Category Archives: Fight for 15

The political ground is shifting: Chicago rejects the Democratic party machine


The Democratic party establishment is struggling to keep control of its message. In last year’s congressional elections, a number of left candidates gained office, including Ilyan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who have been speaking out against Trump’s anti-immigration policies and facing hostility and attacks from Republicans and the media.

Former president Barack Obama joined the fray on Saturday, accusing the left of enforcing standards of political “purity” by suggesting that rightwing Democrats could become targets for reselection in the party primaries. He was responding to Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism of 26 Democrats who joined a Republican vote for undocumented immigrants to be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they attempted to buy guns.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic party strategists believe that centrist policies are needed to unseat Trump, and have sidelined left positions such as the abolition of ICE, Medicare for all, free public higher education, a $15 minimum wage, and action on climate change – all of which are now part of mainstream discourse, thanks to Bernie Sanders’ campaign for presidential nomination. However, the evidence from last week’s municipal elections in Chicago indicate shifts in both the party and the electorate.

On April 2, Chicago voters elected Lori Lightfoot by a landslide as the city’s first African American woman and openly gay mayor. But they also elected at least five socialists to the city council, fragmenting the Democratic party machine controlled by outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Intercept reported that three members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) won runoff races, joining two others who won outright last month. Jeanette Taylor, a community activist who led a month-long hunger strike to reopen Dyett high school in Bronzeville, won the 20th Ward. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, another well-known community organizer, replaced an incumbent in the 25th Ward who had held the seat for more than two decades. In the 40th Ward, Andre Vasquez toppled one of the most powerful members of City Council and an Emanuel ally – Pat O’Connor, who held the seat for nearly forty years. In addition, “there were a handful of candidates who have significant ties to the labor left and other political movements that predate the rise of DSA, like the Chicago Teachers Union’s 2012 strike.”

Chicago has long been ruled by a monolithic Democratic party machine, with close ties to the Clintons and Obama. Rahm Emanuel served as Obama’s chief of staff before running for mayor. His decision not to seek a third term enabled a host of challenges to incumbent aldermen with strong connections to the machine. According to In These Times, the challengers ran on demands raised by social movements in the city, including instituting an elected, representative school board and creating a Civilian Police Accountability Council to oversee the Chicago Police Department. “They also built on the work of community organizers who have opposed large-scale tax increment funding (TIF) projects that often fund luxury developments. One of the most controversial TIF projects is a proposed $95-million West Side police and fire academy, a priority of the outgoing Emanuel administration. Local residents and activists argue that this funding could be better invested in schools, mental health facilities and other resources.”

The election was hard fought, with Emanuel’s allies spending heavily on television and digital advertising to support candidates aligned with the political establishment. But candidates from the left were able to break through the patronage system and created a city council more representative of the city’s diversity. “In the largely Hispanic 33rd Ward, democratic socialist Rossana Rodríguez-Sanchez ended the night ahead of incumbent Deb Mell, who was appointed by Emanuel after her father and former Ald. Richard Mell stepped down in 2013. The Mells have long served as a powerful political family in the city, and Rodríguez-Sanchez’s potential victory stands as a shot across the bow to the machine.”

Emanuel’s grip on the party was loosened after he suppressed police video of the shooting of African American teenager Laquan McDonald, who was shot 17 times while walking away from officers. Emanuel’s refusal to take any serious action against the notoriously corrupt and violent Chicago police department lost him the support of the Democratic party’s base. According to University of Illinois history professor Barbara Ransby, “The Laquan McDonald case was really the pivot of this election in a lot of ways. It was the issue that Rahm Emanuel couldn’t run away from. And he couldn’t run away from it because of the relentless pressure by a whole network and coalition of organizations, from Black Lives Matter Chicago to Assata’s Daughters to #LetUsBreathe Collective to Black Youth Project 100. So, putting the pressure on Rahm not to run, or letting him know that this was going to be the fight of his life if he did run, was part of what shaped the election as it unfolded.”

The newly-elected mayor, Lori Lightfoot, is a former prosecutor and also has questions to answer about her role as chair of the police board and reluctance to prosecute police, despite promises for police accountability and reform. Aislinn Pulley, lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Chicago, commented: “We should view this election cycle as the beginning of a seismic shift against the neoliberal project that has resulted in privatization, militarized policing and destruction of many of our community institutions and resources.”

Ransby writes about the new cohort of activists like Pulley in The Nation, where she explains that many of them gained their first experiences of organizing in campaigns to oust State Attorney Anita Alvarez and Police Chief Garry McCarthy for their roles in the Laquan McDonald case. Another critical issue was “the 2015 City Council Reparations Ordinance for survivors of police torture, which was the culmination of a five-year struggle for accountability in the Jon Burge torture scandal. And it is impossible to escape the shaping influence of the Black Lives Matter Movement (now a part of the larger national coalition, the Movement for Black Lives), which not only birthed a new political ethos—one that goes beyond simplistic notions of representational race politics—but also emboldened a new grassroots force of powerful leaders, many of them women.”

