Labor Fightback Network Endorses Effort to Revive Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign

It’s been more than 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., warned us about the triple evils of Racism, extreme Materialism, or poverty, as some would say, and Militarism, or the war economy. He called for a Revolution of Values to address these societal failures. He also accused the U.S. government of being “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” as the U.S. waged war on Vietnam. Probably no one at the time could have imagined that 50 years later, things would actually be worse, not better, that the U.S. would have fallen far short of the goal of justice for all. Yet that is the case.

That is why people across the nation are now sounding the alarm for a Moral Revival, a movement to build up people power, to demand true racial and economic justice. And because we are now facing the serious threat of extreme climate change, a fourth issue that disproportionately affects the poor has been added—ecological devastation.

Actions to launch the Poor People’s Campaign have already started, but the official kick off will commence on Mother’s Day, May 13, followed by 40 days of sustained action in state capitals around the country. There are approximately 40 states on board right now. The campaign has been built around a set of fundamental principles, which in brief, include the following:

Moral revival is necessary to save our failing democracy; lifting and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation; dismantling unjust criminalization systems that exploit communities of color and the poor; transforming the “war economy” into a “peace economy” that values all humanity; equal treatment under the law is non-negotiable; poverty in the richest nation ever to exist will not be tolerated, nor will accepting the claim that the U.S. does not have the abundance of resources to overcome poverty; systemic racism that maintains economic oppression must be named, detailed, and exposed, while recognizing the role white supremacy has played in maintaining economic inequality; the distorted moral narrative promoted by religious extremists must be shifted from single issues such as gun rights, abortion, prayer in school, sexuality, to systemic injustices like how society treats the “least of these”; building people power and state based movements to transform the political and economic structures of our society as the model, movement not from above, but from below ; a non-partisan movement about right and wrong, not Democrat or Republican; and engagement in a season of sustained non-violent civil disobedience, recognizing the need to put our bodies on the line; violent tactics will not be tolerated.

An excellent fact sheet from Souls of Poor Folks Preliminary Report Dec. 2017 provides supporting information as to why this call for a moral revival of values is critical at this time. The full fact sheet and sources can be found on the Poor People’s Campaign website, but here are a few examples:

Systemic Racism

  • There are fewer voting right in place today for people of color than 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Since 2010, 23 states have passed racist voter suppression laws.
  • As of July 2017, 25 states have passed laws that preempt cities from passing their own local minimum wage laws,
  • Since 1976, the criminalization of poverty has raised federal spending on prison tenfold to $7.5 billion a year. The number of state and federal inmates grew from 188,000 in 1968 to nearly 5 million in 2015. Racial profiling, biased sentencing, and policing practices have expanded the share of inmates who are people of color from less than half in 1978 to 66% in 2015.
  • Federal spending on immigration, deportations, and the border has gone from $2 billion in 1976 to $17 billion in 2015, with 10 times more deportations.


  • As of 2016, there are 40.6 million people living below the federal poverty line and of these, nearly three-quarters are women and children. There has been a 60% rise in poverty since 1968.
  • Poverty is still disproportionately impacting people of color. The poverty rate for white people is 8.8%, 22% for African Americans, 19.4% for Latinos, and 26.2% for Native Americans.

Jobs, Income, Wealth

  • From 1973–2013, productivity went up 74.4%, but hourly compensation only went up 9.2%.
  • In 2017, 3 individuals had a combined wealth of $248.5 billion, the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of U.S. households, or 160 million people. Meanwhile, the bottom 38% of American households have 0 net worth.

War Economy and Militarism

  • The cumulative costs of the US wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and post 9/11 Veterans Care and homeland Security from 2001–2018 are estimated at $5.6 trillion.
  • At height of the Viet Nam War, military spending was $354 billion, today it is nearly twice that at $635 billion. 53 cents out of every discretionary tax dollar goes directly to the military.

Ecological Devastation

  • Pollution caused an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 worldwide. Water pollution alone kills 1.8 million a year around the world.
  • The U.S. is the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world. Between 2010 and 2015, there were more than 3300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied natural gas leaks or ruptures on U.S. pipelines.
  • At least 4 million families with children are being exposed to high levels of lead from drinking water and other sources.
  • A 2015 EPA analysis found that the population within three miles of highly contaminated “Superfund” sites was 45.7% non-white.

