Bernie Sanders’ black problem

July 27, 2015 at 6:10 pm (Anti-Racism, Cross-post, Democratic Party, Paul Canning, United States)

Cross-posted by Paul Canning:

The rest of the world loves to laugh at America’s never ending election process. Heck, Americans laugh at it. Jon Stewart for one. But those vaguely playing attention, especially those reading The Guardian, will have had their ears prick up at the campaign of one Bernie Sanders.

Senator Sanders is that rarest of things in the good ol’USA, an actual socialist. His rallies for the Democratic party’s nomination have been massive so of course a Guardian writer, Mary O’Hara, is waving to get Brits attention yelling that “it’s invigorating to witness what’s happening in the US.” My friends at Shiraz Socialist are no less dizzy saying that the Sanders’ campaign is “probably the most exciting development in US politics since the 1930s.”

Oh my. Thing is the Sanders campaign just got knocked sideways by black activists. So much so that one of the largest grassroots progressive groups, Democracy for America, has now changed its nominating process. They “will ask how candidates will support the Movement for Black Lives and confront racism and our “culture of white supremacy”.” Other groups are certain to follow. That is, that all the assumptions about why a self-proclaimed socialist would automatically win progressive endorsement have been changed. For ever. Sanders has consistently polled low numbers with minority voters but things came to a head when he did not react well to a stage invasion by #blacklivesmatters activists at the Netroots Nation conference, a big leftwing shindig. Those theatrics drew the attention but the warning signs were already there, as Tommy Christopher points out in this analysis of an earlier interview with George Stephanopoulos.

Says Christopher:

Sanders decided to tell Stephanopoulos that black voters would love him if they just understood things better, an idea that is uncomfortably similar to the conclusion reached by the Republican Party’s infamous 2012 “autopsy report,” and an echo of the GOP’s point man on minority outreach, Rand Paul.

Sanders’ argument, that the policies he advocates for everyone should also be particularly attractive to black and Hispanic voters, is an approach that is favored by politicians who take minority votes for granted, as well as those who take for granted that they won’t get those votes. Sanders’ problem is that Hillary Clinton supports all of the policies he cites, but he has not taken up any of the issues that Hillary Clinton has used to solidify her support with the Obama coalition.This is no accident; Sanders has long emphasized winning white voters by deliberately avoiding what he considers “demographic stuff” in favor of economic issues.

Sanders problems are not just presentational, they’re political. As one of the biggest black websites bluntly puts it “a job isn’t going to stop a bullet”. Christopher:

Substantively, Sanders’ philosophy misses the point that many of those “demographic” issues are economic issues. For black Americans, the criminal justice and policing reforms that Hillary Clinton has advocated are directly tied to their economic well-being, or that of their close friends and relatives. And while Sanders decries the role of money in politics, the Obama coalition is much more urgently concerned with whether they’ll even be allowed to vote in the next election.

The political problem for Sanders is underlined in another area in this article by Jesse Berney on abortion access, which is a enormous issue in America where access remains under constant attack.

In an interview with Rolling Stone a few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders spoke about the economic populism driving his campaign. “Once you get off of the social issues — abortion, gay rights, guns — and into the economic issues,” he told writer Mark Binelli, “there is a lot more agreement than the pundits understand.”

This formulation isn’t uncommon, even among progressives like Sanders. It’s easy to ascribe the fierce debates on issues like abortion and LGBT rights to cultural differences, and to wish we could just push them aside and finally convince rural white voters to vote for their “economic interests.”

But putting abortion rights in a box separate from economic issues ignores the reality of the women who find it increasingly difficult to obtain an abortion in this country. Abortion is an economic issue: wealthy women will always have access to abortion, while restrictions and obstacles affect low- and middle-income women disproportionately.

Berney explains how Clinton is getting it right.

Sanders puts economic inequality and corporate power at the top of his agenda, and deliberately excludes reproductive rights from that list.

In a recent event in Iowa where she shared the stage with Sanders and the other Democratic White House candidates, Hillary Clinton made a point to say traditional “women’s issues” are actually “economic issues.” Clinton has mostly stuck to issues safer than abortion – like family leave and child care – when talking about the economic impact of issues that have traditionally been “women’s issues.”