While the old guard still clings to power in Chicago, in certain areas it was decisively defeated. The key to this success was activists’ grassroots mobilizing on issues important to citizens, incorporating left solutions to the city’s urgent social and economic problems. Decades of political corruption won’t be overturned in one election cycle, but last week’s results indicate that voters are moving away from identity politics and responding positively to a new generation of activists with a bottom-up, left agenda. Obama and the Democratic leadership are out of touch with the changes in the party and the electorate. Bernie Sanders is still the candidate who has the most appeal to the overwhelming desire for change.

Leave a comment

Filed under African Americans, Black Lives Matter, chicago teachers, Democratic Party, Fight for 15, Obama, political analysis, Rahm Emanuel, Uncategorized

Why It Is a Mistake for Bernie to Run as an Independent


Now that it’s clear that Hillary Clinton will get the Democratic party presidential nomination after she won four out of five states in last Tuesday’s primary elections, Seattle city councilwoman Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative and Jill Stein of the Green party have started an online petition, #Movement4Bernie, to persuade Sanders to run as an independent, or as a candidate for the Green party.

But this puts a symbolic ideological gesture above the social movement that has supported him. Sanders’s supporters, especially millennial youth, come from within the liberal-labor coalition that has traditionally voted Democratic. There is no social basis for an alternative party of the left at the present time, and there’s no sign that voters are prepared to break from the Democrats, even if some of Sanders’ supporters have said they will not vote for Clinton.

Citing a recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll, Josh Marshall notes: “Millennials aren’t just liberal. They’re getting more liberal. And rather than being liberal on policy issues but alienated from the Democratic party, they’re actually become significantly more identified with the Democratic party during this primary process. Are they wild about Hillary Clinton? No, they’re not. But in a general election context, liberal political views and the importance of the Democrats winning the 2016 election seems to more than offset that disaffection.”

It’s important that Sanders doesn’t isolate himself from the movement against Trump. The major concern for the majority of Americans – especially Latino and African American communities – is to defeat Trump, which means voting for whoever the Democratic candidate might be. This is one reason why Clinton won the African American vote in the primaries, since she was considered pragmatically as the best chance of keeping Trump out.

The intensity of the protests at the mogul’s rallies as he gets closer to the Republican nomination reveals the anxieties in these communities. On Friday, protesters blocked access to the venue for the California Republican convention in San Francisco and forced Trump to leave his vehicle and cross a highway to get to the hotel. Hundreds of protesters tried to storm the hotel, many of them high school and college students from local schools.

The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong spoke to Silvia Yoc, a 19-year-old student at College of San Mateo, who said she was protesting to “show support for the Latino community and our parents who came here to give us a better life”. Yoc, who was born in Guatemala, said Trump has inspired “a lot of fear in our community”.

The previous day, Trump spoke to a mostly white audience at the Orange County Fairgrounds and blamed illegal immigrants for a spike in violent crime. According to the Guardian, “a crowd of largely Latino but also white and African American demonstrators shouted and chanted slogans before the event, then returned as it drew to a close. Hundreds of people formed human barricades on an approach road to a nearby freeway, blocked the Fairgrounds exits, and waved banners that said ‘Build a Wall Around Trump’ and ‘Dump the Trump’. Police appeared to be caught out by the protesters and had to call in reinforcements to separate them from the Trump supporters flooding into a large parking lot after the rally.”

The LA Times reported: ” ‘I’m protesting because I want equal rights for everybody, and I want peaceful protest,’ said 19-year-old Daniel Lujan, one of hundreds in a crowd that appeared to be mostly Latinos in their late teens and 20s. … ‘This is the anger people have against Trump,’ said Jose Cruz, 21, as he pointed to the protesters running in the middle of the street. ‘It’s not because he’s white – it’s because of what he’s said.’ Several echoed the comments, saying they were drawn to the streets to counter Trump’s stated policies on immigration and his inflammatory remarks about Mexicans.”

Sanders declared that he will campaign until the Democratic convention so as to get the widest possible audience for his message, and is pressing to get a tangible commitment to a more left platform. “We are in this campaign to win, but if we do not win, we intend to win every delegate we can, so that when we go to Philadelphia in July we are going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen,” he told a student audience in Indiana.

The Washington Post comments: “He’s hoping for signs of genuine commitment to priorities like debt free college and a $15 minimum wage, and to reforms to the nomination process that might maximize participation among the sort of young, unaffiliated Sanders voters who were excluded from the New York primary.”

Jim Hightower argues that Sanders has already won control of the political narrative. “Sanders’ vivid populist vision, unabashed idealism and big ideas for restoring America to its own people have jerked the presidential debate out of the hands of status quo corporatists, revitalized the class consciousness and relevance of the Democratic Party, energized millions of young people to get involved, and proven to the Democratic establishment that they don’t have to sell out to big corporate donors to raise the money they need to run for office.” As Sanders said recently, “When people respond by the millions to your message, then that message is now mainstream. That changes political reality.”