We encourage you to get involved in your state by going to and fill out the pledge form. Let them know in the comment section that you want to be connected to your state campaign. Individuals join to be part of the collective, not to represent an organization. But organizations, such as unions, are encouraged to spread the word to their membership. You can make a huge contribution now by getting the word out to friends, family, and colleagues and by passing resolutions to support this timely campaign. Pledge cards can be downloaded from the website and distributed.

As a resolution from the San Francisco Labor Council states, “This campaign has the potential to create a significant fight-back to the assaults by the rich.” Labor has a rich tradition of fighting for racial and economic justice. Let’s keep that tradition going. Get involved today.

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Join us in Supporting the National Assembly for Black Liberation (May 18–20, 2018)

Save this Date!

National Assembly for Black Liberation—May 18–20, 2018

Black people are fighting against oppression and injustice on every battlefront, but the Black liberation movement is still fragmented in various alignments whose programs and demands have much in common.

The unity of these organizations and alignments would represent the critical mass of activists and cadre rooted in the many mass battlefronts of the working-class and poor masses, able to wage a more conscious, coordinated and powerful struggle for radical change. This unity would be a catalyst inspiring the struggles of other oppressed, working-class and poor people and social movements.

The UN proclaimed 2015–2024 as The International Decade for People of African Descent. 2018 US elections will also shape a political climate of national discussion, debate and actions not only about who to vote for, but about the needs and demands of working-class and poor Black and oppressed masses, and the need for radical change that brings about an alternative to the capitalist system. This period should be a period to develop a national and international mandate for Black liberation and radical change.

On May 18–20, the National Assembly for Black Liberation will be held at the North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina to discuss the Draft Freedom Manifesto as a unity document along with resolutions submitted by battlefront committees to begin to draft a program of action.

We appeal to you as fighters in the battlefronts, allies, supporters, human rights activists, friends, and Revolutionaries, to help us by donating to the National Assembly Organizing Committee—through the Ebony Book Club

Please click here to make your financial contribution:

Thank You,

Saladin Muhammad

* * * * *

Presentation by Saladin Muhammad, Southern Workers Assembly, to the Opening Night Session of the Third National Labor Fightback Conference in Cleveland, Ohio (July 21, 2017)

This is a crucial time for the Labor Fightback Network to be meeting. It is a moment in an historical period when the contradictions of capitalism and the US system of top-down democracy controlled and manipulated by the 1-percent are open for all to see. These contradictions are usually taking place behind closed doors. People are getting a glimpse of aspects of what US fascism might look like.

This period has been developing over the last 40 years under both Democratic and Republican administrations. It can be shown how each administration and major political party has established social policies and new structures that have politically, economically and socially created the conditions and political climate for the election of the Trump regime and his promotion of white nationalism as the social base for his neo-fascist agenda.

While uneven, the objective conditions caused by the crisis of capitalism have a shaped a spontaneous anti-racist and working-class consciousness. It is developing among the millennials, but it has not gone deep enough into the organizations of the working-class, especially the trade unions.

The main example of the class struggle led by the millennials, has been the Fight 4 $15 and a Union. They have connected to Black Lives Matter protests.

With few exceptions like the shutdowns of West Coast longshore workers, the resistance has mainly taken the form of a spontaneous protest movement. Most of the activists in Black Lives Matter and the Fight 4 $15 and a union have no trade union and labor movement experience.

Business unionism that only sees the working class as an economic force, without regard to the structural racism and women’s oppression that creates a margin of super profit that is responsible for the massive wealth divide, cannot help to transform the spontaneous struggles into a conscious anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement.

The unity of the multinational working class must be forged through struggle by labor’s rank-n-file based in principles of social movement unionism, independent political action and recognizing the right of self-determination of nationally oppressed sections of the multinational working class to call on the working class to support their struggles as if they were their own.

It is also important that the labor movement as the most organized and resourced anchor and base for the working class to be positioned to strategically impact US and global capitalism and to help sustain long-term struggles.

Structural racism and the ideology of white supremacy became a fundamental part of the development of US and global capitalism’s accumulation. The imperialist structure of the US State and the Manifest Destiny philosophy of many of the founding fathers, from the very beginning of the development of the US republic, established forms of domestic colonialism in the treatment the indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other oppressed peoples and annexed territories.

The US South, the main region of plantation slavery, for the genocide and forced migrations of the native nations and hundreds of thousands of Native peoples, has been a region essential abandoned by the labor movement as a force fighting for the working-class unity and power.

