The U.S. Labor Movement, the Paris Accord, NEPA, and the Importance for Connecting Social Movement Organizing on the Local and Global Arena

By Eduardo Rosario

Introduction:

When President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Accord on Thursday, June 1, 2017 it instantaneously became worldwide news. What received essentially no media coverage was what occurred on Monday, June 5, 2017, in the Capitol Building. Assembled at a congressional briefing was a 14-person delegation that came from throughout the U.S. representing the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) along with representatives from EarthJustice. With the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord as the backdrop, this delegation was urging representatives from the various offices of the Senate and House of Representatives its support for a the little known federal legislation that has come under tremendous attack called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The question here is what does the Paris Accord and NEPA have in common? When you place both the Paris Accord and NEPA, in context of our local, state, and national infrastructure, the two as it turns out have much in common when viewed through the filter of environmental justice, human rights, the workplace, and our communities.

U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord and its ramifications

On June 1, 2017, Donald Trump pulls the United States out of the Paris Accord, a commitment of nearly every country in the world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and which aims to keep the planet’s warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Among the numerous reasons Trump made for pulling out of the Paris Accord was how it and environmental regulation threatened job creation. He went on to further assert how we were paying for other countries that were not paying their fair share — more specifically China and India. This was one of Trump’s major motivations for the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord. This withdrawal is a monumental mistake and represents a complete disregard of some clear facts and economic realities we cannot deny, for example:[1]

  • Innovation in clean technologies and jobs is on the rise.
  • Investing in growing clean energy, clean vehicles, green infrastructure development, and energy efficiency can drive manufacturing growth in the United States.
  • To not take advantage of the tremendous potential of the green economy puts the US at a competitive disadvantage, leaving these benefits for the rest of world to surpass the US as far as the research and development of green technology and a green economy.

Despite Trump taking the nation in a direction that is devoid of logic, commonsense, and stability, a growing number of state and local governments are committed to the goals and aims of the Paris Accord by adopting policies that meet the challenges of global warming by way of greater infrastructure investment using green technology to confront the realities of a future with rising sea levels, higher levels of disease, greater frequency of extreme weather episodes, and a global population that will continue to rise while at the same time having less water to sustain the demands of humanity. In a June 1, 2017, Steven Mufson’s article published in the Washington Post, stated the following:

“Thirty states and scores of companies said Thursday that they would press ahead with their climate policies and pursue lower greenhouse gas emissions, breaking sharply with President Trump’s decision to exit the historic Paris climate accord.”

On Friday, June 2, 2017, the following day after the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord, CBS News released the following statement issued by many state and local governments:

“Mayors, governors, and business leaders from both political parties are signing onto a statement of support that we will submit to the U.N. — and together, we will reach the emission reduction goals the United States made in Paris in 2015,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up — and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us.”

The fact is the “greenhouse” effect caused by carbon emissions is nothing new and science has known of this phenomenon for well over a hundred years taking us back to the time of the Industrial Revolution. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius calculated the effect of doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide has a direct effect on increasing surface temperatures of our planet of 5–6 degrees Celsius.

In reality, what Trump has set out to do is to begin to limit or rather eliminate public discourse on global warming starting with the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord. The facts not being told to the American populace are how the US, which represents 4.34% of the worldwide population[2], is responsible for 15.99% of the total global carbon emissions[3] and the US who has not paid its fair share nor properly begun to address climate change. US economic and foreign policies are exacerbating the environment and economy alike. It is the nations of the global south which tend to be amongst the poorest nations in the world who pay the biggest price for the carbon emissions that originate from the global north — the richest nations of the world. Primarily because they do not possess the resources and infrastructure due to disease, the onslaught of war, and the dislocation of people, due to economic impositions via free trade and austerity measures, free trade policies and austerity measures imposed by the global north.

