Category: Global

A hot summer is giving Europe’s populists a boost

SWEDEN is having a fiery summer. This has been the hottest July on record, and fires have consumed at least 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of forest. The political landscape is no less flammable. The Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant party founded by neo-Nazis in the 1980s, are in a tie with the governing Social Democrats for first place in some opinion polls, with about 23%. Voters are worried about the country’s ability to assimilate refugees and spooked by a rise in gun violence. With an election due on September 9th, Sweden’s traditionally consensual, left-leaning politics look set for a conflagration.

Indeed, it has been a remarkably good summer for demagogues across much of Europe. In Italy, a coalition between two populist parties, the right-wing Northern League and the maverick Five Star Movement (M5S), took power in June. Since then Matteo Salvini, the League’s leader who is also interior minister, has provoked a string of controversies. He has turned away boats of asylum-seekers,…

A rogue bodyguard embarrasses France’s president

How exactly does this protect the president?

ONE moment he was basking in glory after France’s victory at the World Cup. The next, Emmanuel Macron was up against a scandal that threatens to do serious damage to his year-old presidency. On July 20th, two days after revelations in Le Monde, a newspaper, the Elysée Palace fired Mr Macron’s most trusted bodyguard. Alexandre Benalla had been caught on video assaulting protesters on May 1st, behaviour later described by the presidency as “shocking”. Yet, at the time, he was merely suspended. Was this poor judgment? Or was there a cover-up?

Mr Benalla (pictured, manhandling a young woman) had worked on Mr Macron’s security team when he was a presidential candidate. Despite other allegations of violent behaviour, the young bodyguard earned Mr Macron’s trust, accompanying him regularly to public campaign events, and was subsequently recruited to the presidential team.

On Labour Day, May…

Why Germany needs a better army

IF A war were to break out in Europe, its early stages might look something like NATO’s recent exercise on the Letzlinger Heath, some 100km (60 miles) west of Berlin. The war game imagined an enemy (Russia, say) sweeping across the northern European plain and into a NATO member state (Estonia, say).

In the front line of resistance was NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), whose rotating leadership will pass to the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, next year. The scenario was earnestly rehearsed by an array of allied forces whose common language was English. A commander’s voice crackled over the radio, ordering troops to retake the town of Schnöggersburg and its airport. The air grew thick with dust and cordite as Leopard 2 tanks raced across the scrubby landscape, with howitzer fire providing cover and helicopters circling overhead. Fire-fights broke out across the rooftops, then Norwegian tanks rolled through the cleared streets and on to the airport. “I have spent 30 weeks…

“Sin” taxes—eg, on tobacco—are less efficient than they look

TOBACCO was new to England in the 17th century, but even then, smoking had plenty of critics. The most famous was King James I, who in 1604 described smoking as “a custome lothsome to the

China’s Xinjiang Province: A Surveillance State Unlike Any the World Has Ever Seen

In western China, Beijing is using the most modern means available to control its Uighur minority. Tens of thousands have disappeared into re-education camps. A journey to an eerily quiet region.

Popular Culture Matters: Defining ‘Politics’ in Popular Culture & World Politics

Popular Culture Matters: Defining ‘Politics’ in Popular Culture & World Politics

The ‘Politics’ in PCWP remains limited and narrowly understood, even as the sites at which it is located expand.

Views in brief

“Why is the FDA banning Kratom?”: I just wanted to say that I loved this article and how it took a critical look at the real reason they want to ban Kratom.

It’s clear to any Kratom user that the substance has no dangerous effects (when used on its own) beyond that of, say, caffeine. I love how you went into the Food and Drug Administration’s interests in pleasing Big Pharma and its efforts in the war on drugs, and how you looked at the ideology of drug policy in America!
Laura, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

The view from inside Socialism

IN RESPONSE to “Seeing ahead from the high points of Socialism”: Socialism 2018 was my seventh Socialism conference. I was prepared for an exciting four days. At the same time, my wife Linda and I were shepherding two veteran comrades through their first experience of Socialism.

“Whittier Street staff win the union”: I am the director of the Infectious Disease and Special Populations (IDSP) Department and I want to specifically respond to the portion of the article where Dr. Sherar Andalcio stated, “We were denied proper training to take care of, for example, HIV-positive or Hepatitis C patients.”

welcomes our readers’ contributions to discussion and debate about articles we’ve published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don’t necessarily reflect those of SW.

This is not true, and anyone can come and verify this by looking at training calendar and room bookings to see that no department has conducted more training in this health center for all levels of staff like the IDSP Department. We have two infectious disease specialists from Boston Medical Center who come to Whittier Street Health Center to treat our HIV-positive and Hepatitis C-positive clients.

Other physicians and nurse practitioners are provided ongoing training and support on a regular basis. We have provided many HIV, Hepatitis C and PrEP trainings to all the providers and support staff in our clinic for so many years. This is verifiable information, as collaborators from Gilead Sciences can testify to this.

Agencies like Primary Care Development Corporation and the New England AIDS Education and Training Center (NEAETC) have also provided training to staff at WSHC over the years.

Whittier also has a strong support staff capacity and can boast of having one of the best community outreach staff members in Boston. We have high-risk medical case managers, high-risk nurses, medical case managers and peer support staffs as well. We also have a lot of support staff from the community that are called “Whittier ambassadors.”

