Monday, September 29, 2008

Financial Crisis Brings Historic Opportunity…

Wow, what a difference a few weeks can make. Less than a month ago, every mainstream mass media outlet, U.S. politician, economic analyst, and probably the majority of average citizens would still have been singing the praises of the unfettered free market. Regulation was still a dirty word and privatization was still equated with efficiency and prosperity. Granted, the sand had already begun to shift under this ideological edifice of 30+ years. The sub-prime mortgage crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble had seriously shaken the confidence of some in the system. I had mentioned repeatedly on Labor Express Radio over the Summer the glaring contrast between the soaring gas prices we experienced here in the laissez-faire fuel market of the U.S. as compared to the low and stable prices maintained by the state oil company of our neighbor to the south. But none of that seemed to really change the mainstream belief in this country that free markets solve all problems and that private ownership always trumps public.

Then in early September came the government’s takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the once fully public home mortgage lending institutions whose 40-year foray into the private marketplace ended in disaster due to the massive spike in foreclosures in the past year. Of course as private companies with a special relationship to the federal government, free marketeers could still spin the notion that it was the public, government-regulated side of these institutions that lead to their failure. But then came Lehman Brothers Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on Sept. 15th, the largest in U.S. history. Lehmann Brothers wasn’t the first financial services firm to go belly up this year however. That honor goes to Bear Sterns, whose collapse last spring lead the federal government to step in and provide J.P. Morgan Chase billons of dollars in poorly secured loans in order to allow Chase to acquire Bear Sterns and prevent Bear Sterns filing for bankruptcy. This amounted to the first of this year’s massive, multi-billon dollar bailouts of private corporations.

But that turned out to be just the beginning; the real fun was right around the corner. AIG (American International Group), another financial services corporation, and another Frankenstein’s monster born of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act **, faced imminent demise. The solution – NATIONALIZATION. Let me repeat that – NATIONALIZATION. A term that the neo-liberal ideologues rank right up there with George Carlin’s big seven. Last week the Fed loaned AIG $85 billon in exchange for 80% of its stock. Congratulations to everyone out there, we are now the new proud owners of a failing financial services company. Something tells me that this won’t inspire quite the pride that PEMEX inspires in the Mexican people. But the story doesn’t end there either. That news was followed by treasury secretary Henry "Hank" Paulson’s announcement that the entire financial services industry would need to be bailed out by the state to the tune of about 700 billion dollars (a number that they later admitted was basically made up and a number many said was a low-ball figure)!

Now Paulson’s words resemble a cross between the lies of Dick Cheney preceding the invasion of Iraq and the dire predications of Chicken Little (Paulson’s wall street friends playing the fox of course). Indeed the denouement in all this absurdity was Paulson’s request that we hand him 700 billion dollars and guarantee him that he can do as he wills with our money with absolutely zero oversight or ability to hold him accountable afterwards. But regardless, almost everyone seems to agree on the reality of the crisis facing us. Once again, the ruling class, the economic elite, have gotten filthy rich through a wild orgy of rampant speculation and bad investment decisions that promised quick financial gain regardless of the long-term outcome. During that time they demanded that they be completely free to engage in their debauchery with absolutely zero limitations and zero supervision. It was like the frat party to end all frat parties. Now that the party is over, and a massive hangover sets in, they turn to us, the working class, through that reviled institution the federal government, and demand we rescue their asses or else. And that “or else” is pretty damn threatening – an economic depression that could rival the 1930’s.

So where is the “opportunity” that I refer to in the title of this blog entry? Well let’s take a look at what the last Great Depression ultimately resulted in – Social Security, FDIC, the WPA, the FHA, the SEC, the TVA, and let’s not forget the 8 hour day and the 5 day work week. All the stuff that the ruling class has sought to dismantle in the last 3 decades. The period of the New Deal rescued capitalism (maybe not the best outcome for the working class) by at least for a time, shifting power relationships away from the complete dominance of private capital, toward a level of shared power with the state and with labor. The resulting form of state capitalism, though certainly no utopia for workers, created a period of comparatively broad prosperity that lasted through the 1960’s. I don’t want to over glamorize this period, during which many workers, especially people of color, continued to struggle for basic survival. I also don’t want to make the mistake made by far too many on the left of equating state ownership or state management (state bureaucracy that is) with workers control (economic democracy or socialism). These issues will require another much longer discussion. But the reality remains, workers in this country fared better under the mildly mixed economy born of the New Deal than they have during the post-Reagan period, which some have referred to as McKinley without tariffs.

