Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pilsen losses another of its children to senseless violence…

Pilsen is the greatest neighborhood in this country bar none, anytime of the year, but the community really comes into its own in the Summer. Pilsen is one of those front porch neighborhoods that were common place in working class communities 40 or 50 years ago, before the proliferation of central air, smaller families and gentrification turned even urban neighborhoods into imitators of their insular suburban cousins. But in Pilsen, were air conditioning is still often a luxury, apartments are still over crowded and the outdoor culture of the zocalo or centro is a still recent memory, life is in the streets in the Summer time. The chatter of families on their front steps spreading family gossip, the giggle of kids playing in a spraying fire hydrant, the tinkling bells of the paleta vendor, the smell of barbecue grills, and the laughter of a bunch of grandmas engaged in a game of cards on their front sidewalk into the wee hours of the morning, all this has given way in most communities to ice cream stores and fast food chains in strip malls and to an atomized existence in front computer screens and flat screen TV sets within artificial cooled fortresses of solitude. One of the greatest pleasures of life in Pilsen is the way the sidewalks, alleyways and streets come alive at this time of year. And If I might hazard stepping over the line and revealing that I remain all to much a flawed male, I can’t help but take extra delight that in the Summer the women of Pilsen, some of the most beautiful in the world, are all the more so in their Summer attire.

Unfortunately, Summer in Pilsen often brings with it a remainder of the persistence of one the neighborhood’s greatest challenges. Gentrification, pollution, poverty, all of these often seem to be intractable problems, but perhaps none is more disheartening than the gang violence that has claimed far to many of our local youth. Sadly this Summer is no exception. Last Saturday (July 25th) my cousin Arian lost a good friend. Jeff Maldonado had just celebrated his 19th birthday on Friday. On Saturday at 2:00 PM in the afternoon, at the neighborhood’s busiest intersection, Blue Island and 18th St., a gunman took Jeff’s life in a case of mistaken identity. Coincidental I was at the intersection only moments later as multiple squad cars converged on the scene.

Jeff was a music and graffiti artist, some of his work graces a few walls in the neighborhood. You can find more details about Jeff and the circumstances of his violent death at the following websites…





Below are pictures of some of Jeff’s enormous network of friends. They are holding a car wash at the corner of Carpenter and Cullerton, a short distant from Jeff’s home and across from Dvorak Park, to raise money for Jeff’s family. As of today they had already raised nearly $2,000. They say that they will continue their fundraiser all week. So if you need your car washed, or even if you don’t, stop by and drop a few bucks in the donation tin.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Update: Honduras Coup

On Labor Express we have been trying to keep current with developments in Honduras. On June 28th, the Honduran military kidnapped the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and put him on a plane to Costa Rica. Zelaya, a member of the Liberal Party was elected to the Honduran presidency in 2006 on a relatively conservative political platform. A member of Honduras’ landowning political and economic elite, no one expected Zelaya to be much different than all the past presidents and dictators of Honduras who have ruled the nation to the advantage of the oligarchy and to the determinant of the poor majority. However, over the past two years, Zelaya has embraced the left turn in Latin American politics of the last decade and pushed forward some moderate social reforms like a raise in the minimum wage. This shift leftward of the president’s politics was immediately attacked by the political establishment, even by other members of the Liberal Party. Honduran social movements, like the labor and campesino movements, despite a level of distrust of Zelaya motives and political ambitions, embraced the changes they hoped could be achieved as a result of the Presidents political transformation after many decades of repression at the hands of the army and the Honduran ruling class.

Fearful of even the slightest social change, the ruling elite launched a campaign to undermine the Zelaya. Matters came to ahead when Zelaya called for a Consulta Popular (an advisory referendum) on whether aspects of the Honduran constitution should be altered. The Honduran Congress and Supreme Court claimed that the only reason for the Consulta was an attempt by Zelaya to extend his term in office, a claim disputed by Zelaya and by his supporters who point out, that such a change would have been difficult to achieve as the referendum was purely advisory, made no actual changes to the constitution, and any such changes would be difficult to implement prior to the next presidential elections in November. When Zelaya announced his decision to push forward with the Consulta, the Supreme Court ordered his arrest. This was used as a pretext for the ensuing military coup.