In addition to the use of robotics, a major part of the US capitalist crisis has been promoting regional shifts and restructuring of its manufacturing base to the low-wage and low-union South. This led to the forcing down of wages, concessionary bargaining and business-union economism that gave way to the Democratic party’s passage of NAFTA, workfare, cutting of welfare and the passage of the “3 Strikes, You’re Out” law. Right-to-work laws spread during the period of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.

There were no real choices in the two major parties for the 2016 presidential election. The poor voter turnout made this point. The distrust for both candidates should be viewed as distrust for both major parties.

Labor’s rank-and-file must see this as an opportunity to help build an independent working-class political and social force. But a catalyst is needed to help ground a new social movement in the demands of the most oppressed and exploited sections of the US multinational working class that suffer racist national oppression that politically and social subjugates.

The national sentiment shaped by the spontaneous struggles of the Black and Brown millennials can become a catalyst if widened and deepen by the trade union rank-n-file.

Several organizations are stepping forward as endorsers for the holding of a National Assembly for Black Liberation to bring together the many battlefront struggles rooted in the Black working class that have grown to effect widening sections of the larger US working class —  like issues of healthcare, clean water, environmental racism, affordable housing, labor rights, women and gay rights, imperialist wars, and for independent political action, among others — to hammer out a program of action that a Draft Freedom Manifesto has been developed for discussion and refinement to help give political focus and context to the spontaneous struggles as flanks of a struggle for transformative power.

We feel that we should use the anger against the racist Trump regime to launch a mass campaign to mobilize the many battlefronts under the slogan of Impeach Trump: Build People’s Power.

We understand that elements in the Democratic Party are calling to impeach Trump as part of a campaign for winning Congressional seats in the 2018 elections. We must point out that without an independent political and social base of power that empowers the working class in the workplace, community and the many institutions throughout society impacting our lives, that we won’t have the base for contending and transformative power to make radical and revolutionary changes.

The Black masses being a target base for the Democratic Party, requires that the Black liberation movement focus on building mass-based forms of people’s independent democratic power, including running independent political candidates out of the working-class battlefronts that are accountable to people’s power commissions in those battlefronts.

This campaign must tie the battlefront struggles against state and local government and corporate targets to the national demand of Impeach Trump: Build People’s Power. This is a call for the Black liberation movement to launch a campaign and movement strategically aligned with other movements mainly in the working class, for popular and dual contending and transformative power. This would lead into a National Assembly for Black liberation.

The fragmented forces of the national Black liberation movement needs to hold a National Assembly for Black Liberation to unite the many single-issue struggles, social movements and revolutionary organizations in a national coordinating framework and around a strategic program based on an 80–20 percent principle where agreement does not have to be around every demand, but around some core demands that connect the battlefronts in an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialists, anti-racist and anti-sexist under the leadership of the Black working-class.

We need the Labor Fightback Network to promote and organize a trend in the labor movement in support of the struggle to Impeach Trump and Build Peoples Power as a campaign to not only defeat the Trump regime, but to build a movement for independent political action as part of a struggle for popular and dual contending power.

The Southern Workers Assembly that was formed in 2012 to build a rank-n-file network of social movement union cadres will be holding the 8th session of the SWA’s second Southern Workers School next weekend. We will deal with making this campaign part of their training and work in their workplaces, communities and trade unions.

We must see this as a protracted struggle that organizes to alter the balance of power favoring the working class and anchored by its most oppressed and exploited sectors. This period offers an opportunity to launch such a movement that begins to move labor and the social movements off the defensive.

Organized labor is needed to help launch this campaign outside of the control of the Democratic Party.

Impeach Trump: Build Peoples Power!

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The Spring Antiwar Actions of April 14 and 15: A Step Forward Toward the Mass Action That Is Needed

We are fewer than twenty years into the new millennium—and the United States has been at war nearly all of them. The war that began in October 2001 in Afghanistan is still going on. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003. When U.S. troops were finally withdrawn—and not completely withdrawn—in 2011, that country was less stable than it was at the beginning. The threat that U.S. troops will be redeployed to Iraq remains serious. Meanwhile, the U.S. is involved in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen and is threatening Iran and Venezuela. Most concerning is the Trump administration’s threats against the nuclear-armed People’s Democratic Republic of Korea—raising the spectre of “fire and fury such as the world has never seen,” and making this threat between the seventy-second anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Support for foreign war among working people and young people in the United States is possibly the lowest in the entire history of this Republic. It has become clear that eight years of death in Iraq and over sixteen years of death in Afghanistan has accomplished nothing positive for the security of the United States, let alone for the people in those devastated countries. Donald John Trump had to speak out against the lies of the Bush administration which led to the Iraq war, even as he was running one of the most racist and reactionary presidential campaigns in recent memory. The American working people know that they are being called on to send their sons and daughters to be killed or maimed for nothing. They are being put through such an experience that suicides among returning veterans far outnumber combat deaths.