What is more important, however, than any small, incremental gains made by the working class in the 30’s and 40’s, is the ideological ground upon which these gains were made. The Great Depression had laid bare for everyone the reality that capitalism is an economic system in which crisis is inherent in it’s nature. Lassiez Faire capitalism was declared a completely failed notion. Almost everyone, the capitalists included, grudgingly accepted the need for limitations and regulations, some of which (limits on the working day, minimum wages, the right to unionize) were of clear benefit to workers and changed the power balance. Other outcomes like direct state intervention in the economy and public ownership, the institutions of a mixed economy, did not represent a direct challenge to capitalism, but they did at least offer alternative possibilities of how to organize the economy. All of this was meant to modify and dampen the boom and bust cycles that had wreaked havoc on the majority of the population since the early 1800’s. It is this history, these lessons, that neo-liberals have worked so hard to erase from our memory since the 1970’s. The unbridled greed unleashed by their successful campaign to completely de-regulate every aspect of the economy is the primary cause of the crisis we now face. And their over-three- decade effort to de-fund and cripple state institutions so that their claims that government is inept became a self-fulfilling prophecy, has left us with as little defense against the coming storm as New Orleans had against the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina.

So now their lies are clear to all. NEO-LIBERALISM IS DEAD! We must repeat this everywhere and anywhere. It has to permeate all our discussions. The neo-liberal mantras that the ideologues deafened us with for decades finally ring hollow for nearly everyone. We must take the ideological offensive at this moment of crisis/opportunity. Because - beware – the neoliberal spin machine is already hard at work fashioning twisted logic to maintain their lock on the minds of many Americans. Take for instance the announcement today of a rejection of the most recent version of the bailout plan, being attributed primarily to conservative Republicans. Only in America, could the economic elite who have robbed us blind and created the crisis, then come off looking like populist Robin Hoods, rejecting billions for a “greedy few” on Wall Street. And what do they demand as their alternative to the Paulson plan – MORE DE-REGULATION AND TAX CUTS FOR CORPORATIONS AND THE EXTREMELY WEALTHY! It is time to end the surreal madness of U.S. politics.

But a crisis of ideology is merely an opening. Taking advantage of that opening requires organization. We have to follow the lead of the Latin Americans who for almost a decade now, have rejected neo-liberalism, not only at the ballot box, but in the streets. Our current situation is akin in many ways to the Argentine financial crisis of 2001. After years of being the neo-liberal darling of South America, the collapse of their banking system and their economy, opened the eyes of nearly every Argentine to the reality of this bankrupt economic philosophy. The people of Argentina took to the streets, throwing out of power their entire political class and creating new institutions like worker-controlled factories and neighborhood assemblies. Though much of this movement has since been co-opted by new political opportunists, Argentines refuse to go back to the bad old days of completely unfettered and un-regulated capitalism. They are joined in this conviction, to a greater or lesser degree, by their brothers and sisters in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, and Nicaragua. Sadly, the state of the U.S. labor movement at this moment does not fill one with hope that we will see the working class mobilized in the streets. But let’s go back once again to our reflections on the New Deal. In the 1920’s, the labor movement was similarly at a low ebb. The economic dislocations of that period combined with the devastating effects of the first red scare, had severely diminished the power of organized labor. Yet it was mass action even more than the generosity of the newly enlightened ruling class lead by FDR, that won us the previously-mentioned gains of the 30’s and 40’s. The CIO organized millions in the midst of the great depression. The sit-down strikers in Flint, Michigan did more for the American working class than any progressive Democrat in the Congress. Citywide general strikes in which workers took the class struggle into the streets, like in Minneapolis (started by truck drivers) and in San Francisco (started by dock workers) in 1934, changed the entire political landscape in the country. Ideas like social security, originally born out of the political platform of the Socialist Party, were forced upon the economic elite fearful of the power of the working class organized. Only similar such mass organization today can produce, out of this crisis, an outcome that is favorable to the working class majority.

In the meantime, we must act quickly. We must reject the Paulson/Bush Wall Street bailout and force our politicians to enact an economic reconstruction plan instead. Aspects of this plan should include…

1. Financial services companies should be forced to endure the bulk of the losses, with government stepping in and using taxpayer dollars in a measured and limited fashion to prevent the collapse of the entire credit system.

2. Ownership stock for any funds provided to these companies.

3. Relief for homeowners facing foreclosure including renegotiated mortgages and the ability to stay in their homes either as an owner or renter.

4. Full re-nationalization of Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac and nationalization of other credit institutions.

5. Increased regulation and government oversight of the financial services industry.

6. Caps on CEO salaries.

7. Reform of bankruptcy laws in favor of working people rather than corporations.

8. Repeal of the Bush tax cuts, and tax increases on corporations and the wealthiest Americans – the working class should not pay the costs of this bailout.

9. Tax cuts for working class Americans and a new economic stimulus package aimed at working class families.

10. Massive investment in the creation of new affordable housing.

11. Promotion of more democratic and sustainable banking institutions like credit unions, publicly-owned banks and community development banks.