Since June 28th the Honduran military has enforced a military curfew and arrested Zelaya supporters. At least four coup opponents have been murdered (more on this later). Despite the danger, Honduran labor and campesino organizations have organized daily protests in the capital and throughout the country. No matter what their views of Zelaya the man (many do question his motivations and commitment to democratic social transformation) the social movements in Honduras have made the return of Zelaya to the Honduran presidency their prime objective. What they fear most is a return of the dark days of the 1980’s when Honduras was a giant military base for the U.S. Army and death squads killed activists with impunity.

Alexy Lanza of La Voz de los Abajo has lead organizing in Chicago to support the people of Honduras at this critical time. You can listen to my interview with Alexy for the July 12 episode of Labor Express here…


Tune in to tonight’s episode for more from Alexy.

Much of the mainstream U.S. press has bought into (at least in part) the propaganda of the coup leaders that this really isn’t a real coup. Read this article from the Huffington Post for a careful analysis of Honduran law. It debunks much of the propaganda being reported in the press…


Here is an equally revealing anaylsis of the language of what I (perhaps mistakenly) have refered to as an "advisory referendum" by Steven L. Taylor at poliblogger.com. It points out quite clearly the fallacy of one of the most consistent pro-coup propganda points repeated constantly in the U.S. media, that the "referendum" was some sort of clear cut power grab by Zelaya...


On July 21st, Alexy Lanza interviewed by phone Agostin Ramos, Secretary General of the CNTC (Central Nacional de los Trabajadores del Campo). Here is what he had to say…

July 21, 2009

The Campesino Movement Speaks

Phone interview with Agostin Ramos, Secretary General of the CNTC (Central Nacional de los Trabajadores del Campo) by Alexy Lanza from La Voz de los de Abajo. The CNTC is a national campesino organization, founded in 1985, with affiliates in 14 of the 18 departments/ provinces in Honduras. It is a member of the Bloque Popular, the Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia and the National Front Against the Golpe.

Update on the situation in the Trujillo, and threats against the MCA( Movimiento Campesino de Aguan) at Guadalupe Carney. Ramos reported that the army and police have pulled back after their aggression last week created fears of an imminent massacre. The campesinos from Guadalupe Carney have been able to maintain their takeover of the highway to the city of Trujillo which passes in front of the community. The community’s radio, Radio Orquidia, has been able to keep broadcasting despite the threats against the community.

In La Paz, Radio Realidad, the community radio of the CNTC has temporarily stopped broadcasting because of concern for the equipment and the center that houses the radio in the face of the ongoing repression and threats.

In Tegucigalpa, campesino organizations continue to occupy the National Agrarian Institute (INA). The campesinos seized the INA after the de facto government of Micheletti replaced the director of the governmental institute with a pro-golpe de facto director.

The de facto government has frozen the bank accounts of the CNTC and other opposition organizations. Ramos explained that this is a very serious problem for the campesino organizations that have so few resources to begin with and rely on small grants and international donations for some of their budget.

Ramos said that all across the country campesino organizations and communities are maintaining their blockades of the highways in the rural area. In the cities the mobilizations are continuing and the movement is planning for different scenarios after the 72-hour waiting period requested by President Arias after the failure of the negotiations in Costa Rica.

Ramos declared that the campesino movement in Honduras joins with the rest of the movement against the golpe in asking that international supporters pressure the Organization of American States, and the United States government to take tougher action against the golpista government of Micheletti, including a full economic embargo and a breaking of all relations.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Labor, the Left and Democracy in Iran...

Well a good portion of the American Left is currently doing its best to embarrass themselves, as they often do, by embracing a twisted "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" logic in regards to recent developments in Iran. Rather than declaring solidarity with the biggest uprising of progressive, pro-democratic forces seen in Iran since 1979, including a much repressed labor movement, much of the American "anti-war", "anti-imperialist" Left has decided to ally themselves with one of the world's must virulently misogynist, homophobic, militarist, chauvinist, anti-semitic and repressive regimes on the planet. Of course they were given the green light for such a position by St. Chavez of Venezuela who was the first to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his fraudulent election (unfortunately just the latest example of the limitations of Chavez as the standard bearer of the global movement against neo-liberalism).