The truth is the Paris Accord does not go far enough. Scientists have been warning global powers over the decades on where we need to be in order to avoid triggering global environmental tipping points that cannot be reversed with all the money and technology we may possess once set into motion. This ultimately will place humanity as we know, it on the chopping block if we stay the course and do nothing—hence, the gravity and enormity with the decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord. What needs to happen here in the US as a labor movement and nation is to adopt a science-based climate change policy, and break away from global capitol’s market-driven green economy that are based on the failed principles of mass production and the open-market knows best. These are the economic principles and policies that have been embraced for over a century that are largely responsible for the present day global warming crisis. Despite the Paris Accord not going as far as we ultimately need to, it is clearly an important step forward that takes our planet and humanity in the right direction.

Four days later on Monday, June 5, 2017, Trump then dubs the week “Infrastructure Week” for the country. The level of contradiction in the president’s policies is just staggering. Most job creation connected with environmental regulation involves blue-collar jobs. David Foster, executive director of the Blue-Green Alliance, and Leo Girard, president of the United Steelworkers, reported at the “Good Jobs/Green Jobs Conference” held in Washington DC on February 9 – 11, 2014 that infrastructure investment using green technology that provide green jobs with benefits, boost not only the economy and jobs, but begins to set us on a path towards environmental sustainability. It could potentially create 11 million jobs in the U.S. — jobs that would address many of our infrastructure needs, such as replacing antiquated technology and reliance on coal in many schools and communities; repairing of 86,000 defective bridges; building and repair of roads and highways; pipeline infrastructure for our water and sewer systems; improving our public transportation system; and renovating many public buildings. This is the fundamental reason why this is a labor issue and how we must build coalitions with the environmental, as well as with the civil rights movement.

The economic fallout for the US from policies such as Donald Trump withdrawing the US from the Paris Accord may prove insurmountable to overcome if the US stays the course and does not join forces and resources with the global community. This is of particular importance when it comes to addressing climate change in context of the US infrastructure for it will take more than the 30 states who are committed to the goals and aims of the Paris Accord. This demands the entire nation committed to such a proposition that moves us towards adopting a science-based climate change policy. Coalition building is affected by economic and political conditions, but these same economic/political conditions and impositions can be trumped over time by education and lessons learned from the past.[4] This is indisputable when we examine the mass mobilizations of the 1990s such as the international organizing and mobilizing between the labor and environmental movements against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), the Battle of Seattle, or fast-forward to the Blue/Green Alliance here in the US, Occupy Wall Street, and the global mobilization of the Peoples Climate Change March.

Coalition building may seem elusive, but will prove imperative if global capital continues to maintain its current trajectory, a course that will only lead to even greater environmental degradation, in turn, further exacerbating global economic conditions. The trade union principles of justice and dignity are not in conflict with the principles of social movement environmentalism. In unity, these social forces are in a stronger position combating the impositions of global capital than either of them can do alone. Coalition building specifically between the labor and environmental movements has been extensively researched over the years and discussed by academics and trade unionists alike. Regardless of whether one favors a “social movement organizing” model or a servicing/business unionism model, it is long overdue organized labor in the US honestly address the heated debate surrounding the question of “jobs versus the environment”.

We must begin by asking, “What have been the obstacles towards coalition building between these two powerful social movements?” The common enemies of labor and the environmental justice movements are global capital and those they employ. Corporations have effectively framed the jobs versus the environment debate, often dividing the labor and environmental justice movements from uniting their resources. This has been the weapon of choice particularly during times of economic downturn. The jobs versus the environment strategy have effectively driven a wedge between potential allies based on their relationship to capital. Phillip Harvey, and his description of the pace of the economic recovery being “distressingly slow,” only deepens the divisions and hurdles we must overcome in order to consider strategies and objectives concerning climate change and environmental sustainability.[5] But the claims of job loss due to environmental regulation are most often politically motivated and unsupported by economic analyses (Mayer 2009). Most research on the economic effects of environmental regulations suggests a positive impact on overall employment rates.[6] Free trade policies, outsourcing, deregulation, privatization, and when extracting industries have exhausted all the natural resources of a region leaving behind joblessness and a destroyed ecosystem all have had a far greater deleterious effect on jobs than environmental regulation.

