FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez Addresses Labor Fightback Network Conference in Cleveland; Denounces Corporate Attacks on FLOC in North Carolina and Calls for Support to Boycott of R.J. Reynolds “Vuse” Electronic Cigarette

Speaking at the opening night session of the Third National Labor Fightback Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 21, Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC, AFL-CIO), denounced the anti-immigrant and anti-worker Farm Bill S615 that was passed by the North Carolina legislature in June and signed into law by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper on July 13.

“S615,” Velasquez explained, “is a shameful abuse of power that takes aim at our union in a blatant attempt to stop farm workers from achieving union collective-bargaining agreements that include wage increases, job security, benefits, and improved working conditions.”

S615 has two parts: (1) It makes it illegal for farmers who have signed union agreements to deduct dues from union members who want to pay dues, thereby seeking to weaken FLOC. “It would be close to impossible for our union staff to go and collect dues from all the worksites in the back woods of North Carolina,” Velasquez told the participants in the Labor Fightback conference.

(2) It makes it illegal for farmworkers to ask growers to sign an agreement with their union as part of settling wage or other legal violations. “With the continuation of Jim Crow-era laws that aim to stop a now almost entirely Latino workforce from organizing, this is an affront to freedom of association and smacks of racism,” Velasquez stated.

But the fight is not over, far from it, Velasquez continued. “We will challenge this unjust law in the courts.…We have faced daunting obstacles before, and we have overcome them. We have beat back the xenophobes and racists who are constantly pummeling migrant workers and immigrants alike. And we will push them back again!”

Velasquez recounted the long history of FLOC’s organizing drives—and victories—since the union formed in the late 1960s. And he informed the Labor Fightback conference participants that FLOC would be convening the union’s 7th Constitutional Convention on September 8–9 in Toledo, Ohio, on the occasion of FLOC’s 50th anniversary.

“Because of the many recent attacks on workers, immigrants and poor people, this convention will be one of the most important yet,” Velasquez stated. “The stakes are higher than ever, and our members are depending on this convention to strategize their self-defense by organizing around collective-bargaining, to educate through marches, hearings and demonstrations in our non-violent tradition.”

Velasquez also announced that the FLOC convention delegates will discuss and vote to launch a boycott of an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. product —the electronic cigarette “Vuse”—which is sold predominantly at 7-11, Circle K, Kangaroo, and WaWa convenience stores. “We will boycott those stores as long as they carry that product,” Velasquez said.

“We are asking folks to pledge to support this boycott by sending their pledge to FLOC so that we can announce their support at our upcoming convention,” Velasquez continued. “We are also asking supporters to write a letter to British American Tobacco (BAT)—with a copy to North Carolina Governor Cooper—taking issue with this unacceptable power play against one of the most exploited workforces in North Carolina.”

Support pledges to the boycott should be emailed to FLOC at flocoh@floc.com. Letters to British American Tobacco—the new parent corporation of R.J. Reynolds—should be emailed to www.bat.com/contactus. Snail-mail letters can be sent to British American Tobacco p.l.c., Globe House, 4 Temple Place, London, WC2R 2PG. Letters to Governor Roy Cooper should be emailed to: www.governor.nc.gov/contact-governor-cooper. Please send copies of your letters to FLOC.

Velasquez went on to urge Labor Fightback Conference participants to go back to their unions and organizations to help FLOC raise the resources to transport, house, and feed the farmworkers who will come to the FLOC convention as delegates. “We expect 500 delegates from Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mexico, as well as various special international guests,” Velasquez noted.

The participants at the Cleveland conference raised close to $2,000 at the gathering for FLOC’s convention fund drive. The conference also agreed to make FLOC’s fund drive and its boycott of this R.J. Reynolds product a top priority in the months ahead.

— Approved by Third National Labor Fightback Conference (Cleveland, Ohio — July 21–23, 2017)

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Cleveland’s Sordid History of Police Killings and Violence Against the Black Community

Cleveland, Ohio, is infamously known for two cases of police homicides: the “Cleveland Atrocity/137 shots” on November 22, 2012, and the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on November 29, 2014.

The Cleveland Atrocity involved 61 police cars pursuing two Black Cleveland residents — Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams — in Russell’s car, into a schoolyard of neighboring East Cleveland. When the car came to a halt, 13 Cleveland cops, 12 white and one Latino, shot 137 bullets into Mr. Russell’s car, brutally executing both passengers who were unarmed. National police policy restricts police pursuits to just two cars and forbids cops from shooting and killing out of their geographic jurisdiction.

The police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice shocked the nation when Cleveland police officers Frank Garmback and Timothy Loehmann drove their zone car a few feet from Tamir Rice and opened fire within seconds, killing the youth at the Cudell Rec Center on Cleveland’s west side.

