May Day 2017: a Day without Immigrants— and All Who Stand in Solidarity with Them

May Day 2017 should prove to be the biggest labor holiday event in decades in terms of numbers and diversity of people participating, and in terms of shutting down major sectors of the US economy.

Worker dissatisfaction, support for immigrant rights, and the inhumane Trump agenda are motivating and unifying factors that are inciting mass May Day action. This year, immigrant justice will be forefront amidst emboldened xenophobic and racist ideology, speech and violence under the Trump administration. 

The 45th U.S. president is already proving to be the most divisive and threatening president in history. His blatant verbal attacks on African Americans, Latinos, women, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT communities, and the media have angered millions and given rise to protests occurring weekly, if not daily, across the nation. His choices of cabinet positions and promotion of monied interests as insiders give a clear message to union members, teachers, health care activists, women’s and reproductive rights advocates, environmentalists, anti-war and police brutality activists, minorities, Native Americans, immigrants, retirees, and the working poor that we are all in the fight for our lives to maintain civil rights and workers’ rights gains of the past one hundred years.

The overriding theme of May Day 2017 is “A Day without Immigrants” as immigrant and minority businesses around the nation pledge to shut down for the day. Donald Trump’s war on immigrants and Muslims are attacks on the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and the democratic principles of our nation. People will not stand idly by and let this president, his business partners and supporters take away our freedom, our diversity and our livelihood.

May Day 2017 has the potential to give the greatest national education that any labor justice activist could hope for. The message that has taken years to convey, through our events, conferences, and written words can be elucidated in one eight-hour non-working day. That lesson expressed in dollars can be massive if we engage the discontent into action and we all stop working “for the man” for one day.

One-day strikes have been used effectively causing great economic impact. In August 2008, South African workers protesting soaring prices for fuel, food, and electricity forced mines and factories to shut down for a day, forcing global platinum prices up by 3%, giving added worry to investors. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) stated that the strike would serve as warning not to cut jobs due to declining profits and economic recession.

India’s one day strikes of 2012 in Bangalore, Odisha, and other cities, to protest a government plan to raise diesel fuel prices by 14% cost the country $2.3 billion in lost production and trade. This figure was arrived at by the Confederation of Indian Industries who were opposed to the strike and urged Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh not to give into striking workers. Hundreds of thousands of owners of mom-and-pop “kirana” stores, who feared that the government reform plan would drive them out of business, were reported to have shut down for the day. Bigger companies gave staff the day off or allowed them to work from home. Across the country public transportation was compromised by protestors squatting on railway tracks and occupying bus depots. Government offices, businesses, schools and banks in Bhubaneswar were shut, with shutdowns reported in other cities, including Hyderabad, the IT hub with home offices of Microsoft Corp and Google Inc.

Closer to home was the “Great American Boycott” of May Day, 2006, “a day without an immigrant,” to protest an enforcement-heavy federal immigration bill and to call for legalization and full rights for all immigrants, and an end to deportation, raids and stepped-up enforcement. Regional economic impact was felt due to shut downs of leading meat packing plants, agricultural harvesting and packing, landscaping, food and home services, construction, casinos and trucking. The Los Angeles Development Corporation said that the boycott and strikes cost the city $200 million for the day excluding revenue for work that would be recovered later in the week. The economic impact nationally, however, was said to be minimal in the vast US economy.

This year, the national economic impact could be different. Across the country, coalitions of labor unions, immigrant rights and faith and community groups are planning May Day actions, strikes, walkouts, and stayaways. Labor unions and non-unionized workers in some progressive areas are calling for labor strikes in solidarity with immigrant businesses. In March, several delegates to the San Francisco Labor Council urged the Council and affiliates to mobilize massively on May 1 in support of immigrant and refugee rights, for the rights and interests of all working people and oppressed peoples, and to oppose the bloated war budget and Trump’s racist ultra-right agenda. The Los Angeles Federation of Labor and the Washington Federation of State Employees have endorsed a call for a general strike on May Day. Nearly 350,000 members of the Service Employees International Union plan to strike. According to a coalition of groups leading the strike, more than 300,000 food chain workers and 40,000 unionized service workers have said they will walk off the job on May 1, 2017. The Food Chain Workers Alliance, which represents workers throughout the food industry, said that hundreds of thousands of its non-unionized members have committed to striking. The Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a food industry worker advocacy group, has called for May Day strikes, and the Rural Community Workers Alliance said about 1000 workers at a Milan Missouri pork plant will walk out. This is only the beginning. People are fed up with cutbacks, deportations, legislative setbacks, a judicial appointment, the two-party political monopoly, and income inequality. Hundreds of thousands are expected to celebrate May Day 2017 in whatever way they can, and we will feel an impact that will take us to the next level of the change that has to come.

For information on events in solidarity with immigrant workers throughout the United States, click here.