Labor’s potential for growth, and its relevance as a social force are enhanced, particularly among youth and for communities in need when it takes up environmental issues. When labor does not take the steps necessary to be inclusive of broader social concerns these same communities are unlikely to view labor unions as a vehicle for improving their living and social conditions. For these reasons many labor activists embrace a social environmental perspective rather than following global capital’s market-based green economy and the business environmental agenda.[7]

The labor movement is beginning to gain a serious understanding of truths outside its familiar terrain, such as those from science, actively engaging in the fight against global warming.[8]  Though the labor movement is far from being crowned the “steward of the planet” or “protector of the environment,” in recent years many unionists have become more receptive to the question of the environment. A good example of labor moving outside its comfort zone was the labor movement’s public support for a socially responsible environmental policy in the 1999 “Battle of Seattle.” A more recent example is the work of the Blue/Green Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental organizations representing over 15 million workers and supporters, with unions such as the United Steel Workers playing a leadership role, as well as the over 400,000 who marched in the streets of Manhattan in the September 2014 Peoples Climate Change March, and again the over 200,000 who marched in the April 2017 Washington D.C. Peoples Climate Change March.

Not only U.S. unions but also labor organizations across the globe, in both the global north and south are engaging in such coalitions. While advancing trade union rights for collective bargaining, freedom of association and organizing, they are also increasingly working in coalition with environmentalists to address our responsibility to the local, regional and global environment. With the U.S. labor movement beginning to play a larger role on the question of global warming, “green jobs” are becoming an agenda item for creating jobs in renewable energy, making buildings and industry more energy-efficient, as well as jobs that reduce our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.[9]

This potentially leads to a growing openness towards coalition building with the environmental justice and civil rights movements among rank-and-file workers. Connecting workplace hazards with pervasive environmental hazards that leach into the community, unions and community groups can place increased pressure to embrace labor/environmental concerns. To move beyond the corporate perspective that pits jobs against the environment, workers and environmentalists can find common ground around a political ecology that drives change and does not simply respond to it.[10] Despite the positive efforts of blue/green coalitions, the U.S. labor movement has yet to adopt a science-based climate change policy, unlike many global labor confederations and national unions of other nations.

At a UN investor summit on climate risk, on January 12, 2012, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was forthright in his statement about climate threat.

“Scientists tell us we are headed ever more swiftly toward irreversible climate change with catastrophic consequences for human civilization. And far from being a threat only in a distant future, climate change is happening now. That demands action! The carbon emissions from coal, from oil and natural gas, agriculture, and so many other human activities have caused global warming, and we have to act to cut those emissions, and act now.”[11]

While the AFL-CIO has gradually accepted the reality of man-made global warming, this call to action represents full recognition of this global problem. Despite such public statements, however, the AFL-CIO still has not endorsed even the minimal targets for carbon reduction proposed by the world’s leading body of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), let alone the reduction of carbon in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million that America’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen, says is necessary to prevent the “catastrophic consequences for human civilization that is looming on the horizon.”[12] The U.S. labor movement adopting a science-based climate change policy and divorcing itself from global capital’s green economy is yet to be fully realized. But a science-based climate change policy can become a reality if the labor movement joins in coalition with the environmental justice and civil rights movements — locally and globally.

Ecological modernization differs from a narrow trust in technological fixes in that it recognizes that environmental problems are serious enough to require conscious strategies to address them – rather than placing our hopes in the invisible hand of the market or on technological breakthroughs.[13]  This runs counter to global capital’s market-driven green economy. Across the nation, many local and state governments are meeting the challenge of making our energy, transportation, and other systems cleaner and more efficient. Millions of people are being put to work in jobs designing, manufacturing, and installing the clean energy technology and infrastructure needed to reduce the pollution that is driving climate change.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports[14] that installed renewable energy capacity increased more than 115 percent from 2000 to 2015 and now produce 14 percent of domestic electricity in the country. According to 2017 data recently released by the DOE in its second annual U.S. Energy and Employment Report, no- and low-carbon energy and energy and vehicle efficiency industries currently support approximately 4.5 million American jobs, including:[15]

  • 2 million jobs in energy efficiency;
  • Almost 374,000 jobs in solar energy;
  • Over 700,000 jobs working with fuel efficient and alternative vehicles and their components;
  • 102,000 jobs in wind energy; and
  • 19,745 jobs in smart grid technology.