12. Massive investment in the nation’s infrastructure – including new public works programs.

13. Strengthening and extending provisions of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

14. Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

15. Pension law reform and strengthening of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation.

16. A universal, single payer, non-profit national health care program.

17. Raise the minimum wage to a living wage.

Of course, I am no economist. Hell, I barely understand this finance mumbo-jumbo. So for more insightful analysis than I can provide, I offer the links below. AND I ALSO ENCOURAGE YOUR COMMENTS AND FEEDBACK!

BUT MOST OFF ALL – WE NEED TO ACT NOW!!! Please see my previous blog post with the call from Jobs with Justice.
Call your congressional representatives today and demand – NO TO A WALL STREET BAILOUT – YES TO AN ECONOMIC RECONSTRUCTION PLAN!

For audio of last night’s Labor Express Radio program in which I discussed the financial crisis with the Executive Director of the Labor Research Association, Jonathan Tasini and with Fran Tobin, Midwest Field Organizer for Jobs with Justice, click here…

Economic Policy Institute (EPI) position statement on the bailout plan…

Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) position statement on the bailout…

Dean Baker of CEPR talks about how a bad bailout is worse than no bailout…

Jonathan Tasini continues to provide excellent, almost daily coverage of the bailout shenanigans…

The AFL-CIO on the bailout…

Change to Win on the bailout…

Green Party’s position statement on the financial crisis…

Both Democrats and Republican’s to blame for banking de-regulation…

** The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 is one of the most important banking de-regulation bills past by congress, and is directly behind the current crisis. For more check out the following Wikipedia article…

Another example of the de-regulation of the financial services industry that lead to the current crisis is the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000…


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Info on financial crisis...

Info on financial crisis

Here are some links on articles and resources about the financial crisis now upon us. Check back here tomorrow for a much more complete report…

From National Jobs With Justice, ACT NOW – CONGRESS VOTES TOMORROW!!!...

Tell Congress it's time to STEP UP! (Save The Economy, Pronto & Undo Profiteering)

Over the past 30 years, conservatives successfully gutted regulation and preached 'smaller government' while millions of Americans lost good jobs and Wall Street and corporate America made record profits. Wall Street invented new, more complicated ways to make money off other people’s money

Now that the party’s over, Bush & Co. want to plunder the rest of us to pay the bill for Wall Street’s greedy rampage.

Tell Congress: Stop the Bail-out; Pass a recovery plan instead.

Now that they’ve made so much money, they say that the huge Wall Street firms, paying grotesque salaries, are "too big to fail," so a quick-fix blank check is making its way through Congress.

Apparently, conservatives think our health care crisis isn't big enough to fix (and it would certainly take less than $700 billion). Apparently, the loss of millions of good jobs due to so-called 'free trade' is not a big enough crisis to fix. The disaster from Hurricane Katrina was not big enough to fix, and New Orleans could be left to fail. The looming pension crisis and the affordable housing crisis -- none of these, apparently, deserves a bail-out.

For conservatives and financial elites, when working class people face a crisis, plants close or health care costs triple, the system is working. They take all the private profits, but when the bubble bursts, and they can no longer sustain their profiteering rampage... well, they're too big to fail. And who pays the bill? The CEOs are telling Congress to send the bill to working people – the very people who have been forced out of their housing, out of their jobs, out of their healthcare and out of their pensions by Wall Street’s greed.

Call and write. Time is short.

Call your Representative and Senator through the Capitol Hill switchboard - (202) 224-3121 - to tell them:

1) No Bail-out for Wall Street. They had their fun, now they deserve the hang-over.

2) Don’t be panicked by the very people that caused the crisis. Take the time to develop a REAL recovery plan for our economy that puts people first, by addressing foreclosures, jobs, affordable housing, pensions, infrastructure and health care.

3) Restructure our financial systems, with renewed public oversight, to meet the needs of our entire economy, not just the finance sector, and end the excessive political clout of these few firms.

4) Bring in fair taxation, honoring work over wealth, and stop subsidizing excessive CEO salaries.

For info on Jobs With Justice actions this coming Wednesday…

Jonathan Tasini posts on…

Monday, September 15, 2008

27,000 Boeing workers on strike…

Ten days ago, 27,000 workers for the aircraft manufacture Boeing, who are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) went out strike in three states – Washington, Oregon, and Kansas. Boeing, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, a company that has been tremendously profitable in recent years, has pushed concessions on its workforce in the past few contracts. In 2005, Boeing workers halted some of these concessions with a month long strike. But the workers have gone without a pay raise for 4 years, and entry level wages for new hires haven’t been raised since 1992. Outsourcing has reduced the amount of union jobs at Boeing, as the company has continued to shift more and more of its production to non-union sub-contractors, some locally, some around the globe. Preventing further outsourcing and protecting job security is a key issue for the union.