The break from the political establishment that Sanders’ campaign represented lies in his validation of a return to a New Deal consensus. Noam Chomsky points out that Sanders’ policies are “quite strongly supported by the general public, and have been for a long time. That’s true on taxes. It’s true on healthcare. So, take, say, healthcare. His proposal for a national healthcare system, meaning the kind of system that just about every other developed country has, at half the per capita cost of the United States and comparable or better outcomes, that’s considered very radical. But it’s been the position of the majority of the American population for a long time. So, you go back, say, … to the Reagan years, about 70 percent of the population thought that national healthcare should be in the Constitution, because it’s such an obvious right.”

Even more significant is the organizing thrust among his supporters to continue the campaign’s momentum. After the party’s primaries are over, activists plan a June summit in Chicago to enhance the campaigns for a $15 minimum wage, for a tax on Wall Street speculation to fund human needs and jobs, improved Medicare for All, the fight for free and debt-free higher education, secure retirement through expanding social security, ending HIV/AIDS, achieving Constitutional pay equity for women, and ending deportations and support for DREAMers, among other issues. Speakers include Dr. Cornel West, Naomi Klein, and Roseann Demoro of the National Nurses Union.

As Juan Cole comments: “Clinton will continue to need the left wing of the Democratic Party as she campaigns through Nov. 4. The trick for the left will be to find ways of tying her down and making sure she can’t swing back to the center-right of the party after the July convention.”

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Fight for 15, Hillary Clinton, latino americans, primary elections, Uncategorized

The Shifting US Political Landscape: A Dawning New Consciousness Against Politically Engineered Wealth Inequality


The US presidential primary campaign has brought into sharp relief social shifts that have transformed the political landscape and confused ideological allegiances. These shifts reflect a changed consciousness among voters about politically engineered wealth inequality. That voters across the country flatly reject the neoliberal policies that pass for conventional wisdom among both Reaganite Republicans and Clintonite Democrats is a much more important story than calculations of possible delegate counts at national conventions.

These shifts have fractured the Republican social coalition built under Nixon and Reagan between business and social conservatives. In states where Republicans gained majority control in 2010 as a result of the Tea Party vote, legislatures have been moving to restrict social freedoms embraced in the rest of the country. In North Carolina, the state rushed through a bill in the dead of night to prevent local towns creating ordinances protecting the rights of transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice, and also removed general protections against discrimination on religious and racial grounds. In Georgia, on the other hand, the governor vetoed a similar bill because of pressure from big business groups.

Washington Post correspondent Dana Milbank explains: “Corporate America is traditionally conservative, reluctant to react to social controversy and divisive issues. But as public sentiment shifts dramatically on gay rights and as pro-equality millennials become a large bloc of consumers, business is shedding its reticence. … When the Georgia legislature took up legislation giving religious groups the right to deny services to gay people, corporations by the dozen voiced their objections. Disney and Netflix said they would stop filming in Georgia, and the NFL said the bill would jeopardize Atlanta’s hopes of hosting the Super Bowl.”

By moving further to the right on social issues, a third of the Republican electorate has isolated the pro-business elite, who have now lost control of their party’s apparatus. While the party leadership consistently lowered taxes on the super-rich and its legislators and lobbyists achieved affluence, it delivered nothing but job losses and uncertainty to their working-class white voters. This is what Donald Trump was able to exploit in his demagogic anti-immigrant appeals to the Republican base. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2008 and 2012 “more lower-income and less-educated white voters shifted their allegiance to Republicans. These voters had fled the Democratic Party and were angry at Mr. Obama, whom they believed did not have their interests at heart. But not all of them were deeply conservative; many did not think about politics in ideological terms at all … For many blue-collar Republicans, anger against Mr. Obama now extended to their own party’s leadership, whom they viewed as not only failing to stand up to Mr. Obama, but also as colluding with him to make their lives worse.”

At the same time, the international role of the US has blown back into its political life. Glenn Greenwald argues that when Trump advocates waterboarding for terrorists he is merely stripping away the pretense over what the US has actually done. Tom Engelhardt reflects that while Washington seems unable to function effectively, the so-called war against terror has transformed the public acceptance of domestic surveillance and authoritarian rule to the extent that it has created “something like a new system in the midst of our much-described polarized and paralyzed politics.  The national security state doesn’t seem faintly paralyzed or polarized to me.  Nor does the Pentagon. … In this ‘election’ season, many remain shocked that a leading candidate for the presidency is a demagogue with a visible authoritarian side and what looks like an autocratic bent. All such labels are pinned on Donald Trump, but the new American system that’s been emerging from its chrysalis in these years already has just those tendencies. … a Trumpian world-in-formation has paved the way for him.”