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U.S. Out of Syria Now! It’s Time for Unity in the Streets!

On April 6, 2017, President Donald John Trump ordered a massive missile barrage on the Shayrat Air Base in Syria’s Homs province. It was an act of war, for which there can be no justification. The Syrian Arab Republic is no threat to the security of the American people. The President did not even bother to claim that it is.

The President’s justification for the attack was an April 4 chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in northwestern Syria. Idlib province is under the control of armed opposition groups who are linked to al-Qa’ideh. About 80 civilians, including children, died in the attack, and many others were injured. It is alleged that the gas used was sarin, one of the deadliest weapons in the chemical arsenal.

The Trump administration was quick to blame the Syrian government, headed by Dr. Bashar al-Assad. The evidence that President Trump provided was about as definitive as the evidence that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower in the months before the election. If Trump has better evidence than “I’m hearing…” or “everybody knows…” he has not yet shared it with the American people. The working people of the United States deserve to know the truth—after experiences such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident at the beginning of the Vietnam war and the allegations that President Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq in 2003—weapons which were never found because they never existed.

In terms of military and political tactics, a poison-gas attack on civilians, even in al-Qa’ideh–controlled territory, makes little sense. The Syrian government has been regaining the upper hand in Syria’s five-year-plus civil war, having won complete control of Aleppo. The Trump administration appeared to have dropped the Obama administration’s call for regime change in Syria. As late as the last week of March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that the choice of the future of the Assad regime was one to be made “by the Syrian people.”

Though President Trump’s approval rating is the lowest in history for a president so early in his term, Americans seemed to agree with his stated policy of keeping out of the Syrian civil war. An attack using sarin gas against civilians would be so counterproductive to the Syrian government’s overall strategic interests that it raises the question of whether some other party is guilty of carrying it out—an attack often called a “false flag” operation. It must be acknowledged that there is no more hard evidence that the Khan Sheikhoun attack was a false flag attack than there is that Assad’s forces did it.

However, in a larger sense, the question of responsibility for the chemical attack is irrelevant. Even if Bashar al-Assad is guilty of the attack—and the evidence does not prove it at all—no one appointed Donald John Trump to be the policeman and trial judge. How does the United States claim the right to be the moral arbiter in the Syrian conflict?

To be sure, the videotape images of the Khan Sheikhoun victims provoke an emotional response—and it provoked an emotional response on the part of the President. Well-meaning people are saying to one another, “we can’t just let this happen and do nothing.” They are then willing to give the President grudging support for his decision to launch a missile strike. However, even the horror of a sarin gas attack does not give the United States the right to take military action, especially when similar attacks on civilian populations are occurring in other areas, such as Yemen, where U.S. ally Sa’udi Arabia is committing war crimes on as high a scale as anything happening in Syria, but from which videotape does not find its way to television network news in the United States.

No, working people in the United States need to demand that the Administration get out and stay out of Syria—immediately, totally, and unconditionally. That means no missile strikes, no aerial bombardment, no drone strikes, no reconnaissance flights, no weapons, no money, no “support troops,” and no combat troops. That means whether or not Bashar al-Assad remains in power, whether or not Russia, Iran, or paramilitary groups such as the Lebanese Hizbullah militia are helping the Syrian government fight the Islamic State and al-Qa’ideh forces. And it means now, not after a settlement is negotiated, not after we “figure out what’s going on,” and certainly not after U.S. casualties reach unacceptable levels.

Clear, principled demands for immediate, total, and unconditional withdrawal and non-intervention stand in stark contrast to the mealymouthed evasions coming from the politicians of the Democratic Party. The most honest and forthright expression came from defeated presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who called for a military strike against the Syrian government even before President Trump announced that he had ordered it. After hearing of Trump’s decision, Clinton expressed her support for it. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also expressed support for the missile strike, only complaining that the President had not come to Congress to ask for authorization. Similarly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi supported the air strikes, calling them a “proportional response,” but urging Trump to come before Congress for any further authorization of use of military force.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts issued a statement which began by condemning the “Syrian regime” for the Khan Sheikhoun attack—despite the Trump Administration’s inability to present conclusive evidence—and then only calling on President Trump to “explain” his military action to the Congress. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii took the strongest stand of any member of Congress against Trump’s action, but her statement fell short of calling for unconditional withdrawal. She even called for Assad’s “execution” if he were found guilty of the Khan Sheikhoun attack at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

United action by the labor movement and antiwar organizations is a vital necessity. Unfortunately, united action has been hampered by toxic hostility between activists who support the removal of Assad from power and those who recognize that it is not a decision in which Americans can have any say. Insisting that the United States stay out of a conflict is not the same as endorsing one side in a conflict. When polemics among activists become more important than working together for peace, it benefits only the warmakers. United action is the vital necessity today. Emergency actions have been scheduled for as early as the afternoon of April 7. That is the right thing to do. Donald Trump has taken a step towards escalating U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict. It’s up to working people throughout the country to unite to demand that he does not take a next step.

