Chicago police justify another killing

Raasan "Lil B" ShawRaasan “Lil B” Shaw

RAASON “LIL B” SHAW was chased down and shot to death by Chicago police on March 29 in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

The police claim the shooting was justified. They say Shaw was seen participating in a suspected drug transaction. When officers confronted him, he fled the scene. Police claim they cornered him in the gangway between two buildings, and Shaw drew .40 caliber Glock handgun, with an extended magazine and laser sight attachment, and pointed it at the officers who then opened fire.

But the more than 100 people who gathered in protest afterward near the site of the killing contradict the police version of events–and residents of Woodlawn, a working class and poor Black neighborhood located a few blocks west of the esteemed University of Chicago, confirm that there are many reasons to be suspicious of another CPD claim that their officers acted in self-defense when they killed another African American youth.

Friends of Shaw say he didn’t have a weapon on him at the time he was confronted. Woodlawn resident Tony Smith, who lives a block away from where Shaw was killed, said a street dealer wouldn’t be likely to have a weapon and drugs on him at the same time. Even if he did, Smith said, it’s even less likely that a street dealer would possess a sophisticated weapon like the one police claim they found at the scene.

Shaw’s friends told reporters he was shot seven times in the back–which also casts doubt on the cops’ story that Shaw pointed a weapon at the officers chasing him.

Other residents doubt the CPD’s claim that officers witnessed a supposed “hand-to-hand narcotics transaction.” According to Woodlawn natives, police use any physical contact between pedestrians as an excuse to move in. “You can’t even pass a cigarette to somebody without the police jumping on you,” said one resident.

Shaw’s family members told reporters he probably ran because he knew he was wanted a for missing a court date on a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge. Shamika Jordan, who hired Shaw to clean out foreclosed houses, told ABC News: “He had a troubled past, but he was trying to get his life together. He had started working. Comes to work every day on time. I had no complaints about him.”

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POLICE SHOOTINGS and harassment are all too common in communities of color like Woodlawn. Residents interviewed after the shooting described aggressive police tactics, used against all residents, but especially larger groups of young Black people, particularly young men.

Woodlawn has high levels of crime, including violence connected to drugs. But Tony Smith challenged the police and media story that this is the result of a “few bad seeds.” He had a one-word answer for the source of Woodlawn’s high crime rate: “Poverty.” Crime is the result of the economic starvation of communities like Woodlawn–lack of resources and opportunities put pressure on poor and working class residents to resort to alternative means to survive.

Increased police repression is a part of the problem, not a solution. The cops are dispatched to low-income neighborhoods not to prevent crime, but to contain the poor and squelch discontent. Harassment and violence is epidemic in areas suffering decreased resources for education, well paying jobs and decent housing.

The question for working class and poor communities of color is: What must be done? What needs to occur to begin to solve some of the problems affecting them, such as police violence, substandard housing, job scarcity, poor educational opportunities and weak political representation?

In the days after the shooting death of Raason Shaw, the Woodlawn community took bold action by taking to the street and protesting the police. Notably, these protests crossed gang lines without incident. More communities of color need to protest racist policing.

Speaking out against racist policies and the racist policing that enforces them can galvanize the community into fighting for broader issues, like jobs, substandard housing, schools and the capitalist system that creates them.

Communities of color can’t expect help that they need from police or politicians or the business community. As South Side political activist Zenobia Spencer put it, “We need a mass revolutionary movement–one that isn’t scared to stand up for our rights, one that is built and controlled by the people, for all people.”

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

UPS backs down over firings

Members and supporters of Teamsters Local 804 rally in defense of 250 fired workersMembers and supporters of Teamsters Local 804 rally in defense of 250 fired workers

UPS WAS forced to retract pink slips issued to 250 drivers at the Maspeth, Queens, hub, who walked off the job for 90 minutes on February 26 to protest the unjust firing of a fellow driver. That driver, Jairo Reyes, was also reinstated as part of UPS’s agreement with Teamsters Local 804, which represents UPS workers in New York City.

UPS is one of the country’s largest companies with a unionized workforce. The mass firings in Queens were meant to make an example out of Local 804 and intimidate UPS workers across the country, many of whom have voted down local supplements to the national UPS contract.

Instead, the rank-and-file members and leaders of Local 804 set an important example by showing that job actions and solidarity still work. It was a nearly two-month-long fight, but when it was over, 250 workers had saved their union brother’s job by risking their own necks.

That action came at a price. Local 804 was forced to accept 10-day suspensions for the drivers and pay monetary damages for packages not delivered on the morning of the walkout. Unions and labor activists should consider holding fundraisers to help out the suspended drivers and their union.

Reyes himself will return to work without management retracting the original charges against him–that he was “stealing” time by reporting to work early, even though managers had approved the early start time so he could get a spot at the loading dock on his delivery route. Reyes and his coworkers believe the charges were an act of retaliation for a mass grievance against seniority rules that Reyes signed. “I’m happy to know that everyone’s back, and that I’ll be back,” Reyes said. “It’s just a little disappointing, in that UPS hasn’t cleared my name. I feel like I’ve been slandered.”

On the other hand, in addition to reinstating the drivers, UPS “agreed to work with Local 804 to improve labor-management relations at the company and to handle disciplinary disputes more expeditiously under the new grievance procedure,” according to a statement released by the union. Time will tell if UPS follows through on these promises, but they already represent an embarrassing public admission by the company that it has a management problem.

Local 804 was able to win significant support from the public and local elected officials, who threatened UPS with the loss of some of its sweetheart deals with the city around taxes and parking tickets. The Working Families Party, a union-backed political party that usually endorses Democratic candidates, helped the union get over 100,000 signatures on petitions demanding that the pink slips be revoked.

Meanwhile, the International leadership of the Teamsters finally broke its silence around the dispute. Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall flew to New York to help mediate the settlement between UPS and Local 804. While it may seem odd for the International to play a mediating role and not be firmly on the side of its own local, it’s significant that the solidarity campaign for the Maspeth drivers finally forced International President James Hoffa Jr. to get involved.

While the support of politicians and sort-of-support from the International was important, the key players in this struggle were the workers of Local 804 and their elected leadership. Their walkout inspired solidarity from UPS workers and labor activists across the country. Throughout the struggle, the drives didn’t back down from asserting their right to take action–even after UPS raised the stakes by firing drivers. They deserve the victory they won against Big Brown.

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Days before the settlement was reached, Jairo Reyes’ son Eric wrote a statement to explain why the public should support the Maspeth drivers. With Eric’s permission, we are publishing his statement here:

I WOULD like to bring to the attention of the public a story that seems to be lost in the shuffle. On February 14, a 48-year-old man was fired from his job. See, to the general public that is all that is known. The truth of the matter is there is much more to the story.

This man in question is a father, a husband, a volunteer to the community. The man in question is my father. I will imagine at this point that anyone reading this will jump to the conclusion that I am offering a biased opinion. For argument’s sake, I would be inclined to agree. But the truth of the matter is that what I have to say is based purely on facts, which could be proven at a moment’s notice.

My father is a 24-year veteran of UPS, or at least he was. I myself am 26 years old; I can’t remember him working elsewhere. My earliest memories consist of my father donning the brown-and-yellow uniform, and walking out of our house early in the morning. This memory is constant; the variable is the conditions surrounding these mornings. In the hottest of heat waves and the coldest of winters, rain, snow, sleet or hail, that man put on his uniform, his boots and marched out of our door. He would wake up an hour earlier just to leave us breakfast, or drive us to school.

Honestly, I took most of that for granted for a large part of my life. Let’s be real, during most of our adolescences, our parents are basically our ATM. They pay the bills, they feed us, and they care for us when we need them to. Sometimes, they care for us when we aren’t even aware of the need.

Delivering boxes, my father was able to fulfill parts of what we all consider to be the American Dream. My parents bought a house, they moved us to an area where we could safely grow up and learn. I must say I had a rather pleasant upbringing.

Most of us print out our shipping labels, slap them on our packages and forget about them. Many of us order things and patiently wait for them to magically show up at our doorsteps or offices. Those packages have given me a college education, health care, meals and the ability to enjoy aspects of life. I don’t speak only for myself when I say that your Amazon orders, your Christmas presents, your tax returns, your divorce papers have helped pave the way for a chunk of the generation emerging today.

This story isn’t only about me, or him. I have a mother and I have a sister. My mother, along with my father, has worked incredibly hard to make sure that one day we enjoy a life that is better than the life handed to them. I must say they have succeeded; we ate whatever we wanted, wore whatever we wanted, traveled to so many different places. I went to a private university, and my sister is slated to do the same.

My mother is an accountant; she works 60 hours a week from January to April 15, and works 40 hours a week the rest of the year. Now, most of you must be saying, “Big deal, most accountants do that.” I once again agree with the conclusion you have jumped to, but please let me tell you where this is relevant. In the summer of 2000, my mother suffered two strokes. She was misdiagnosed at the hospital initially and received proper treatment eight days later. I was 12. If it had not been for the health care benefits my father had, we would have lost my mother. My sister and I would have grown up without the love and care of one of the most remarkable people I know.

My sister is to begin college in August. She plans on being a physical therapist. I applaud her; she’s worked a lot harder than I ever did growing up. She is genuinely excited to spend the next six years of her life deprived of sleep and free time.

The point I am trying to make (sorry if this has dragged on) is the fact that without my father’s job, my family is left out to dry. My sister won’t be able to afford to move on with her plan of being a physical therapist, the house we grew up in will go into default, and the health of my family will be in danger. My mom needs medical attention a little more than the average person, my father has a thyroid condition that requires him to take a pill every day of his life. If he stops taking said the pill, he runs a severe risk of having a major cardiac event.

My father has given his life to this company. He has given them his body as well: two knee surgeries and a shoulder injury. This seems like the medical history of a professional athlete. No, this is the medical history of a father of two, who delivered your packages in all sorts of weather, with a smile on his face.

My father has never once complained about how hard he works. He has spent more hours in that brown truck than he has in our own home. My father has never been a dishonest man; he has never taken a dollar or an object that doesn’t belong to him. His customers love him and his coworkers admire him (which was made clear on February 26). His firing without proof is an injustice, in a country where we are taught that the truth prevails and justice will set us free. The reality seems to be that corporations who carry a big stick can do what they please.