These are growing industries: in 2016, the solar workforce increased by 25 percent and wind employment increased by 32 percent, while the energy efficiency sector added 133,000 jobs, and expects to grow another 9 percent in 2017. The Solar Foundation Solar Job Census reported solar jobs have nearly tripled since 2010.[16] The American Wind Energy Association estimated that 248,000 workers would have jobs in or supporting the wind industry by 2020.[17]

Building on these investments by leading globally in growing the green economy would mean more of these kinds of jobs here in the United States, and it’s critical that we spend our time working to ensure that existing jobs and those to come are quality, family-sustaining union jobs with benefits in our communities across the nation. Rather than withdrawing from the Paris Accord, the United States should instead lead the world in driving the significant economic growth and job creation that comes from designing, manufacturing, and installing the clean economy.[18]

The National Environmental Policy Act:

Just as we must take responsibility globally and do our fair share as a labor movement, as a civil society, and organize internationally with the labor, social, and human rights movements of other nations, this cannot be divorced on what we must do on a state and local/community level. Just as the labor and social movements of the global north must build bridges with their counterparts in the global south in order to combat global warming. Labor’s bridge building on a state and local/community level with the environmental and civil rights movements, and solidifying such coalitions is critical that we do so if we are to transition our local/global community towards a green economy that is founded upon a science-based climate change policy. One example of how we can begin to build bridges and coalitions is by using an important tool called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Everyone has heard of a town hall meeting when there’s a proposal for example, to build an incinerator in your community. But the reason why there’s a town hall meeting in the first place is because of NEPA. It provides the mechanism for the general public to be active participants in the decision making process with regards to any proposed project that receives federal funds. NEPA is not perfect but it provides an important opportunity in building environmental justice in the workplace and community, and more specifically, confront environmental racism.

It is more than apropos that we not only speak of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but also emphasize the importance to protecting NEPA from forces that wish to abrogate it, where in reality NEPA needs to be expanded and not nullified. In each of the last three Congresses, we have seen over 160 bills that undermine NEPA by shortening public comment periods and statutes of limitation, establishing arbitrary deadlines for environmental review, limiting the consideration of better alternatives or waiving the law altogether. We must bring to light and address the allocation of environmental burdens across the United States, and how the brunt of such burdens are disproportionately born by communities of color. Despite such disparate treatment these communities suffer there are solutions and goals that are attainable in order to remedy this crisis. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is an important piece of legislation that aids in our taking preventative steps in halting with the continuation of policies that relegate many communities as repositories for dumping pollutants and carcinogens in our air and water, killing workers in the workplace, pollutants and carcinogens that fester via underground plumes that poison water tables in the very communities these same workers live and raise families.

As we all know there are numerous international norms and conventions banning racism and discrimination, and here in the United States racism and discrimination is illegal. Yet when we look at where the lion-share of where major pollution producing industries and structures such as incinerators, power plants, pipelines, and toxic waste sites are located, it cannot be ignored or denied how they are established in many Afro-American, Latino, and Native American communities. From a humanitarian perspective the importance of NEPA for many communities in-need here in the US is critical. NEPA is a genuine avenue of recourse in maintaining the checks and balances for protecting our families, our loved ones, our communities, and our land. NEPA also provides an opportunity to advance proposals and campaigns for investment in green technologies and industries instead of dirty energy industries and structures via the “Environmental Impact Statement” process.

Environmental concern is spreading and the problem cannot be dealt with unless we start with the workplace. It is for this reason the words of Tony Mazzocchi leader of the US Labor Party and the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers ring true, “A degraded work environment ultimately affects the general environment”. The fact is the labor movement has a rich history of championing the cause of environmental justice at work and in the community. A history that goes back to the United Steelworkers of America, and the Donora, Pennsylvania, air pollution disaster of 1948. This is why NEPA is important to the labor movement.