In contract negotiations this Summer, the company once again asked for further concessions in health care benefits and wanted the ability to pursue even more outsourcing. The reaction of IAM members was a 99% vote in July to authorize strike action. With the company refusing to budge at the negotiating table, a strike was declared Saturday, September 6th.

It is important for all workers around the country to stand in solidarity with the striking Boeing workers. Their opposition to outsourcing and concessionary contracts is a fight against threats facing most workers in manufacturing. Workers in Chicago have a specific responsibility given Boeing’s corporate HQ is located right here in downtown Chicago. Check back to pilsenprole tomorrow for more on plans for a rally outside Boeing HQ, probably on Friday.

Listen to an interview with IAM spokesperson Connie Kelliher at the link below, to find out more about the issues behind this strike. This interview aired on last night’s episode of Labor Express Radio…

Check out this article on the strike at Counterpunch…

IAM website for more info on strike...

Boeing action in downtown Chicago Friday?...

As I stated on last night’s Labor Express Radio program, I hoped to have an announcement about an action at Boeing HQ in Chicago this week, in supporting of the 27,000 Boeing workers, members of the IAM (The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers) who are out on strike now. From conversations I had today with labor activist in Chicago, it appears there will be an action Friday, but noe details have been released as of yet. As soon as they are I will post them here.

In about an hour there should be another post with more info on the Boeing strike and a link to an audio interview with IAM spokesperson Connie Kelliher.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

More info on PEMEX privatization fight...

Below is more info on the struggle of Mexican workers to fight the privitization of PEMEX. See me first story on this here...

The first is from UE's Mexican Labor News & Anaylsis, put togther monthly by Mexican labor movement anaylst Dan Labotz. The second is from Alan Benjamin, Executive Board member of the San Francisco Central Labor Council and long time Mexican worker solidarity activist...

National Referendum on Privatization of Petroleum

The Mexican Congress has been carrying on an extraordinary debate over the last few months on the reform of the energy sector, or more specifically on the privatization of the petroleum industry. The government of President Felipe Calderón and his National Action Party (PAN), together with much of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) have been pushing for the privatization of petroleum.

Many believe that the left has won the debate against privatization, though the right may still have the votes to move ahead with at least part of its plan. Now the Mexican people will have an opportunity to express themselves on the matter through a consulta or referendum on the issue. Such popular referenda were popularized by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in the late 1990s when as many as one million participated in its unofficial consultations.

The “Legitimate Government” Promotes Referendum

Promoted by the “Legitimate Government” of Andrés Manuel López Obrador and supported by his left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and by the alliance of left parties known as the Broad Progressive Front (FAP), the referendum will ask voters: 1) Do you believe that private business should now be allowed to participate in the petroleum business; 2) In general, do you agree or disagree with the energy reform now being debated in Congress.

The Mexican Congress and the Federal Electoral Institute refused to carry out the referendum, arguing that it has no basis in the Mexican Constitution or in Mexican law. In Mexico City, the referendum will be organized and carried out with the support of the PRD government there. Throughout the rest of the country it will be an entirely voluntary affair organized by groups almost entirely opposed to the privatization of petroleum.

Voting in Three Stages

The overall organizer of the Consulta is Manuel Camacho Solís, a PRD politician and the former mayor of Mexico City. Lending their experience and their weight to the referendum will be two civil society organizations: the Civic Alliance (AC) and Civic Proposal (PC) which will act as citizen observers.

The referendum will be carried out in three stages, with Mexico City and the central states of Mexico voting on July 27; the southeastern states and a couple of others voting on August 10; and the northern and western states voting on August 24.

Labor, Feminists to participate in Referendum

The National Union of Workers (UNT), an independent labor federation, declared that its affiliates will promote the referendum in the first stage in Mexico City and consult with its member organizations about participating in the provincial referenda. “The Alliance of Streetcar Workers (ATM) has taken the lead in organizing for the referendum and the UNT will follow its example,” said UNT leader Hernandez Juárez. The National Coordinating Committee of the Mexican Teachers Union (la CNTE) also pledged to mobilize its members to support the consulta.

Feminist organizations will participate in the consulta too, according to Axela Romero Cárdenas, general director of Integral Health for Women (SIPAM).

From UE’s Mexican Labor News & Analysis, July , 2008, Vol. 13, No. 7. See the following link…

Mexicans Issue Resounding "NO" to Oil Privatization in First of Three

Stages of Referendum Organized by López Obrador and MNDP


On Sunday, July 27, more than 2 million people in Mexico City and nine states in Mexico's central region cast their votes in a nationwide referendum (or "Consulta Nacional") organized by Mexico's legitimate president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and the Movement in Defense of Mexico's Oil Resources (MNDP).

This was the first stage of a three-stage referendum in which voters were asked two questions: (1) Did they support having private companies participate in the exploitation, distribution, storage and refining of Mexico's oil production, and (2) did they support the energy reform proposals submitted by Felipe Calderón to the Mexican Congress on April 6, 2008.