I applaud the efforts of local government coming to the aid of all of those affected by this rash decision. I thank the efforts of my father’s coworkers and Teamster brothers. My heart goes out to all the other families with bills, kids, health problems and stories of their own. All the families who now face the same hardship that my family and I face today.

I understand that I am but a faceless voice; I carry no weight in the greater picture of this issue. I just want to be heard, I want everyone’s voice to be heard. Sometimes, it takes a group of courageous great men and women to make a difference. If it weren’t for people like my father and his coworkers, we wouldn’t have half the labor laws we have today.

Even bolder than that statement, if a group of individuals hadn’t gotten fed up with injustices, we wouldn’t have a lot of things we have today. Do I need to point them out? Independence, freedom, equal rights, just to name a few. Instead of casting judgment blindly, educate yourself to the cause and perhaps help make a change.

Thank you.

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

Soborno institucionalizado

U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

ESTA NO es la primera vez que averiguamos que a la Corte Suprema de los Estados Unidos realmente le preocupa por “libertad de expresión” cuando se trata de ayudar a los ricos a compran más influencia política.

A principios de abril, el alto tribunal anunció su fallo en el caso McCutcheon v/s la Comisión Electoral Federal, eliminando el límite a las contribuciones políticas de cada individuo. Esta era una de las pocas restricciones que quedaban de las reformas aprobadas después del escándalo Watergate que derribó a Richard Nixon en la década de 1970.

Por una mayoría de 5-4, los jueces dictaminaron que el tope de $123.200 en donaciones a candidatos, partidos y comités de acción política, por cada ciudadano, en cada ciclo electoral bianual, es una restricción inconstitucional a la libertad de expresión. El límite eliminado es mucho mayor que el ingreso total de una familia obrera durante dos a?os, así que queda claro que esta decisión es acerca de la muy, muy onerosa “libertad de expresión” del 1 por ciento.

En 2010, la Corte Suprema también utilizó la excusa de la libertad de expresión para sangrar los derechos políticos de las grandes mayorías, cuando anuló las regulaciones al gasto político de las corporaciones, asociaciones industriales y otros organismos, en la infame decisión Ciudadanos Unidos v/s la Comisión Federal Electoral.

Ese fallo fue ovacionado por tal paladín de la justicia y la igualdad como el fracasado candidato presidencial de 2012, Newt Gingrich, quien dijo que la decisión “igualaría a la clase media y a los ricos”. ?Cómo? Gingrich no dio más detalles, pero habló con entusiasmo a favor del argumento del juez Clarence Thomas, que esencialmente abrió la puerta a un desafío a la ley electoral que pueda eliminar el límite a las donaciones a candidatos , 2.600 dólares por ciclo electoral. “Los candidatos debieran poder aceptar cantidades ilimitadas de dinero de cualquiera”, dijo Gingrich.

O en el mundo de Newt Gingrich: un gobierno de, por y para los ricos.

El fallo McCutcheon encaja perfectamente en una sociedad donde la desigualdad ha alcanzado nuevos máximos. La descomunal influencia política comprada por las corporaciones y los ricos ayuda al 1 por ciento a apropiarse de una parte cada vez más desproporcionada de la producción económica; lo que le permite comprar aún más influencia política; y así sucesivamente.

La verdad no tan oculta, sin embargo, es que el sistema político en Estados Unidos siempre ha sido una herramienta de los individuos más ricos y sus corporaciones –y eso ha sido cierto, no importa cuál de los dos partidos, republicano o demócrata, tenga ventaja en Washington.

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“NO HAY derecho más básico en nuestra democracia que el derecho a participar en la elección de nuestros líderes políticos”, escribió el presidente de la Corte Suprema, John Roberts, quien redactó la opinión de la mayoría en el caso McCutcheon.

Pero según el Centro por una Política Sensible, un total de 1.715 donantes dio la cantidad máxima permitida para todos los comités de partido ($74.600) en el ciclo electoral 2011-12, y 591 dio el máximo a los candidatos federales ($48,600). En otras palabras, esta decisión es acerca del 0,0007 por ciento de los estadounidenses, supuestamente coartados de participar plenamente en el proceso político, porque no podían, legalmente, dar más dinero a sus campeones.

El verano pasado, John Roberts también fue parte de la mayoría cuando la Corte Suprema revocó la Sección 4 de la Ley de Derechos Electorales, abriendo el camino para demandar identificación a los votantes y otras leyes similares dise?adas específicamente para hacer más difícil a afro-americanos, latinos y los pobres “a participar en la elección de nuestros líderes políticos”.

En su conjunto, la intención de estas resoluciones no es difícil de deducir: eliminar el poco poder político que a los desposeídos les queda y eliminar las pocas restricciones aun en el camino de los poderosos. Como escribió el profesor de derecho de Harvard, Lawrence Lessig:

Ya tenemos un sistema en el cual el Congreso depende de la más peque?a fracción del 1 por ciento para financiar sus campa?as. He estimado que el número de donantes relevantes es de 150 mil (aproximadamente el número en EE.UU. con el nombre “Lester”). Si los límites de contribuciones agregadas son eliminados [como la Corte Suprema hizo en el caso McCutcheon], ese número será reducido drásticamente. Más será recaudado entre un menor número de contribuyentes –tal vez tan sólo 40.000 (aproximadamente el número de estadounidenses con el nombre “Sheldon”).

Así que la abolición de los límites agregados nos traerá de Lesterland a Sheldon City, aumentando la dependencia en los donadores de fondos, y entrando en conflicto con la promesa de Madison de un Poder del Estado “dependiente sólo del pueblo”.

La verdades dicha: los ricos ya tenían maneras de eludir las restricciones al financiamiento de campa?as.

Considere al magnate de casinos Sheldon Adelson. Según los reporteros de ProPublica, Adelson gastó al menos $98.000.000 en el ciclo electoral 2011-12, principalmente a través de donaciones millonarias a enormes Comités de Acción Política (súper-PAC, por sus siglas en inglés) y otros vehículos de “dinero negro” que le permitieron evadir los límites ahora abolidos. Adelson dio $30 millones a un súper-PAC que apoyó a Mitt Romney, y antes de eso, $20 millones al súper-PAC que respaldó la malograda campa?a de Newt Gingrich por la nominación presidencial republicana.

Hay otros mecanismos comunes para evitar el límite individual. “Empaquetar”, por ejemplo, o la práctica de las empresas que canalizan “paquetes” de contribuciones máximas de ejecutivos individuales, en lugar de la entrega de un solo cheque.

“Empaquetar” fue el secreto del éxito en la recaudación de fondos de la campa?a del demócrata Barack Obama. El mito dice que Obama recaudó su enorme arca electoral de “peque?os donantes” que dieron de $10 a $20 cada uno. Pero, según el New York Times, el número de contribuciones “empaquetadas” de donantes ricos a la campa?a de Obama en 2008, casi eclipsó “los 147 millones de dólares recaudados para el Presidente Bush por su red de Pioneros y Rangers con contribuciones de $1,000 o más, durante las primarias de 2004″.

Los patrones gringos y sus dos partidos políticos ya buscaban maneras de circunvalar las leyes de financiamiento de campa?as incluso antes de que fueran promulgadas. Los fallos de la Corte Suprema, como en el caso McCutcheon, sólo hacen las cosas más fáciles para la élite –y exponen al sistema por lo que realmente es: soborno institucionalizado.

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EN LA historia de Estados Unidos, el poder político en Washington ha sido la propiedad privada de aquellos que pueden pagar. Mark Hanna –el primer recaudador moderno de fondos político, y pieza fundamental de la aplastante victoria del Partido Republicano sobre los demócratas y los populistas en las elecciones de 1896–hizo la mejor descripción: “Hay dos cosas que son importantes en la política. La primera es el dinero, y la segunda… no la puedo recordar”.

Esto es tan cierto hoy como siempre, sólo que ahora las sumas son astronómicas. El costo medio de una campa?a para la Cámara de Representantes –y recuerde que la abrumadora mayoría de estas contiendas son poco competitivas– fue de más de $1.4 millones en 2008, tres veces más que hace 20 a?os.

Pero de alguna manera, las donaciones electorales son poca cosa en comparación a la liga mayor del dinero en Washington: el cabildeo.

Los intereses empresariales de todos los sectores de la economía tienen operaciones de cabildeo en Washington todos los días del a?o. Los sindicatos y las organizaciones políticas que representan causas liberales son libres de hacer esto también, pero no le llegan ni a la rodilla en recursos a las corporaciones estadounidenses.

En el a?o 2009, cuando el gobierno de Obama y el Congreso comenzaban a debatir la legislación de la reforma de la salud, los principales grupos de la industria del cuidado de la salud gastaron un promedio de $1.400.000 cada día en cabildeo –lo que cuesta una campa?a a la cámara baja– según Common Cause. Eso equivale a alrededor de $2.600 diarios por cada congresista –representante o senador.

La industria del cuidado de la salud logró lo que quería. Las reformas que podrían haber amenazado las ganancias de la industria se mantuvieron “fuera de la mesa”, y la propuesta que formó el núcleo de la eventual legislación fue escrita por un ex ejecutivo de una compa?ía de seguros que trabaja para el senador demócrata Max Baucus.

No es de extra?ar, por tanto, que el debate político se limite a un espectro muy estrecho, que rara vez o nunca desafía el poder corporativo, y las elecciones se convierten en una competencia entre candidatos y partidos que están de acuerdo en mucho más de lo que nos dejan saber, y sólo difieren en detalles, cuando difieren en algo.

Con la Corte Suprema destripando incluso las inadecuadas restricciones a las corporaciones en millonarios estadounidenses para comprar influencia política, está claro que no hay esperanza de encontrar una solución dentro del sistema. El juego ha sido arreglado desde el inicio.

Pero el dinero no es el único factor en la política. En la historia norteamericana, así como en la del todo el mundo, los movimientos por la justicia social –el movimiento obrero, el movimiento por los derechos civiles, el movimiento por los derechos de la mujer, por citar algunos ejemplos –han logrado cambios significativos, al confiar en el poder de la lucha de masas, en lugar de los hondos bolsillos de la clase dominante. Ahí es donde reside la esperanza por una alternativa al estatus quo.