The purpose of NEPA is to make the siting of environmentally burdensome facilities more equitable. Because NEPA, through the “Environmental Impact Statement” (EIS) process, mandates taking into account the significant environmental effects of a proposed project, including its cumulative impact, and requires public participation as part of its process, it is a procedural device for considering environmental justice when making a siting decision. To combat the unfair allocation of environmental burdens, decision-makers must infuse distributional factors into existing environmental statutes. NEPA offers applicable precedent for this infusion because it’s environmental impact statements have long included discussions of the socioeconomic effects and disparities of certain proposed government actions. [19]

It is for this reason the National Environmental Policy Act is the “Environmental Bill of Rights”. It is the means by which we attain environmental equity. The Act provides:

The Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man’s activity on the inter-relations of all components of the natural environment, particular the profound influences of population growth, high-density urbanization, industrial expansion, resource exploitation, and new and expanding technological advances, and recognizing further the critical importance of restoring and maintaining environmental quality to the overall welfare and development of man, declares that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans”.[20]

In other words, NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, was set-up to balance the welfare of the people against the backlash of industrialization and urbanization. Yet, balance is exactly what is lacking in the siting of environmentally burdensome facilities, for example, hazardous waste sites. According to the “Toxics Wastes and Race” report, conducted by the United Church of Christ’s Commission on Racial Justice, environmental hazards fall disproportionately on low-income and minority communities who have borne the brunt of waste siting decisions. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, former head of the United Church of Christ testified before the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials stated, “three out of five African Americans and Hispanic Americans live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites”.[21]

NEPA offers a remedy because it mandates a process more likely to consider the concerns of minority and low-income groups, overburdened by industrial polluters whose proposed project seek to establish themselves in one’s community. In accordance with NEPA, an agency is not only required to predict the environmental effects of a proposed action, it is also compelled to involve concerned parties in the decision-making process.[22]

Conclusion:

The labor movement is a concerned party and is a legitimate player on the local and global arena precisely because of the space it occupies in society and the power labor can exact locally and globally. The labor movement has a right to voice its concerns and organize in coalition with the environmental and civil rights movements against both the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord and the attacks against NEPA and the Environmental Impact Statement process. Global capital and in this case the White House openly denying the environmental and economic realities looming on the horizon are an affront to one’s democratic right to live and work in a healthy environment. What the global capitalist class fears the most regarding the discourse on global warming and civil society’s criticism of the fossil fuel industry be it locally or globally is it places into question the capitalist system itself, and where it is leading society.

The withdrawal from the Paris Accord and staying the present course and doing nothing to address global warming is unacceptable for there are no jobs, no economy, or life on a dead planet. The attacks against NEPA is an affront against a community’s democratic right to voice one’s concerns and grievances included in the Environmental Impact Statement process, especially, when we are talking about environmental hazards in one’s own backyard. In particular, when NEPA provides an avenue of recourse to directly confront the intentional relegation of hazardous industries and structures in many communities of color.

The labor movement is completely in its right to continue to build bridges of unity and solidarity in the name of democracy on behalf of all workers union and non-union alike, their families, and their loved ones. Labor and in this case Labor Council for Latin American Advancement is right to say, “Not in My Backyard. The labor movement is here to say not where we live, not where we work, not where we play, and we have a right to protect ourselves in the workplace, the right to defend our families, community, and protect our planet against those forces whose only concern is to make a profit, at the expense of our health, our lives, and our land”.[23]

It is these same private and government forces that fear when the labor movement, environmentalists, and communities, organize against all efforts that seek to silence one’s voice. But that is precisely the response the labor movement must have in solidarity with civil society, and forge forward as one community, with one voice, organizing towards a “just transition” for all workers and the environment.