On the Democratic side, the strong showing of the Sanders campaign has brought new social layers into political activism, in opposition to the party establishment and union bureaucracies. The overwhelming and enthusiastic support he has received from millennial youth has a huge significance, according to University of Massachusetts professor Richard Wolff. It means that “a fundamental shift in American politics is underway,” he says.  “The fact that he has done as well as he has done, getting an excess of 40 percent or even closer to half the votes in so many states and winning as many states as he has is an unspeakable change in American politics and will have enormous ramifications for the future.”

He has also energized rank and file trade unionists to buck their leaders’ reflexive support for the candidate most favored by the party establishment. A group calling themselves “Labor for Bernie,” formed last June, have succeeded in helping Sanders win the endorsements of more than 80 union locals and four national unions, including the postal workers, communications workers, and nurses’ unions. Labor Notes reports: “The Food and Commercial Workers came out for Clinton in January. But a month later, Northern California UFCW Local 5, whose 28,000 members work in grocery and food processing, endorsed Sanders. The executive board vote was 30 to 2, according to Mike Henneberry, the local’s director of communications and politics. He said the local hasn’t gotten any pushback from the International. ‘For us, it was not a very difficult decision,’ he said. ‘Compare an individual who’s been supporting workers since he was mayor of Burlington with someone who’s been on the board of Walmart’.”

Similarly, although the leadership of the SEIU service employees’ union have endorsed Hillary Clinton, the largest public sector union in New Hampshire came out for Sanders. Clinton only supports a minimum wage of $12 while the union is campaigning for $15.  “I never thought I would see involvement like there was when Obama ran,” said SEIU Local 1984 vice president Ken Roos. “But people were stopping me in the hall at work, or even in the street—they would say, ‘Bernie’s the man, we gotta go for Bernie.”

The political class is swinging behind Clinton to suppress this movement from below. Sanders’ victories, however large, are ignored by the media, or explained away as only appealing to liberals in predominantly white states. When Sanders won over 70 percent of the primary vote in Washington and Hawaii, and 82 percent in Alaska, CNN described the states as “largely white and rural.” However, a third of Alaska’s population is nonwhite, 15 percent being indigenous Americans, while Hawaii has never had a white majority. The huge turnout for caucuses in Washington state also brought in many nonwhite voters. Sanders press secretary Erika Andiola told Democracy Now: “Bernie’s supporters are very, very pumped up. You know, they’re very excited about going out to caucus. And it’s a lot of young people, it’s a lot of new voters. … [In Yakima county in Washington state] about 45 percent to 50 percent of the community there is Latino—very diverse county. Bernie had a rally there. We had 7,000 people turn out. We ended up winning the county by 75 percent or 76 percent.”

Regardless of who wins the nomination for the Democrats or the Republicans, these social changes and the new anti-plutocratic consciousness among voters of both parties will shape the outcome of the presidential election in November. That will pit the popular result against the entrenched deep party and state systems that Obama was unable to budge and which voters across the spectrum are rejecting.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Fight for 15, Hillary Clinton, National Security Agency, political analysis, Uncategorized

Obama’s Last State of the Union: A Flight of Fancy Dedicated to a Neoliberal Presidency


Obama made his final State of the Union speech last week a rhetorical rebuke to Trump and other Republican presidential contenders. He deprecated the fear being generated against immigrants and minorities, especially Muslims: “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people?” he asked.

But he showed himself singularly insensible to the actual political struggles of his presidency when he bemoaned the fact he had not been able to achieve bipartisanship in the manner of Lincoln. His failure to grasp the social roots of Republican intransigence parallels his misjudgment of the contribution of his own neoliberal administration to the cynicism Americans feel about government. Trump is able to capitalize on this feeling together with the decline of the American Dream to win support from working-class whites by imagining a new “greatness” for America based on racist attacks and demagogic threats of military force.

Obama himself boasted of US military prowess and the killing of Osama bin Laden in his speech, essentially coopting Republican rhetoric. As Roberto Lovado commented in Alternet: “Democrats have either coded and softened the right-wing message and politics of decline (i.e. Obama and the Dems standing up for Syrian refugee children while simultaneously jailing and deporting thousands of Central American refugee children) or simply not offered the kind of unifying narrative that appeals to the solidarity between working-class whites and other non-white working-class groups.”

The fears that Obama hoped to counter don’t grow out of nothing. Trump’s supporters “feel marginalized economically, politically, and socially … [but] their concerns for our future have led to an overwhelming need to see all of our problems as someone else’s fault,” writes Kaddie Abdul, who went to a Trump rally in her hijab to engage his followers in a dialog. “The people who used to be Tea Partiers, who supported Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin or any one of a number of politicians who’ve used this rhetoric before Trump – aren’t going to go away. Whether Trump wins or loses, his supporters will still be out there, longing for another leader to ‘make America great again’.”

His indifference to the social protests that have arisen during his presidency – Occupy Wall Street, the struggle against police shootings of black youth, the Fight for 15 campaign of low-paid workers, the Chicago teachers strike, the DREAM movement – and his detachment from the causes of the protests was expressed in his abstract sermonizing that: “democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.”

Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza commented: “The thing that I think was glaringly missing from the conversation last night was really the conversation around not just gun violence broadly, although that is a major issue in our country, but police violence as it relates to black communities … many people who have been involved in this movement certainly wanted to hear President Obama, possibly the last black president in our country’s history, really talk about what’s going on in black communities specifically … about what kinds of proposals are on the table to ensure that black people can live full lives in this country like everyone else.”

Obama’s leadership failed because he was constitutionally incapable of harnessing the social coalition that elected him in 2008. Once elected, he uncoupled from this mass movement and appointed a cabinet dominated by Wall Street insiders and neoliberals, leading to political capitulation over banking regulation and healthcare reform, and an inability to control the workings of the vast federal bureaucracy. The net effect was that he did little to shield the most vulnerable Americans from predatory capitalism.

In his speech he appropriated the language of Martin Luther King to argue for a corporatist version of politics. “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino … but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word – voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. They’re out there, those voices … I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages to keep him on board.” This flight of fantasy only has a basis in workers clocking extra shifts because they fear the closure of their plants and losing their jobs as part of America’s industrial decline, not out of brotherly love for their bosses.

But while the social movement Obama energized in 2008 may have dissipated as a political force, it has morphed into many other forms of resistance. In particular, the American labor movement is not dead. Although major strikes are infrequent, thanks to repressive legislation, when they do take place they are solid. For example, workers at Wisconsin’s Kohler Company stayed out picketing for over a month at the end of last year after a 94% strike vote against a two-tier wage system that gave younger workers 35% less than those on the top tier. They won an increase in the lower wage to $15 an hour; older workers on the picket lines said they were expressing their solidarity for the younger generation.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union has also voted overwhelmingly to strike if necessary, for the second time in three years. In 2012, the discredited Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, also exploited civil rights rhetoric to cover a neoliberal push to force give-backs from the teachers. As Shaun Richman notes, the public on the other hand “overwhelmingly viewed the CTU as striking for the common good. Partly, this was thanks to two years of deep and meaningful community organizing and partnerships that the union diligently pursued knowing there would likely be a strike. And partly, this was thanks to the union bargaining for school resources demands that resonated beyond just their membership.”

The Fight for 15 is another sign of growing resistance. Richman argues: “Some have dismissed the series of rolling one-day strikes for increases in the minimum wage and organizing rights as mere P.R. stunts. But there is something deeply radical and significant at play here. Workers who don’t even technically have a union are proving their value—and their power—to their bosses by withholding their labor. … The great potential of Fight for 15 is that unorganized workers see reflections of themselves in the strikers and begin to fantasize about what a job action could look like at their workplace.”

Obama’s legacy is a disappointment to many who voted for him, but there is a potential for Bernie Sanders to energize the kind of political excitement that Obama did in 2008. While Hillary Clinton is tied by her umbilical cord to Wall Street, Sanders is getting major support for his anti-corporate message. He still has to reach many voters in the south, however, although his willingness to take on board actual movements of dissent is a huge positive. And as his poll numbers rise, he will get more exposure to potential supporters who would respond to his call for universal healthcare and free higher education.

Whether or not he succeeds in becoming the Democratic presidential candidate, his campaign has connected with the same kind of anti-oligarchic sentiment as did Occupy Wall Street. The hunger for real hope and change is stronger than ever.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bernie Sanders, Fight for 15, Neoliberalism, Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Uncategorized

The Racist Fury Behind Trump’s “Make America Great Again” Campaign Will Break the Republicans


Donald Trump’s increasingly inflammatory statements have caused consternation among the political establishment and fear among minority groups. His media coverage, however, is out of all proportion to his actual influence in the country. He has a vociferous following of white voters, and polls continue to show him leading the Republican presidential primaries. But even after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, his call to exclude Moslems from the United States is opposed by most Americans.

What Trump has succeeded in doing is to bring outrageous ideas like internment camps into the political mainstream. His speeches are legitimizing racist attacks on minorities and Scalia’s open dismissal of integration in colleges. His support has crystallized out of a layer of white, non-college educated workers who have lost jobs and houses through two recessions and are now facing a downward slide into poverty. They are animated by resentment of immigrants and minorities, and by hostility to government, which they see as corrupt and in the pockets of big business. This is the same demographic that between 1998 and 2013 saw a marked increase in the death rate from suicide, drugs and alcohol poisoning, while that for all other groups declined.

New industries that require semiskilled labor of the kind that in the past elevated many Americans into the middle class are no longer being created in the US. Trump references a time when the lack of a college degree was not a barrier to well-paid industrial work – and when white skin implied social privilege. In These Times writer Walid Shaheed comments: “His high poll numbers among white voters in the Midwestern rustbelt show his appeal to people in this region who have been dealing with an economic collapse that has completely changed how millions of people live their lives. As those who came before them, these white voters blame their woes on immigrants and people of color who are ‘taking over the country.’ When Trump declares he will ‘Make America Great Again,’ he appeals directly to the heart of this demographic.”