Traducido por Orlando Sepúlveda

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

The movement needs to keep moving

Idle No More activists march through Victoria in British ColumbiaIdle No More activists march through Victoria in British Columbia

From the Opaskawayak Cree Nation and organizer with the First Nations-led Idle No More movement

CAN WE stop the tipping point? From my understanding, we can’t. We’re already tipped. That doesn’t necessarily mean doom and gloom, but rather that we have to acknowledge we are at a time and a place in the history of humanity and the earth, and also maybe the universe, where the energy has shifted.

You can think of the tipping point in scientific terms–in terms of the destruction of the planet and humanity. But you can also think of it metaphorically–that it’s inevitable that we have to be activists. We have to do something, and consciousness-raising is at the heart of that.

It’s linked to education, but it’s very much not just awareness, but going beyond awareness to advocacy and activism and action. That’s how I would understand the question, and how it fits into our family and maybe Swampy Cree cosmology. Can we stop it? I don’t think so, but can we change it? Yes, I think so.

I think we need to continue the struggle, and we need to be relentless. We need to be bold, and we need to be creative. We need artists, we need scholars, we need children–this has to be on a mass global level. When you have enough people taking part in actions, then change can definitely happen. That’s the hopefulness of it.

I always return to the Cree philosophy sakihiwawin–showing love in our actions. I think that philosophy is there for a reason–it has not only sustained us, but enabled us to survive for 50,000-plus years. It’s a natural law, or energy, and when it is interfered with, there are physical and spiritual consequences. So perhaps what we are seeing today, the tipping point, is the culmination of these consequences having a collective impact on the environment.

This tipping point has happened so quickly–it’s unbelievable how rapid the destruction has been, so we’ve got to confront it. It’s a global imperative.

SocialistWorker.org asked activists and writers to answer one of the most pressing questions facing the movement for environmental justice.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to fly over Northern Manitoba, or other places where there are so many lakes left from the last Ice Age, it’s really unbelievable to see, and to know that people live down here, because you can see that it’s all water.

We are very much at the mercy of nature. But now, we’ve constructed these waterways so that major corporations actually control them. For almost every waterway that connects to the U.S. border or to the Hudson Bay, Ducks Unlimited and Manitoba Hydro have complete control over them.

The water levels of the rivers that connect into lakes are all regulated. So when there’s a flood like last year, nature just takes over, and all of these artificial changes we have made to the environment fail. The potential for disaster is amplified. With continued climate change, the situation is getting worse.

In our community, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, we have this company Omnitrax, which is shipping tar sands oil by train, right past our First Nation and other communities in the North, up to the Port of Churchill on Hudson Bay. For those of us who grew up there and live there, we know that this train, whether it’s hauling grain or whatever, derails all the time. And so now we have the reality of this tar sands oil derailing and polluting. It will happen.

Probably most of the Native people feel a spiritual connection to the land, but I think non-Native people who choose to live up north because they love it–they want to fish, they want to hunt, and they enjoy being there–want clean water and air. They need to be concerned about this as well.

Once you start to see this kind of destruction in your own community, maybe you start to link it to the bigger picture. If we can stop one little thing in one little place, then there’s hope for people to stop it in other places. There’s no action too small, and there’s no action too big.

I think that’s the beauty of Idle No More. People say, “You haven’t been able to stop Stephen Harper and the tar sands.” Well no, but look what we have done. We’ve raised awareness about it–certainly any Native kid on the street, if you stopped them and asked them about the tar sands, they’ll be able to talk to you about it. That educational aspect has been really effective.

In terms of Indigenous rights, we’re uniquely positioned to legally stop further destruction from happening. Environmental groups and human rights groups are understanding that they need to back Indigenous people and this movement, not only for moral and ethical reasons, but also because this may be the last chance we have to stop some of this before it happens, or stop these bills that continually erode environmental rights at the same time as they erode Indigenous rights.

The narrative that we need the oil, we have to have this to run our cars and so on–that’s pervasive. In the same way, they pit Native communities against the environment. In my own community, we’ve got mining companies that are jockeying to get in there, and that’s what they’re saying: We need jobs. Well, we do need jobs–but why can’t the jobs be doing something else or creating sustainable solutions to our energy and resource requirements.

What needs to take place is that we need to keep moving. The definition of movement is the act of moving, right?

I think solidarity is important. Naomi Klein said that climate change is going to be the one issue that unites all these different people and causes, and that could be the case. The more we can share with each other, the better chance we have of getting some kind of a transformative education and awareness taking place.

It’s really important to have solutions in place. People may perceive activists as agitators without any sort of plan. That’s absolutely not true in this case because–there are alternatives to the tar sands and other kinds of extraction, and it’s important to highlight those solutions and the things that people and communities have been doing all along that are working.

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Chicago activist and member of the System Change Not Climate Change coalition.

REPORTS AND studies have shown that industrial pollution, and the corporate attacks on our ecosystem are impacting our climate on a long-term and short-term basis. A lot of the conversation about how to make it possible to prevent or at least suppress further catastrophe are headed in the right direction.

Movements such as the Global Climate Convergence and System Change Not Climate Change, to name a couple, are focusing on confronting the problem at its root cause–challenging the systems and infrastructures that not only allow attacks on our environment, but are financially dependent on them.

One of the questions that has long been missing from the mainstream environmental movement is how to address that fact that although we are all affected by climate change, these attacks on our ecosystem seem to affect the poor, communities of color and First Nations people at alarmingly higher rates.

For an example of this, those of us in Chicago don’t need to look further than the working class neighborhoods, made up mostly of people of color, along the Calumet River in South Chicago. For about six months now, KCBX Terminals, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, has been storing piles of toxic petroleum coke, or petcoke–a dust-like byproduct of tar sands crude oil–out in the open along the river.

Children in the area are not allowed to go out after school because of the fear that the pollution caused by the petcoke can damage their lungs. Community members have stated that many can’t even see out of their windows due to the pollution–and this isn’t to even mention the fact that petcoke is dangerously combustible.

The corporate plan is for the piles of petcoke to eventually be shipped across the river to a BP refinery in Whiting, Ind. To make matters worse, news reports a few weeks ago revealed that the BP refinery was responsible for a spill of up to 600 gallons of oil that had made its way into Lake Michigan, a source of water for millions of people.

The struggle to end environmental racism is a daunting one–as is the fight to get petcoke out of our communities and to hold BP accountable for the spill in Lake Michigan. However, recent victories by our side have made it clear that we can win.

One such victory came on the other side of Lake Michigan, where three members of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI-CATS) were facing serious prison time after they were convicted for their nonviolent protest against the expansion of a pipeline near the Kalamazoo River that had burst just three years prior. In March, the three were given probation and avoided further incarceration. They are back in the streets fighting the corporate attacks on our climate and are actually integral members of the Global Climate Convergence.

When the topic of climate change comes up, the conversation tends to be a pessimistic one–understandably so, as we have seen time and time again that the 1 Percent seems hell-bent on making sure our lands are fracked, our water is privatized or contaminated or both, and our climate becomes more unstable.

But the movement is calling out capitalism as the root cause of this destruction, and fighting for quality health care and education for all, for an end to deportations and mass incarceration and for a living wage. When that movement does win, not only will a society that puts the planet, peace, and people over profit be a reality–so will a world in which we are actually able to live.

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British socialist and author of Stop Global Warming: Change the World

CAN WE stop climate change before we reach the tipping point?

We can’t do it by reducing our consumption. If we had to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, we could do it that way. But we have to cut global emissions by more than 50 percent, emissions in most rich countries by at least 80 percent, and emissions in the U.S. by at least 90 percent.

A 90 percent cut in real living standards would mean average Americans living like people do in Congo now. But it would be worse than that, because people in Congo have farms and lots of ways of getting by cheaply–which is why no one is seriously proposing cuts in living standards on that scale. There would be general revolt and a financial collapse.

But we have to cut emissions by 80 percent to 90 percent. We can’t do it doing what we do now, only less of it. We have to do something different.

That’s possible. To stop the advance of global warming, we have to leave the great majority of current reserves of oil, gas and coal in the ground. Instead, we have to do three major things. We have to build enough wind, solar and other renewable energy to meet all the world’s energy needs. We have to switch from cars to public transportation in order to save energy. We have to winterize and summerize all the homes and buildings in the world. And we have to run all vehicles and heating on electricity from renewables.

We already have the technology. It would take between 100 million and 150 million workers 20 years to do it for the whole world. That, combined with a lot of smaller measures, and quite a bit of regulation, would do the trick.

Those jobs would cost a lot. But cost a lot means that a lot of people would be paid to work. In the U.S., the work that needs doing would mean at least 6 million new jobs–mostly manual work, such as driving buses, fixing houses, and building wind turbines and solar panels. Plus another 3 million jobs in the supply chain. People need those jobs. The government ought to be hiring them now.

Telling people they have to give up most of their income won’t build a movement. Telling people they can win millions of jobs can build one.

Some people say we couldn’t afford the money. But when the banks needed government help, the money was there. If Mother Earth were a bank, the politicians would already have rescued her.

And government spending to solve a great crisis doesn’t bankrupt you. Look at the Second World War. Every great power changed their whole economy to make as many weapons as possible, as fast as possible, to kill as many people as possible and win the war. They hired millions of new workers and new soldiers. The result was not economic collapse. Instead, it ended the Great Depression.

Maybe can’t fix the global economy this time. But we can make millions of new jobs and save the planet.

However, a lot of corporations would lose out–the oil, gas, coal, auto and energy corporations, and the banks that loaned to them. Last year, the 10 largest corporations on earth included Walmart, three car companies and six oil companies.

Moreover, if we spend that much money to save the planet, it will be the end of neoliberalism and austerity. The governments and politicians don’t want that.

On top of that, in the long economic crisis since 2008, all the countries of the world have been competing with each other desperately. No government wants to be the one that loses out by spending on renewable energy or refitted housing or buses.

So the corporations and banks and politicians who rule us have decided to do nothing. Maybe we can build a movement big enough to force them to act in time. I have spent the last 10 years of my life trying to build that movement. I’m not stopping. People have changed the world before, and capitalists have fixed problems before.

But the odds against us are long. We will probably see runaway climate change, with famines, droughts, refugees, wars and hundreds of millions dead. My best guess is this will take place in the lifetimes of most of you reading this.