All these support staff members make sure that providers have the necessary assistance in doing their work by focusing on some of the psychosocial issues that are affecting our clients.
Cyril Ubiem, Ph.D., director of Infectious Disease and Special Populations, Whittier Street Health Center, Roxbury, Massachusetts

On the Whittier Street win

IN RESPONSE to “Whittier Street staff win the union”: As a CNA and a proud member of the Industrial Workers of the World, IU 610, I wanted to express congratulations, love and solidarity to the Whittier Street health care workers on their victory.

Organization is necessary for victory, and so is direct democracy. Use the victory you’ve been given as a springboard. Never, ever, ever lose your vigilance. Good work, and solidarity forever!
Adam Mattila, New London, Connecticut

Embracing identity politics?

FOR 58 years, I have believed in socialism. A new economic order is a must! However, I don’t understand why so-called socialists these days are allowing themselves to be influenced by identity politics to divide the people.

Whenever I hear anything related to identity politics, I cannot help but think about the consequence of Bacon’s Rebellion, which was raced-based slavery. The global capitalists, including Democrats and Republicans, are all alike, and they are fooling some of the people.

In the cause of socialism, if anything, we should always be united, and never divided. Power to the people!
D.E. Black, from the Internet

Revolutionaries, elections and the Democrats

Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset in a congressional primary election against one of the most powerful Democrats in the U.S. House has inspired discussion and debate about how this campaign fits into the project of advancing the socialist left. is hosting a dialogue in our Readers’ Views column. This installment has a contribution from Todd Chretien.

What Will Build a Revolutionary Socialist Movement?

Todd Chretien | Like all participants in this debate, I want to thank the Socialist Worker team and all those willing to share their points of view.

I wanted to start my thoughts on the socialist movement today by going back to 2009, when Newsweek ran a cover proclaiming “we’re all socialists now” in the wake of the Great Recession and Barack Obama’s (tepid) economic stimulus package.

Since then, the “we’re all socialists” sentiment has developed — with boosts from the Arab Spring, Occupy, the Chicago teachers’ strike, Black Lives Matter, the rise of independent media like Jacobin magazine and more — from an inchoate rejection of capitalism to a significant growth of organization, most clearly with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) growing from 6,000 to 45,000 members over the last two years since Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign.

DSA’s membership is outraged by the Democratic Party’s subservience to the “millionaires and billionaires” and inspired by Sanders’ call for a political revolution. Jacobin founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara has dubbed the majority of new DSA members “Berniecrats.”

I won’t quibble with his characterization as long as we recognize that their radicalization extends beyond a critique of the Democratic National Committee.

Thousands of DSA members are committed to building movements (shutting down ICE, fighting for housing justice, defending reproductive rights, etc.), revitalizing the labor movement (helping organize teachers’ strikes) and taking direct action against the right (mobilizing against fascists from Charlottesville to Boston to Berkeley and hounding Trump’s minions).

Of course, Sanders remains far and away the most influential voice among DSA’s broad membership, and his forthright insistence that socialists must “take back” the Democratic Party holds sway among most. This was the DSA’s historic position, and there are many within it today who remain committed to this goal.

However, there are DSA organizers who forthrightly insist that the Democratic Party is an obstacle that must be overcome. They argue that it is a capitalist institution that cannot be “realigned” or “reformed,” but must be defeated and replaced with a working-class, socialist party.

What else to read

Socialist Worker readers and contributors are debating the lessons of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory in New York. SW’s coverage of the election began with this article:

Alan Maass and Elizabeth Schulte
How far can the left go in the Democratic Party?

Further contributions include:

Dorian B., Jason Farbman and Zach Zill
What can we do with the Democrats?

Alan Maass, Jen Roesch and Paul Le Blanc
Socialists, AOC and the Democratic Party

Aaron Amaral, Samuel Farber, Charlie Post and Shane James
A “socialist movement” in the Democratic Party?

Fainan Lakha
Getting concrete about AOC and the Democrats

Lucy Herschel
The old guideposts matter on new terrain

Owen Hill
What kind of break from the Democrats?

Kyle Brown
Elections and the socialist tradition

Hadas Thier
Independence and the Democratic Party

Todd Chretien
Revolutionaries, elections and the Democrats

Here, we come to the nub of the current debate that has been taking place among International Socialist Organization (ISO) members in the pages of Socialist Worker, although the issues clearly overlap with debates inside the DSA and other sections of the new socialist movement.

How can we challenge the two-party system?

Hadas Thier wrote earlier this week: “The calculation of our comrades in the Democratic Socialists of America…that the ground is not yet ready for a third party is, I believe, correct.”

This raises an interesting question. Why is the ground not ready?

Hadas references Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2000, which received 2.9 million votes, despite the Democratic Party carrying out the same kind of dirty tricks it used against Sanders in 2016. And I think we can all agree that everything about American capitalism has gotten much worse since 2000.

If Nader, an idiosyncratic figure who was vilified by the Democrats, could win nearly 3 million votes, couldn’t Bernie do as well or better, even while running as an independent? Couldn’t DSA candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jovanka Beckles and Julia Salazar make sustained inroads at the local level running as independents?