It’s important to realize that Trump didn’t create his following from scratch: his bombast has gained traction because he was able to pick up the racist subtext of the Republican party’s rhetoric and make it explicit. Political commentator Josh Marshall pointed out: “What Trump has done is taken the half-subterranean Republican script of the Obama years, turbocharge it and add a level of media savvy that Trump gained not only from The Apprentice but more from decades navigating and exploiting New York City’s rich tabloid news culture. He’s just taken the existing script, wrung out the wrinkles and internal contradictions and given it its full voice.”

However, in doing so he is also voicing and legitimizing the suppressed prejudices of people who feel themselves losing an imaginary past cultural unity because of the growth and increase in political influence of the nonwhite population. The New York Times commented: “He harnessed feelings that long predated his candidacy — feelings of besiegement and alienation, of being silenced — and gave them an unprecedented respectability. … America is living through an era of dramatic changes: its demographics shifting, its middle class contracting, its institutions grappling with the pressures of the networked age.”

His supporters come from the most rightwing Republican voters. According to CNN: “A recent poll found that three quarters of Trump’s supporters are in favor of deporting all of the 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants and banning any Syrian refugees from seeking shelter in America. In contrast, Marco Rubio only has 5% and Jeb Bush 6% of those far-right voters.” The Washington Post explains: “Trump draws strong support from the kinds of voters who see illegal immigration as eroding the values of the country and who might worry that their jobs are threatened by the influx. About half of those Republicans who favor deporting immigrants who are here illegally back Trump for the party’s nomination. These are also the kinds of voters who agree most with Trump’s call to ban the entry of Muslims into the United States until security concerns are laid to rest.”

This is by no means a majority of Republican voters, likely less than a third of them, located in areas that have been hit hardest by the economic downturn like the South and Midwest. After years of dog-whistle campaigning by Republican politicians blaming minorities and immigrants for crime and lack of jobs, this social layer is angry and contemptuous of its political leaders for their perceived inaction. It has the potential to break the Republican party apart.

Surveys show that “white working-class Republicans made clear their conviction that government policies favor minority and immigrant interests over their own, and that the nation — its economy and its culture — has gone into decline as, and because, it has become more racially diverse. It’s those beliefs that have driven a large share of the white working class into Donald Trump’s column rather than Sen. Bernie Sanders’s, even though its members plainly agree with Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s perspective that the economy is rigged to favor the wealthy and big business. … years of talk radio, Fox News and now the Trump campaign have tapped into and built a right-wing populism that focuses the white working class’s blame for its woes downward — at the racial other — rather than up.”

On the other hand, there is bipartisan agreement on whose interests the government is acting for. The same survey found “Ninety-three percent of Democrats and 88 percent of Republicans said it tended ‘very’ or ‘somewhat well’ to the interests of the wealthy; 90 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Republicans said it did the same for big corporations.” By nearly a 2-to-1 margin Americans believe their “vote does not matter because of the influence that wealthy individuals and big corporations have on the electoral process.”

Support for Bernie Sanders among the public is actually a lot greater than for Trump, although you wouldn’t know it from the media, which has devoted 80 times more airtime to Trump than Sanders. He has the challenge of making his presidential candidacy believable to the electorate, despite the pundits’ claims of Hillary Clinton’s inevitability, and of generating enough excitement among new voters to get them to the polls. He continues to advocate a $15 hourly minimum wage and free college education, but, like Corbyn, finds it difficult to get traction for a rational policy on terrorism.

If the Republican vote indeed splits over a Trump or Cruz presidential run, this presents Sanders with an opportunity to win national support on a left populist platform that extols the contribution of immigrants and minorities to the country and advocates stringent controls on foreclosures and Wall Street speculation. He has to foreground policies that will win the less prejudiced sections of the white working class away from supporting corporate billionaires against their class interests.

1 Comment

Filed under Fight for 15, republican primaries, Republicans, Trump, Uncategorized

Political Economy of Flexible Accumulation: Part Three – Finance Capital


The flexible accumulation strategies of companies like Amazon and Apple don’t solve the overall problem of capital accumulation – a superabundance of capital chasing opportunities for valorization. They are only a temporary fix to the reduction of the rate of profit in manufacturing, as technology reduces the socially-necessary labor time involved in the production of commodities.

The specific nature of these strategies is not an inevitable result of fundamental laws of capitalism, which could have taken many other forms of development, but depends on contingent historical and geopolitical factors that created the conditions for distributed production and accelerated consumption, together with the opening up of low wage areas of the world to capital. The end result, however, has been the consolidation of the centrality of finance capital in the circulation process.