The City of Cleveland has had a sordid history of police violence and racism. Racial violence and police oppression climaxed in the 1960s in the Hough and Glenville majority African American neighborhoods on Cleveland’s east side. A “Jim Crow” sign excluding Blacks from a “white” establishment near Hough sparked six days of rebellion on July 18–24, 1966. Four people were killed, about 30 were injured, with hundreds of arrests. Hough borders what is known as “Little Italy” and University Circle, where racial tension was typically high. Then Cleveland Mayor Ralph Locher called in the Ohio National Guard to suppress the violence.

The election of Carl B. Stokes, Cleveland’s first Black mayor in 1968, was a first step in representing the City of Cleveland’s demographics, but the city and county remained segregated and unequal — embroiled in poverty and police violence, racial profiling, and incarceration of Blacks.

Under the Stokes administration another July uprising broke out, almost to the day of the Hough rebellion two years earlier. What is known as the “Glenville Shootout” between Cleveland police and Black freedom fighters led by Fred (Ahmad) Evans on July 23, 1968, left seven people dead: three civilians, three police officers, and one bystander. This sparked the Glenville rebellion, which was again suppressed by Ohio’s state military police.

A high-profile case in 1992 involved Cleveland police officers Michael Tankersley and Jeffrey Gibson using a chokehold to subdue young Black male Michael Pipkins, claiming he stole a car. Pipkins went limp after the police assault and was pronounced dead hours later. Internal police review board findings determined that the officers caused Pipkins’ death by failing to take him to a hospital immediately. Hundreds protested for weeks after Pipkins’ murder. The Justice for Michael Pipkins Committee kept weekly pickets at City Hall going for over a year, while Pipkins’ parents took their petitions for justice for their son into the community every chance they had. The city eventually banned the common police practice of using the chokehold to subdue victims.

Systemic problems within the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) continued. There was no end to the abuse of force, deadly force and racism; lack of accountability and transparency; poor reporting practices and backlog of unanswered citizen complaints.

The U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) investigated the CDP in 2002 and entered an agreement to correct these problems. It didn’t happen. Five police shootings, four fatal, occurred in the next few years. Most egregious was the 2005 police killing of 15-year-old Brandon McCloud when police faked a late-night search warrant (signed the next day by Judge Gaul). The cops accused the youth of a holdup and barged into his grandmother’s house and held her at gunpoint while detectives John Kraynik and Phil Habeeb went to the boy’s bedroom and shot 10 bullets into young Brandon. They said they feared for their life because the boy was holding a kitchen knife.

Frank Jackson became mayor in 2006, on the heels of five police shootings, four of them fatal. The day after he was sworn in, he announced at a news conference that “excessive force will not be tolerated and that officers will be held accountable for any violation of that standard.” He pledged to implement strict policies regarding use of force and retrain the police force. Deadly-use-of-force case investigations would require detectives to record witness interviews. The new administration found a backlog of hundreds of use-of-force cases that were unresolved and more than 40 use-of-deadly-force investigations that were still pending with the prosecutor’s office.

Mayor Jackson, now in his third term, fared no better than previous mayors in cleaning up the police violence and racial profiling. Jackson presided over the Cleveland Atrocity, “137 shots,” which brought the feds back to Cleveland. The USDOJ was summoned to Cleveland by dozens of organizations and citizens who called on the U.S. attorney general for a federal investigation. Mayor Jackson also called on the USDOJ after he saw the community’s flood of correspondence.

It was also under the Jackson administration that serial killer Anthony Sowell was discovered to have strangled 11 African American women and buried them in his yard in 2009 in the low-income Mount Pleasant neighborhood, a mile from affluent Shaker Heights. Such horrific crimes could continue because the system failed. Prejudicial judgment against a Black female who tried to report Sowell’s kidnapping her and raping her was ignored. Her report was stamped “Not Credible” by the department. Five more women fell into the killer’s hands after that.

Meanwhile, missing person and rape reports went unresolved. The arrest of Ariel Castro in 2013, who abducted and enslaved three girls since 2002 on the near west side of Cleveland, was a bitter victory because it took 11 years to find Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.