But she’s doing the work to erase that distinction, while Sanders draws that line ever more clearly. These priorities matter, and the candidates’ words matter.

Berney warns that Sanders risks losing a whole other part of the Democrats base, the majority, women:

Abortion rights are under severe threat in this country, and exiling them to an imaginary “social issues”category necessarily relegates them to second-class status.

Immediately after the Netroots Nation fiasco the Sanders campaign made some tweaks, as Imani Gandy notes in her fabulous, excoriating piece ‘You’re White and Marched With Dr. King: So What?’ – But Sanders’ supporters are giving a very good impression of learning nothing at all from the exercise.

Progressives are complaining that the protesters were disrespectful and rude. They’re whining that interrupting a speech isn’t an “invitation for solidarity.”

I’ve seen some white folks complaining that they no longer feel safe at Netroots because—you know—unruly Black women. The horror! Still others don’t think the protest “looks good.” (Because as we all know, change comes when you politely ask for it, not when you disrupt and demand it, which, by the way, is what Dr. King did. White people tend to forget that Dr. King was a disruptor when they are using him as a Pokémon to shut Black people up.)

Rather than support these brave Black women activists in what is quite literally a fight for the lives of Black people, there you are in all your pearl-clutching glory talking about how disrespectful the activists were, and how it’s such a shame that the uppity Black people were being so rude to an obvious ally, and how the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so disorganized and is protesting the wrong things at the wrong time in front of the wrong people.

“Why are you alienating allies?”

“Don’t you know how much Bernie cares for you?”

“What’s wrong with you people?”

“Hillary would be worse!”

“What are you going to do, vote for Donald Trump?”

“Why won’t you ever be satisfied?”

“You’re doing it all wrong!”

“You’re going to make us quit caring about Black lives if you don’t shape up and act the way we want you to.”

Most Black voters want the answer to one question: What is Sanders’ plan to address the police brutality crisis in the Black community?

And the answer to that question is never: “Bernie marched with Dr. King.”

I can vouch for this reality because even I got whiny tweets after retweeting Gandy, who tweets at @AngryBlackLady.

And it is not like there aren’t black people trying to patiently explain what Sanders’ may be doing wrong. Here’s Roderick Morrow, who got so fed up with reaction from so-called ‘progressives’ that he started the joke hashtag. #BernieSoBlack.

It’s like they’re almost trying to outblack us. “Oh, you’re a black person, what could you possibly understand about our candidate? He was marching before you were even born!” Okay, that’s cool, but you gotta stay on top of it. So I made a joke that’s like, “Bernie’s blacker than us! Bernie’s SO BLACK!” That’s how it feels when they come into our mentions and tell us that we don’t know what we’re talking about, and even though [Sanders] doesn’t talk about #BlackLivesMatter right now, we should just kind of shut up. So I was just like:

Honestly, the joke is not even on Bernie Sanders. That’s what’s so funny — the joke is on the defense of him, which is, if you extrapolate to the furthest extent, he can do no wrong on race. Like, we should not even expect anything of him, he put in his time already, we need to just shut up.

I’m sure it does happen, but I can’t imagine people doing this to other constituencies, because you do rely on those votes. At Netroots Nation, you’re going to be addressing a very diverse but very black-centric audience, and to not really be prepared to talk about race there is a little bit of a slap in the face. So for us — and when I say “us,” I just mean black people, I’m not any level of an activist or anything — for us to just say, Hey, you kind of did a bad job, hope you do better in the future, and then get bombarded with “He marched in 1968!” it’s like, All right, man, I don’t know what to tell you.

That. That right there.

Edited to add@BobFromBrockley has pointed out this socialist response, not to this but to the entire movement (I think)! A progressive I have followed for years, Martin Bowman, has also written despairingly here, comparing the movement to a marriage and fearing that we’re heading for divorce.

I won’t Fisk either but I would point out one thing. I’m a white gay man and I’m from the generation that lived through HIV/Aids. So there is a connection I have to a ‘crisis’ of people dying and there is also a connection to having to yell and scream to get attention – from everybody. So we had Act-Up and Peter Tatchell invading pulpits, but then we also had lobbyists and McKellan having tea with John Major. Movements always piss people off. From what I can tell the people supporting Sanders are pissed off and from my perspective, as another minority, then I don’t know why that’s a bad thing.