Popular opposition to the continuing wars and interventions is at an even higher level than it was during the Vietnam War of a half century ago. But for over ten years, there has been very little visible protest. Mass action on the scale of the demonstrations in New York and Washington in the early years of the Iraq war is clearly needed.

The women’s marches—which mobilized thousands of men as well as women—of January 21, 2017, and January 20, 2018, combined with the nearly spontaneous outpourings of support for the rights of immigrants and refugees, have shown the potential for mass action in the United States at the present time. This president has a remarkable knack for making people angry, and it has led to an increase in visible protest, from vigils of a few dozen outside Congress members’ offices to the three million who marched and rallied in the streets of U.S. cities on January 21, 2017, dwarfing the attendance at Trump’s inauguration as the forty-fifth president, just the day before.

On October 25, 2017, the AFL-CIO at its convention overwhelmingly adopted “Resolution 50: War Is Not the Answer,” calling on the president and Congress to “seek peace and reconciliation wherever possible” and to “bring the war dollars home.” This important document, adopted by an organization of more than twelve million, is a clear indication that there is strong potential for mass action for peace, which could mobilize the ranks of labor.

Discussion about concrete organizing of a mass action for peace began shortly before the Christmas holidays in 2017, initiated by Linda Thompson of Metrowest Boston Peace Action. She drafted a resolution based on the AFL-CIO’s “War Is Not the Answer,” and her group proposed to the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) that it move the resolution at a Conference Against U.S. Foreign Bases (No Bases Conference), to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, January 12–14, 2018. That conference was initiated by the U.S. Peace Council but was supported by a very broad coalition that included UNAC and many local Peace Action groups and was endorsed by the Labor Fightback Network as well.

In fact, the No Bases Conference organizing committee agreed to propose the resolution, with its own modifications, to the conference. On Sunday, January 14, it was agreed to, though to be sure, the conference had not allocated sufficient time for discussion of action resolutions, and many participants either had left already or had to leave before the discussion was over. The Resolution on a National Day of Action against U.S. Wars at Home and Abroad in Spring 2018 was passed with little opposition. It was a promising beginning, focused around five principled, united-front demands:

“• Ending all U.S. wars, bombings and drone attacks, and other forms of U.S. aggression including economic sanctions and weapons sales;
“• Closing of all U.S. bases on foreign soil;
“• Bringing all U.S. troops home;
“• Using the funds of the massive military budget for human needs and protection of the environment;
“• Dismantling all nuclear weapons.”

Concrete implementation of the resolution has proved to be more difficult. The resolution coming out of the No Bases Conference did not specify a date. There is already a full calendar of demonstrations, picket lines, vigils, and other “days of action,” including the Working People’s Day of Action, sponsored by the AFL-CIO on February 24; Earth Day on April 22; the Poor People’s Campaign, beginning on May 13 and continuing into June; May Day, and many other activities related to healthcare, immigration, a $15 minimum wage, and many different aspects of the environment, especially the extraction and transport of fossil fuels.

A few days after the No Bases Conference, a conference call meeting settled on the April 14–15 weekend. However, that weekend already has actions planned for it across the country, including actions organized by immigrants’ rights activists. As of February 19, fewer than eight weeks before the Day of Action is supposed to take place, the Spring Actions 2018 website lists only three cities, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, MN, and Oakland, CA. A planning meeting took place in New York City on February 22.

Even though the Resolution adopted by the No Bases Conference lists five demands related clearly to war and weapons, the Spring Actions 2018 website lists many other demands, many of which are being addressed by other actions and coalitions during the spring period. It is our view that the broadest unity in action can best be forged by focusing on the five demands of the No Bases Conference listed above.