When the USDOJ finally answered the appeals from northeast Ohioans for a federal investigation of CDP in 2014, it was on the heels of the Tamir Rice killing and another brutal crime by Cleveland police — the killing of Tanisha Anderson in a domestic disturbance. The family of Tanisha Anderson called 911 for help when she was having a psychological episode. When police arrived, 38-year-old Anderson was fearful and resisted, a cop tackled and restrained her while handcuffing Ms. Anderson behind her back, killing her within minutes. These two cases proved to the USDOJ and lots of others that Cleveland Division of Police had some serious problems menacing Blacks and others in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Consent Decree of 2014 sighted hundreds of issues of negligence and unconstitutional policing within the CDP, but never mentioned race as a factor. Racial profiling and implicit bias are discussed as community groups like the Collaborative for a Safe, Fair and Just Cleveland push for the inclusion of these issues. The “Cleveland Eight” — a coalition of NAACP, CAIR-Cleveland, NLG, ACLU and others — challenged the Consent Decree when Judge Solomon Oliver signed the agreement without public input.

Protests were numerous and large after the police homicides of Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson, three months after Michael Brown’s murder-by-cop in Ferguson, Missouri. Black Lives Matter, a hashtag that created a movement, fostered a Cleveland chapter founded by the cousin of Tamir Rice, Latonya Goldsby. The Cleveland protests were diverse, bringing local social justice groups, community activists, and some clergy together under the direction of Black leadership. The Memorial Shoreway was shut down by hundreds of protestors a few days after the shooting of Tamir Rice and one day after the acquittal of Michael Brown’s killer in Missouri.

A few arrests occurred sporadically during many months of protests over police homicides. The acquittal of Michael Brelo who fired 49 shots of the “137 shots,” in the spring of 2015 brought the arrest of 71 protestors who were stalked by military grade police for hours until they were forced into an alley and arrested on Memorial Day weekend, causing a long weekend of incarceration for the protestors.

Keeping the Consent Decree on track and transparent is still an issue, especially when police union president and outspoken critic of police reform Steve Loomis sits on the Community Police Commission. Consent decrees nationally are under threat of dissolution by President Donald Trump, whom Steve Loomis met with before the election and pushed his union membership to endorse despite protest from the Black Shield, Cleveland Black officers’ union.

All Cleveland City Council seats and the mayor’s office are up for grabs in 2017. Most city council reps face election challenges by grassroots organizers this fall. As the neighborhoods sink further into poverty and violence, the city council and the mayor endorsed a taxpayer-funded refurbishing of the privately owned Quicken Loans Arena, ignoring 20,000 petition signatures denouncing the council vote and asking for the $88 million “Q” deal to go to a vote of the people.

In mid-June 2017, it was decided that five of the “137 shots” cops will be rehired after justice was reversed through arbitration. The main shooter, Michael Brelo, was not named for rehire but he has appealed his termination from the force. Two protests at Heritage Middle School on June 16 and Cleveland City Hall on June 19 called on Mayor Jackson to appeal the rehiring of these officers in “the worst atrocity in the history of the nation” as described by lifelong Glenville resident Don Freeman.

In the 50 years since the Hough rebellion, Cleveland has barely moved an inch away from police brutality, racial injustice, and government corruption. Anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment have been on the rise in Northeast Ohio, just as has occurred across the nation since the election of bigoted misogynist Donald Trump to the presidency. Social justice and labor activists will be tested in the coming months and years. All of our coalition building and political and community organizing can provide a basis for building a united labor-community fightback to roll back, once and for all, these attacks on Black people and on democratic rights as a whole.

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What Is This Preoccupation with Russia?

By Thomas Bias, National Secretary, Labor Fightback Network

Make no mistake about it: Donald John Trump is a bad president, one of the worst in the history of this republic. If it should come to pass that the House of Representatives votes to impeach him, and the Senate in a two-thirds majority votes to remove him from office, the first thing I would do is go down to the local wine shop here in Flanders, New Jersey, and buy a bottle of champagne. My wife, my daughter, and I would have our own little celebration!

And the next morning, all of the problems that we face as working people—and which Donald John Trump’s policies have made worse—would still be with us.

Is it possible that “the Donald” will be removed from office short of serving a full four-year term? The short answer is, “yes,” and indeed, liberal Democratic members of Congress, commentators in the news media, and leaders of the labor and social justice movements have been agitating for it. The grounds on which they argue for impeachment is an accusation that the Trump presidential campaign colluded with a foreign power—Russia—to influence the 2016 presidential election by releasing electronic mail messages hacked from Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s file server. If the charge were true, it would constitute treason, and it would not only be considered a “high crime and misdemeanor,” for which impeachment would be justified, it would be punishable by a long prison term. In fact, if a declaration of war were in effect, the crime of treason would be punishable by death.

How could it be that before even six months of Donald John Trump’s presidency has elapsed, the news media and members of Congress are in full “Watergate mode,” raising many of the same questions that were raised after five years of Richard Nixon’s presidency in the early 1970s?