Lastly, Americans who are demanding that the United States stay out of Syria need to add one more demand: that the United States open its borders to Syrian civilians who are fleeing the violence in their country. The Trump Administration is hypocritical in the extreme when it launches a missile strike into Syria because of violence against civilians and then refuses to allow civilian refugees into the United States. This has to change. Let them in!

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Nothing Short of a Single-Payer Health Plan Will Do

Since the enactment of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (ACA) in 2009, congressional Republicans have vowed to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” For seven years that promise was never anything more than a campaign slogan—no Republican ever offered an alternative health plan to Barack Obama’s signature legislation.

In the 2016 elections the Republicans won it all: majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives and, surprisingly, the presidency. Suddenly, the Republicans had to make the transition from an opposition party to a governing party, and if they were to keep their promise to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” they had to come up with a new health plan with which to “replace.”

As rumors began to surface about Republican plans for “reforming” the health care “system,” anti-Trump activists began confronting Republican members of Congress at Town Hall meetings in the congressional districts, angrily defending the ACA from Republican threats to dismantle it. The numbers of people involved were actually larger than the right-wing “Tea Party” crowds which bedeviled the Democrats at the beginning of the Obama administration. Republican legislators who actually believed the lie that the people were with them were nonplussed, in some cases even intimidated from holding Town Hall meetings with their constituents.

At the beginning of March 2017 the Republican health plan went from rumors to an actual bill, the “American Health Care Act” (AHCA). The rumors did not do it justice. It was actually worse than people had expected. There was something in the bill for everyone—except the very rich—to hate.

The Congressional Budget Office Report on the “American Health Care Act”

According to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), twenty-four million Americans would lose their health insurance coverage under the Republican plan—fourteen million in its first year, as reported in the March 14, 2017, issue of the New York Times. The CBO also estimated that premiums for those who buy insurance on their own would rise by fifteen to twenty percent in the first two years of the plan, and then level off in 2020. Under AHCA, private insurance companies would be allowed to charge seniors five times the premiums that it charges to younger Americans. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) said this in a statement: “Before people even reach retirement age, big insurance companies could be allowed to charge them an age tax that adds up to thousands of dollars more per year. Older Americans need affordable health care services and prescriptions. This plan goes in the opposite direction, increasing insurance premiums for older Americans and not doing anything to lower drug costs.”

However, the Republican plan hits Medicaid the hardest. Federal spending for Medicaid, according to the CBO, would be twenty-five percent lower, causing fourteen million people to lose their health care under Medicaid. Who are Medicaid recipients? They are the poor, the disabled, and the young—the most vulnerable in our society. Many are full-time workers whose pay is so low that they qualify for Medicaid, and of course their employers do not provide health coverage.

The AHCA does lower taxes for the very rich, and, according to the CBO, it would reduce federal spending by $337 billion over the next decade. The tax reductions for the rich and the spending reductions for the federal government may persuade reluctant Republican reactionaries to support a bill which does not return health care to the misnamed “free market”—increasing the likelihood that the bill can pass both houses of Congress and become law, which would be a disaster for working families. Ironically, the working families who are likely to be hardest hit are in areas which voted heavily for Donald John Trump in the 2016 election.

The ACA Has Not Been a Good Plan

It should be understood that the health care plan that the Republicans are “repealing and replacing” was not a good plan for working people and the poor. One can make a valid argument that it was better than nothing at all or than the previous non-system, in which insurance companies could deny coverage to young adults whose parents were covered, or to people who had “pre-existing conditions.” Those provisions remain under the AHCA.

However, it should be understood that there is a difference between having health insurance and getting health care. Far too many Americans who bought health insurance under ACA found that out the hard way. High deductibles, high co-pays, and lack of coverage for many procedures and medications meant high out-of-pocket expenses—added on to premiums that were at a minimum several hundred dollars a month. Of course, for far too many working people, that is exactly what they have had for many years under their employer-provided health insurance. At the time the ACA was first being proposed, President Obama told the American people, “The good news is that if you like your health insurance you get to keep it.” What he should have said was, “If your boss likes your health insurance, you’re stuck with it.”

Since the roll-out of the ACA in 2014 it has been plagued with one problem after another, from a poorly coded website which made it next to impossible for people to enroll, to confusion concerning the tax subsidies for which people qualified—and their actual cost to acquire health insurance, to rising premiums each year. Workers whose unions have health and welfare plans are all too familiar with insurance companies who “low ball” premium estimates to get the business and then raise the premiums substantially in each year of the contract, so that by the end, employer contributions are no longer sufficient to cover the costs.