It is clear that the Spring Actions of April 14–15 will not be mass actions on the scale of the women’s marches of January 2017 and 2018. However, if mass actions of hundreds of thousands for peace are to be organized in the future, antiwar activists must put their energy into making this year’s Spring Actions as successful as possible. They must also bring together a unified, authoritative coalition, bringing together UNAC, United for Peace and Justice, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), U.S. Labor Against the War, and other coalitions.

It needs to include organized labor, faith communities, and the millions of people who have a deep desire for peace but who have never before marched or picketed for it. This process will continue long after April 15, 2018, and it has already started. Peace activists need to have a clear idea that mass action, which mobilizes the social forces that have the power to end the current wars and prevent future wars, is the winning strategy.

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Conference on U.S. Foreign Military Bases: Working for United Mass Action against Wars of the Present and Wars of the Future

A broad coalition is sponsoring a Conference on U.S. Foreign Military Bases, to be held in Baltimore, MD, beginning Friday, January 12, 2018, and ending Sunday, January 14. It will be held at the University of Baltimore’s Learning Commons, 1415 Maryland Avenue. The Labor Fightback Network is proud to endorse this conference and the Unity Statement of the Coalition Against U.S. Foreign Military Bases. This event will be an important step forward for the entire working class and for all who are concerned about the threat of once-unthinkable nuclear war and the continuing war in Afghanistan.

The conference is expected to propose a day of action on January 23 commemorating the 1898 occupation of Guantánamo Bay in Cuba by U.S. forces during the Spanish-American War. That occupation continues today. Guantánamo is the site of a U.S. naval base and of the infamous prison where captives from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are held without trial or charges. Those prisoners, many of whom are guilty of no more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, are subject to abuse and torture. We will demand that the prison be closed, that the U.S. naval base also be closed, and that Guantánamo be returned to the Cuban people. As the Resistance to Donald John Trump and his oppressive administration continues in the new year, the demonstrations against the occupation of Guantánamo will send a message to Trump and to everyone that stopping and preventing war is a high priority on the Resistance’s agenda.

The conference will also discuss ambitious plans for a national spring mobilization for peace. Those plans are at the very preliminary stage at the present time: a call is being drafted, and a number of dates and locations are being considered. However, there is consensus on the need for united mass action in the streets to show the Trump administration and the entire world that the people of the United States demand peace. We are tired of our sons and daughters being killed and maimed; we are infuriated at the death and destruction being visited upon the populations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria by either U.S. forces themselves or their Middle Eastern proxies, and we are terrified at the prospect that this President may very well unleash nuclear destruction against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

At its October 2017 convention in St. Louis, the AFL-CIO adopted a resolution called “War Is Not the Answer.” It states clearly and conclusively that the “AFL-CIO promotes and advocates for a foreign policy based on international solidarity of all workers, mutual respect of all nations and national sovereignty, and calls upon the president and Congress to make war truly the last resort in our country’s foreign relations, and that we seek peace and reconciliation wherever possible…” It adds the voice of the most powerful social force in the population to the demand for peace. A spring mass action for peace has the potential to bring that most powerful social force into the streets, so that the warmakers can consider the possibility that the labor movement could take even more decisive action in the future, action which could directly threaten their profits and their power. It also raises the possibility that the young working people who fill the ranks of the armed forces will come to the realization that the geopolitical machinations of the bankers and businessmen are not worth their lives.

The Labor Fightback Network calls on all its supporters: if you can attend the Conference on U.S. Foreign Military Bases, please do so. The time to register is now—and space is limited. Add your voice to the call for united mass action against current and future wars, to the call to close U.S. foreign military bases, to dismantle the U.S. military arsenal, and to use the money now spent on weapons and war for job creation and human needs. When the power of the organized working class is brought to bear for peace, victory is certain. The time to get started is now.

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An Appeal for Action on the Morning after the Senate Passed the Tax Bill

The following is a guest post by Kipp Dawson, a public school teacher and former coal miner from Pittsburgh, PA.

A message—an appeal—to members of my generation. On the morning just after the U.S. Senate passed what’s being called the “tax bill.” (Those under 60 who are reading this are welcome here, but this is a matter among us elders.)

We are needed now. And we are being watched. This particular blow from the U.S. rulers hits more of our children/grandchildren more directly here on U.S. soil—and more immediately—than most of the others. Which is saying a lot.