Of course they could. But here’s the kicker: They probably couldn’t win in the short term.

So when Hadas says DSA comrades are correct that “the ground is not yet ready,” it seems to me that she also means “not ready” for a radical party outside the Democrats that can rack up electoral victories in the short term.

Empirically, on that count, I believe she is correct in all but exceptional circumstances, like Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant’s successes.

This is exactly what many of our comrades in DSA argue. In fact, the results for DSA-backed candidates Gayle McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles in California proved this point in stark terms in June. Running as an independent, McLaughlin received 4 percent, while Beckles (in the Democratic Party primary) won 15.8 percent, making it through to the November general election.

What are the consequences of prioritizing electoral viability?

Two years ago, DSA member Seth Ackerman wrote an influential article for Jacobin called “Blueprint for a New Party.” Along with an incisive critique of the capitalist nature of the Democratic Party, Ackerman argued for a “ballot line” strategy, whereby DSA members would attempt to build socialist forces by running in Democratic primaries “more often, at least at first,” although he didn’t exclude independent campaigns.

Writing again last week, Ackerman noted that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez victory in New York confirmed the efficacy of this general approach, which, he wrote, was powering “the idea of independent, organized left-wing electoral politics [that] has taken on a life of its own.”

There is no doubt that Ocasio-Cortez’s victory has spurred interest in socialist ideas, a dynamic we should all welcome for reasons that are obvious. But is Ackerman right that her victory is a victory for “independent” campaigns? If so, how does Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to endorse Kansas Republican-turned-Democrat James Thompson fit in?

I don’t fault Ocasio-Cortez for appearing with Sanders and Thompson. She, as far as I can tell, is being true to her word and her conception of political strategy at this stage. But Ackerman, for his part, seems to be recalibrating what it means to “use” the ballot line by quoting Ocasio-Cortez on the question of forming a new caucus in Congress:

The thing that gives a caucus power is that they can operate as a bloc vote to get things done. Even if you can carve out a sub-caucus of the Progressive Caucus, a smaller bloc but one that operates as a bloc, then you can generate real power…I think that if you can even carve out a caucus of ten, thirty people, it does not take a lot if you operate as a bloc vote to really make strong demands on things.

Presumably, Ocasio-Cortez would include Thompson in her bloc (otherwise why endorse him?), as well as other progressive Democrats. But this seems far afield from “independent, left-wing electoral campaigns” and using the ballot line to assemble socialist grassroots organization.

I contend that the idea that you can “generate real power” in Congress is directly connected to a strategy that prioritizes winning races.

At a minimum, this promotes a conception of socialism that is heavily inflected with electoralism, and one that can become easily disarmed in any efforts to build independent campaigns before the far stronger influence of advocates of staying in the Democratic Party, such as Sanders.

DSA comrades are committed to this strategy and are willing to fight to try to make it work. We can recognize their efforts as an experiment from which we will all learn lessons. But we don’t have to join in.

It’s worth saying that I believe there are DSA comrades who are committed to a more, let us say, ruthless attempt to use the “ballot line” strategy to gather forces and prepare for a new socialist party more quickly. At this point, my assessment is that these comrades are a small minority of DSA, and they underestimate the challenges, both immediate and mid-term, of carrying out such a strategy.

For these reasons, I am not convinced of Hadas’ warning that refusing to run or support candidates in the Democratic Party “will leave us a small organization, isolated from a growing left.” Quite the opposite, I think it positions us to play a unique role.

A new socialist movement

This brings me to related criticisms raised by two other comrades.

Dorian Bon writes that Sanders’ campaign and Ocasio-Cortez’s victory “disproved [the ISO’s] belief that socialism can never be built in any form through the Democratic Party.”

As a matter of record, Dorian is mistaken. The revolutionary socialist movement has long acknowledged that the Communist Party of the 1930s grew tremendously during its Popular Front support for Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal administration.

The problem lies in what the CP built as the party dismantled its previous principled opposition to Jim Crow and broke strikes in order to curry favor with the Democrats. This destroyed a working-class vanguard three generations in the making.

What the ISO has said is that we will work whenever possible to build a broad socialist movement (and working-class and social movements in general) while simultaneously insisting that genuine socialism can only come through the self-emancipation of the working class.

Dorian then asks: “[W]ill we argue not to vote for or support [socialists] when they run as Democrats, even while they are contributing positively to the growth of our common struggle.”

My simple answer is: Yes. We will argue that they should not run as Democrats because, as I’ve tried to show, it’s not really “just” about a ballot line, and there are multiple other ways to build “our common struggle.”

Does this mean our answer stops there? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m very optimistic about the development of the new socialist movement and the role the ISO can play in helping strengthen its revolutionary wing, which brings me to my last point.

Electoral strategies can be critical to building a revolutionary socialist organization. In her contribution, Fainan Lakha suggests that “there is something deeply persuasive about a discussion of the “dirty break” from the Democratic Party” — referencing a discussion of a strategy of building up forces with the Democrats with the aim of breaking and forming an independent party.