Health insurance marketplaces under ACA were set up by the states—or not. People in those states which did not set up a marketplace were stuck with the federal system, and the plans offered to them generally were not as good. The full effect of Obamacare’s insurance coverage was further limited by the Supreme Court’s ruling that made states’ Medicaid expansion optional. The most reactionary of governors took the hint, refusing to extend coverage to millions of our most vulnerable citizens.

Many insurance companies simply pulled out of the ACA, leaving enrollees with no choice. It became cost-effective for people simply to forego buying insurance and paying the fine for not doing so. When Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said that the ACA was “imploding,” he was unfortunately correct. The AHCA, which he has offered as an alternative, continues and accelerates the implosion.

A Better Answer: Medicare for All

In their campaign to preserve, protect, and defend the ACA, the Democrats have unfortunately given up on a plan which actually could improve health care for working families of all. This is the Medicare for All plan, first introduced by Michigan Congressman John Conyers over a decade ago as H.R. 676. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has introduced similar legislation in the Senate. It would provide health coverage to all Americans under the existing Medicare system—everybody in, nobody out. It would bring the United States into step with the rest of the industrialized world, where working people have fought for and won single-payer health care systems.

Working families would be the big gainers under a Medicare for All plan. The losers would be the giant health insurance companies and big pharmaceutical companies, who have been enriching themselves for decades at working people’s expense. Breaking the power of these giant corporations would improve not only the delivery of health care but the quality of health care as well, as health priorities would shift away from astronomical drug profits to actual healing of the sick and prevention of disease.

The Democrats have refused to lift a finger for a health plan that would actually benefit the people who vote for their party. It’s time for working people to tell the Democrats—and the Republicans and their demagogic President Donald John Trump—that if they refuse to provide us with a health care plan that actually benefits us, we will elect people who will, independent candidates whom we choose and who are responsible to us, not to the insurance bosses, pharmaceutical executives, and Wall Street speculators. The time is now.

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Remarks to Jerry Gordon Memorial Meeting 28 January, 2017

by Thomas Bias, National Secretary, Labor Fightback Network

This is a sad day for me. Even though Jerry had a long life and without doubt left this world a better place than he found it, I’m sad that he’s gone. I’m sad that neither I nor any other working-class activist will have the benefit of his counsel; I’m sad that the working class and community groups working for social justice will no longer have the benefit of his hard work. And I’m sad for the simple reason that I miss him. I have worked with him at one level or another for all of my adult life—actually, even longer than that. But, I am happy that Jerry was in this world; I’m grateful to him for the contribution he made to the struggle for social justice and for all the things I and hundreds of friends and comrades learned from him, and I’m especially glad that I got to know him as a friend.

I’m also disappointed that I cannot be with you all in person today to celebrate the life of this remarkable man. I made the decision to attend the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark as an elected delegate from my parish, and let me tell you why. As I write these remarks, Donald John Trump has been President of the United States for two days. To resist his racist, sexist, labor-hating agenda will require far broader involvement of people than we have seen in many years. We will need to bring into the struggle people who are not and never have been political activists. We will need to reach out to organizations in our communities with whom we have not worked before and appeal to their most basic moral values. In my church we pray for the President, no matter who holds the office. But our beliefs dictate to us that when a woman feels afraid to go into a supermarket because she wears the hijab that it’s the church’s business to stand up for her. It is our responsibility to be welcoming to the refugee, to feed the hungry, provide clothing for those in rags, and to give friendship to those who are incarcerated, and we understand that it is not enough to give from our own pockets. No, it is necessary to stand up for those threatened by racist violence, to work for an entire country and society that welcomes the refugee, feeds the hungry, clothes those wearing rags, and gives not only friendship but justice to those who are in prison. The Trump agenda goes 100% against these moral values; the question that we need to discuss is how can we bring the moral authority and the grassroots network of the faith communities to bear, not against Trump as a man and as the President, but against his anti-human public policies. We all need to be having this discussion, not just with the people we know and with whom we have worked for many years, but with our neighbors, our extended families, with the parents of our children’s classmates—those of us whose children are still children!—and, for those of us who are people of faith, with our fellow parishioners. That’s what I will be doing. I hope when all the meetings have concluded that I have been able to make a difference. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Jerry Gordon shared these moral values and devoted his life to working to make them a reality. So I am sorry that I cannot be here in person, but I could not let this opportunity to network for social justice and human decency slip away.

Now, I don’t want to wear you out with a lot of talk here this afternoon. I want to say just a few things about Jerry that were important to me and that made a difference in my life.