So this morning more of us (look around, look around) are waking up to a more personalized/immediate kind of shock than we have collectively felt since that morning a year ago when the U.S. presidential election results were certain. And right now, more of our—and our children’s—and our neighbors—households are on the brink of immediate injury. We are being pushed together, all of the victims who might not have recognized any relationship/similarity/even humanity between/among ourselves —pushed down by the same scoundrels. It’s us now, too.

We are being watched this morning, and today and tomorrow. Just as we watched our elders when tough things happened to our people, our peoples, our planet, in our youth.

And because some of them did not give in to despair—did not turn to us and say “we’re sorry we’re giving you such a messed up world”—we had beacons, did we not? Because some of them had a sense of history and knew their/our ancestors had stood up to similar/worse/horrendous attacks and had looked them in the face and kept fighting—because of this, among our elders were people who gave us hope in their continued hope. Models in their resilience. A push away from despair in the resonance of their song. A hand up back to the work that has inspired the lives of those of us lucky enough to have found the battles that have energized and bound us.

It’s our turn now. It’s our turn to look into the bewildered/frightened/ questioning faces of our younger co-inhabitants of this planet. Not to deny the depths of fear and certainly to join in the anger. But not to apologize. Oh no, not to give any credence to the idea that all we have done to teach/heal/paint/sing/protest/organize/rejoice/create/build/join hands—that this has been in vain. Because that is just what the ugly powers want us to do.

Despair and guilt are understandable but dangerous. And we know better, do we not?

Our history—the struggles of our ancestors and yes, of our generation also—tell us a story of human beauty and resilience. And never has that story been more important. And who is to tell it best, if not us. We have a big, big job to do. As did those now gone from this planet who did it for us.

So please. Get up from wherever you landed when you read the news this morning. Pick yourselves/ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start—not all over—but start, again. Let us do the work we know how to do, even better and with more determination and community than we have. Let us be in the places and meetings where our younger sisters/brothers/children are working/studying/organizing and bring this gray hair of ours, these ears, and these memories of our own good work and ups and downs among those who will carry this forward. We will not lead them. But my oh my, we can give them our support, and my oh my, can that not be a salve now.

As was the support of our elders when we got knocked down along the way.

Right there with you, my beloved older sisters and brothers. Sending you love.

PS: While we’re at it, dear old ones, please, please tell your/our stories. Tell them to younger people who need to know/deserve to know, and who will know better than we how to record them. And tell them before our fading/aging memories lock tight the file cabinets in our brains in which we’ve stored them, and the locks rust. This is our children’s heritage, and, by golly, we have no right to keep it from them (and no reason). We have so much to tell! (And the memories will help us keep going, too, won’t they!?!)

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Relief for Puerto Rico Now! Abolish the Debt!

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which hit with winds of more than 150 mph, Puerto Rico remains devastated. Millions are without power and many have been left homeless — without medicine, medical assistance, food, or clean water. It’s a humanitarian crisis that has deepened by the day.

When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, the whole transportation and communication infrastructure went down — including the power grid, bridges, roads, cell towers — devastating the entire island. Most people are still without basic necessities over a month later. Emergency logistics have been dysfunctional, and telephone service barely exists.

The early death toll was 48, but National Public Radio has reported an additional 49 deaths since the storm, and Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Reporting found that 69 hospitals had morgues at “capacity.” As more isolated towns and villages are reached, the death toll will surely climb.

Government officials in Puerto Rico have pleaded for more assistance, and as the crisis has grown more desperate, criticism of President Trump and the federal government’s response has mounted. Moody’s estimates that rebuilding will cost between $45 billion and $95 billion. The fiscal control board has released $1 billion for hurricane relief. According to Gov. Ricardo Rossello, only $2 billion is left in the Treasury Department’s account. The government  that it may run out of money by the end of the month.

Ever since Hurricane Maria and Irma devastated Puerto Rico a looming question has been what will happen to the island’s $74.8 billion in debt,which had crippled its economy prior to the storms. Protesters in major U.S. cities on October 3 called for the U.S. government to forgive the debt. Indeed, most  say repayment is unrealistic now that the island has suffered an estimated billions in hurricane damage. The Labor Fightback Network strongly believes that the island’s debt must be wiped clean immediately as a first step in helping to rebuild the Island for the Puerto Rican people.