At that point, everyone will know the world has to change. And the corporations and their politicians will fill the streets with tanks–to control us, to make us do the sacrificing, to prevent the real change that could save the planet and to turn the desperate people of each nation against all the other nations.

At that point, though, humanity could still save the world. We would have to change the whole system. That might–just–be possible. But only if there are a lot of socialists around. And no one will listen to those socialists unless they are already an important and respected part of a mass climate movement.

So get stuck in now.

Karen Domínguez Burke, Andrea Hektor, Ragina Johnson, Alan Maass and Chris Williams helped with this discussion.

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

How will labor be revived?

Chicago teachers march with thousands of supporters during their strikeChicago teachers march with thousands of supporters during their strike

MUCH OF your work is on the rise of American business unionism and the defeat of more progressive visions of unionism. Can you sketch out some of the contours of business unionism in the U.S. briefly?

BUSINESS UNIONISM comes out of the defeat of socialism in the United States. What makes it different from, say, European unionism is the idea that labor doesn’t need any ultimate goals; it doesn’t need a socialist ideology, for sure, or any kind of reform program that projects far into the future.

To a certain extent, it comes out of the conditions in the U.S. about 100 years ago, when we had an employer class that was unrestrained, especially in comparison to a European capitalist class that was not. In most of Europe, you had big government and not-so-big business; here, we had big business and not-so-big government. So the power of the employers to undermine unions was there.

Leaders like Samuel Gompers looked at the idealistic formations like the Knights of Labor and anarchists, and said, “Well, they have not been able to organize the working class, so we have to be practical.” The irony of this, of course, is that some of the inventors of business unionism like Gompers were, in their earlier years, socialists and Marxists. But they drew the opposite conclusions from those politics: that to get along in the U.S., you had to function like a business, and unions needed to develop permanent and friendly relationships with employers.

That’s not unique to the U.S., of course. But the main difference is not whether unions are functioning within capitalism–unions don’t have much choice about that–but the embrace of capitalism as a system that requires reform but not transformation or abolition. So labor leaders begin to think like and even see themselves as business people.

One of the consequences of this is the embrace of the Democratic Party by labor, despite all its disappointments and betrayals. The labor movement in the U.S. is historically unique in that it does not have a labor or social democratic or communist party that it has been allied with–for at least the past century, it’s been allied with a bourgeois party, Democrats. That further limits the vision that people can have.

YOU’VE TAKEN pains within several of your books to say that the crisis within the labor movement is not solely the result of external forces like what’s going on in the economic system–that many of labor’s wounds are self-inflicted through this kind of unionism.

Where we are now is the result of something that goes back to 1979, when we had a managed recession. From the mid-sixties to the seventies, there had been these rank-and-file rebellions, these upsurges–wildcat strikes, leaders thrown out of office, contract rejections, all these things that aren’t supposed to happen in a business union context, because the members were under enormous pressure from what Mike Davis calls the “employers offensive” of the late ’50s and ’60s.

The fight against speedup at factories like Lordstown, Ohio’s GM plant; the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement; by the end of the seventies, these movements were exhausted or defeated. Business unionism reasserted its power.

And so the recession of 1979 arrives. And within a year, strike activity falls by half. (This is, of course, even before PATCO.) In the next two years, the unions lost a quarter of their membership, much of their wage gains–all of it, all at once.

This was a radical change. Even during the rank-and-file rebellions, the idea was that the company and the union would sit down every three years or so, negotiate a new contract, you got an annual raise, and that was the routine. That was over.

Beginning in 1983, there’s a recovery. How did this happen? It happened on the back of the working class. Which maybe wasn’t that odd. But even Marx said that the time the workers have the best opportunity to make economic advances is during an expansionary period for capital; the problem was that got turned on its head, because this expansionary period of capital from 1983 until our most recent recession was the result of the fact that not only did you get an enormous productivity gains of that period, but you got wage compression. Real wages fell throughout the period–and are still below 1973 levels today.

So the old idea that we give them productivity and they give us some wage and benefit increases was out the window. The pattern agreements on which the industrial unions were based in the postwar boom were dismantled in this period, and the whole postwar structure of how collective bargaining was carried out was undermined in this period. And labor’s numbers kept eroding.

Business unionism had no way of dealing with this new situation. It was so used to the tradeoff between productivity and wages and benefits–what do you do when there’s no longer a tradeoff to be had, unless you are willing to take on new ways of fighting?

ONE OF the chapters in the book is your essay from the 1990s, “The Rank-and-File Strategy,” a strategy that militants in unions like the Chicago Teachers Union have successfully employed. What does that strategy look like, and what relationship does it have to the business unionism you’ve described?

THE RANK-and-file strategy is meant to do two things. One, it’s a path for the revival of the labor movement. The traditional business union, top-down methods of fighting (when they do fight) are not going to work in this period, so the involvement and mobilization of the workers of themselves are essential to union revival.

But it is also a strategy for socialists. For half or three-quarters of a century, socialists have been over on one side, and unions have been on the other, and there hasn’t been much interconnection. So how do the socialists who came out of universities, whether in the sixties or seventies or now, reconnect with the unions? Well, with the rank-and-file strategy, you could be involved in these movements–not as a sectarian group but actually organizing within the movement. This could be a way to revive these unions.

The rank-and-file strategy comes out of something that is real in the American labor movement, precisely because we’ve had business unionism for many decades now and because American employers are always aggressive. The activist layer of the rank and file, when it is under enough pressure, is likely to rebel–as they did in the 1960s and 1970s, as they did in the 1930s against craft unionism, as they did in the post-First World War period.

This is when a section of the membership, often with much or most of the membership behind it, takes on the business union leaders and attempts not just to get new faces elected, but to organize and mobilize the ranks of the union, build workplace power, and use that base to transform the union.

Now a lot of these movements have been defeated–which might be cause for pessimism for some. But knowledge from those previous efforts does get passed along, and we learn the lessons from what happened, say, during the upheavals of the sixties and seventies.

It’s not a guarantee that some kind of mass socialist movement will be produced, obviously, but it is an opportunity to reconnect something that’s been broken for a long time between socialist ideas and working class activity.

Now, it might be tempting–especially to anyone who was at the recent Labor Notes conference in Chicago–to wonder if we are at the beginning of one of these upsurges right now. I don’t know–I won’t make a prediction. But there are certainly more rank-and-file movements than I’ve seen in a long time, all at the same time. That can’t be a coincidence. As much as I love Labor Notes’ staff, I can’t say they went out and organized all these movements. There’s something going on.

ON THE other hand, one might wonder if these movements are surging up precisely because the labor movement is at death’s door; that these are its last dying gasps.

WELL, IF you look at the history of the labor movement, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, they always go through these kinds of ups and downs. We haven’t seen an upsurge in a long time, but we have reason to believe that that kind of thing can happen again. And these sort of rank-and-file rebellions do give us some hope that we won’t go over into the final abyss.

But again, I think these things are built into American business unionism–that sooner or later, things change. Usually what changes is the way production is done. For example, some of the first rank-and-file upsurges, like the one in post-World War I or the one in the thirties that produced industrial unionism, were brought on by Fordism and Taylorism. The way people worked changed radically and drastically in the early years of the twentieth century.

The rebellion seems to take about a generation for people to deal with these new work norms. If you look at basic industry through the twenties, people are learning how to deal with mass productive and Taylorism–the cutting up of jobs, the speedup. And they find ways, and then you get the upsurge.

In the eighties, you get lean production. It begins in the automobile industry. It’s a new way of speeding up work, using Taylorism and mass production and all that, but it brings in some new ways of doing that. Now, lean production is everywhere–not just steel mills and car factories, but in hospitals and schools, wherever you look. Labor Notes staff Mike Parker and Jane Slaughter called it “management by stress.”

In the old days, you didn’t want the production line to break down–that was anti-Fordist. Under lean production, you want the system to break down because then you can see the weak points: who isn’t doing the right thing; who isn’t working as fast; if we’ve got eight people working, can we do it with seven? This has been going on since the eighties, along with just-in-time production, with human resource management–telling workers “you’re our most important asset,” “we’re partners,” etc.

And for a while, this had an impact. In the eighties and nineties, workers in these car factories were arguing: “Is this team thing actually a good thing? Maybe it actually gives us some power. They’re actually asking our opinions–nobody’s ever done that before.” There was debate and division among workers on these issues.

But sooner or later, people recognize these things for what they are, and they begin fighting back. And this involves, not surprisingly, rank-and-file mobilization and the recreation of workplace organization. The business unionist has two attitudes towards workplace organization: bureaucratize it, which was the attitude of the United Auto Workers–everything is legalistic, there’s no real independent workplace organization to speak of. The other way is to just get rid of it, which employers would prefer. Leadership of some unions, like SEIU, prefer to get rid of workplace organization.

Again, referring to the Labor Notes conference, there were 2,000 union militants there. What were they talking about? They were talking about workplace organization. That’s because that’s where workers build their power.

THERE HAVE been rank-and-file upsurges in recent years, but the subtitle of your previous book is “The failure of reform from above, the promise of revival from below.” Can you talk about those reforms from above, and other recent reform attempts outside of traditional unions like “alt-labor” groups?

THE THING about American business union leaders is that they’re not all stupid. They figured out way back when that they were in trouble, and something needed to change. You may remember or have read about John Sweeney taking over the AFL-CIO on this program of reorganization and new strategies and tactics in the mid-nineties.

Some of those reforms were good (although all of the reform seemed to be located in Washington, D.C., rather than everywhere). There was a new attitude that was supposed to be more militant. And yet somehow, labor-management cooperation kept being part of this. Quite obviously, the Sweeney-era reforms didn’t work. Membership kept dropping, contracts got worse, wage increases and benefits were being taken away. So that failed.

We had a second try at this with Richard Trumka–a much more militant guy, no doubt about it. And yet, still, reform hasn’t happened.

But these union leaders did come up with some ideas. One of them was, okay, we’re having problems organizing because the whole National Labor Relations Act and National Labor Relations Board system is bankrupt. It has been turned on its head and is now a barrier to unionization.