First, my affiliation with the Socialist Workers Party during the 1970s is no secret to anyone. When I joined the Young Socialist Alliance in 1969 one of the first things I learned about was the power of mass action, especially when it unleashes the very real and invincible power of the working class. At that time the odor of smoke was still in the air from urban rebellions in places like Detroit and Newark, especially in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, a genuine hero of our country and indeed of our world. The Vietnam war was raging, and opposition to it by then included large numbers of active-duty GIs and veterans. Trade union leaders were beginning to speak out against the war as well, breaking with pro-war business unionist leaders like AFL-CIO President George Meany. The Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance argued for a mass-action strategy to organize opposition to the Vietnam war—the principled demand of immediate U.S. withdrawal, non-exclusion in organizing, democratic decision-making, and action which could involve active-duty GIs and veterans and working men and women and their families.

But the SWP did not fight alone. Leading the campaign within the antiwar movement for principled unity, for inclusion of those social forces capable of forcing an end to the war, and non-exclusion and democracy were two organizers who spoke eloquently and gave 100% to build a coalition to make the mass actions happen. They were Jim Lafferty of Detroit and Jerry Gordon of Cleveland. I first heard Jerry speak when he gave the keynote address at a national conference of the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam at Case Western Reserve here in Cleveland in February 1970. He was clear and uncompromising. He told it as it was. Jerry was out front leading the fight along with Jim and people like Ruth Gage-Colby of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, John T. Williams of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Fred Halstead of the SWP, and other good people. That went on for three years until the U.S. bowed to the inevitable early in 1973 and signed a peace agreement with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front. Two years later, in 1975, the forces of the DRV and NLF put an end to the charade, marched into Saigon, and reunified Vietnam. The war was over. The mass-action strategy had been successful in contributing mightily to the victory of the Vietnamese people. And Jerry Gordon personally contributed mightily to convincing the antiwar movement that the mass-action strategy was the way to go. Jerry stepped up to the challenge of leadership, and he did not fail. The success of the anti–Vietnam war movement was due in no small measure to the leadership and work of Jerry Gordon.

The struggle against the Vietnam war was the dominant feature of the first half of my twenties. At the end of my twenties I had to walk away from the Socialist Workers Party, as did so many others of my generation—and those of the generation who had participated in the great struggles of the CIO in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1984 I joined a group of comrades who had been expelled from the SWP or who had resigned in disgust as I had. It was known as the Fourth Internationalist Tendency. We had a local organizing committee in Cleveland which included Jean Tussey, Jerry’s mother-in-law, and in 1989—I think it was—the Cleveland local organizing committee recruited Jerry to the F.I.T. It was during the next two years or so that I really got to know Jerry and to work with him directly, which I had not done during the years of the Vietnam war.

During those years, I was the National Administrative Secretary of the F.I.T., and we had a lot of difficult decisions to make, and a lot of changes in the world to understand. Those were the years when the Berlin Wall came down, of the students in Tienanmen Square in Beijing, the Solidarity Union in Poland, and ultimately, the end of the Soviet Union itself. Jerry and I often found ourselves on opposite sides of the debate. To this day I will stand by what I said back then—Jerry never convinced me. But as sharp as our arguments were, they were always respectful and comradely. I disagreed often with Jerry, but there was never one minute that I didn’t respect him and never one minute that I didn’t believe that he was sincere and had no hidden agenda. I know that Jerry respected me and those who agreed with me in the same way. I was not used to a political debate without name-calling, accusations of disloyalty, or threats of expulsion. Jerry earned my respect in those years, as sharply as I sometimes disagreed with him. That is the second point I want to leave with you about Jerry.

The economic crisis of 2008 through 2011 hit a lot of working people really hard. I was one of them. When a worker loses his job, his health insurance, and is in danger of losing his home, she or he needs friends and finds out in short order who those friends are. In my case, there were a number of friends who stepped up and did what they could. Jerry Gordon was one of them. I will never forget them and what they did, and I will be grateful to all of them—including Jerry—as long as I live. You know, we all remember Jerry as a forceful and strong leader and a tireless organizer, but he should also be remembered as a genuinely compassionate and caring human being. And that’s the third point I want to leave with you. So, Jerry, if there’s anything after this life, and if you can hear me, thank you. You made a difference to me.

As I write these remarks, fewer than twenty-four hours have passed since the largest day of mass-action protest in the history of the United States. The events of January 21 were a model of the kind of mobilization that Jerry advocated for as long as I knew him. Over three million went into the streets to stand up against President Donald John Trump and his threats to women’s rights on so many levels. If Jerry were here he would be challenging all of us to think out how we can build on the success of that great day. And isn’t that the best way to honor his memory? This summer the Labor Fightback Network—the last coalition that Jerry helped to organize—will be holding a conference to talk about just that. All of you are invited! Bring your thoughts; bring your experiences; bring your energy. The working class and indeed the entire planet need them. Jerry’s absence will be felt keenly. Let’s all join together to finish the work to which Jerry Gordon devoted his life. Jerry Gordon, ¡presente!

