Thursday, August 2, 2012

Greetings, freedom fighters! On August 1st I celebrated my 55th birthday; on that day I began my time on the City of Philadelphia's Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), whereby I stay at my job for up to four years, and then I retire with a bonus along with my pension. These wonderful things have come forth through the work of the union, along with medical, optical, and dental insurance, so that I and so many other workers can live and retire with a decent lifestyle (hint, hint). This has been done by the work over decades-centuries-of dedicated activists, men and women who risked their lives-some even losing their lives-so that they, their coworkers, their families, and descendants could live a decent life. I am well read of the history of the labor movement, with such events as the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912, of mainly immigrant and female textile workers; the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911, where Jewish and Italian immigrant female workers died, either from the fire or from trying to jump away from it, because the owners of the company had the bright idea to lock the fire exits; the Haymarket massacre in 1886, where labor activists, campaigning for something so mundane as the eight-hour workday, were accused to killing police officers and were executed-murdered!-by the state of Illinois; the Pullman railroad car strike led by Eugene Debs; the campaigns of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); the organizing drive of Pullman porters in the 1920s and 30s, led by A. Philip Randolph; the organizing of farm workers by Cesar Chavez- the list goes on. All through these campaigns, corporations called upon their hirelings-"security" thugs, police, military, politicians, the ("Left liberal slanted") news media of the day, clergy- to put down the workers organizing. The slur "union thug" is not new, people have forever been told that unions are nests of criminals and/or Communists. Still, the goals of the unions, imperfect though they are, have been established: Social Security, Medicare, pensions, occupational health and safety standards, health benefits, and time just to be around the spouse and kids. But for the past thirty years, unions, and their achievements, have been attacked: I recall vividly the breaking of the air-traffic controllers union (which, by the way, supported Reagan), the weakening of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), companies moving their factories AND their jobs overseas. For that same era, we were barraged in the media by propaganda against the role of government in dealing with workers' issues and other social issues, such as Civil Rights for women and minorities, dealing with poverty, consumer protection, etc. "Get the government off our backs," was the Reagan war cry-what did that mean? If ever they got to specifics, it meant destroying Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, education funding, occupational safety and health, consumer protection-the list goes on. But, the idea was never to cut down or out spending on the military, which is where spending has always been tremendous, and the risk of corruption is greatest. Defense corporations have established their plants in certain congressional districts, to force members of Congress to keep voting for aircraft, armored vehicles, and other items that either don't work or are not necessary-not even the Pentagon brass asks for some of this stuff-or else workers in the plants lose their jobs, along with the paychecks that pay the bills, and no one wants to take peoples jobs away. Plus, we have the increase during the time of conservative-Republican hegemony of greater surveillance of citizens acting out their rights to protest their government's stupidity; during the Reagan administration's support of the psychopathic, loose-cannon military repressions in El Salvador, I have worked along with the Committee In Solidarity With The People of El Salvador (CISPES), and have met refugees from the homicidal repressions in El Salvador seeking support from churches in the Sanctuary movement; the FBI took a strong interest in such movements, just like it did the Civil Rights and anti-Viet Nam war movements. For spending on the military and secret-police functions-traditional functions of government-as far as the Republican rights-wing thinks, the sky's the limit. It was due to huge military spending, along with cuts in taxes for the wealthiest Americans, we had deficits surpassing all the previous presidential administrations combined; you can't blame them on Food Stamps, Pell Grants, the EPA or OSHA, non-traditional functions of government. The glorification of the business-corporate class has a long history in this country, with the belief that the American businessman can do anything, and that government ought to be "run like a business;" that myth grew in strength starting in the Age of Reagan and continued, up until the crash of 2008. The Rich and the Super Rich, the classic book by Ferdinand Lundberg dating back to 1968, chronicles the interplay between government/politics and the corporate class, with executives holing up in their exclusive clubs making deals, wealthy families establishing how to perpetuate their wealth, politicians doing everything they can for their campaign donors, etc. Contrary to the Reagan-rightist-corporate propaganda line, corporate executives and their stockholding masters have never been this oppressed minority group. From Reagan up to today, however, the attempt was to remove the last administrative restraints on corporate crime-stock manipulation (which could have prevented Enron and Bernie Madoff), environmental regulation (which could have prevented the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico), occupational safety and health (which could have prevented the deaths of miners in West Virginia), the wholesale closing of factories and exporting the work to low-wage countries (thus taking jobs away from workers, so they can't pay their mortgages and utilities; impoverishing communities; closing small businesses like mom-and-pop groceries; reducing the tax base to that municipalities can't pay for police, fire and garbage collection; and weakening the manufacturing capabilities of the nation). Lundberg pointed out in 1968 how short-sighted the corporate elite has been, with no breath of vision, thinking of nothing but the bottom line. This was evident to me during the Iraq war of 2003, a great moment of shame for this country; the buildings in Baghdad related to the oil industry were secured, but the museums and other cultural institutions were left alone to be vandalized and ransacked by hoodlums Saddam Hussein released from his prisons-thereby demolishing five millennia of human history! And what was the response of Donald Rumsfeld? "Stuff happens!" That is the mentality of the ruling political-economic elite-no knowledge of the world or its history, or of foreign cultures or peoples, just the drive to expand corporate profits-of whatever corporation-for the Bush II administration, it was Halliburton and Bechtel. Of course there has come up the whine about “big government” oppressing entrepreneurs trying to make a profit on their genius. That has proven to be a red herring the size of a school of whales. For as long as there has been capitalism, 1. governments and corporations have worked hand in glove with each other, 2. nations that were originally clusters of small duchies and principalities-Germany, France, and Italy-each unified into a single national state-entity, with one single standard to weights and measures, one single currency, one single tax system, and one single military apparatus-all important in the development of capitalism. The United States also followed this pattern. in its first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, the arrangement was more like a league of independent republics, like the original thirteen colonies were. Each state had its own currency, and each faced rebellions of farmers and Revolutionary war veterans, such as Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786-87; there, farmers and veterans, squeezed by the post-war depression and harsh governmental austerity measures, shut down courts engaged in tax and debt collection, and they raised a militia against the state government. Originally, the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1797 considered merely tightening up the provisions of the Articles; but they gave up the Articles and formulated a new, centralized structure. Alexander Hamilton, the godfather of what was to become the Federalist party, advocated a semi-aristocratic system for the country, favoring the emerging industrial capitalists being dominant in government; one of his projects, the Bank of the United States, was part of this aristocratic system. Thus, “big government’ was there, to benefit the financial elite of this country. Only when formerly oppressed groups-workers, consumers, women, ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities-attempt to utilize the federal government as an ally to alleviate their repression do we hear the whine of “big government.” And the corporate news-entertainment media don’t tell us the back-story of why the government got involved in such things as urban improvement, occupational safety and health, civil rights enforcement, consumer protection, environmental protection; or the efforts to persuade the government officials of the need for such protections. The fight is on, brothers and sisters. The corporate masters and their deluded foot-soldiers in the “tea party” thing (I won’t call it a “movement”) will try to terrorize us out of asserting our rights; but we’ve proven adept in standing up to them, and we’ll continue to do so, and we WILL win. Bye!