Understanding Puerto Rico’s History

The situation in Puerto Rico today cannot be understood without understanding its history. Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Puerto Rico was legally defined as an “unincorporated territory,” a possession but not part of the United States, and under the plenary powers of Congress. Although Congress has reorganized the territorial government over the years, up to the 1952 creation of the present Commonwealth status, the colonial nature of the relationship has remained unchanged. Puerto Ricans elect their governor and legislature, but they only attend to insular matters.

Having retained its primary powers over Puerto Rico, we might expect that Congress would assume its responsibility for a territory it claims as a possession. Yet it has skirted that responsibility in acquiescence to the profiteering by U.S. corporations, which has plagued the history of the island. After 1898, Puerto Rico’s economy came under the control of U.S. corporations. Puerto Rico then specialized in producing only a few goods for the U.S. market. One consequence has been the constant outflow of a significant portion of the income generated in Puerto Rico. At present, around $35 billion leave annually. This is around 35 percent of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product. The result has been an economic exploitation and resource drainage which had already created a crisis-before the storms even hit.

When Puerto Rico declared a form of bankruptcy recently, it was the largest municipal bankruptcy debt in U.S. history. Puerto Rico’s more than $74.8 billion in debt and $49 billion in pension system obligations surpasses Detroit, Michigan’s $18 billion bankruptcy in 2013. Much of that debt is interest. Financial firms such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup structured the bond loans Puerto Rico has needed with built-in and astronomically high interest rates. Nearly half the debt —$33.5 billion — is interest, and another $1.6 billion comes from fees paid to these firms. As a result, Puerto Rico has been forced to endure austerity measures approved last spring by a U.S.-appointed fiscal control board, including school closures and utility bill hikes. In August, the control board proposed even more draconian measures, such as massive furloughs. This must stop now!

Given the history and present circumstances, the Labor Fightback Network believes that the full rebuilding costs estimated at between $45 billion and $95 billion should immediately be allocated and passed by the U.S. Congress. The LFN calls for abolishing the Wall Street/Hedge Fund–created debt, ending the austerity and privatization/deregulation schemes of the Financial Control Board, and creating clean energy systems.

The Labor Fightback Network believes that only through a concentrated plan of the labor movement to organize, mobilize, and educate on the importance of solidarity with the people Puerto Rico can this crisis be resolved.

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If We Want to Stop Washington’s Wars, We Have a Lot of Work to Do

The second week of August is a time when peace activists throughout the United States pause to remember the holocaust that our own country visited upon the people of Japan in 1945. It is the right thing to do, to stop and reflect on August 6—the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima—and August 9—the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki—and to recommit to the worldwide struggle that a third nuclear weapon will never be used, and for that matter that the people of this earth will put an end to all wars, with any weapons, once and forever.

Nagasaki Day 2017 was different, however. On Tuesday, August 8, the President of the United States, Donald John Trump, threatened to unleash another nuclear holocaust on northeast Asia. The New York Times reported: “ ‘North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,’ Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, NJ, where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation. ‘They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.’ ”

Three days later, Trump not only doubled down on his threat to obliterate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he warned the people of Venezuela that he was considering a broad range of options to solve “Venezuela’s political crisis” (read: Venezuela’s working people standing up to economic sabotage by the financial elite), including the “military option.”

After only slightly more than a week had elapsed, the President reversed his long-standing opposition to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and ordered an increase in U.S. troop strength to fight what has often been called the “longest war in U.S. history” (unless one counts the genocidal war on the Native American people).

It was a trifecta of war threats. But the response by the fragmented antiwar movement was woefully inadequate.

No criticism of local antiwar coalitions or their leaders is intended. Many local coalitions organized demonstrations on short notice, reaching out to different organizations and constituencies in their local areas. Of course, many of those citizens who are most active in their opposition to Washington’s war policies had been in the streets just days before in protest of the free pass that President Donald John Trump gave to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists in the aftermath of the shameful “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. As a consequence, fewer people came out to protest Trump’s war threats than should have, even though local activists did the best they could.

The outrages committed by the Trump administration against the working people and against simple common decency have been coming at a frightening pace. Antiwar activists are part of the overall resistance movement against the Trump administration’s policies, standing up to racism, to sexism, for universal healthcare, for a higher minimum wage, for immigrant rights, and for climate and environmental justice, as they must be, especially considering the terrible price that working people pay for war. Spending for death and destruction siphons billions upon billions of dollars away from the social safety net for the poor, the sick, seniors, and children. The dollars spent on killing people could instead be spent on repairing the country’s infrastructure— beginning with the water pipes in Flint, Michigan—which are in a shambles. Such infrastructure spending would put thousands of people to work at good-paying union jobs.