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Open Letter to Delegates Attending the National Single Payer Strategy Conference in New York City

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

The Call for the National Single Payer Strategy Conference begins with an affirmation with which we agree wholeheartedly:

We believe that a powerful resistance movement anchored in the labor and social movements can turn the tables on Trump and all that he represents. To win, we must inspire Americans to fight for what they need, not what the political establishment tells them they can get.”

And what they need is Single Payer, now! The American people support Single Payer (or Medicare For All) overwhelmingly. The Bernie Sanders campaign made Single Payer a household term; his call for it galvanized young people and workers from coast to coast.

With the Affordable Care Act now under attack by the incoming Trump administration, a wing of the establishment—the corporate Democrats—are telling us to hold our horses on Single Payer and focus on the defense of ACA. Many are the same people who told us that Single Payer could not be included in the Democratic Party platform or raised during the final months of the presidential campaign.

Yes, we must defend the gains contained in the ACA, but we cannot and must not defend the ACA as such. Nor should we put the ACA on the same level as Medicare and Medicaid, two historic gains.

The ACA was a law written by insurance industry lobbyists and representatives of other price-gougers in healthcare. Under ACA, hundreds of billions of dollars meant for the care of patients are siphoned off as profits for the big healthcare insurance companies—money that would be saved by their elimination from the system. This money could be used to ensure quality and comprehensive coverage for all residents.

The ACA’s flaws are fundamental: rising premiums (which are scheduled to spike big time in 2017), rising deductibles, rising co-pays, tens of millions still without coverage, exclusion of undocumented immigrants, bloated and wasteful administrative costs, growing problems in collective bargaining in negotiating good benefits programs, etc.

Labor economist Jack Rasmus summed it up well:

In his farewell address, President Obama touted the fact that on his watch, 20 million of the 50 million uninsured got health insurance coverage, half of them covered by Medicaid, which provides less than even ‘bare bones’ care, assuming one can even find a doctor willing to provide medical services. The rest covered by ACA mostly got high deductible insurance, often at an out-of-pocket cost of $2,000 to $4,000 per year. Thus, millions got minimal coverage while the health insurance industry got $900 billion a year. . . .

“In the wake of ACA’s passage, big pharmaceutical companies have also been allowed to price gouge at will, driving up not only private health insurance premiums but Medicare costs as well, and softening up the latter program for coming Republican-Trump attacks.”

Indeed, the Democrats’ failure to campaign for Single Payer played right into Trump’s hands. This was best explained by Jack Kingston, a Republican former member of Congress from Georgia:

One of the reasons that Hillary Clinton lost the election is the widespread anger in the Rust Belt and other regions over the rising costs of healthcare under Obamacare. It might not be a top media story, but it is certainly a discussion at the dinner tables in working-class and middle-class households across the country. Everyone is concerned that premiums and healthcare costs are going to soar in 2017 under Obamacare. Trump said that Obamacare has to go, and he got a real hearing.” (from interview on PBS at the Republican election-night gathering)

At a time when the national discussion is heating up around the question of what the ACA should be replaced with, the labor movement needs to go on the offensive with the call to replace ACA with Medicare For All. This, in fact, is the best way to defend and expand the gains contained in ACA. Trump claims that he is for solutions that make good business sense. Well, Single Payer is that and more!

To focus, as the Democrats are urging labor to do, on defense of ACA is a losing proposition. To win, we must inspire Americans to fight for what they need, not what the political establishment tells them they can get—and that includes the Democratic Party wing of the establishment.

It is time for labor to break with this “lesser-evil” approach to politics. It is time for labor to assert its independent voice. It is time for labor to break with its ties of subordination to the Democratic Party and launch a full-scale offensive to demand: Single Payer Now!

This is the message, we believe, that needs to come out of the National Single Payer Strategy Conference.

In solidarity,
The Steering Committee of the Labor Fightback Network

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Jerry Gordon, December 23, 1928–October 28, 2016

By Thomas Bias, National Secretary, Labor Fightback Network

In the predawn hours of October 28, 2016, Jerry Gordon, who had served as National Secretary of the Labor Fightback Network from its founding until August of this year, passed into eternity. He had devoted nearly all of his eighty-eight years to the struggle of the working class for peace, justice, human rights, and a decent standard of living. He was an uncompromising fighter against racism, imperialism, and all forms of sexism. Most importantly, Jerry put his principles into action, organizing coalitions based on principled unity which brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. He taught a whole generation of young activists not only the importance of united-front action but how to make it happen in the real world. He will be sorely missed.

In the months and weeks ahead, many words will be written and spoken which will share the events of Jerry’s life and work—activity in the labor movement, civil rights struggle, and peace movement going back six decades. As Jerry’s friends and comrades commit their memories to paper—or electronic word-processing files—we will share them here in the weeks and months to come. At this time, I can only share my own reminiscences.