I don’t rule out the hypothetical potential for something like this happening. However, at a minimum, I think it would require three things: first, a qualitatively higher level of sustained class struggle to create a working-class vanguard of tens of thousands of revolutionary workers and powerful unions; two, a tightly organized core of thousands of revolutionaries inside a future DSA (or DSA-like organization) consciously committed to such a strategy; and three, a significant number of revolutionary socialists who have built up a previously independent base with a strong organization, who did not waste years entangled in Popular Front-type relations.

I submit that none of those conditions exist today. But would the pace of events be compressed if the ISO joined forces with those inside DSA pursuing this line? Fainan invokes French revolutionary socialist Daniel Bensaïd, who once argued that we must be willing to take “leaps, leaps, leaps,” to imply exactly this.

I’m also an admirer of Bensaïd, but I think a different insight is more relevant in this context. In the following passage, he is describing the dynamics of revolutionary socialists entering Stalinist or social-democratic parties, so we might expect that entering the Democratic Party provides even less favorable terrain. Regardless, Bensaïd’s warning is that there is “a high price to pay.”

Revolutionaries, Bensaïd writes, often begin to “imagine” what their new party could do:

if only its leaders…were revolutionary. In this way, they enter a make-believe world in which pedagogy is substituted for building a new relation of forces. Living as parasites in a foreign apparatus, bit by bit, they lose their own organizational culture, something that is not easily recovered…[And] the new militants who are influenced in this work are won over to a posture of subaltern criticism [within the hostile party] as opposed to a really independent practice.

There are historical moments when revolutionaries have no choice but to run the enormous risk that Bensaïd describes. In my opinion, we are fortunate that we face no such circumstances. Instead, opportunities abound.

We should give serious thought to running or supporting (DSA, ISO or other) independent socialist, labor and social movement candidates, as well as backing referendums around health care, education, taxing the rich and more.

Even as I write, ISO branches are working with DSA comrades in the Bay Area and Washington, D.C., to organize against the Nazis when they plan mobilizations on August 5 and 12 respectively.

The Portland, Maine, ISO and DSA chapters have initiated a coalition to pressure Sen. Susan Collins to vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice. ISO and DSA members organized arm-in-arm to build solidarity for the “red state” teachers’ strikes last spring with the expectation of more to come this fall.

I wholeheartedly agree with Hadas that we should “work alongside [DSA comrades], and attempt to explain and to learn along the way.” I just don’t believe we need to adopt what would either be a short-term tactic or — far more likely, in my view — a long-term trap to do so.

What are the stakes?

As revolutionary socialists, I want to flag an assumption we all share that may not be apparent to SW readers who are not members of the ISO: We are committed to a democratic-centralist method of organization that guarantees “freedom of discussion” and insists on “unity in action.”

Comrades may argue for changes in the ISO’s program or principles — or for specific strategies or tactics — but we don’t act on these views as individuals. We exchange ideas, when necessary we debate and vote, and when a majority decides on an important issue, we act according to the will of the majority. If the majority view proves to be ineffective, then those with a minority view can argue for a course correction, and try to become the majority.

Thus, this debate is not an abstract dispute for ISO members, but a question of what collective action we take as a national organization.

The ISO is the largest revolutionary socialist organization in the U.S. I believe we have enormous opportunities ahead of us that will contribute to the building of a socialist movement beyond our organization. As Los Angeles teacher and ISO member Gillian Russom put it at Socialism 2018, speaking alongside educators from around the country:

For the last 50 years, the politics of socialism have largely been severed from the working-class movement…Out of this strike wave and the outrage against all the horrors happening around us, there’s new generation of radicals and socialists being born — and we have an urgent need for more organized socialists.

Labor’s power and the Medicare for All struggle

Shane Johnson makes the case for uniting our health care struggles.

UNDER CAPITALISM, the 1 Percent profits from the illnesses of the 99 Percent.

Though it is lost on most mainstream commentary about the health care system, the reality is that the wealth and power of a small group of people depends on other people being sick — and on rationing and restricting their access to quality health care.

This is the reason for the daily reality of working class and poor people skipping medications, going to work sick or missing appointments because they simply cannot afford to be ill.

So it’s no wonder that the proposal for a Medicare for All system — in which the government health care program for older Americans would be expanded to cover all ages — is widely popular. In Congress, a new Medicare for All caucus has at least 70 members, including Democrats who aren’t known for being on the left-most edge of the party.

the calls to abolish ICE, Medicare for All is no longer a fringe movement — which is welcome news to health care activists who have been fighting for decades for a more just, equitable system that prioritizes patients before profits.

But there’s another promising development for the Medicare for All movement: The recent strikes and struggles of nurses — including an expected weeklong walkout in Providence, Rhode Island this week by 2,400 nurses at Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital — are emblematic of a larger fightback within the U.S. health care system by the people whose labor makes it run.

Nurses are the advocates for patient safety and rights and serve as a last line of defense against a profit-driven system. And nurses and other health care workers have the power to transform both the conditions in which their patients heal and the conditions in which they work. They can be a critical part of the efforts to achieve a single-payer health care system.

THE NEOLIBERAL attacks on the working class and the poor in the U.S. have resulted in a health care industry that is worth nearly $3 trillion and a system where annual spending on health care is well over $9,000 per person — more than twice the amount in other advanced economies like Japan and the United Kingdom.