The preliminary results of the vote gave a resounding "NO" to both questions, with 84.7% of the voters saying "NO" to question no. 1 and 82.9% saying "NO" to question no. 2. The second stage of the referendum, in the southern states of Mexico, will be held August 10. The third stage, in the north, will be held August 24.

A total of 5,585 voting booths were set up in Mexico City and 7,390 booths in the nine states of Veracruz, Tlaxcala, Estado de México, San Luis Potosí, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Baja California Sur and Morelos. All were staffed by volunteers and legal notaries, who verified the voters' credential cards and certified that the votes were conducted cleanly. Only two minor incidents were reported in which PAN supporters sought to prevent voters from getting to the polling places.

MNDP spokespersons stated that this was a great day for democracy and sovereignty for Mexico. They also denounced the fraudulent government of Felipe Calderón for refusing to conduct a binding and official nationwide referendum, as the MNDP had proposed to the Mexican Congress. And they decried the unrelenting media campaign against the "Consulta Nacional."

"Despite the torrential rains throughout central Mexico, which kept a large number of people from getting to the voting booths, especially in the shantytowns and the countryside where the roads are not paved; despite our limited funds; and despite the media barrage against us, the first stage of the Consulta Nacional went ahead as planned -- and it was an overwhelming success," stated López Obrador.

Major Roadblock: Quest for Agreement Between PAN, PRI and PRD

In a press statement issued the day after the referendum vote, López Obrador explained why completing the three phases of this Referendum is so vital to the people of Mexico.

"Over the last 25 years," López Obrador noted, "the successive Mexican governments -- without consulting the people -- have proceeded to privatize countless government services and public enterprises. This has caused untold harm to the people, especially to the poor. We cannot -- and we will not -- allow more poverty, unemployment, frustration, violence, and destruction of our country. That is why we will not allow our oil resources to be privatized. ... The will of the people must be heard. It will be heard!"

One of the main roadblocks facing this movement of national resistance is an agreement that is in the works between the top leaders of the PRI (the oldest institutional party of the ruling class in Mexico), the PAN (the party of current impostor Felipe Calderón) ... and the PRD (or Revolutionary Democratic Party, the institutional party to which López Obrador belongs).

On July 22, two days after the 13-session debate on the energy "reform" concluded in the Mexican Senate, PRI Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones submitted to the Mexican Congress an "alternative energy reform plan" which, he claimed vehemently, was not a "privatizing plan" insofar as it "differs on 10 points with the plan submitted on April 6 by Calderón and the PAN."

Immediately, Calderón's minister of Energy, Georgina Kessel, welcomed this "alternative" proposal by the PRI, insisting that "there are more points of convergence than disagreement" and that "[she] and the Calderón government are open to finding common ground and a common reform plan with all the political parties in Mexico that genuinely wish to modernize Mexico's ailing energy system."

The following week, the interim president of the PRD, Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo, met with top leaders of the PRI and PAN to discuss the possibility of submitting a "reform plan" to the Mexican Congress in the name of the PRI, the PAN ... and the PRD. A brief joint statement was issued by the three political parties announcing that "great progress [had] been made to come up with an energy reform plan that unites the country."

Acosta Naranjo insisted in a press conference that the PRI proposal "is not a privatizing proposal." He said that the PRD would present its own alternative proposal with the goal of reaching an agreement in the Congress. "We need to come up with a common solution," he said. "We must not further divide the country and provoke both internal and foreign confrontation." He also warned that no single party -- not the PRI, not the PAN, not the PRD -- has the "sufficient strength to impose its vision or its particular plan. It will be necessary to compromise."

And Acosta Naranjo seized this occasion to slam López Obrador and the MNDP, stating that "now that the debates are over, it is necessary for the Congress to take action. It is time for all of us to act responsibly." His aim was clear -- to pressure López Obrador and his supporters to back off -- to capitulate -- in the name of finding a "compromise solution."

Acosta Naranjo's words were echoed by Jesus Ortega, the main leader of the "leadership caucus" of the PRD. "There will be no more Congressional takeovers, Ortega stated, referring to the 18-day takeover in April by dissident PRD legislators of both houses of Congress to prevent the fast-track vote on Calderón's energy package. "We will not participate in any further acts of civil disobedience. ... Now it is time for a vote to be taken by the elected representatives of the Mexican people."

López Obrador Slams the Door on Any "Alternative" Plan Involving PRI and PAN

But López Obrador and the main leaders of the MNDP did not mince their words in response to the joint declaration by the PRI, the PAN and the PRD -- and in response to the "Chucho" leadership wing of the PRD. (The term "Chuchos" comes from the nickname in Spanish of "Jesus" -- Ortega's first name.)