From the end of the 1970s, writes Canadian Marxist Gary Teeple, the post-Fordist, computer based “new economy” “created the basis for a massive increase in productivity and consequently a relative decline in demand for labour. Increased productivity, in turn, lowered the cost or cheapened the world’s supply of goods and services and created an ever-greater impetus for global chains of production and distribution.” [Teeple and McBride, eds, Relations of Global Power: Neoliberal Order and Disorder, Toronto 2011:233]

The preconditions for corporations in the developed nations to outsource production to developing countries included technological and logistical advances like shipping containerization, control of inventory with barcoding, deskilling of labor processes, the proliferation of electronics component production in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and the availability of a large disciplined semiskilled labor force in China. However the decisive factor was the ability of financial capital to freely cross borders, achieved by a sustained campaign by US capitalism to deregulate capital flows dating back to 1945, which consolidated its strategic role in world capitalism and restructured foreign companies to do business in dollars and along American lines.

“By the 1980s and 1990s the greater mobility of financial capital across sectors, space, and time … greatly intensified domestic and international competition at the same time as it brought a much greater degree of financial volatility. … The networks of transnational production as well as finance that characterized [globalization] more than ever linked other capitalist states and economies to American capitalism’s central place in global capitalism. This was seen in the extent to which other countries’ exports depended on access to the US consumer market, and in the increasingly integrated production networks that emanated from US [multinational corporations’] foreign direct investment, on the one hand, and the flow of global investment into the US itself on the other.” [Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Empire: The Political Economy of American Empire, Verso 2012:20, 311]

Financial capital and the development of new financial instruments such as complex derivatives functioned in this scenario to smooth out and accelerate capital flows between the developing countries and metropolitan markets, eventually driving the integration of global economies. At the same time it made them vulnerable to possible interruptions of the flow of capital in the form of a crisis.

Panitch and Gindin comment: “The development of derivative markets provided risk insurance in a complex global economy without which the internationalization of capital via trade and FDI would otherwise have been significantly restricted. … By the 1980s and 1990s the greater mobility of financial capital across sectors, space, and time (especially via derivatives—that is, financial capital’s quality as general or ‘abstract’ capital) —greatly intensified domestic and international competition at the same time as it brought a much greater degree of financial volatility. … [This] was accepted because financial markets had become so crucial to the domestic and global expansion of capitalism in general.” [2012:14, 20]

Because of the centrality of finance to capitalist production and accumulation, financial capitalists are able to cream off and concentrate the surplus value generated by the system, shifting power away from production. Derivatives and bond funds soon became the target of hedge funds and venture capitalists seeking higher profits through the exponential expansion of debt. Their insistence on austerity to repay bond loans has collapsed the economies of Puerto Rico and Greece, and looks likely to soon bankrupt Europe.

These structural changes in capitalism are permanent: this is what the left has to grasp and confront. But the extension of global capitalism has also globalized resistance: in China, for example, strikes and worker protests have increased noticeably over the 1,400 strikes recorded in 2014. In the US, although unions face declining membership and hostile laws, strikes and battles over factory recognition continue.

Significantly, workers involved in the supply chain in shipping, transport and warehousing have begun to challenge the employment agencies that supply labor to large corporations like Walmart. Their essentiality to the process of realization of surplus value gives them more leverage than they realize. Moreover, struggles of the lowpaid are merging with the Black Lives Matter fight: the Fight for 15 campaign called for boycotts and protests against shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, but the largest demonstration targeting Black Friday shopping was in Chicago protesting the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Many elite stores in the high-end North Michigan Avenue were shut down, including Nieman Marcus and the Apple Store.

The anti-Wall Street message of the Occupy movement continues to resonate in the 2016 US presidential elections, with the leading Democratic candidates calling for strengthening of regulations on the financial industry. While none of their measures will reverse the structural changes in capitalism that have led to the dominance of big finance, they anticipate the mobilization of the public against the monopolization and commodification of all human needs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fight for 15, finance capital, marxism, political economy, Uncategorized

Bold Expansion of Fight for $15 Campaign as it Challenges Presidential Hopefuls


Fight for 15 protesters outside the Republican primary debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday

Fight for 15 protesters outside the Republican primary debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday

The political process in America has become dominated by a clash between the power of big money in elections on one hand, and a deep-seated public hostility to the sway that corporations and the rich wield over government on the other, a clash intensified by the rampant growth of inequality while wages remain stagnant.

At the same time, the racial hierarchy is challenged by minority youth who are no longer prepared to accept being treated as second-class citizens by the authorities and the police. In the universities, the self-assertion of a new generation of students is an important reflection of this social change. African American students at the University of Missouri this week forced two top officials to resign over their lack of response to racist incidents on campus, and the dean of Claremont McKenna College in California also resigned amid similar protests. At Ithaca College in New York State, thousands of students, faculty and staff walked out demanding the sacking of the college president. The protesters accuse him of responding inadequately to racist incidents, including one where an African-American graduate was repeatedly called a “savage” by two white male alumni.

Meanwhile the Fight for $15 campaign is having an impact on the political dialog as it expresses growing discontent over low wages across the racial divide. Its under-reported day of action on Tuesday mobilized thousands of fast food workers who struck their jobs in 270 cities, joining many thousands more who marched on local city halls to demand that political candidates support an increase in the minimum wage if they want the workers’ votes.