Needless to say, this is a lucrative business, and hospital administrators and health insurance bosses won’t simply walk away from it.

Health care workers are very familiar with the consequences of an outrageously expensive and shockingly ineffective system.

The lack of access to affordable quality primary care means that workers and the poor often skip does of medicine doses or regular check-ups, which leads to more costly emergency room visits — and these in turn often extend into hospital admissions and skyrocketing bills.

The deadly cycle doesn’t end there: As a consequence, nurses are then asked to care for more patients than is safe, which leads to longer and costlier hospital stays, more falls, missed medication, errors and worse.

What this means is that the fight for Medicare for All is literally a fight for our lives. But more immediately, the struggles of union nurses to win safe patient-to-nurse ratios and improved working conditions can be directly tied to winning a Medicare for All system.

Many health care unions, like National Nurses United, have recognized the importance of the fight for single-payer health care, though other unions need to go further than they have.

The AFL-CIO passed a resolution in support of Medicare for All last October, and nearly 650 local unions have signed on as supporters of a single-payer health care system. But there has been little in the way of labor mobilizations to attach action to these resolutions — thus rendering them as well-meaning letters of intent.

The importance of the health care issue for unions is even more obvious when you look at how many labor struggles now involve companies attempting to push the cost of health coverage more and more onto workers.

For example, this spring’s “red state” rebellion of educators was sparked not only by low salaries and cuts in school funding, but the skyrocketing cost of health insurance. The average annual cost of health insurance premiums for primary, secondary, and special education teachers is $7,174. according to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In West Virginia, teachers won their demand for a 5 percent wage increase for all state workers, but they are still fighting for adequate funding for the Public Employees Insurance Agency that provides their health coverage.

The teachers’ struggles hold another lesson for all unions, including health care unions: The strike is a weapon we can use to fight cuts in wages and health care — and our side can win if we use it.

EARLIER THIS month, House Democrats announced a new slogan for the 2018 midterm elections: “For the people.”

Though they caught grief from all sides, this could represent a shift for Democrats — at least a rhetorical one. Their main appeal before this has rested on an anti-Trump message of “We’re not them,” which begs the question of what the Democrats are for.

Supposedly, the “For the people” slogan is supposed to help the party place an increased focus on three key areas: addressing rising health care and prescription drug costs; increasing wages through infrastructure and public works projects; and highlighting Republican corruption in Washington.

The Medicare for All caucus, led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is another sign of the times.

The caucus could grow further from the ranks of the 123 House Democrats — nearly two-thirds of the total — who are co-sponsors of Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (known as HR 676), which is now sponsored by Ellison, taking over from former Rep. John Conyers.

It isn’t hard to see why Democrats would want to attach their name to the Medicare for All issue. A March 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly 60 percent of people favor a single-payer system. Some Democratic candidates are making single-payer a central feature of their campaign — and winning.

At this point, however, it’s still easy for Democrats to say they support Medicare for All, but do nothing at all about it. Putting pressure on Democrats to do something more than co-sponsor legislation they don’t expect to pass will be necessary.

At the grassroots level, the Democratic Socialists of America have made door-knocking campaigns to talk to people about single-payer a major part of the organization’s activity. In states like California, this has gone along with canvassing for state-level Medicare for All legislation.

The prominence of more left-wing Democrats, including DSA members, winning primary elections and state and local offices has given further prominence to the Medicare for All issue. Pressure from activism could make the Medicare for All caucus in Congress more than a formation for the midterm elections.

One critical area for health care activists, though, is making links to labor struggles by health care workers — and bringing unions into the grassroots campaign for Medicare for All.

RECENT STRIKES and struggles by nurses show that action can win our immediate demands and advance the fight for genuine health care reform.

In June, the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield finally won an 18-month struggle for a new contract that included two strikes and subsequent lockouts. The new agreement meets almost all of the nurses’ demands, including no cuts in health insurance, a better wage increase and multiple provisions to maintain safe staffing.

Earlier this month, 1,800 members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (VFNHP) went on strike for two days against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) system. The nurses are fighting for a significant pay increase to make up for being some of the lowest-paid nurses in the region, plus other measures to maintain safe staffing.

The walkout was solid among union members, and the two days featured an amazing show of solidarity from the community, from hospital patients pushing IV poles on the picket line to UPS drivers refusing to deliver packages.

This week, 2,400 members of United Nurses And Allied Professionals (UNAP) Local 5098 are on strike in Providence against Lifespan, the largest hospital system in Rhode Island, with more than $2 billion in annual operating revenues.

Lifespan management is offering significant pay increases over three years going to nurses with less than 10 years of service, but only a 6 percent hike for veteran nurses. The newer nurses haven’t had a cost-of-living adjustment in eight years. The union is calling for a 12 percent across-the-board raise for all union members.

In light of these struggles, it is obvious that there is common ground among the nurses’ struggles for workplace dignity and patient safety and the fight for Medicare for All. Nurses’ labor struggles shouldn’t be juxtaposed to the important work that grassroots activists are engaged in, but connected and integrated with them.