On the next episode of Labor Express (Sunday, July 19th) we will take a look at the democracy movement in Iran, the role of organized labor within that movement, the pro-privatization agenda of the Ahmadinejad regime and its brutal repression of organized labor, and the possibilities for change in Iran. You don’t want to miss it.

In the meantime, check out this excellent article by Billy Wharton in the June 28th issue of Dissident Voices…

Selling Iran: Ahmadinejad, Privatization and a Bus Driver Who Said No

by Billy Wharton / June 28th, 2009

A creeping assumption lies just beneath the surface of arguments concerning the disputed election in Iran. Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is cast as an anti-US populist crusader resisting the materialistic advances of the West. His opponent, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, as his foil — a Western-backed liberal intent on implementing free-market policies. Violent street battles have been presented as a re-enforcement of the Western disposition to see the two idealized positions as the limit of what is politically imaginable. Such arguments conveniently avoid a third force — the people of Iran, whose street politics threaten to move well beyond the confines of the electoral campaigns. Questions remain. Is Ahmadinejad really a populist — the only force preventing a wave of pro-market policies in Iran? Does Mousavi’s campaign mark the limits of the reform movement?

Since his election in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, under the guidance of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has overseen a regime dedicated to the privatization of state-controlled industries. The intention of the regime, as stated by the newly appointed Governor of the Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Seyyed Shams Al-din Hosseini, is to privatize 80% of state-owned industries by 2010. This mandate was made real just prior to the disputed elections as a state-owned bank, Saderat, announced it would offer 6% of its shares to private investors (Press TV, 6/8/09). Other significant privatizations during Ahmadinejad’s reign include the postal service, two other state-run banks, Tejerat and Mellat, and, in February 2008, a 5% bloc of shares in the publicly owned steel maker, Foulad-e Mobarakeh, was sold out in eight minutes (Iran Daily, 2/14/08). In total, since 2005, 247 enterprises have been processed by the Iran Privatization Organization, the state-ministry specifically charged with overseeing privatizations (Iranian Privatization Organization website).

Khamenei has propelled the process forward. While Ahmadinejad crafted just enough populist rhetoric to provide headlines, the Supreme Leader issued a letter in 2006 ordering the sell-off of banking, mining, industrial, and transport companies — 80% across the board. Ahmadinejad’s ministers have aggressively followed suit. In September 2008, Labor Minister Mohammad Jahromi described the fact that so many of the country’s resources are located in the public sector as an “obstacle” to growth (Iran Daily, 9/29/08). Heidari Kord-Zangeneh, Ahmadinejad’s deputy finance minister and head of the Iran Privatization Organization, drew pro-market policies together with the myth of anti-imperialism. “We are going to activate our private sector and our private banks,” he exclaimed, “in order to fight against these [US] sanctions.” He punctuated this with a pre-election promise, “I promise that if I am here for the next two years, between 80 and 90 percent of the government will be sold” (Iran Daily, 2/12/08).

Ahmadinejad’s supposed anti-Western approach stops short when it comes to allowing foreign investors to penetrate Iran’s economy. His Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Davoud Danesh-Jafari boasted at a 2008 meeting of the Islamic Development Bank that foreign direct investment in Iran had increased by 138% since 2007. (Iran Daily, 2/17/08) Some 80 projects had been initiated during that period. Key to this capital penetration was the 2004 acceptance of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Article VIII Obligations (IMF Press Release, 9/14/04). Under this provision, Iran agreed to refrain from imposing restrictions on currency transactions and other elements essential to capital flow.