End Notes

[1] https://www.bluegreenalliance.org/resources/why-withdrawing-from-paris-is-a-monumental-mistake/ (June 24, 2017)

[2] http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/ (June 25, 2017)

[3] https://www.statista.com/statistics/271748/the-largest-emitters-of-co2-in-the-world/ (June 25, 2017)

[4] Mayer, Brian – Blue-Green Coalitions: Fighting for Safe Workplaces and Healthy Communities; Cornell University Press, 2009, P.48

[5] Phillip Harvey, Back to Work: A public jobs proposal for Economic Recovery, P.1

[6] Mayer, Brian – Blue-Green Coalitions: Fighting safe workplaces and healthy communities; Cornell University Press, 2009, P.5

[7] Dimitris Stevis, Unions and the Environment: Pathways to Global Labor Environmentalism. Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, 2011, P. 145

[8] Sean Sweeney, More than Green Jobs: Time for a New Climate Policy for Labor. New Labor Forum, Fall 2009, P.53

[9] Ibid

[10] Sean Sweeney, More than Green Jobs: Time for a New Climate Policy for Labor. New Labor Forum, Fall 2009, P.54

[11] http://www.labor4sustainability.org/articles/1695/, Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith, Labor and Environment: Next Steps for Dialogue, Publisher: Labor Network for Sustainability (June 24, 2017)

[12] Ibid

[13] Stevis, Dimitris – Green Jobs? – Just Jobs? Justice all the way down; Colorado State University, Department of Political Science, International Studies Association Annual Convention, New York, February 16, 2009, P.2

[14] http//energy.gov/eere/articles-4-renewable-energy-rise-america

[15] http//energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/us energy and jobs report_0.pdf

[16] http://www.solarenergyfoundation.org/national

[17] http//energystorage.org/news/esa-news/over-3-million-now-work-clean-energy

[18] https://www.bluegreenalliance.org/resources/why-withdrawing-from-paris-is-a-monumental-mistake/ (June 24, 2017)

[19] Heather E. Ross, Using NEPA in the Fight for Environmental Justice

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] https://www.facebook.com/LCLAA/videos/10155283240246678/ (June 26, 2017)

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UNAC Alert!  No to Trump’s Threat of Nuclear War on North Korea!

Today’s more overt U.S. imperial warmonger-in-chief, President Donald Trump, threatened North Korea on August 8 with an apocalyptic nuclear “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Within hours, Trump’s imperial threats from his Bedminster, N.J. golf course was backed to the hilt by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and Trump’s national security adviser Gen. H. R. McMaster. Both held open the “nuclear option” if the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea) refused to terminate its deterrent intercontinental missile and nuclear weapons program. The DPRK has every reason to believe that Trump’s threat to order a pre-emptive military strike is real.

Need we recall that Trump, the candidate, scored President Obama for not bombing Syria to smithereens when Syria was alleged to have crossed Obama’s “red line” with regard to sarin gas? Trump, the president, followed through with his own “red line” pledge to bomb Syria, while 46 of the 47 major U.S. newspapers editorialized in support. Again, no proof was offered to confirm Trump’s sarin gas allegations.

In April, again with hyper warmongering bravado, Trump proclaimed,  “We are sending an armada [to North Korea]. Very powerful. We have submarines. Very powerful, far more powerful than the [USS Carl Vinson] aircraft carrier. That I can tell you.” This was no idle boast. The U.S. Ohio-class Trident submarine is capable of launching 192 nuclear warheads able to simultaneously obliterate/incinerate scores of cities.

Similarly, the U.S. military’s use of its Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB, nicknamed “Mother of all Bombs”) in Afghanistan was yet another signal that this most powerful U.S. non-nuclear weapon of mass destruction, capable of obliterating everything within a one-mile diameter, was aimed more at intimidating North Korea, if not China and Syria, than it was to destroy underground ISIS tunnels. Indeed, the MOAB was never designed for tunnel destruction.

In recent months, the Trump administration turned its attention to China, demanding that it either pressure the DPRK to cease its missile test or face dire economic consequences as well as another round of unilateral and massive U.S./South Korean coordinated military maneuvers off China’s coastal waters.

Last week’s unanimous United Nations Security Council sanctions against the DPRK reflected this pressure. The unprecedented sanctions are aimed at crippling North Korea’s economy, with its traditional trading partners now banned from purchasing mineral resources and seafood commodities that amount to one-third of its total GDP output. Such sanctions are nothing less than a U.S.-imposed and UN-approved act of war against the North Korean people.