Edited to add: It’s also worthwhile noting these comments (via Nancy LeTourneau) from Dara Lind:

There is a legitimate disconnect between the way Sanders (and many of the economic progressives who support him) see the world, and the way many racial-justice progressives see the world. To Bernie Sanders, as I’ve written, racial inequality is a symptom — but economic inequality is the disease. That’s why his responses to unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore have included specific calls for police accountability, but have focused on improving economic opportunity for young African Americans. Sanders presents fixing unemployment as the systemic solution to the problem.

Many racial-justice advocates don’t see it that way. They see racism as its own systemic problem that has to be addressed on its own terms. They feel that it’s important to acknowledge the effects of economic inequality on people of color, but that racial inequality isn’t merely a symptom of economic inequality. And most importantly, they feel that “pivoting” to economic issues can be a way for white progressives to present their agenda as the progressive agenda and shove black progressives, and the issues that matter most to them, to the sidelines.

So Sanders’ performance at Netroots confirmed the frustrations that his critics felt. And Sanders’ supporters’ reaction to the criticism was just as predictable.

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The problem with Bernie Sanders

July 21, 2015 at 10:05 am (Cross-post, Democratic Party, elections, Eric Lee, posted by JD, reformism, United States)


Supporters with Robin Hood faces of Bernie Sanders (Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty Images)

By Eric Lee

The Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is probably the most exciting development in US politics since the 1930s. And it’s not a coincidence that both the resurgent left of that decade and the Sanders phenomenon have followed the spectacular economic crashes of 1929 and 2008.

The Sanders campaign is a phenomenon. He’s not only rising rapidly in the polls, posing a clear threat to Hillary Clinton, but he’s raising millions of dollars in small donations and filling arenas with supporters – including in some surprising places, like Phoenix, Arizona.

A self-described democratic socialist and a former member of the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL), Sanders was influenced by an early visit to a kibbutz in Israel in the 1960s, and by the model of Scandinavian social democracy. He’s proposed a number of radical reforms that put him far to the left not only of any other mainstream presidential candidate this year, but to the left of anyone in living memory.

There’s not been a campaign like this since Norman Thomas led the Socialist Party to its second-best result ever in 1932, polling just under 900,000 votes. (The Communist Party back then polled only a fraction of the Socialist vote.)

But there’s a problem with Sanders’ call for a “political revolution” in America. It’s not going to happen without organisation. And a presidential election campaign is not an organisation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jon Stewart peers into the abyss

June 20, 2015 at 2:48 pm (Anti-Racism, crime, good people, Jim D, television, United States)

The usually witty host of the US Daily Show, Jon Stewart says “no jokes” in the aftermath of the Charleston killings:

“I have nothing other than sadness that once again we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal but we pretend doesn’t exist … I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit.”

A powerful and moving statement, well worth watching:

H/t: Jon-Erik Kellso

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Seymour Hersh and the killing of bin Laden: who gives a flying f**k?

June 12, 2015 at 6:50 pm (conspiracy theories, Jim D, Pakistan, publications, terror, United States)

Seymour Hersh – who won a Pulitzer in 1970 for exposing the My Lai massacre – has in recent years been going in for conspiracy theories based on unnamed and/or unreliable sources and generally tenuous evidence, resulting in unlikely conclusions that often defy common sense and certainly defy the principle of Occam’s razor.

Over the last three years, for instance, Hersh has come up with pieces alleging that the George W Bush administration trained Iranian militants in Navada and that Turkey (not Assad) was behind chemical attacks in Syria.

Hersh’s most recent ‘revelation’ appeared in the 21 May edition of the London Review of Books, in which he claimed that the official White House account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden “might have been written by Lewis Carroll.” Far from being a top secret US action, the raid was, according to Hersh a joint operation between the US and  senior officers of the Pakistani army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).

Central to Hersh’s account is the claim that since 2006, bin Laden was under Pakistani control, kept in the Abbottabad compound with financial assistance from Saudi Arabia. The problems with this scenario are pretty obvious – not least, why would the Saudis support someone who wanted to overthrow them? And if the US and Pakistan were actually co-operating, why was an elaborately staged and risky raid necessary in order to kill him?