As fellow nurse Elizabeth Lalasz and I wrote in Socialist Worker last year:

[T]he growing organization and militancy of the heath care workers, particularly nurses…have the power to both win better care for their patients on a local level and be the driving force for a national health care reform movement…

Organized nurses have tremendous potential to use collective action to win improved staffing and safety for themselves and their patients, as well as improved wages and benefits. Hospital corporations are well aware of this, of course, and many have gone on the offensive in recent years against their employees…

What gives nurses a potential advantage over many other workers is that health care is a highly politicized industry. Strikes by nurses and other hospital workers can shine a light on the miserable conditions being created in hospitals every day by the for-profit health care system — and rally public support both for the strikers and for larger reform.

Rank-and-file nurses and health care workers have unique role to play — one that raises the question of mobilizing workers’ power behind a demand to transform the health care system.

This has immense potential for the left because it is an example of workers democratically defending our rights in the workplace — pressuring politicians to do more than talk about the need for a Medicare for All system.

By Contributor on July 26, 2018

Solidarity with Nicaragua’s resistance

An uprising in Nicaragua that began with students demanding the government halt its attempts to slash Social Security has turned into a popular revolt calling for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo after government forces and paramilitaries launched a terror campaign against protesters.

A number of academics and social activists from around the world have issued a call against the brutality of the regime and released the following statement, which was first published in Spanish at Correspondencia de Prensa and in French at A l’encontre, and translated into English by Lance Selfa.

WE, AS intellectuals, social activists and academics, wish to express our strong protest against the very serious situation of political state violence and human rights violations in Nicaragua. These violations are the responsibility of the current Ortega-Murillo regime, which has caused some 300 deaths in the last three months.

Our indignation, pain and unprecedented frustration go double when this political fiasco comes from leaders and governments that identify themselves as being on the left. What could hurt more than the irony of a leader who calls himself a revolutionary emulating the criminal practices of the dictator against whom he rose up? And our indignation becomes even more intense when this panorama of state political violence takes place with the silent complicity of political leaders and (self-)proclaimed leftist intellectuals. The connivance of a certain intellectual establishment — a pro-government left that usually presumes to speak for the “left” — has mutated into a substitute for the most unbridled cynicism in the service of government power.

Police officers deploy to repress ongoing popular demonstrations in Nicaragua
Police officers deploy to repress ongoing popular demonstrations in Nicaragua

To denounce this painful and unacceptable situation and to raise our voices against violations of the most elementary freedoms and rights that the current Nicaraguan government is carrying out is not only a duty of humanitarian solidarity. It is also a collective act and call to defend revolutionary memory — to try to prevent the consummation of this ongoing political degeneration.

There is no worse crime than the political dashing of the people’s hope.

There is no worse plunder than one that aims at pillaging rebellious energy for a just world.

There is no worse imperialism than internal colonialism that turns oppressive violence into anti-imperial rhetoric.

All this is happening in Nicaragua. The country that was a fertile symbol of emancipatory hope in the late 1970s has become another outpost of authoritarianism.

The stained memory of one of the noblest and most hopeful revolutions of Our America, as Sandino’s was and continues to be — the memory of the anti-capitalist struggles of a suffering but courageous people — is now trampled underfoot to (try to) cover up the typical violence of yet another dictatorial regime, like those we’ve seen before in our history. The former revolutionary leader, honored by the confidence of his people, today turned dictator, blinded by power and with his hands stained with young blood — that’s the violently bitter landscape of our beloved Nicaragua.

We raise our voices to publicly condemn the dictatorship that the Ortega-Murillo government has become. We express our solidarity with the people and the youth today who are, once again, rising up in resistance. We support and solidarize with their demands for dialogue and peace, and to put an end to an illegitimate and criminal government that today usurps the Sandinista legacy. We do so with the conviction that it is not only a question of “saving the honor” of the past, but, above all, rescuing and caring for the emancipatory seeds of the future, which have been put at risk today.

Initial Signatories

Alberto Acosta, economist, Ecuador
Raúl Zibechi, essayist and writer, Uruguay
Hugo Blanco activist, director of Lucha indígena, Peru
Joan Martinez Alier, Revue Ecología política, Spain
Pierre Salama, economist, France
Edgardo Lander, sociologist, Venezuela)
Boaventura de Sousa Santos, lawyer, sociologist, Portugal)
Jaime Pastor, Viento Sur, Spain
Ricardo Napurí, socialist activist, Argentina
Nora Ciapponi, socialist activist, Argentina
Aldo Casas, activist, Herramienta, Argentina

For the full current list of signatories, see Correspondencia de Prensa. Translation by Lance Selfa.

Why did the NFL owners blink?

Nation sports editor Dave Zirin looks at why the NFL backed down from a policy it just adopted to punish players for protesting during the National Anthem.

THE CABAL of alt-right, morally decrepit billionaires that run the National Football League has officially blinked. The league, in a joint statement with the NFL Players Association, has announced that it is suspending — for now — its own recently adopted policy of fining or suspending players who don’t stand “at respect” for the national anthem, until further review. What accounts for the about-face? It was a tsunami of a backlash that flooded the land of the Dolphins.