While Ahmadinejad has been the implementer of privatization policies, the reform camp was its architects. Central to this process was the creative violation of Article 44 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This article mandates that key sectors of the economy remain in public hands. It represented the radical-populist edge of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Parliamentary legislation in 2004, near the end of the regime of reformer Mohammad Khatami, created the first breech in Article 44. The legislation called for a “change in the role of government from direct ownership and management of enterprises to policymaking, guidance and overseeing” (Iranian Privatization Organization website). The one consistent voice pushing this process forward is Khamenei, whose tenure as Supreme Leader encompasses both reformer and populist presidential regimes.

The IMF has hailed this process describing Iran in a 2007 position paper as, “Managing the Transition to a Market Economy.” The Fund has had a constant presence in the country since 1945, surviving even the turbulent 1979 Islamic Revolution. IMF officials have employed the usual equation of debt and technical assistance to enforce their pro-market agenda. The next phase, according to IMF planners, of market transition is to “curb the growth of internal demand” through the reduction of state subsidies. Ahmadinejad’s Central Bank appointee, Al-din Hosseini, indicated a shared sentiment, “The government plans to implement a strategy that involves significant reforms, the most important of which is the reform aimed at better subsidy system” (IMF Meeting, 10/13/08).

Pro-market privatizations have been combined with harsh restrictions on worker’s ability to organize in order to advance Ahmadinejad’s neo-liberal restructuring of Iran. Although Iran is technically a member of the International Labor Organization, and thereby mandated to allow free trade unions, workers are restricted from forming independent unions. Under the constitution, they are only allowed to join ideologically-centered Islamic Worker’s Councils, which hold no right to deal with worksite issues or collectively bargain. Despite these legal restrictions, privatization and soaring inflation have resulted in a series of escalating confrontations between workers and security forces.

In March 2007, thousands of schoolteachers spilled out into the streets in front of Parliament demanding that their collective grievances be heard and their salaries increased. They were attacked by security forces and their leaders received prison sentences of up to five years. Such repression did not deter Mahmoud Salehi, a baker, from making his annual demand to celebrate May Day. Salehi was found guilty of “acting against national security” and imprisoned. This year, in a small preview of the post-election street protests, Ahmadinejad’s security apparatus was used to repress 2,000 workers who attempted to organize a May Day celebration.

But the real foil to Ahmadinejad’s pro-market policies is a middle-aged bus driver from Tehran. Mansour Osanloo, acting as the president of the 17,000 worker-strong Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, led a 2005 strike in which drivers refused to accept fares in protest of working conditions and rising fares. The strike was immediately criminalized with Osanloo and fellow leaders placed under arrest. Undeterred, Osanloo led another strike attempt in 2006. He was again arrested and today sits in a cell in Iran’s notorious Evin prison — a living testament to both the courage of Iranian workers and the repressive nature of the regime.

Soon to be joining Osanloo in Evin are thousands of protesters who have also been criminalized by Ahmadinejad and Khamenei’s regime because of their protests over the stolen election. While it is difficult to describe a candidate with as many establishment credentials as Mousavi as a reformer, it is easy to see how the demonstrations on the street have rapidly progressed beyond his campaign. Slogans have moved from “Mousavi get our votes back” to “Death to the Dictator.” With this shift come possibilities for more radical measures. Automotive workers at Khodro Automobile Company have pledged resistance, university students are conducting sit-ins, and the Bus Drivers Union has issued a call for international solidarity.

Meanwhile, somewhere deep inside Evin prison, clandestine communications may be being initiated between a jailed bus driver and a newly minted student radical or an ailing baker and young rock-throwing worker. These actors need little help in understanding that Ahmadinejad’s regime, despite all his populist rhetoric, has worked hand-in-hand with IMF privatizers. After failing to deliver on his populist rhetoric, Ahmadinejad has stolen the election. Now, his only recourse is state repression. On the streets, something far more brilliant is underway — an open-ended emancipation project demanding nothing less than political freedom.

Billy Wharton can be reached at: wawharton@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website. http://counterhegemonic.blogspot.com/


Sorry for the long hiatus...

Hi pilsenprole readers,

Sorry for the long hiatus. The end of the school year and a month long vacation to see family in Los Angeles prevented me from regular updates, but I plan to make up for my lack of posts in the coming weeks. So please keep checking back for new material.