Hersh’s article has been called into question by several serious journalists with no obvious axes to grind – notably Max Fisher of Vox, Peter Bergen of CNN and Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate.

But, with all due respect to the journalists who have spent much time and effort examining and debunking Hersh’s version of events, the best response to his LRB article (and, by the way, its a long article, spread over more than five full foolscap pages)  is a brief letter published in the present edition. My only quibble with Francis X. Archibald of Hilton Head, South Carolina would be his use of the words “Most Americans”; I’d have said  “most rational people”:

Regarding Seymour Hersh’s story, the facts are these  (LRB, 21 May):

1. Osama bin Laden orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.

2. The CIA found out where he was living.

3. US Navy Seals killed him.

End of story. Most Americans don’t give a flying f**k about the details of the venture.

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Civil rights: a Mighty Girl reaches 60

June 10, 2015 at 9:35 pm (Anti-Racism, children, civil rights, good people, history, Human rights, posted by JD, Racism, United States)

I am speechless with admiration! A mighty girl, indeed!

A Mighty Girl's photo.

Happy 60th birthday to Ruby Bridges! As a six-year-old, Ruby Bridges famously became the first African American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in the South. When the 1st grader walked to William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960 surrounded by a team of U.S. Marshals, she was met by a vicious mob shouting and throwing objects at her.

One of the federal marshals, Charles Burks, who served on her escort team, recalls Bridges’ courage in the face of such hatred: “For a little girl six years old going into a strange school with four strange deputy marshals, a place she had never been before, she showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier. We were all very proud of her.”

Once Ruby entered the school, she discovered that it was devoid of children because they had all been removed by their parents due to her presence. The only teacher willing to have Ruby as a student was Barbara Henry, who had recently moved from Boston. Ruby was taught by herself for her first year at the school due to the white parents’ refusal to have their children share a classroom with a black child.

Despite daily harassment, which required the federal marshals to continue escorting her to school for months; threats towards her family; and her father’s job loss due to his family’s role in school integration, Ruby persisted in attending school. The following year, when she returned for second grade, the mobs were gone and more African American students joined her at the school. The pioneering school integration effort was a success due to Ruby Bridges’ inspiring courage, perseverance, and resilience.

If you’d like to share Ruby Bridge’s inspiring story with the children in your life, there are several excellent books about her story including the wonderful picture book “The Story Of Ruby Bridges” for ages 4 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-story-of-ruby-bridges), the early chapter book “Ruby Bridges Goes to Story” for ages 5 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/ruby-bridges-goes-to-school), and the highly recommended memoir that Ruby Bridges wrote for young readers 6 to 12 entitled “Through My Eyes” (http://www.amightygirl.com/through-my-eyes).

There is also an inspiring film about her story called “Ruby Bridges” for viewers 7 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/ruby-bridges) — you can also watch it instantly on Amazon at http://amzn.to/WOOvgY

To give young readers more insight into the school integration struggle, Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison, has written an outstanding book, that’s filled with photos capturing the major desegregation events of the period, entitled “Remember: The Journey to School Integration” — for ages 9 and up — at http://www.amightygirl.com/remember

To introduce young people to the Civil Rights Movement and its courageous activists, we’ve compiled over 30 books for children and teens in our special feature on the “Top Mighty Girl Books on Civil Rights History” at http://www.amightygirl.com/mighty-girl…/civil-rights-history

For Civil Rights Movement-themed books for readers 4 to 8, we recommend “I Am Rosa Parks” (http://www.amightygirl.com/i-am-rosa-parks-1), “Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins” (http://www.amightygirl.com/freedom-on-the-menu), “White Socks Only” (http://www.amightygirl.com/white-socks-only), and “Child of the Civil Rights Movement” (http://www.amightygirl.com/child-of-the-civil-rights-moveme…).

For older readers, we recommend “Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High” for 12 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/warriors-don-t-cry), “Rosa Parks: My Story” for ages 9 to 13 (http://www.amightygirl.com/rosa-parks-my-story), “The Lions of Little Rock” for ages 9 to 13 (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-lions-of-little-rock), and “Fire From The Rock” for 12 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/fire-from-the-rock).