According to a report by the Associated Press, the Miami front office had drafted a new team disciplinary policy where players who protest police violence or racial inequity — or Trump, or the iron hand of the NFL executive class — during the anthem could encounter stark punishments. Players on the Dolphins would have faced fines and suspensions of up to four games. (This is a league, keep in mind, which just last month announced that it was suspending Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston for only three games for sexually assaulting an Uber driver.) But within hours of the revelation, the Dolphins — and the NFL — were reeling.

Members of the San Francisco 49ers take a knee against racism
Members of the San Francisco 49ers take a knee against racism

The owner of the Dolphins is Stephen Ross. In addition to being worth close to $8 billion, he is known for starting an organization called RISE, which, as journalist Aaron W. Gordon spotted, boasts on its website that it is a “nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the unifying power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress.” Ross is also someone who said that he was in support of the players’ right to protest — or did before the orange smear in the White House started to yip. As he said in his deposition taken as part of the Colin Kaepernick grievance case, “I was totally supportive of [the players] until Trump made his statement.”

How lovely.

STEPHEN ROSS deserves every bit of criticism coming his way. But his own exposed hypocrisies have arisen from the NFL’s broader approach to this question. At the risk of stating the obvious, the league’s punitive policy had nothing to do with the anthem, and everything to do with silencing black voices speaking out against police violence. Imagine if players said that they were taking a knee during the anthem as a tribute to the troops. No one would have blinked. This is about the political substance of what they are doing. The Dolphins were merely the first team tasked with submitting to the league what their punishments will be. As tweeted by ESPN’s Jeff Darlington, “Thirty-one other teams will submit similar statements to NFL declaring how they might potentially discipline players for any number of rules violations as they do each year. And now, all of them will be scrutinized for how they individually address protests. Thirty-one more PR problems for NFL.” This is what the NFL now hopes to head off by stating that its anthem policy is back under review.

The NFL executives were also discovering their ham-handedness was causing a reaction among players beyond what they could handle. Tennessee Titans Pro-Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said he will continue to protest racial inequity during the anthem: “I’m going to take my fine. It is what it is, I ain’t going to let them stop me from doing what I want to do. If they want to have these battles between players and organizations, this is the way it’s going to be.” And that’s not all. When asked about the death threats received by his teammate Delanie Walker when Walker protested during the national anthem last season, Casey said, “There is always going to be blowback, that is what America is about. They always like to go on social media and go hard. It is what it is, at the end of the day, I don’t pay no mind to it. I’m going to do what I do that’s going to bring light to my community. At the end of the day we got to do a job. But I will continue to use my platform to keep on speaking up.”

Stephen Ross wanted to eliminate that platform. It will not happen without a fight. Here’s hoping that every member of the Miami Dolphins takes a knee at the start of the 2018 season, goes all “I am Spartacus“ on Stephen Ross, and blows his desiccated mind. You can’t suspend everybody, but it would be hilarious to see him try.

First published at

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Say Nia’s name — and stand up to racist hate

Nicole Colson reports on the eruption of grief and protest after the murder of a teen in Oakland, with reporting from Ann Coleman, Ragina Johnson and Alex Schmaus.

“I WANT justice for my daughter. Please help me get justice for my daughter.”

That was the tearful message of Ansar Mohammed, the father of Nia Wilson, who was slashed to death by a racist killer in an Oakland public transit station.

“I work at Highland Hospital,” Mohammed said. “I see this every single day, but I never imagined myself going through nothing like this. That’s my baby girl up there,” he added, referring to the hospital room where a second daughter, Letifah Wilson, was recovering from injuries.

Eighteen-year-old Nia had her throat cut on her way home from a family gathering after a man — later arrested and identified as John Cowell — followed her and her two sisters off a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train and into the MacArthur station in Oakland. Nia’s 26-year-old sister Letifah was severely injured, but survived what BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas called “an unprovoked, unwarranted, vicious attack.”

“We’re gonna get through this, I got you,” Letifah said she told her little sister as she lay dying in the MacArthur station.

the rise in hate crimes documented by the California Attorney General’s office for a third straight year — a 44 percent increase since 2014. More than a quarter of the hate crimes in California in 2017 were directed against African Americans.

Before the past three years, there were six years of steady declines in reported hate crimes. Latinos have been particular targets lately, according to the California Attorney General, with a more than 50 percent rise from 2016 to 2017 — not at all surprising given the scapegoating of immigrants by Trump and other politicians.

“I think people, particularly with bigots, they are now more emboldened, and we are seeing this across a spectrum of data points,” Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, told the Los Angeles Times.

The same statistical trends — and deadly consequences — are clear nationally.

In Florida on July 19, an African American man was killed in a dispute over parking in a handicapped space. Markeis McGlockton was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and three young children. But his killer won’t face any charges, because authorities consider it justified under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

And on July 21, Chad Merrill, who is white, was murdered outside a bar in Lower Windsor Township, Pennsylvania, after he defended a Black man who was being subjected to racist slurs by another patron.

For many people, the murder of Nia Wilson was reminiscent of the May 2017 knife attack in Portland, Oregon, by white nationalist Jeremy Joseph Christian, who fatally stabbed Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, and badly wounded Micah David-Cole Fletcher, after the three men stood up to Christian’s racist, anti-Muslim abuse of two teenage women on a commuter train.