I first encountered Jerry Gordon in 1970 at a national conference of the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. The event was in Cleveland, Ohio, where Jerry lived for most of his life. Jerry was the keynote speaker. He was introduced as a labor lawyer, and he looked the part! He was dressed appropriately to appear in court—quite a contrast to us scruffy students, most of us barely out of our teens. I later found out that Jerry was exactly the same age as my own mother. The speech that he gave, however, was as fiery and militant as anything I had heard in the struggle—and by this time in my life I had heard a lot! He wasn’t afraid to call the Nixon administration’s Vietnam policy by its right name: imperialism. He didn’t shrink from calling for mass action by the student youth, working people, and military personnel, rather than relying on the good intentions of politicians trying to get elected to office.

Over the next five years, Jerry, along with his close associate Jim Lafferty of Detroit, worked tirelessly to bring disparate forces to unite around the demand that the United States withdraw its forces immediately from Vietnam, and—after May 1970—from Cambodia and Laos as well. After the massive student uprising of May 1970, sparked by the invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard murders of four students at Kent State University in Ohio and of two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi, Jerry and Jim, along with Ruth Gage-Colby of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and John T. Williams of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, led the formation of the National Peace Action Coalition. This coalition brought a combined total of a million people into the streets in Washington and San Francisco in April of 1971. For the first time, unions and labor officials were breaking with the pro-war policies of AFL-CIO President George Meany. Jerry Gordon was one of the best networkers I ever saw—and that was before we even had the term “networking”—and he knew to whom to reach out. He started with people he knew in Cleveland and people in the Amalgamated Meatcutters and Butcher Workmen’s Union, the union he represented, and worked from there. It became clear quickly to the warmakers that organized action in opposition to the Vietnam war could not be limited to the student youth, and if they did not want a deepgoing social explosion, they would have to bring the war to a close quickly.

Jerry Gordon played a direct and in many ways decisive role in forcing the United States to get out of Vietnam short of victory. It wasn’t Jerry as a single person who made the difference: it was his leadership in building a united and principled coalition for immediate U.S. withdrawal, based in the people—the working class, the student youth, and the GIs. It was his refusal to compromise his principles in the interests of getting someone elected to office; it was his insistence that the antiwar movement had to reach out to organized labor as that one social force which had the power to shut down the American economy and force an end to the war, if it came to that. The warmakers understood, and they made sure that it didn’t come to that.

I got to know Jerry much better personally in the 1980s and later, working with him in opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America and then in the efforts to stop Bush 41’s Gulf War and then Bush 43’s Gulf War. But those fundamental principles of coalition-building hadn’t changed. Jerry stood by them in every struggle: principled unity, the central role of labor, mass action by the people, rather than favors from the politicians. That’s what I learned from Jerry Gordon, and they are lessons I will never forget as long as I live. And Jerry Gordon was a working-class leader and a fighter for social justice, whom I will never forget as long as I live.

Jerry Gordon, ¡presente!

Click here for a Personal and Political/Trade Union Biography of Jerry Gordon

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It’s Time for a New Political Party

With each passing year, elections in the United States have been increasingly insulting of working people’s intelligence. To be sure, the politicians have never had much respect for the people who vote them into office. During every election campaign season the voters are subjected to a chorus of “My opponent is a crook! My opponent is a bum! My opponent will raise taxes! My opponent does not love America! Vote for me!” Meanwhile, working people are facing with each passing month more difficulties paying to keep a roof over our heads and the choice of paying for prescription medicines or food, difficulties which have increased exponentially since the economic crash of 2008. We look to the elected officials—or those who would take the place of the elected officials—for answers, and all we hear is the same old drivel: “My opponent is a crook! My opponent is a bum!…”

In 2016 working voters are fed up to the teeth, and they are unleashing their anger on the political elites of both major political parties.

The Democratic party seemed poised to give former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a coronation, with little or no opposition as the campaign for the nomination began in 2015. In that context, the independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made a decision to challenge her in the Democratic nomination process. What happened next was completely contrary to all expectations. The 74-year-old self-described socialist ran a campaign not about how wonderful Bernie Sanders would be as President, but about a single-payer national health plan, stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a tax plan to make the richest pay “their fair share,” and a call to break up the big financial institutions, arguing that “too big to fail” is too big to be in business. He ran a campaign about the issues and called for change, and the people responded.

A funny thing happened: Sanders gave Secretary Clinton a run for her money. He fought her to a tie in the Iowa caucuses and beat her decisively in the New Hampshire primary. The states that Clinton won were states where the Democratic party had strong urban political machines which could turn out the vote for the leadership’s favored candidate. Even so, as e-mail messages that were exposed by the Wikileaks website on the Internet have shown, the Democratic National Committee violated its responsibility to be neutral and took whatever undemocratic steps it could to ensure Clinton’s victory.