"The Beltrones-PRI so-called alternative plan is a carbon copy of the PAN proposals," López Obrador stated. "The plan is unacceptable in any form. The so-called 'differences' are of no significance; it is an alternative that would do the same thing as the Calderón plan -- that is, turn our oil resources over to private, mainly foreign, interests."

López Obrador continued, "The PRI, the PAN and the PRD can have all the leadership meetings they want, but the final decision will rest on the outcome of the referendum. ... If they fail to respect the vote of the people as expressed through the three stages of the 'Consulta Nacional,' we will not sit back idly. We are prepared. We will mobilize nationwide. We will not permit the politicians to privatize our oil and destroy our nation."

MNDP National Coordinator Claudia Sheinbaum issued a detailed statement in which she analyzed point by point the Beltrones Plan, showing how on all essential questions it is a copy of the Calderón proposals. She concluded by calling the Beltrones plan a "pan con lo mismo" -- or "bread with the same ole same ole ...", a play on words, as the acronym of Calderón's party also means bread in Spanish.

López Obrador and the MNDP coordinators insist that the Mexican people must have the final say in the outcome of this "energy reform" debate. Nothing, they insist, can stand in the way of allowing the people to express their vote in all three phases of the "Consulta Nacional" -- so that the people can express their rejection of any and every country-selling plan.

Responding to press reports according to which the PAN, PRI and PRD leaderships appear to be gearing toward presenting a "consensus" reform plan as soon as the Congress reconvenes on September 1, López Obrador fired back:

"We will not allow foreign masters to take over the destiny and resources of our country. The only master here are the people. If the PRI and the PAN go ahead and seek to impose a vote in the Congress, we will be ready. We will call upon the Mexican people to mobilize in mass protest actions. There will be huge mobilizations across Mexico. There will be actions of peaceful civil resistance to prevent the privatization of Pemex and our oil resources."

López Obrador further stated that the resistance movement's Action Plan would be announced shortly after the August 24 referendum.

"A National March on Mexico City Is Needed" -- PTDI

For its part, the Democratic Independent Workers Party of Mexico (PTDI), which has campaigned actively in support of the MNDP's "VOTE NO" campaign in the three phases of the "Consulta Nacional," issued a statement on July 29 calling for a National Mass March to Mexico City in the event the mainstream ruling class parties go ahead and present their energy privatization to the Mexican Congress. The PTDI, a new multi-tendency party, is affiliated with the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC) and supports its international campaigns.

The PTDI Declaration No. 42 states, in part:

"On July 27, the 'NO to Privatization' vote was overwhelming. It was a vote of rejection of the privatization proposals presented by Calderón, but it was also a vote of rejection of Beltrones of the PRI. ...

"There are two camps here: One the one hand, there are those who defend the nation (the majority of the workers and people); on the other hand there are those who seek to turn our oil wealth over to the interests of the multinational corporations (the PRI, PAN, Green Party, Televisa, Carlos Slim, and all those who would seek to reach a 'consensus' with the oligarchs). ...

"The political situation calls for preparing a National March to Mexico City to stop the takeover of our oil resources:

"This political situation also raises the following question: What kind of political organization is needed to assist the working people of Mexico to safeguard their interests?"

And the PTDI Declaration went on to invite Mexico's working people, peasants, shantytown dwellers and youth to participate in a forum on August 2nd in Mexico City called by sectors of the PRD, the trade unions and popular organizations to discuss, together with the PTDI, the question of building a new political organization of Mexico's working people and the oppressed. [See Letter of Invitation to August 2 Meeting below.]

One thing is clear as these lines are written: Revolution and counterrevolution in Mexico are about to face off in the coming weeks and months. The battle lines have been drawn.

"The Nation Is Not For Sale, Pemex Must Be Defended!

("La Patria No Se Vende; Pemex Se Defiende!")

Friday, September 5, 2008

The new American gestapo strikes again…

It seems as if ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the new name for the INS) is out to break records as fast as the gold medal swimmers in the 2008 Summer Olympics. After undertaking the “largest single-site operation of its kind in American history” when ICE raided Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville Iowa, last May, ICE apparently decided they could best that record and did so at the Howard Industries plant in Laurel, Mississippi last week. In Postville 900 ICE agents detained roughly 400 undocumented immigrant workers. A 60 acre cattle fairground was turned into a concentration camp for the detainees, off limits to cameras and most of the media. One court interpreter, Prof. Erik Camayd-Freixas, described the scene as the detainees were brought into the trailers that served as courtrooms on the fairgrounds… “Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, some being relatives (various Tajtaj, Xicay, Sajché, Sologüí…), some in tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment.” (See first link below for source and more details).