Developments like this disconcert white Republicans, whose anger is driven by resentment at the loss of white privilege as well as distrust of government. But the rise of populism in the electorate coincides with skepticism that the leaders of either party can do anything to halt the slide in living standards or jobs. This is why the Republican rank and file is paradoxically supporting outlier candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the presidential primaries rather than the establishment contenders. Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz noted that “a sense of anger” at the decline of the American middle class is common to both Republicans and Democrats, but “the problem is that on the Republican side there’s anger, but it’s basically inchoate.”

Whether or not Trump continues to lead the polls, he has brought to the fore a major gulf between the Republican establishment’s policies and its ageing constituency. His slogans and demeanor resonate with voters like Steve Trivett, a newspaper editor in Florida. who told the Washington Post: “When America was great, our economy was strong. Our economy’s been shipped off to other countries. Can Donald Trump solve that? Hell, I don’t know. Somebody not as flamboyant or egomaniacal might be more effective, but I’m not sure anybody can bring us back. At least Trump gets things done.”

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich was surprised to find that many Tea Partiers and Republicans he met on a recent book tour of the Southern states agreed with his critique of capitalism. “Most condemned what they called ‘crony capitalism,’ by which they mean big corporations getting sweetheart deals from the government because of lobbying and campaign contributions,” he said. “They see Trump as someone who’ll stand up for them – a countervailing power against the perceived conspiracy of big corporations, Wall Street, and big government.” While conservative leaders want to cut Social Security and Medicare, a majority of Republican voters, along with the rest of the public, wants to keep them funded or even expanded.

Ironically, this is a major plank of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ platform, along with opposition to corporate control of the political process, but while he has succeeded in pushing Hillary Clinton into a more populist position, his message of defending middle class living standards is not reaching many African Americans and Latinos who in the main have historically been excluded from the middle class and instinctively turn to a stronger federal government for protection, which they identify with the Clinton dynasty.

In support of the Fight for 15 day of action, Sanders joined employees of federal contractors who gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday instead of reporting for work and then staged sit-ins at government building cafeterias. Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton tweeted that low-wage workers’ actions are “changing our country for the better.” Predictably, when Republican politicians were asked if they supported a higher minimum wage during Tuesday’s televised debate, they all replied no. But the fact the question was asked at all was due to the presence of hundreds of Fight for 15 protesters outside the Milwaukee venue. After the debate, the Fight for $15 sent out a text message to supporters: “BREAKING: Donald Trump just said: ‘Wages are too high.’ #Fightfor15 response: See you in Nov 2016.”

The core of the Fight for 15 movement is fast food workers who are overwhelmingly black and Latino, but on Tuesday they were joined by FedEx freight handlers, T-Mobile retail employees, Price Rite retail employees, auto part workers and farm workers, as well as employees of federal contractors, home-care and child-care workers and other low-wage workers.

Significantly, the campaign has expanded further into the anti-union deep South and has taken on board the police killing of African Americans and immigration rights. For the first time, protesters in Selma, Alabama and in Gainesville and Tallahassee, Florida, joined the walkouts, together with workers in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Letisha Irby, who works at a factory making car seats for Hyundai in Selma, Alabama, drove 76 miles after her shift to join a protest in Tuscaloosa. She only makes $12 an hour after working at the plant for 10 years. Irby is a supporter of the United Auto Workers, who have been trying to organize her plant in Selma and have so far not succeeded.

In Chicago, Fight for 15 protesters marched to police headquarters calling for the firing of Dante Servin, the officer who shot and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd three years ago. And in Manhattan, Juan Sanchez reported that “leaders of the Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights movements joined ranks in a united front with Fight for 15. Their placards proclaimed the new alliance’s slogan: ‘Economic Justice = Racial Justice = Immigrant Justice.’ ‘Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 should be united because in both cases it’s largely about minority people,’ Shawnette Richardson, 43, said.” Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, linked the campaign against police abuse to the Fight for 15, noting it was time to “make the politicians pay attention.”

The convergence of the campaign against low wages with the Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights movements has provoked a rethink of the relation between economic and political struggles. In These Times editor David Moberg commented: “Although SEIU, which has helped to finance the Fight for $15, has been a strong advocate of immigrant and black workers’ causes, it has also—like most unions—seen economic issues as a route to solidarity among workers of all racial or ethnic heritages. But the explosion of concern in black communities over police practices—from profiling to abuse of force—has produced pressure on a group like Fight for $15 to take on a broader agenda. It is also prompting SEIU to examine more deeply how to win white workers’ support for these hot-button issues for its black members, whether it’s crime in their neighborhoods or police misconduct.”

Such a project marks a major expansion of the campaign’s horizons. It could form the nucleus of a new political movement that transcends existing racial and cultural divisions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Black Lives Matter, donald trump, Fight for 15, republican primaries, seiu