So what do you do about this? Well, in the old days, you’d have strikes. But that wasn’t so easy anymore. So they came up with the idea of the neutrality agreement. We can’t go through the NLRB anymore, so the thinking goes, because it doesn’t work very often (although many unions still do it). So we’re going to go to the employer and ask them to sign an agreement that they will remain neutral if there is an organizing drive. Accompanying that is often the idea of card check: instead of agreeing to an election, the employer agrees to let us, the union, simply sign up a majority of people on union cards.

So all this sounds pretty good. And in fact, it did work in a number of situations, and using neutrality and card check was very popular for a while–many unions still use them. But the Great Recession seemed to kill them. When these agreements worked, it was often when the union already had a bargaining relationship with the company, and they were going after a subsidiary or something.

But the vast majority of American employers are not interested in neutrality. Of course, if you’re asking the employer to be neutral in an agreement, they’re going to ask something from you. So the company agrees not to badmouth the union, but they also demand that the union not badmouth the company. This is part of the reason why the UAW failed to organize Volkswagen in Chattanooga.

So the neutrality agreement has been, at best, extremely limited, and at worst a failure as an overall strategy, because capital in America is not about to be “neutral” about anything.

Separately, there are the alternative forms of worker organization, particularly workers centers. I think these are good things–don’t get me wrong. They have an important function to play: they bring people into unions, but they also have an independent function, particularly in immigrant communities, of waging fights where it’s not yet possible or it’s too difficult for the workers to organize a union.

But one has to look at the reality of power relationships in society. And the reality is that these organizations do not have much social power. They’re also often funded by foundations, which is a tricky business–I’m not saying that they shouldn’t take that money, but it can be a bit of a problem.

So they’re a good development, but they’re not going to solve the problem of the working class and of the labor movement.

Now, the latest thing in top-down reform at the last AFL-CIO convention is to embrace the idea of these alt-labor organizations. In one sense, that’s a very good thing. But in another sense, it’s like the top leadership of the labor movement saying, “The way we’re going to solve our problem is to bring in somebody else,” when the fundamental problem of the weakness of American unions is not being addressed.

The good thing about some of the organizations that have come along is that they raise ideas that labor needs to pay attention to–not just the leadership, but the members, too. They emphasize that direct action has to be part of the package. If you don’t disrupt, if you don’t bring things to a halt, if you don’t stop business as usual, you’re not going to be able to successfully fight back. All of that is essential. But labor-community coalitions are not going to be a panacea.

YOU WERE one of the founders of Labor Notes, which turned 35 this year. In reading your first book An Injury to All, I was struck by your analysis of the problems of the rank-and-file upsurges in American labor history and how Labor Notes seems to have been created in order to address some of those shortcomings and to create more durable and connected rank-and-file fightbacks in the future. How would you assess the success of Labor Notes as a project?

IT’S BEEN a surprising success. Looking back at the seventies, there were all these rank-and-file efforts: the United National Caucus in the UAW, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Steelworkers Fight Back, Miners for Democracy, Teamsters for a Democratic Union–not just local, but national movements. All of these things had an impact on the atmosphere at the time.

But the problem was that they didn’t relate to each other. Each one would have a handful of radicals or socialists who would try to connect them, but it wasn’t a class movement in a real sense. And if you look at the history of successful radical movements like these, it’s usually because you have a layer of activists who, across the movement and across the class, function together consciously in order to push the movement forward–in the thirties, this would have be Communists, Trotskyists, etc. We haven’t had anything like that for a long time.

In the latest Labor Notes, Jane Slaughter and Alexandra Bradbury ask, “How do we fan the flames of these movements?” And they say that one of the problems we have in changing the labor movement is that we don’t yet have this self-conscious layer of activists. So when Labor Notes started, and we looked at this fragmented situation, we knew there was a need to somehow connect these things.

Of course, Labor Notes was founded in 1979–just as these movements died. Really bad timing. So we weren’t even able to make an attempt at connecting the upsurges of the seventies, much less succeed.

But the project didn’t fold. So then, when concessions started coming in the eighties, we helped people organize against it. The labor leaders said, “Oh, it’s just the recession–the concessions will go away.” We said, “No. It’s not about the recession–it’s about power relationships.”

Then, when lean production came along, we took it on, because no one else was. In fact, half of academia was telling us that lean production was workers control–it was a great experiment in empowerment. Which was a fraud: workers weren’t being empowered, they were being confused and co-opted. So we confronted lean production when no one else was.

That’s how Labor Notes grew. There was a need for it, so people came to our local “Troublemakers Schools” and national conferences. But for most of that period, we grew incrementally and slowly. What has happened in the last three conferences is a huge leap in attendance. If anyone had asked me ten years ago if we’d have a conference of over 2,000 labor activists, I’d have said, “That’d be nice, but let’s get real.” But there it was this past weekend in Chicago: over 2,000 activists–who, if you listen to their speeches or engage with them in conversation, clearly think of this as a cross-union, class-wide movement.

The ability of Labor Notes to stick through a very difficult period has been critical. Let’s be frank: the Left often has the habit of jumping from one issue to another. “Who’s moving this year? Let’s follow them!” Labor Notes did something different. It said, “Let’s stick with this. We know what it is we want to do.” And I think having that long-term view allowed us to survive and grow, even in the most difficult times. So now, when more people see the need for this kind of fighting unionism, they have a place to go.

First published at Jacobin magazine.

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Where’s our 3 percent raise?

The HowardCenter in Burlington, Vt.The HowardCenter in Burlington, Vt.

LAST YEAR, representatives of AFSCME Council 93 successfully pushed for state legislation in Vermont to appropriate additional funds for a small but much-needed 3 percent wage increase for direct-care service providers at the HowardCenter, the state’s largest human services organization, with programs ranging from crisis and counseling services to support for individuals with disabilities.

The funds were transferred to the Howard Center on November 1 of last year–but none of the money found its way to HowardCenter employees. Last month, in an effort to pressure HowardCenter to honor its legal obligation, AFSCME filed a lawsuit.

But the union isn’t relying only on legal maneuvers to win this battle. On April 8, more than 60 HowardCenter workers and community supporters attended the organization’s board of directors meeting to ask: “Where’s our 3 percent raise?”

Direct-care providers who spoke at the meeting didn’t limit their statements to the issue of the wage increase, either. They took the opportunity to voice longstanding grievances about poverty wages for a highly skilled workforce–many of the positions for direct-care providers require a master’s degrees–and unsustainable workloads.

Alison Seager, a social worker at the HowardCenter for 16 years, said, “I’m an advocate for children and families, but now I need to advocate for myself.” Despite her long career at the HowardCenter, Alison makes only $41,000 a year–just $6,000 over where she started 16 years ago. As a result, last winter, she and her three children had to wear extra clothing because she couldn’t afford to pay a big heating bill.

Alison’s situation isn’t unique. She went on to share stories about colleagues living paycheck to paycheck, with some of them on food stamps. “We take our clients to food shelves, and then we have to go there,” Seager said.

Beth Jacobs, an employee at the HowardCenter for the past year, echoed this sentiment: “We want to inspire people to improve their lives, but we’re drowning in our own caseloads.”

The combination of low wages and ever-increasing workloads has led to an alarmingly high turnover rate. According to Connie Norona, a caseworker in the opium addiction clinic, “Upper-level management is in a ‘punishment’ mindset, with unrealistic expectations about caseloads and paperwork…People are working on their days off and during lunch hours because of the workload.”

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WITH MORE than 1,000 employees, HowardCenter is one of the largest employers in the state of Vermont. Over 95 percent of its funding comes from the state and grants.

According to Jim Durkin, assistant director of legislation for AFSCME Council 93, the current dispute stems from a dispute about the previously agreed to wage increase.

In 2011, the union negotiated a 1.6 percent wage increase for direct-care providers, to go into effect on July 1, 2013.

The board of directors wants to make this 1.6 percent hike a part of the 3 percent raise guaranteed to workers in the state legislation. This means the HowardCenter would essentially be “pocketing” more than half of the taxpayer funds appropriated explicitly for the direct-care providers.

The fight for increased wages coincides with a longer-term strategy by AFSCME to increase the size and strength of its union locals at HowardCenter.

HowardCenter workers unionized back in 1994. However, due to its status as an open shop, the high turnover rate among employees and inadequate resources, the union was small and relatively ineffective. In fact, many employees at HowardCenter are only just now learning that they have a union.

Recently, however, AFSCME began putting resources into building up Council 93. These organizing efforts have been met with significant resistance from HowardCenter management. Union organizers have been have been kicked off HowardCenter parking lots. Unable to talk with employees at work, organizers took to going door to door in order to talk to workers.

Recently, Todd Centybear, the executive director at HowardCenter, and Loraine Jenny, the head of Human Resources, each sent out e-mails portraying AFSCME organizers as out-of-state troublemakers attempting to bully employees into joining the union. In response, AFSCME filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the center.

Despite management’s attempts to marginalize and discredit the union, its efforts have been largely unsuccessful. In just a few months, the union has tripled in size from roughly 60 to 180 members.

The growth in the size and strength of AFSCME Council 93 and the recent victory of the Chittenden County Transportation Authority bus drivers’ strike are signs of growing militancy among Burlington’s working class. Just like the bus drivers, direct-care service providers are taking a stand for livable jobs.

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We’re sick of poverty wages

Fight for 15 activists in Los Angeles focus their anger at McDonald's (Michael Brown | SW)Fight for 15 activists in Los Angeles focus their anger at McDonald’s (Michael Brown | SW)

JOSé PAZ, a worker at McDonald’s and member of the Fight for 15 Los Angeles Organizing Committee, told a crowd of more than 50 supporters that he couldn’t initially “look his manager in the eye” during a clergy-led delegation inside of the restaurant, where a letter was presented asking among other things that the restaurant’s employer not retaliate against union-organizing efforts.

Paz’s trepidation and fear while confronting his manager was eased, he said, as he and several other co-workers from the South LA restaurant, located two blocks from the University of Southern California campus, were supported at the April 3 protest by local Burger King workers, progressive clergymen, members of the Brown Berets, as well as representatives from the Black Workers Center and Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance.

A street theater skit, which featured actors dressed as Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar, drew laughter and cheers from those attending and honks from passing motorists–especially when the gathered McDonald’s workers staged a mock arrest of both characters for the crime of wage theft.

Kidding aside, wage theft–particularly by McDonald’s–is no laughing matter. In the past two months alone, lawsuits filed in three states against McDonald’s alleging wage theft and other penalties to employees have tarnished the finely coiffed image of the “golden arches.”