There are two answers, both of which are true: first, Trump’s policies, reflected in his executive orders, legislation which he has proposed, and cabinet and court appointments, are consistent with the most overtly racist, sexist, labor-hating, and war-mongering attitudes ever expressed in U.S. political life, and that says a lot. Second, Trump is completely unqualified for the most powerful political office on earth. He has never before held elective office, and he clearly does not understand how things work in Washington. Indeed, some respected psychiatrists are suggesting that he may be mentally unstable. Trump’s erratic behavior, his intemperate posts on social media, his disregard of delicately negotiated international agreements, as well as the cloud of a potential treason charge over his head, have all caused great concern in capitals throughout the world and has greatly diminished Washington’s respect and authority as a world leader.

Impeachment and removal of Trump from office does nothing to address the first problem. Presumably his successor would be Vice President Michael Pence, whose reactionary and hateful political agenda is what has guided the Trump administration up to now. The Republican majorities in both houses of Congress are guided by the same political program.

However, the removal of Trump from office solves the issue of a president who is unqualified to hold the office. The corporate elite, whom the president serves, needs an experienced and reliable chief executive, someone who knows what is job is and knows how to do it. Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was just such a president, and for that reason he was able to withstand everything that the reactionaries threw at him and serve two terms. Vice President Pence is also experienced and reliable, though, unlike Obama, he makes no pretense of espousing policies that favor the interests of working people. Pence wears his pro-war, pro–big business, antilabor program like a badge of honor.

So, in the context of an assault on working people’s standards of living, right to organize, and civil liberties, in the context of wholesale attacks on the rights of immigrants, of women, of African-Americans, and in the context of a complete gutting of regulations to defend the quality of our air, water, and food supply, what is it that the Democratic Party politicians want to talk about?

Russia. Why?

Their argument is that Russia—which they define as an “adversary nation” to the United States (hasn’t Russia been a friend and ally since 1991, when “Communism” fell?)—hacked into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server and released private messages to Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks. They contend that the e-mail release tipped the balance in the election and gave Donald John Trump the victory. Journalist Chris Hedges, writing in Truthdig, explained it this way: “The charge of Russian interference essentially boils down to the absurd premise that perhaps hundreds of thousands of Clinton supporters suddenly decided to switch their votes to Trump when they read the leaked e-mails of [Clinton campaign manager John] Podesta.” To accept such a conclusion requires what is called in theatre a “willing suspension of disbelief.” The Democratic politicians simply can’t admit that working people distrusted Hillary Clinton long before any e-mails were released; they can’t admit that the Democrats’ performance in office has been nothing but one disappointment after another to the working people whose leaders insist that they vote for them.

To be sure, investigation into Trump’s Russian connections has shone a light on his and his family’s business dealings with Russian oligarchs—who are world-renowned for being corrupt and unscrupulous—as well as business dealings in other parts of the world, Sa’udi Arabia (also well known for corruption) being high on the list. A thorough investigation of Trump’s—and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s—financial maneuvers would almost certainly turn up enough evidence of illegal activity to warrant impeachment and subsequent prosecution. (The law requires that a sitting president be impeached and removed from office before he or she can be prosecuted for a crime.)

If it can be proven that Trump either colluded himself with Russians to influence the presidential campaign or allowed members of his campaign staff to do it, then even the Republican majorities in the House and Senate would have a difficult time keeping him in office, especially if evidence of illegal business dealings were added to the Articles of Impeachment. The result would be that the Wall Street elite would remove the loose cannon from the Oval Office and replace him with someone who knows how to “preserve, protect, and defend” their interests and can be relied upon to do so.

Working people and students—men and women, young and old, of all races, religions, sexual orientations and gender identifications—have not hesitated to go into the streets in mass action against the Trump administration’s reactionary agenda. The women’s march of January 21, 2017, brought more people into action than any mass demonstration in the history of the United States. In the weeks and months since then, hundreds of thousands have demonstrated in defense of the planet, to stop Trump’s travel ban and deportations, and in favor of healthcare as a human right. In spite of the politicians, the “talking heads” on television, and even our elected trade-union officials, people have had little interest in taking to the streets about the Russian e-mail hacking—though many understandably see the scandal as a way of getting this odious president out of office. Working people must and will continue their mass actions against the Trump administration’s reactionary and destructive policies, especially since the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election will have no effect on them. If his fellow billionaires decide to remove “the Donald” from office, we’ll put the champagne on ice—and continue the struggle with redoubled energy.

If you wish to participate in a discussion about strategies for continuing the struggle and directing working people’s anger and energy into effective action, please attend the Labor Fightback Conference, which will be held at Cleveland State University, July 21–23, 2017. Click here for more information.

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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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