Sofía after an argument, then turned his gun on the fleeing María, who was shot 12 times in the back. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30-40 years. From reports in local and international media, the only thing that surprised Hondurans about this case was the fact that Ruiz was tried and convicted; reports of femicide are usually not even investigated.
The situation for women only got worse after the reactionary coup d’état in 2009, which restored the conservative wing of capitalism to power. Incidents of femicide spiked; by 2013, an average of 53 women were being killed a month. By 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the average was 32.4 killings a month, with 30.1 percent of all murders being women between the ages of 15 and 40. It was in the wake of the coup that the first caravans of refugees were organized in 2010. As femicide has grown in the region, spilling over into neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala, so have the size and scope of the caravans going north.
This is why we have insisted throughout this article to refer to those fleeing from the region to the U.S. as refugees and not simply migrants. They are mostly women and children fleeing the reactionary and misogynistic violence that has become rampant in that region. As well, most of the men in the refugee caravan are also fleeing from the gangs, looking for opportunities to engage in honest productive labor.
Refugees, Immigrants and Capitalism
However, it is not for nothing that the different exploiting classes along the path of the caravan have relentlessly attacked these refugees. Even if Washington had not made the demands it did or taken the steps to financially punish its client states south of the Rio Grande (e.g., threatening to further slash economic aid, which was already cut by 40 percent when Trump came into office), the ruling classes of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras would have taken it upon themselves to attack and arrest the refugees.
The exploiters of all four countries try to minimize and rationalize the effects of femicide and the gangs on the working class. Thus, when thousands of refugees gather together to escape these conditions, it not only exposes their propaganda as a lie, but also presents a core challenge in a society where the capitalists and their managers use misogyny as a tool to maintain social order. U.S. capitalism also benefits from this misogyny, on two levels: first, by keeping large sections of women from entering the labor force, and, second, by using the threat of deportation back to those countries to keep working women who do make it in the worst conditions.
In our central document, we point out that the exploiting classes take a dual approach toward immigration to keep workers under control: “on the one hand, isolating and marginalizing immigrant workers in their jobs and communities as much as possible; on the other hand, using a strict immigration control regime to make sure there are just enough foreign-born workers to continue production at needed levels.” Again, contrary to the propaganda, the ruling classes don’t oppose immigration — including so-called “illegal” immigration. Fearmongering and repression are key elements of capitalism’s “strict immigration control regime,” designed to keep both native and immigrant workers divided from each others and subject to the whims of the exploiters.
Moreover, there is no liberal or social-democratic “path to citizenship” that will affect this approach, as it is integral to capitalism’s production system. Indeed, for all their talk about it, the liberals and leftists of the Democratic Party have only aided and abetted the continued functioning of this system — this includes the Obama White House giving tacit approval to the 2009 coup in Honduras. Senator Bernie Sanders, the social-democratic darling of the Left, limits his criticism to only the more egregious specifics of Trump’s immigration policy and says nothing about the overall control regime or the effect it has on workers of all backgrounds.
It will take the unity and self-organization of workers of all nationalities, guided by its own communist program, to break apart the rule of the capitalists and their managers, and put an end to the superexploitation of immigrant workers. It is this fight to which we commit ourselves fully.