Make no mistake, the demonization of North Korean President Kim Jon-un, as with U.S. imperialism’s demonization of the presidents of Iraq, Libya and Syria, coupled with the invention of various pretexts to justify war and invasion, cannot be dismissed as the idle bluster of a rouge racist, sexist and warmongering president.

Trump is not the first U.S. president to threaten North Korea with nuclear war. Presidents Obama, Clinton and others before them have done the same, albeit with more “diplomatic” or “presidential” language employed to cast a veneer of civility or rationality over U.S. foreign policy as compared to the crude imagery that would-be strongman Trump believes is a requirement when U.S. imperial interests are at stake. And U.S. long-term imperial interests in North Korea, as with Iraq and Libya, are real, with estimates of its vast and largely untapped natural resource and mineral wealth in the range of  $6 to $10 trillion according to the June 29, 2017 Business Insider. (See http://www.businessinsider.com/north-korea-stockpile-minerals-worth-trillions-2017-6?international=true&r=US&IR=T).

Trump, and Obama before him, preside over an unprecedented militarized state, with as many as 1,000 foreign military bases. The U.S. is engaged in simultaneous wars in seven nations as well as covert wars, sanction wars, secret “special operation” wars, and drone wars.

President Obama approved one $trillion to update, over a period of 30 years, the U.S. nuclear weapons program, which already boasts 5,000 nuclear warheads. The annual U.S. war budget exceeds the combined military expenditures of most of the rest of the world.

Today’s Hydrogen or H-bombs have a destructive power that exceeds by a factor of 5,000 the atomic bombs that were exploded by the U.S. over Hiroshima and Nagasaki 72 years ago, almost to the day. Scientists at that time warned that just 10 such bombs, hypothetically launched by the USSR in key urban areas across the U.S., would obliterate the majority of the population, not to mention bring on a life-destroying multiple hundred-years “nuclear winter,” while reducing the country to an uninhabitable radioactive nightmare.

Yet this insanity is today routinely contemplated by U.S. imperialism’s chief representatives, whether they be Bill Clinton, Barack Obama or today, Donald Trump – none of whom have declared that the use of these doomsday weapons is unthinkable.

Indeed, U.S. President Harry Truman, a “civilized” president from middle class lineage, authorized the dropping of the two A-bombs, nick-named “little boy” and “fat man,” on Japan in 1945. 250,000 people, almost all civilians, were incinerated.

What is left out of today’s U.S. warmongering hyperbole is the colonial history of Korea itself, including the U.S. post-WWII occupation where the vast majority of people in what became North and South Korea, opposed the U.S. occupier’s slaughter of the social forces allied with the Korean Communist Party/Workers Party of Korea, who allied with the Soviet Union to defeat the Japanese occupation.

During the Korean war, the U.S. and its allies may have killed as many as one-third of the Korean population and destroyed the bulk of the buildings in the country.

Today, the US maintains a force of tens of thousands of troops in South Korea; it has installed Thaad missiles and conducts joint nuclear-armed military exercises in the region twice a year.  The DPRK justly sees these as practice for a U.S. invasion.

As in Vietnam, where the ten-year U.S. war cost the lives of four million Vietnamese, the U.S. is today threatening yet another genocidal war, this time against North Korea, a nation that has never invaded another country. The United National Antiwar Coalition stands opposed to all U.S. wars and threats of war.

We call upon all peace and social justice groups to organize emergency actions against the U.S. war drive.  Please see a list of actions being organized and add your own action by going here: http://nepajac.org/koreaevents.htm.

UNAC demands:

U.S. Hands Off North Korea!

The Immediate and Total Nuclear Disarmament of the U.S. War Machine as a Prelude to the Abolition of All Nuclear Weapons!

No to U.S. Military Exercises Against North Korea and China!

No to the U.S. Military “Pivot to Asia”!

Remove THAAD Missiles and U.S. Bases from So. Korea!

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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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