In Laurel, Mississippi ICE broke it’s Postville record, arresting 595 workers. The raid occurred at Howard Industries, an electrical equipment factory that employs roughly 800 workers. Instead of taking the immigrants to a hastily constructed concentration camp on a fairgrounds, these detainees were brought to a new detention center constructed in Jena, Louisiana (yes, the same Jena made notorious by the racially motivated arrests and prosecutions of six African-American teenagers in 2006). The facility is owned and operated by GEO Group, Inc. (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation) a vehemently anti-union company who has made millions on others misery and has an infamous record for civil and human rights violations at its facilities. According to reports from MIRA! (Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance) ICE agents also placed a nearby poultry plant on “lockdown” and set up roadblocks near the Wal-Mart in Hattiesburg. In both the Postville and Laurel raids, as is usually the case, families have been broken apart. MIRA! immediately began organizing a support network following the Laurel raid to take care of children left behind when their parents were arrested at work. Public pressure on ICE from previous raids has at least had some impact it seems. In both raids, mothers with young children at home were released after being fitted with electronic monitoring bracelets. This is of limited comfort for those families whose fathers continue to be detained and who now have no means of subsistence or survival. In the case of the Postville raid, a local Catholic church, which actual housed dozens of terrified immigrant families in the days following the raid (around 400 people in total), has taken it upon itself to provide the families with basic necessities like food, clothing and rent money.

Besides being record breaking, the Postville and Laurel raids also indicate new hard ball tactics employed by ICE, some of which have been criticized for bending, if not breaking standard legal practices and precedents. Prof. Camayd-Freixas raises serious concerns about ICE’s use of a threat to charge the workers with “aggravated identity theft”, a felony charge, to force the workers, regardless of the particulars of their case, to plead guilty to “knowingly using a false Social Security number”. The approach of ICE was to create a catch-22 situation in which the undocumented workers had no choice but to acquiesce to a guilty plea, deportation, and a 5 month stint in Jail, or defend their innocence and spend anywhere from 8 months to a few years in prison before being deported, regardless of the outcome of their trail. Prof. Camayd-Freixas further describes how the rushed hearings provided the workers by ICE and U.S. District Court were clearly designed to provide a veneer of legality while circumventing in practice, the worker’s legal rights (read Prof. Camayd-Freixas report below, it is truly disturbing). He refers to this new practice as “fast-tracking” and states… “It is no secret that the Postville ICE raid was a pilot operation, to be replicated elsewhere, with kinks ironed out after lessons learned. Next time, “fast-tracking” will be even more relentless. Never before has illegal immigration been criminalized in this fashion. It is no longer enough to deport them: we first have to put them in chains.” Prof. Camayd-Freixas claims are further bolstered by the ACLU’s recent discovery of government manuals distributed to defense attorneys assigned to represent immigrant workers after a raid. The manuals encourage the practices Prof. Camayd-Freixas witnessed in Postville. The threat of felony charges of aggravated identity theft was used again in the Laurel raid. And in Mississippi, undocumented workers can be sentenced to 5 years in jail and fined $10,000 under a new law passed earlier this year by right wing legislators and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Mississippi seems determined to maintain it’s historical legacy as one of the country’s most white supremacist states, and it seems as if ICE has found the perfect place in which persecute undocumented workers.

Neither the Postville nor the Laurel raids break the record for ICE arrests in a single operation. The detaining of 1,297 immigrant workers during raids on Swift meatpacking plants in December 2006 is still largest single action taken by the agency since the reorganization of the INS into ICE in March 2003, the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It appears that the Laurel raid may also have something in common with one of the more infamous ICE raids of the past couple years - the January 24th, 2007 raided at the Smithfield pork slaughtering plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. That raid happened in the midst of efforts by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) to unite the often divided White, Black and Latino workers behind a union organizing effort in the plant. In the Winter of 06-07, the union had made great strides in this regard. Latino workers had become particular important in the growing campaign. As you might imagine, the January raids had a serious impact on those organizing efforts. Likewise the raid at Laurel seems to coincide with efforts by the relatively new union local at Howard Industries, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1317 to reach out the growing Latino immigrant workforce in the plant. According to journalist David Bacon, their had been tensions between the union and the immigrant workers in the past. His article and other reports I have read indicate that it was a union member who initial contacted ICE several years ago about the presence of undocumented workers at the facility. However, the union’s contract expired last August, and in the face of stiff resistance to any concessions from company management and a growing number of immigrant workers in the plant, the union had made great strides in trying to organize these new workers (see the David Bacon link below for more details). How convenient than that the raid would happen now. It is yet to be seen how this will effect contract negotiations. From what I gather the union has not said much publicly about the raid. We will also have to see if evidence of possible collusion between company management and ICE surfaces as it did in the Smithfield raid (see the Smithfield link below).