Workers in California, New York and Michigan filed suits against the franchise and individual franchise owners citing wage theft. The alleged theft includes workers being forced to work off the clock, denial of overtime and denial of rest breaks. In one of the more egregious cases, McDonald’s in New York had a suit filed against it for violating the state’s minimum wage laws by mandating employees buy their own uniforms, a considerable cost to workers just scraping by on starvation wages.

Also, in February, a franchise in Pennsylvania was ordered by the U.S. Labor Department to pay $211,000 in back wages to 291 employees, while an owner of seven McDonald’s franchises in New York paid out a $500,000 settlement for underpaying employees.

Certainly, workers at the South L.A. restaurant are feeling the brunt of the company’s pattern of wage theft and felt compelled to do something about it, born out by the fact that nine of them signed a flier which read at the top: “END WAGE THEFT NOW!”

“Today, we’re here to tell McDonald’s we’re sick of [its] theft, disrespect, and [its] poverty wages,” said Samuel Quintero, a member of the Organizing Committee.

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QUINTERO ALSO detailed personal experiences he’s suffered, such as being denied 10-minute breaks and having to rent out his room so that his family could pay the month’s rent and “afford our bare necessities.”

McDonald’s paltry wages aren’t due to a lack of revenue. In fact, CEO Don Thompson was paid nearly $14 million in 2012. Last year, as well, workers generated $28 billion in sales, leaving the company with $5.5 billion in profits.

The fast food industry additionally benefits by paying employees such substandard wages that many workers are forced to seek public assistance, including, ironically, food stamps–thereby passing along costs that the companies might otherwise have to pay to the public.

According to a study released last year by the National Employment Law Project titled Super-Sizing Public Costs, the fast food industry costs American taxpayers almost $7 billion annually when its employees are forced to use public-assistance programs. McDonald’s employees account for the biggest portion at $1.2 billion. That should come as no surprise considering that McDonald’s, like its fellow low-wage twin Wal-Mart, actively encourages workers to apply for food stamps.

Such low-wage service jobs, even when supplemented with public assistance, don’t go far, especially in places with a high cost of living like Los Angeles. The situation is exacerbated with the continued rise of poverty in L.A. county despite the economic “recovery.”

Synika Smith, a worker at Burger King who attended the protest, said the outpouring of community support given to the Fight for 15 efforts has been a positive. However, she added that just $15 an hour isn’t enough. “What I really want is a union,” Smith said. “Because when you have that, there’s a guarantee, there’s a contract. Managers can’t just say, ‘Payroll is high, so hours have to be cut.’”

She continued, “It’s hard to plan out bills and other expenses when you don’t even know if you’re guaranteed enough hours per pay period.”

Smith’s sentiments were echoed by Chicago-based activist and Whole Foods worker Trish Kahle in a recent article: “In order to lead meaningful lives we’re entitled to, we need paid sick days, vacation days and fair attendance policies. And finally, we know that this fight is so much bigger than $15 an hour. This is a fight over power in our workplaces, in our cities and around the world.”

Indeed. Higher wages, although they would be welcome, wouldn’t alleviate all of the problems in top-down, undemocratic workplaces like McDonald’s, where managers are free to punish and fire employees at-will. Winning union representation through struggle is one way workers can begin to wrestle away leverage from management, which then can be parlayed into more just wages and improved working conditions.

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Victories against police repression

TWO IMPORTANT and intertwined New York City police misconduct cases were settled in January–early on in the era of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Floyd v. City of New York was the lawsuit challenging the stop-and-frisk policies of the NYPD. The case had far-reaching implications, as many other police departments would likely follow the lead of the case. If the plaintiffs won, police departments around the country would consider amending their own stop-and-frisk policies, but if the city won, stop-and-frisk would gain new life.

It was therefore a significant victory, particularly for minorities who have suffered at the hands of the NYPD, for the lawsuit to be successfully settled. In the end, the de Blasio administration dropped an appeal initiated by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and accepted the decision of District Judge Scheindlin. The decision, among other things, appoints a monitor over the police department to supervise reforms.

Alongside the Floyd settlement came a settlement in the 10-year litigation stemming from the police crackdown during the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC). This settlement came with much less fanfare than the Floyd settlement, however. The implications of both must be seen as two parts of the same whole.

The Republican National Convention lawsuit settled for over $12 million for the plaintiffs, which, as the National Lawyers Guild noted in its press release, is the largest settlement in U.S. history for a lawsuit stemming from a mass arrest.

The lawsuit pitted nearly every single civil rights lawyer in the entire New York City region (myself included) against “pro bono” lawyers from many elite law firms. The suit aimed to challenge the NYPD’s ability to conduct mass arrests of “political protesters” who, in the department’s eyes, “step out of line” at major demonstrations.

The real story is that the NYPD conducted a massive dragnet of activists–and several bystanders–herding them onto buses and then dumping them in an abandoned bus depot for many hours (more than a few stayed for days). Depositions revealed that most of the detainees were kept in wire cages like animals–in a clear attempt to dehumanize them. Many suffered health effects from breathing in the toxic fumes from the depot, since the city never bothered to clean the depot before it was made into an “impromptu jail.”

While the settlement amount was relatively large, the plaintiffs suffered a significant defeat in the case earlier on in the litigation. Plaintiffs sought to end the NYPD’s ability to deem a particular march to be “parading without a permit,” and then start arresting anyone who did not “promptly disperse.”

Unfortunately, the court ruled against the plaintiffs on that issue, thus allowing the NYPD (and arguably other police departments in other cities as well) to simply wave a magic wand and deem a particular demonstration “illegal,” and then seek to disperse it. Anyone refusing to leave the area–or indeed not leaving fast enough in the cops’ eyes–may then be arrested.

From the perspective of the ruling class, it would love for its police to continue arresting people for no reason whatsoever. This would be the ideal police state, in which people–particular minorities who are the ones most disaffected by the system–live in constant fear of getting arrested or detained.

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THESE LAWSUITS are a testament to the fact that the legitimacy of the system was being called into question, in the same way the system made a compromise to end the original Jim Crow when its maintenance would have weakened the legitimacy of the system in the eyes of too many people.

That said, socialists and radicals are aware that Democrats are just as committed to the criminal system of injustice as Republicans are–in the same way that both parties are committed to imperialism. Just as the Obama administration retooled the U.S. war machine and made it slimmer and “more focused” (a la drones and special forces) in its delivery, so, too, will they seek to do so on the domestic front with their police.

With the RNC court decision, the NYPD continues to have carte blanche to shut down political demonstrations. And we must bear in mind that the Floyd case did not completely end stop-and-frisk–instead, it ended NYPD’s policy of “stop-and-frisk for no reason whatsoever.” In other words, henceforth, cops will generally need a specific reason to stop and detain a person other than, say, their race or the neighborhood they’re in.

But given this author’s experience with cops, if they now need to come up with reasons to stop minorities, they’ll come up with an assortment of reasons. The reasons to stop-and-frisk will now be as varied as their imaginations.

This is why activists cannot stop protesting the criminal system of injustice. We cannot rely on Democratic politicians to protect our rights–we must demand them. We must continue to fight for stronger reforms of police, such a cameras on their uniforms and the filming of all interrogations.

But we also must ultimately fight to end the police–we must make cops and jails obsolete. We must demand cuts to budgets of police departments and jails–and divert those funds to schools, jobs, decent housing, hospitals and increased social services.

Make no mistake about it–de Blasio is scheming to retool the NYPD and make it the “lean, mean, fighting machine” that Obama has achieved with the U.S. military. His appointment of William Bratton as police chief is an excellent example of this. Bratton doesn’t oppose stop-and-frisk–he just opposes widespread stop-and-frisk. Thus, we may not see 700,000 to 800,000 people stopped every year–instead, under de Blasio/Bratton, we may see “only” 100,000 to 200,000 stopped every year.

What we won’t see is the NYPD’s budget cut in half and humane conditions at the city’s jails–at least not without protest in the streets. But this indeed is always where the left has made its biggest advances–not in electing supposedly progressive candidates, but in organizing a resistance which rattles the system. We must therefore continue to organize the end the new Jim Crow–and nothing short of a new civil rights movement will accomplish that.

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We need a tipping point toward climate justice

Participants in a national demonstration that brought tens of thousands to Washington, D.C. (Elvert Barnes)

2012 Green Party presidential candidate and an initiator of the Global Climate Convergence

I THINK the challenge here is to change the tipping point from a tipping point into climate disaster into a tipping point toward political empowerment. And I think we have the ability to do that.

We have solutions that can eliminate carbon very quickly, and we also have the means of ecologically sequestering carbon. Carbon is not the problem–the problem is oligarchy, and political and ecological and economic suppression. There’s nothing that’s rocket science about this. The climate crisis, like the economic crisis, is eminently fixable. The problem is that the political predators are in charge.

To, me what is very exciting is that there is a big wake-up moment going on about this. We’re in a historic moment right now, with a movement for democracy and justice that is sweeping the planet–from the democracy revolutions in the Middle East, which are very much in motion, to the Occupy protests, to the austerity uprisings by students, to the teachers’ strikes and other workers standing up with incredible courage.

We have eviction blockades, and the incredible courage of Native Americans and the Idle No More campaign. We have immigrants who are standing up for their human rights, and the incredible fight to stop fracking and tar sands and GMOs.

We’ve had some incredible successes that are relegated to the back pages just as soon as possible so that we don’t get big ideas about moving forward.

This is, in many ways, a tipping point moment, where we can tip towards democracy and justice. I think the biggest challenge at the moment is not the challenge of climate or the challenge of the economy–it’s really the challenge of just getting organized, because we have the makings of critical mass. They engineer us into a perception of helplessness in many ways, but we can reject that and begin to organize our power–the power that we have already.

SocialistWorker.org asked activists and writers to answer one of the most pressing questions facing the movement for environmental justice.

If you look at the numbers, nearly one out of two Americans lives in poverty or is classified as low income. One in three African American men between the ages of 20 and 29 is held hostage by the prison-industrial complex. Some 39 million people are basically indentured servants as a result of student debt, while the Department of Labor tells us that more than half the new jobs created in the next decade are going to be low wage. And needless to say, all of the ecological indicators are in free fall right now.