Even though the struggles for jobs, wages, and the social safety net are easy to connect with the struggle against war, the resistance is fragmented. Too many decisions to take action are not made in consultation with others: many demonstrations are called within a short time frame, and even worse, on the same days. Unity in the struggle is not simply a morally good thing: it has practical value on many levels.

The fundamental imperative for unity in the antiwar movement has to do most with bringing into action the social forces that have both the power to end a war and the interest to do so.

The financiers, the 1%, the billionaire class, the ruling class—whatever you wish to call them—dominate the economy and the government and they could stop a war whenever they wished. The fundamental problem is that the wars are fought in their interest. It is for them that politicians send young men and now young women to fight and die, and if a war is being fought for their profits, they are not likely to end it unless it becomes a threat to their wealth and power.

That leads to a force in society that can stop a war: the working class. A Teamster leader named John T. Williams once said it this way: “When students stand up, they arouse the conscience of the nation. When workers sit down, they stop production.” The working people can bring the entire economy to a screeching halt if they use their strike weapon in a unified and organized way. If we were to do so, we could stop much more than a war, to be sure. Even the threat of such strike action could be enough to cause the super-rich to think twice about continuing a war policy that was provoking working people to consider shutting down production.

And there is an additional social force that is actually the one most responsible for ending the Vietnam War over four decades ago: the enlisted soldiers and sailors who are actually doing the fighting. Once it became clear that the Vietnamese were not threatening the United States in any way—a question which faced them because the G.I.’s were well aware of the marches and rallies demanding U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam—the soldiers and sailors began fighting only to stay alive and in some cases taking drastic action against officers who ordered them into combat against an enemy who really was defending his—and, as often as not, her—country from a foreign invader.
The fundamental strategic choice for the peace movement is, therefore, shall it devote its efforts to convincing those in power to do the moral thing and stop war? Or shall it turn its attention to the working people and enlisted military personnel and organize them to act in their own interests—to use their power to force war to stop?

In the United States, where there is no mass labor or socialist party, and where the trade unions have an inconsistent record of opposing Washington’s wars, it is perhaps understandable that broad sections of the peace movement consider it more realistic to try to influence the representatives of the rich and powerful. But to bring the maximum pressure against the warmakers and to create the strong movement that can attract broad sections of labor and even military personnel, unity of all antiwar forces is necessary. How can that be achieved?

The unity that matters—and indeed the only unity that is possible—is unity in action. “We agree to take a particular action together on a particular date in a particular location (or more than one location), for this—or these—particular demand or demands.” Though a majority vote is technically democratic, achieving consensus for a decision is a far better guarantee of unity going forward.

To achieve consensus, people must be ready to compromise. Most people involved will be supporting candidates for public office; in all likelihood, people will be supporting different candidates for public office. Those choices must not be imposed on others. People may feel passionately about a particular issue or struggle other than peace, but it may not be widely understood or supported by others. People need to put the strength of the antiwar mobilization first, to respect differences of opinion, and achieve consensus where it counts. On date X it may be for stopping a war; on date Y it may be for defending the rights of immigrants; on date Z it may be for a higher minimum wage. All are valid. And on date X, all the world must know that the thousands of people who are in the streets are demanding an end to a war.

The key to success is the same as it has always been: involving the working people, whether they have their hands on the machines of production or on the weapons of combat. When working people demonstrating for peace can equal the mobilizations for women’s rights on January 21, 2017, it can force the warmakers in Washington to bring the troops home. It has happened before. It can happen now.

And the process is under way. Initiated by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), a broad coalition of peace movement organizations and individual activists has called for actions against “continuous wars, including drone and mercenary warfare…and…threatening military action against Venezuela, North Korea, Russia, Iran and other countries.” Click here to read the call. The protests are called for the week of October 2–October 8; October 6 is the sixteenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The Labor Fightback Network has endorsed this call and will do all it can to make the October demonstrations successful. We will enthusiastically build actions against not only the war in Afghanistan, but the nuclear threats against the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, the threats against Iran and Venezuela, and all the aggression, both real and threatened, coming from Washington. As we have said, the unity that counts is unity in action. UNAC and many other the groups and individuals have called for the action. It’s up to all of us who are working for peace to respond with the unity.

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