For Mighty Girl stories for children and teens that explore racial discrimination and prejudice, visit http://www.amightygirl.com/…/soci…/prejudice-discrimination…

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Selma, Alabama, 1965

March 8, 2015 at 8:15 pm (Anti-Racism, cinema, civil rights, posted by JD, Racism, solidarity, the cops, United States)

They wouldn’t let nobody turn them around

From the US Socialist Worker (ISO) website (nothing to do with the UK SW):

Marlene Martin tells the story of a landmark struggle of the civil rights movement that has been brought to life, fifty years on, in a new and justly celebrated movie.

THE STRUGGLE in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. A new film Selma takes up a three-month period from this battle, beginning with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. winning the Nobel Peace Prize and ending with the successful 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, which preceded the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of two main pieces of federal civil rights legislation that dismantled legal segregation.

Prior to 1965, activists in the South had been working hard for many years trying to register Blacks to vote. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that formed after the wave of lunch counter sit-ins in early 1960 had made voting rights a main aspect of its work. SNCC had been in Selma, working with Black activists, helping to develop leadership, holding meetings and helping to organize people to register.

Amelia Boynton, a prominent local activist was frustrated with the slow pace of progress in Selma. So she reached out to Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King answered the call, and SCLC brought its resources into the struggle in Selma.

Review: Movies

Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay, written by Paul Webb, starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo and Tim Roth.

The film focuses on three attempted marches from Selma to the capital of Montgomery, to confront racist Gov. George Wallace. The first time, marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and they were beaten, whipped and denied passage in an orgy of violence known as Bloody Sunday. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named after a Confederate general and Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan.

In the film, this scene is intense. You feel as though you are on the bridge alongside the other activists, in a fog of thick tear gas. Then, all of a sudden, you see a horse coming forward and someone struck with a police billy club.

A few days later, with King at the head of it, activists attempt to cross the bridge again. This time, the troopers stood back to let the demonstrators pass. Whether King sensed a trap and was afraid of impending violence, or was concerned about violating a federal order not to cross before a coming hearing, King turned the march around. He lost respect among activists in SNCC and in the movement generally for this decision.

The third attempt happened several days later after a federal judge’s order cleared away all obstacles. Federal law enforcement agents were on hand for protection, and 300 marchers were allowed to march to Montgomery.

The movie is magnificent. It is filmed beautifully–many of the scenes are close-ups, with low lighting and actors speaking in soft voices, giving the filmgoer the sense of eavesdropping on conversations. The acting is superb, too.

But most importantly, the film captures the gut-wrenching sense of the human feeling of what it is like to be deprived of a basic human right just because you are Black, and what it takes to gather the courage and strength to challenge the oppressor. Director Ava DuVernay said people might understand the civil rights movement period intellectually, but she wanted people to feel it and make it “part of their DNA.” And she succeeds.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Giuliani’s attack on Obama fuels racism

February 21, 2015 at 3:24 pm (Democratic Party, Guest post, Obama, Pink Prosecco, Racism, Republican Party, United States)

6a00d83451b85a69e2017eea56d9c4970d-pi.jpg
Above: Rudy Giuliani

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

The controversy kicked off on Wednesday night when Rudy Giuliani, formerly Mayor of New York, accused Obama of not loving America.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Mr. Giuliani said at the event. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”
To call this a dog whistle is an understatement.

Now he’s compounded the problem by insisting that his remarks couldn’t possibly be considered racist.

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

Yes, logically, he might be able to claim that he wasn’t targeting Obama’s black/African heritage, but the way his mother brought him up, the milieu in which he was raised. But that’s pretty disingenuous given the way (some of) Obama’s opponents focus on his birthplace and his religion. Many of those gleefully applauding Rudy Giuliani’s speech won’t have parsed them with Giuliani’s own retrospective punctiliousness. The former Mayor has irresponsibly fuelled the suspicions of bigots, while maintaining plausible deniability.