But we have on our side the two most powerful public relations campaigns imaginable–the dire state of the climate and the economy. People are hungry for deep systemic change. We see that in poll after poll. So we’ve won in the court of public opinion, and that win is only going to get deeper and stronger.

The most important thing in my view is for us to focus on that political tipping point, and how we build political power by bringing together the mass constituencies that are being thrown under the bus.

It means that we have to make ourselves visible and make ourselves heard, and we have to build our coalitions. That’s not a simple thing to do. But it’s way simpler than the alternative, which is to simply roll over onto the railroad tracks.

I think there’s an enormous public will here that’s ready to be mobilized. I was tipped into political empowerment by realizing that the public is already with us–that as an independent, non-corporate political movement, we are speaking for the vast majority of everyday people. There’s no reason that we can’t seize the moment and organize to exert democratic control over our destiny.

I guess the reason that it feels hopeful to me right now, paradoxically, is because we’re clearly at the point where we have to choose whether we’re going to survive or not. It’s become that clear. The climate science tells us we are in the end game right now, without a massive change in public policy.

I think that increasingly, people get it. The choice is in our hands. This is the time to embrace the struggle–that empowerment is within our reach to take back our future and make it healthy, sustainable and peaceful.

I think the Global Climate Convergence is a vehicle that allows us to come together across movements, across national borders and across demographics. This is where we converge to say: All of our issues are important, and we must keep working on them all. And at the same time, we need a broader agenda that unifies us–an agenda for people, the planet and peace over profits.

It’s been so exciting to see how people recognize that in a heartbeat and start to mobilize to make it happen. The Earth Day to May Day wave of actions is the first campaign, but as people come to it, they’re not coming for just those 10 days–they’re coming for the duration of the struggle.

The uncertainties I had myself about where this is going to go have been overcome by the incredible energy, enthusiasm and artistry of the troops that are assembling within the convergence. We’re here for the long haul. I really encourage people to go to GlobalClimateConvergence.org and join the team to take back our future.

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Author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis and a founding member of the System Change Not Climate Change coalition.

OVER THE course of 2013, a steady drumbeat of ever-more-alarming reports on the quickening pace of climate change formed the scientific backdrop to what the U.S. government’s National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration indicated were more than two dozen “significant climate anomalies.” Most prominent among them, causing thousands of deaths, was Super Typhoon Haiyan, with the highest winds ever recorded for a storm as it made landfall.

2014 opened with a state of emergency declared in California as a result of a drought that is having a devastating impact on agriculture, in a state that provides a quarter of the food on U.S. tables. While drought is ongoing across 15 Southwestern states, during the winter months, the Northeast and Midwest endured temperatures below those of Siberia and repeated record snowfalls–the result of climate change-linked changes to the Gulf Stream that brought bitterly cold conditions barreling down from the Arctic.

Reflecting the level of destabilizing impacts from climate change right now, not to mention what will happen if business-as-usual continues, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has a recognizable change of tone, as the authors note that “the worst is yet to come.”

The report makes clear, as the BBC reported, that “increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” In a world of staggering and still growing inequality, those least responsible for creating the global ecological crisis will bear the consequences first and worst: “People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change,” the report states.

The impact of climate change is no longer something to be worried about in 20 or 30 years’ time, but is already a feature of life for millions of people across the world struggling to adapt to and live with stronger storms, increasing variability of rainfall patterns that affect crop production, increasing numbers of hotter days and wildfires, or the geographical movement of fish species due to warmer oceans.

A new question has arisen: Have we already surpassed the point of no return, whereby the destiny of humanity has been removed from our hands? As positive feedback loops kick in and increase average temperatures not by the 2 degrees Celsius estimated to be the “tipping point,” but four degrees or more, making human civilization, as well as the existence of many species, untenable, has climate change become an unstoppable force?

Some people, such James Lovelock, author of the Gaia Hypothesis of a self-regulating earth; conservation biologist Guy McPherson; and author and founder of Deep Green Resistance Derrick Jensen all answer in the affirmative–time has run out, and the best humanity can do is gird itself for civilizational breakdown, and quite possibly extinction.

I strongly disagree with the analysis of the doom-mongers–and I do so not because one should, in the immortal words of Graham Chapman and his fellow prisoners as they are being crucified in the final scene of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, “always look on the bright side of life.”

Rather, there is a strong scientific case, as leading climate scientist Michael Mann outlines in an article in Scientific American, that it is unlikely we will pass any irrevocable tipping point before 2036.

Of course, this isn’t an absolute certainty, and it’s true that many scientific reports, particularly those from the IPCC, have consistently under-represented the swiftness with which we are transitioning from one relatively benign and stable climate regime, to a much less hospitable and erratic one.

Nevertheless, having already caused an increase in global average temperatures of 0.8 degrees Celsius, and while we are irrevocably locked into close to 2 degrees of warming by 2050 (there is a lag time between changes in carbon emissions and their impact on climate change), there is still time to avert further increases. Not an awful lot of time, but nevertheless enough to make the energy transition to a low-carbon society.

This is particularly true because not only do we know quite precisely the extent of the problem, as well as the cause. In addition and most importantly, we already have all of the solutions ready to hand, with well-developed technology and plans to power the planet with renewables.

Which brings us to what climate scientist Kevin Anderson, at Britain’s premier climate science institution, the Tyndall Center, says is the need for “radical social change” to stave off climate change turning into a self-reinforcing phenomenon outside of our control. After two decades of essentially pointless climate negotiations, it is clear that neither capitalism’s free markets, nor the politicians that serve them, will in and of themselves step in to solve the problem–despite climate change being, to all intents and purposes, an existential threat to the entire capitalist system.

Hence, rather than lament the paucity of real change from the top or sink into depression with the latest ever-more-severe scientific report, activists need to organize for real change from below. This is the only guarantee of success–especially as we know from history that social change can far outpace climate change.

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Author of The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? and a founder of Ecosocialist Horizons

AS I understand the question, it asks us to consider that moment in which positive feedback loops induced by climate change–for example, growing release of methane from tundra that has softened thanks to warming trends–leads, since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, to further warming, etc., in a kind of doomsday scenario.

It is impossible to specify the trajectory of this with any precision, if only because new discoveries are constantly being made, while boundaries remain indefinable. Further, the notion of “stopping” leads into an indefinable quandary, not worth pursuing in a contribution of such brevity as this, and by someone with such scanty climatological credentials.

In fact, there is only one word in the question which bears examination here, and that is “we.” Whatever else the tipping point means, it connotes a calamity of extraordinary, indeed, unique dimensions. This is occurring to a human community with a history, an imagination and potentialities for self-organization into the future. So what I hear in this question may be read as follows:

How are we to bring forward a human response–a revolutionary subject, a collective consciousness embodied in people in motion, and capable of grasping and transforming the present moment–so that the “tipping point,” and–crucially, everything else it connects with in the larger ecological crisis that we now confront–can be overcome? I mean here by “overcome,” not just to survive, but to prevail, so that life can continue.

I can tell you this–this will not happen as the world is now organized, under the domination of a global capitalist ruling class and the immense and technocratic bureaucracies that are its instruments for dealing with the ecological crisis and its climatic aspects. We are in great need of the scientific community; however, we need science as a community and not as an instrument of global capital in pursuit of its paramount goal, which is the act of accumulation, money constantly growing and poisoning the world.

We should get one thing straight before all others–that we can have the accumulation of capital, and we can have ecological integrity, but we can’t have both of them together.

The “we” is a body that has to choose, and can choose to reject capital, which means in this context to take the option for life over annihilation. Bringing about this option on a planetary scale is now and will be for the foreseeable future the leading political project for all people of good will.

Facing World War Two, the United States radically transformed its system of production, and in a remarkably short time became a mega-machine capable of destroying the Axis powers. Today, the technological prowess for doing this is exponentially greater; but the political will is weaker and faces a radically different task.

President Roosevelt was able to enlist the support of the capitalist classes to interrupt business as usual with the promise of global dominion after victory; and this proved to be so. The struggle for global ecological integrity, however, is one for the bringing down of the capitalist class, and not its triumph. It also proposes a global society beyond nationalist chauvinism, and not the triumph of any state over others. And it has to do so by liquidation of the death-dealing instruments of war, while building the life-affirming organs of eco-centric production.

This seems outlandishly difficult, even impossible. But there is nothing, in this way of looking at things, that is beyond human capabilities. Each woman and each man comes into the world with a transformative power that is the legacy of the universe acting through us. And there are a lot of us out there–billions to be exact–capable of restoring ecological integrity if well organized.

Can I prove this to be true? Of course not! Can anybody prove the contrary to be true? Of course not! So what are we waiting for?

Karen Domínguez Burke, Andrea Hektor, Ragina Johnson, Alan Maass and Chris Williams helped with this discussion.

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Why are they waging a war on science?

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Gage Skidmore)Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Gage Skidmore)

THE LATEST report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is out, and the news is not good.

The report assesses the “impacts, adaptation and vulnerability” likely to result from climate change. Predicting serious negative impacts on food crops, water supplies and global species loss, as well as the potential destabilization of nation states, it should be a wake-up call to politicians in the U.S. and around the globe about the need to confront climate change immediately.

The last report from the IPCC in September removed any ambiguity about what was causing climate change: greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. This one tackles what it could mean for us. As Slate.com reported:

What makes the new IPCC statement so striking is its process. The entire 44-page summary was agreed to, line by line, by scientists and political representatives from more than 110 governments during a marathon session…That process also makes the report’s conclusions necessarily conservative. The document therefore touches only on the effects of climate change that have widespread consensus.

The report states that there is “high confidence”–a greater than 80 percent chance–that “the combination of high temperature and humidity [will compromise] normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors in some areas for parts of the year,” threatening more famines and increases in food prices, among other outcomes.

The IPCC concludes with “medium confidence”–a greater than 50 percent chance–that “[c]limate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”

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YOU’D THINK a study this frightening would be setting off alarm bells in the halls of Congress. But good luck getting a Republican member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to even admit man-made climate change is real, let alone a problem.

According to a survey of legislators’ public statements by the liberal group ThinkProgress, 130 members of the current Republican caucus in the House of Representatives–more than half–deny basic tenets of climate science. Half of this 130 deny that man-made climate change is even taking place. Of 22 Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, 17 are climate change deniers.