Here lies the really reason behind the increase in immigration raids in the past few years. It is classic divide and conquer tactics. The massive immigrant rights marches in 2006 and the growing alliance between immigrant rights groups and labor unions have frightened the nation’s ruling class. The powers that be have moved swiftly to blunt this new burgeoning civil rights movement. Racist xenophobes and business elites share a common interest in terrorizing immigrant workers and driving a wedge between them and the rest of the working class. The raids are of course a response by the Bush administration to appease the rabidly anti-immigrant element within the Republican Party. But the raids serve many other purposes as well. They feed into the growing anti-immigrant hysteria whose aim is to distract the working class from the real causes of joblessness, declining wages and lowered living standards. Both immigrant and non-immigrant workers are easier to exploit, when immigrant workers are driven into the shadows, when immigrant workers are forced to accept slave wages and substandard working conditions out of fear and desperation. David Bacon’s recent article entitled “Did a Mississippi Raid Protect Rightwing Politicians?” points out the specifics of these dynamics in the case of the Laurel, Mississippi raid (see link below for the full article). In his article Bacon quotes Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who states "raids drive down wages because they intimidate workers, even citizens and legal residents. The employer brings in another batch of employees and continues business as usual, while people who protest get targeted and workers get deported. Raids really demonstrate the employer's power." Bacon talks about the growing alliance between African-Americans and Latinos that has been changing the balance of power in Mississippi and challenging the old racist political elites. He states in his article…“… members of the Black Caucus, many of the state's labor organizations, and immigrant communities all see shifting demographics as the basis for changing the state's politics.” I witnessed this myself when I visited MIRA! in June of 2007. MIRA! is one of the most dynamic, militant and successful immigrant rights organizations I have encountered anywhere in the country. They have helped launch powerful campaigns like the Indian guest workers who are fighting the near involuntary servitude practiced by Signal International, a struggle I have talked of often on Labor Express Radio and pilsenprole. The founders of MIRA! are actually a group of white and African-American labor activists who realized that the states growing immigrant worker population need a voice. Unions have been their major base of support and the African-American caucus in the state legislature has championed their legislative efforts and defeated anti-immigrant measures. These raids are an arrow aimed at the heart of this growing solidarity. What the raids are definitely not about is increased prosperity for working class communities. In Postville, according to an ABC News article “Postville has lost more than one-fourth of its pre-raid population of 2,300…” The result is boarded up storefronts and schools where a third of the student body is missing. Like many other small towns around the country where recent waves of Latino immigrants had meant growing economic vitality, the raids bring doubt about these towns future survival.

Now I know some of you might abject to the use of the term “gestapo” in my title for this entry. Yes, this is hyperbole. Yes, I realize that immigrants are not, at least at this point, being shipped of to death camps. I realize that we are not yet, at least, living under a fascist regime. I too often tire of the left’s tendency to use the terms fascist and Nazi in a-historical comparisons for political effect. Such usage of the terms does diminish their true historic significance and robs the victims of those regime the specificity of their experience. But when I see ICE agents sweeping into factories and small towns arresting hundreds of workers, dividing parents from their children; when I see ICE bending the law and denying immigrant workers their legal rights in order to force confessions and convictions; when I see the massive investment in new detention facilities that has occurred in the past few years; when these detention facilities are now holding whole immigrant families (including young children) for indefinite periods of time (see Kari Lyderson article below for more details); when I place these developments alongside the other attacks on our civil liberties we have witnessed in recent years (i.e. the Patriot Act, etc.); I can’t help but be reminded of the famous Niemoeller quote…

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Links to sources:

This first person account of the Postville raid by court interpreter Prof. Erik Camayd-Freixas is a must read…

David Bacon continues to be the most insightful journalist there is on issues dealing with labor and immigrant rights. Here is his article on the Laurel raid…

Here is Bacon’s article on the Smithfield raid in 2007…

This article on Postville Iowa in the wake of the raid is amazingly insightful and sensitive to the experience of the undocumented immigrants - somewhat unusual for a mainstream news source. What is particular powerful in this article is the strong sense of solidarity expressed by the rest of the population of Postville toward the immigrant workers and their clear understanding of the valuable contribution these workers have made to the community…

A truly chilling article about the growing number of immigrant children in detention centers by friend and journalist Kari Lyderson…

The number of ICE detention facilities has exploded in recent years, especially in Texas and other Southern states. Many of these facilities are privately run, a situation just as disturbing in its implications as the growing use of private contractor mercenaries in Iraq. GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut), one of the companies that runs a number of these facilities, including the one in Jena, has already been charged with violating the human and civil rights of detainees. The company is a corrections facility multinational, operating prisons across the globe. The also have a history of being rabidly anti-union and have recently sued SEIU for “racketeering” because of the unions successful efforts to build labor/community coalitions around the companies abuses…

You can see a video of the Jena detention facility here…

Important article on the connection between immigration raids and union busting…

Articles on the Laurel raid…,2933,411121,00.html