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The Girls In The Band

February 7, 2015 at 5:03 pm (Anti-Racism, Feminism, good people, jazz, posted by JD, Sheer joy, United States, women)

A wonderful, short (less than ten minutes) documentary about women in jazz, starting with the fabulous ‘International Sweethearts Of Rhythm’, who in 1940’s America, were not only an all-female big band, but also racially integrated. The interviews with (then) surviving members (the film’s about 20 years old) are tremendously uplifting and moving. The late Marian McPartland also features:

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James P. Cannon on the separation of church and state

January 22, 2015 at 6:02 pm (atheism, Catholicism, Christianity, Civil liberties, class, Free Speech, From the archives, Human rights, James P. Cannon, Marxism, posted by JD, religion, socialism, trotskyism, United States)

In view of the craven capitulation of sections of the “left” before religion in recent years (and, notably, following the Charlie Hebdo murders), it seems timely to reproduce the views of the great US Trotskyist James P Cannon. This article, entitled ‘Church and State’ originally appeared in the Militant (paper of the US Socialist Workers Party) of November 19, 1951. It was later republished in Notebook Of An Agitator (Pathfinder Press, 1958).

James P Cannon

It’s a fairly safe bet that President Truman didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he announced his decision to send a US. ambassador to the Vatican, nominating General Mark W. Clark to the post. Inhibited by training and constitutional disposition from seeing anything more important or farther in the future than the next election, he probably thought he was just firing off a cap pistol to attract “the Catholic vote in 1952. He didn’t know it was loaded.

But the recoil of the gun and the noise of the explosion leave no doubt about it. The shot heard ’round the country has had results undreamt of in the philosophy of the Pendergastian politico in the White House. A bitter controversy, long smoldering, has burst into a flame that brings both heat and light into American politics. Sides are being chosen for a fight. In my opinion, it’s a good fight worth joining in.

The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So reads the first clause of the first amendment to the U;S. Constitution, adopted under the pressure of the people to protect their rights and freedoms. The meaning of this constitutional provision is quite clear to all who have no special interest in muddling it. It is the doctrine of “the separation of church and state.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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The present and future state of the US labor movement

January 19, 2015 at 8:46 pm (AWL, class, posted by JD, unions, United States, women, workers)

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, shown speaking Aug. 28 at Trinity All Nations Church in Chicago, is known for her bold style.
Above: Karen Lewis

By Ira Berkovic (from the Workers Liberty website, with very minor adaptions):

Before the tragic discovery that she has a brain tumour, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, the public figurehead of the CTU’s 2012 strike against the city’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel, was preparing a mayoral campaign for the 2015 election. Lewis’s national union, the American Federation of Teachers (the country’s biggest), had pledged $1 million. A Chicago Tribune poll from August 2014 put her ahead of Emanuel by 43 to 39%. Her victory, or even, perhaps, her campaign, would have been the most significant act of self-assertion by US labour in the political sphere for decades.

In a September 2014 article in Salon, Edward McClelland argues that Lewis typifies the contemporary US labour movement, which, since the 1970s, has become “feminised, professionalised, politicised and regionalised.” McClelland writes: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most unionised job category is ‘education, training and library occupations’ at 35.4 percent. That’s a field dominated by women, many with master’s degrees. (In fact, the Center for Economic and Policy Research predicts that by 2020, a majority of union members will be women.)”.

He argues that deindustrialisation, and the relocation of heavy industrial manufacturing to America’s south, “a region hostile to unionism”, has meant that the archetypal unionist of yesteryear – a white man working a “blue-collar” industrial job – is now more likely to be anti-union. The archetypal trade unionist of 2014 -15 is a graduate, a woman, probably black (unionisation rates amongst black workers are higher than those amongst whites), and in a “white-collar”, “professional” job.

McClelland also cites a political shift and realignment from the 1970s onwards; where unionised, working-class voters in America’s industrial heartland provided a base of support for Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory (in which he ran what he called a “blue-collar strategy”), now membership of and support for unions is “just another blue state [Democratic] trait”.

The statistics in McClelland’s article are stark. In early 2014, in a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the United Auto Workers (UAW) lost a ballot for something akin to union recognition by 712 votes to 626. In a separate campaign amongst graduate workers in administrative jobs at New York University, UAW won the ballot 620-10. McClelland’s article is an observation extrapolated from those statistics, and not a comprehensive study. But even as an observational sketch, there are some important details missing from the picture. Read the rest of this entry »

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