Among those 17–members of the House Committee on Science, mind you–are Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, who once described evolution as a “lie from the pit of hell,” and California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who has stated that global warming is not only a “total fraud,” but a plot by liberals to “create global government to control our lives.”

Days before the release of the new IPCC report, at a hearing of the committee to review the Obama administration’s latest budget request for science agencies, the thundering ignorance of House members was on full display as they attempted to “catch” John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a scientific falsehood. Consider this exchange with Rohrabacher:

Rohrabacher: Do you believe that tornadoes and hurricanes today are more ferocious and more frequent than they were in the past?

Holdren: There is no evidence relating to tornadoes. None at all. And I don’t know any spokesman for the administration who has said otherwise. With respect to hurricanes, there is some evidence of increased activity in the North Atlantic, but not in other parts of the world. With respect to droughts and floods, there is quite strong evidence that in some regions, they are being enhanced by climate change–not caused by [climate change], influenced by climate change.

Rohrabacher: I don’t mean to sound pejorative…but they’re weasel words–that in some areas, “globally” there’s not more droughts, “globally” there’s not more hurricanes and they’re not more ferocious. Is that correct?

Holdren: If you want to take a global average, the fact is a warmer world is getting wetter, there’s more evaporation so there’s more precipitation, so on a global average there’s unlikely to be more droughts. The question is whether drought-prone regions are suffering increased intensity and duration of droughts, and the answer there is yes.

Rohrabacher: [snickering] So we actually have more water and more drought? Okay, thank you very much.

Florida Rep. Bill Posey proceeded to ask Holdren why humans should be worried, since dinosaurs went through a period of climate warming. When Posey declared that the Earth has been subject to ice ages and periods of warming in the past, Holdren pointed out:

There have been periods when the temperature was 3, 4 or 5 degrees Celsius warmer than it is now. The difference between the circumstances you’re describing and the circumstance we’re in now is the changes that are being imposed on the climate–in a substantial part because of human activity–are faster than the ability of ecosystems to adapt and maybe, even more importantly, faster than the ability of human society to adapt.

As io9 website pointed out, Posey is recycling a line of Newt Gingrich, who once tried to claim that since the dinosaurs were “fine” living under a warmer climate, humans have nothing to worry about.

In a just world, Posey and Gingrich would have to relocate to an ice floe in the Arctic to run their own experiments about whether climate change is taking place or not.

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THE REJECTION of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change is just one of many instances of the misuse of science for political aims. All too often, “science” becomes an arena of political battles, where the consensus among experts is ignored and even ridiculed, or dubious science is promoted with the aim of bolstering certain political causes.

Consider, for example, how claims that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation have been used to push for increased limitations on women’s right to obtain abortion. As Mother Jones reported in 2011:

According to a pair of Harvard researchers who have studied fetal pain bills, the 20-week bans are neither scientifically nor constitutionally sound. In a recent paper in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School and Sadath Sayeed of Harvard Medical School note that there is no conclusive evidence that fetuses can feel pain at that point in gestation, nor are they considered viable…

The lawmakers and anti-abortion groups arguing for the 20-week bans are “espousing a view that aligns with the political hope,” rather than medical evidence, says Sayeed, who is both a neonatologist and a lawyer.

But Republicans, at the state level especially, have also been successful in getting other fake science written into law regarding abortions–forcing women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to listen to claims about the “harm” abortion can cause, including thoroughly debunked “links” between abortion and breast cancer, or between abortion and mental health problems.

As New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt, a plasma physicist, explained to Salon.com, critiques about science from politicians are often in the service of ideological agendas:

I am not saying that scientists are smarter or wiser than other folks. But there are habits of mind…a deep appreciation of evidence, an ability to deal with probability and statistics, to be alert to cognitive biases and tricks that our minds play on ourselves…a willingness to accept tentative conclusions and…the uncertainty of these scientific conclusions–not as reason for inaction, but a way of finding the best path forward.

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NOT SURPRISINGLY, anti-science rhetoric and the misuse of dubious science is particularly pronounced among Republicans. While the right rejects the scientific consensus around climate change, it cherry-picks other disputed and debunked scientific claims when convenient for propaganda purposes.

Journalist Ronald Brownstein concluded in a 2010 article in the National Journal that the Republican Party in the U.S. is practically unique in its wholesale rejection of climate science:

The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones…

Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is “no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of.”

Climate denialism runs from the top of the Republican Party to ordinary supporters at the bottom. But there are differences among the different factions of the GOP. A Pew research poll from November found that 67 percent of Americans overall say there is solid evidence that the earth has been getting warmer over the last few decades–compared to just 46 percent of Republicans. But within the party, only 25 percent of Tea Party Republicans agreed with the statement, compared to 61 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans.

In other words, it is the Tea Partiers–right wingers who espouse a libertarian-style mistrust of “big” government and its policies–who are most committed to the anti-science offensive.

The impact of the Tea Partiers is reflected in beliefs about another scientific issue: the theory of evolution. The percentage of Republicans who say they believe in evolution has declined from 54 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2013, according to a December Pew poll.

You can also see the Tea Party’s hallmark persecution complex in the public discourse around scientific questions: The expression of accepted scientific truths like climate change and evolution are contested on the grounds that the right wing is somehow being “oppressed” by those on the other side.

Consider the reception to the current Fox Cosmos series, hosted by physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Right-wingers are gaining media attention by attacking the show for its “biases” against creationism and “intelligent design” theory, the (slightly) more sophisticated version of creationism. Typical was the complaint of Danny Faulkner of the creationist group Answers in Genesis: “Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them.”

It’s true that Cosmos has not given equal time to creationists–because, as deGrasse Tyson points out, the origins of the universe and the theory of evolution are settled questions as far as science is concerned. He told CNN:

I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but doesn’t really apply in science. The ethos was that whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced. You don’t talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say, “Let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.”

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DEGRASSE TYSON’S comment is refreshing–as is the entire Cosmos series. It is a testament to the scale of the right-wing assault that hearing a scientist state on prime-time television that “[t]he theory of evolution, like the theory of gravity, is scientific fact” feels like a victory.

The hold of the anti-science dogmas of the right wing is connected to the general conservative shift in mainstream politics over the last three or four decades. This shift was driven especially by the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s, which gave the Republican Party–then attempting to retake the initiative against the achievements of the social movements of the 1960s and early ’70s–useful foot soldiers in the culture wars.

The Religious Right and the related Tea Party phenomenon have been important factors in the GOP’s success in dragging mainstream politics to the right–and more generally, in allowing Corporate America to wage its one-sided class war against the working-class majority.

Because of this, the right-wing ideologues have been tolerated, even when their fanaticism occasionally causes conflicts with the Republican establishment and the party’s big business backers–like last fall, when the Tea Party wing of the GOP defied Wall Street and pushed the U.S. economy to the brink of default with the shutdown of the federal government.

Since then, the “adult faction” of the Republicans has attempted to reign in the ideologues, with some success. But the party’s corporate-backed neoliberal agenda still requires an ideological assault on “big government”–which is why the right’s anti-science offensive is still useful, even if it tarnishes the GOP’s image in the eyes of sane people.

Climate-change denialism, in particular, does have another source. It is championed by sections of the ruling class–the fossil fuel industry, most obviously–whose profits depend on defeating any governmental action to respond to global warming. There is an entire industry devoted to disputing that climate change is real; insisting that if it is real, it isn’t the fault of human beings; and denying that anything can be done about it.

But we also have to remember that climate-change denialism isn’t the primary reason why the U.S. government isn’t acting to curb greenhouse gas emissions. After all, the White House is controlled by a president who campaigned on the promise of reversing the Bush administration’s put-the-oil-companies-first agenda.

Barack Obama and the Democrats readily admit that climate change is a real and present danger–in their partisan with the Republicans, they often warn about the dangers of denying that global warming is real. Yet they continue to pursue “all of the above” energy extraction policies that are guaranteed to make climate change worse, much less prevent it.

This provides a valuable lesson about the “world’s greatest democracy.” The U.S. ruling class needs the right-wing faction of the Republicans to drag mainstream politics to the right–but Corporate America doesn’t put all its eggs in one basket. Ultimately, the plane that is hurtling toward climate-change disaster has two wings.

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ONE OF the most stunning aspects about the right today is how openly they use public school curriculums as an ideological battleground.

In the social sciences, there are the attacks on left-wing scholars, like former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels slanders of Howard Zinn–or the banning of ethnic studies in Arizona. But the assault extends into the hard sciences, too.

For example, the right has been successful in getting some school districts to teach “intelligent design” alongside evolution. In Kansas, for example, a lawsuit by the misnamed Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) is challenging the state’s science standards because they include the teaching of evolution–which the group claims is a “religion” and should therefore be excluded.

In early 2012, Alternet reported:

[T]here are seven bills before state legislatures aimed at undermining the teaching of science in public schools: two each in Missouri and New Hampshire, and one each in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Indiana. Three of these bills are just as keen to sow doubts about “global warming” as they are about “biological evolution,” and one does not bother to specify which “scientific controversies” it wishes to teach. In addition, there is also one law already on the books (the Louisiana Science Education Act), which, although sophisticated enough to avoid endorsing creationism or climate science denial, opens the door to “critical thinking” on both topics.

As author Phil Gasper notes, all this is “highly contradictory” for the system:

[C]apitalism depends on scientific innovation to expand, but this seems to be one more example of the system being “like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” Marx and Engels had in mind the contradiction between the forces and relations of production, but the description also fits the growth of irrationalism, not to mention the collision between capitalist growth and the natural world.

At heart, an understanding of science and its laws can be a part of encouraging engagement with the world and understanding human beings’ role in it. The right’s war on science, by contrast, is about atomizing and fracturing our ability to understand the world around us–and, ultimately, to work toward creating a society in which human needs are a priority.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson explained about the message of Cosmos:

You are equipped and empowered with this cosmic perspective, achieved by the methods and tools of science, applied to the universe. And are you going to be a good shepherd, or a bad shepherd? Are you going to use your wisdom to protect civilization, or will you go at it in a shortsighted enough way to either destroy it, or be complicit in its destruction? If you can’t bring your scientific knowledge to bear on those kinds of decisions, then why even waste your time?

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