As the International Socialist Organization wrote in a statement, such attacks:

are not random events. They are political acts. This is terrorism, committed by those who feel confident to act on their racist and reactionary views…At a time when the president of the United States calls for banning Muslims from entering the U.S., while gutting civil rights protections and deporting immigrants en masse, it’s little wonder that the far right feels emboldened — and that some white supremacists act on their threats…

THE BEST defense against this horrific violence — especially the far-right thugs who organize and inflict it — is to unite in solidarity.

In Oakland, residents sprang into action to make connection between the climate of racist bigotry and its real-world consequences — and to underline the necessity of opposing the far right.

When it found out that the Proud Boys planned to meet, the Make Westing bar joined others in a call for a “pro-Oakland movement” to raise funds for causes including Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the Transgender Law Center.

“Those of us at Make Westing stand united with our community to say: Racists, Fascists, and the Alt-Right are NOT welcome in our establishment,” a Facebook post from the bar read.

The crowd that gathered outside Make Westing on July 23 included anti-racist and anti-fascist activists, members of left organizations and even members of the East Bay Rats motorcycle club. But many were unaffiliated. They wanted to express their horror at Nia Wilson’s murder and the racists who would attempt to exploit such a tragedy.

Evan, a bar manager at Make Westing, told that he felt that he had three options when it was discovered that the Proud Boys had chosen to meet at the bar.

He could have let them in, he said, but he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if he served a Nazi. He could have closed the bar, but that would have felt like a win for the far right. Or, he said, could keep the bar open, invite the community in, and post himself at the door, prepared to enforce a declared ban on racists and fascists.

Evan chose the third option, despite receiving a death threat over the phone that morning.

That same night, 1,000 people — mainly African American — gathered at the MacArthur BART station for a demonstration initiated by the Anti-Police Terror Project. “We demand that our city officials take a loud and public stand against white supremacy,” read the call for the rally. “Hate Speech is NOT Free Speech.”

Long before the vigil was scheduled to begin, a crowd began to grow around the makeshift memorial at the station. After an hour, the call was made to march. “We are taking the streets,” said an organizer, “because there is no one in the city of Oakland who should not be talking about Nia Wilson.”

Mayoral candidate Cat Brooks spoke, along with City Council members Desley Brooks and Rebecca Kaplan. A large portion of the crowd then marched two miles down Telegraph Avenue, led by a sound truck and Nia Wilson’s godfather Daryle Allums, to eventually merge with the several hundred people gathered at Make Westing.

As the solemn and angry crowd swelled, a short speak-out was led by Brooks and Tur-Ha Ak of the Anti-Police Terror Project.

Soon afterward, a group of far-right goons, possibly members of the “Proud Boys,” walked through the edge of the crowd, attempting to provoke physical confrontations. Dozens of anti-racist protesters chased them out — they were only saved by police intervention.

In response, the police reportedly attacked several anti-racist activists. As one commenter wrote on social media, the police “came in hard and dangerous. They made it easy to get hurt. They rescued Nazis then unleashed payback. The look of fury and joy at the prospect of getting to hurt unruly Black bodies was palpable.”

AS JOURNALIST Shaun King wrote, the violence perpetrated against the Wilson sisters can’t be separated from the wider racism in society — and the media’s coverage was a case in point.

Some in the press chose to illustrate stories about Nia’s death with a picture of her holding a cell phone case with a handle in the shape of a gun. “Even in death,” King pointed out, “local news media finds a way to demean us.”

Noting the group of Proud Boys who turned out in Oakland after Nia’s murder, King added, “How cruel, how evil, how heartless, how crass, how foul do you have to be, how rotten must you be from the inside out, how dry and dead must your soul be — to have the idea that you want to interrupt grieving people and demean them the day after their loved one was murdered?”

The racist attack on Nia Wilson and her sisters could be a watershed moment — like after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, when the left united to organize protests and vigils around the country, including large mobilizations in Boston and the Bay Area that stopped the far right from continuing their reign of terror with more rallies.

The attempt of the Proud Boys to meet in Oakland is a precursor to a planned rally — called “No to Marxism in America 2“ — being organized for August 5 in Berkeley by a collection of far-right groups.

The white supremacists are mobilizing from across the Western U.S. to descend on Berkeley — and to attend a “Freedom March” in Portland, Oregon, on August 4 initiated by Patriot Prayer, a far-right group that attacked counterdemonstrators in a coordinated assault just weeks ago.

Both events are being promoted by the right-wing media. Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson claims his storm troopers will bring two buses down to Berkeley from Portland. The Proud Boys claim to be mobilizing activists from as far away as British Columbia. Out-of-state goon squads from American Guard and Patriot Movement AZ also claim to be mobilizing.

The West Coast mobilization is planned for one week prior to the “White Civil Rights Rally” organized for August 12 in Washington, D.C. Jason Kessler, a main organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville one year ago says the August 12 demonstration will be an “anniversary” march.

We can’t be complacent or hope these sickening bigots will just go away. History has proven time and again that ignoring fascists and their ilk only allows them to grow stronger.

Our job must be to build the largest possible counterprotests — in Portland, in Berkeley, in Washington and around the country — to prevent more racist violence. We will say Nia’s name while we confront their violence.

By Contributor on July 25, 2018