Sanders could not prevail in an undemocratic Democratic party. Though the voters in large numbers rejected establishment politics, it was establishment politics that ultimately won, and Secretary Clinton became the nominee, choosing a nondescript conservative, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, as her running mate.

If the Democratic nomination campaign was unusual, the Republican campaign was downright bizarre.

A huge field of candidates initially sought the Republican nomination, from well-established senators and governors, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (son of the forty-first president and brother of the forty-third president), like incumbent Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Two business executives who had never before held elective office also sought the nomination: former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina and New York real estate developer Donald Trump.

The conventional wisdom was that a third member of the Bush dynasty would be nominated to face off against the second of the Clinton dynasty. Senators Cruz and Rubio and Governor Christie were also considered possibilities. But the Republican voters had a different idea.

For decades Republican politics has been strongly influenced by hateful radio and Fox News talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, along with reactionary preachers such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell.

Trump proved to the Republican party St. Paul’s warning (Galatians 6:7): “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Years of racist, sexist, and hateful lies had sufficiently eroded the political discourse within the Republican party that the most outlandish and groundless conspiracy theories found a sympathetic hearing among Republican voters. But something else was happening, too. The economic uncertainty that attracted Democratic voters to the anti-establishment candidate Bernie Sanders attracted Republican voters to the anti-establishment Donald Trump. His completely unworkable and even unconstitutional proposals, such as building a wall along the Mexican border to keep “illegal aliens” out (and making the Mexican government pay for it) and excluding all Muslims from entering the United States “until we can figure out what the hell is going on,” struck a sympathetic chord with older working-class white males. Even if they understood that Trump’s proposals would never work, but they appreciated his anti-elitism.

Contrary to all expectations, Trump blew the establishment candidates out of the water. Even when the Republican leadership brought in the “big guns”—including former President George W. Bush and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney—it was not nearly enough. All of the accusations against Trump—that he was a dishonest “con artist,” that he was not qualified for the job as President, that his policy proposals were completely unworkable, and many more—are all true. The Republican voters seemed not to care. Trump ran away with the nomination.

In polling, both Clinton’s and Trump’s disapproval ratings exceed their approval ratings; Trump’s net disapproval exceeds Clinton’s. It is clear that in 2016 the voters will be voting against a candidate rather than for a candidate, and the campaigns are reflecting the negativity, as Trump rants about “Crooked Hillary,” and Clinton counters with “Dangerous Trump.” It’s the same old political game, and American working people are sick of it.

If there was ever an opportunity for an electoral alternative to Big Business’s twin parties, it is staring us in the face, right now.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the labor movement, of the African-American community and other Communities of Color, and even challenger candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, have chosen the route of “defeat Trump at all costs” and are calling on working people to vote for Secretary Clinton. Polls have indicated that while most Sanders voters will likely vote for Clinton; the campaign activists, those who phone-banked, canvassed, and fund-raised for Sanders, are not coming around to support Clinton in the numbers that the Democratic leaders had hoped. It was visible at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, where anti-Clinton street marches brought together hundreds of people, including Sanders delegates who had walked out of the convention. The Democratic National Committee did its best to stage manage its convention so that those protests were invisible, but they had limited success.

The largest independent electoral initiative—not counting the right-wing Libertarian party—is the Green party, whose candidates are Dr. Jill Stein for President and Ajamu Baraka for Vice President. Various polls show Green support at between four and eight percent, considerably higher than the support that the Green party received in 2012. Any social-justice trade unionist would react favorably to the Green party’s platform. It is broadly pro-labor; it supports racial justice—including Black Lives Matter; it opposes hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for fossil-fuel extraction, as well as nuclear power for generating electricity. It opposes war and U.S. intervention into the affairs of other countries—and includes opposition to the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian Arab territory. This platform was developed by good people who got together on this programmatic basis, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But what we need today is a political party that represents the organized working people, through their own organizations, the trade unions. It is up to social-justice-minded trade unionists to fight within the unions for the perspective of a new political party, rather than trying to use one of the big business parties in a vain attempt to win a few concessions. The Green party and other independent electoral alternatives can and must be a part of the process of developing the massive party that is so desperately needed. Dr. Stein herself set a good example during July when she invited Senator Sanders to join the Green ticket (imagine if he had agreed!). The Communities of Color, and especially the Black Lives Matter movement, are indispensable to the independent political action that is needed, as are the hundreds of thousands of young people who flocked to the Bernie Sanders campaign and are now feeling betrayed and disillusioned.

The strategy of relying on the Democratic party to represent the interests of working people and our community allies has again proved to be a losing strategy. A united effort by the social-justice wing of the labor movement, by the Black, Latino, Native American communities and other Communities of Color, by the young, by women, and by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer communities, to forge a new political party which can represent the 99% in upcoming elections is on the immediate agenda. It’s going to take us all.

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