In order to understand the shape of the U.S. political landscape it is most useful to roughly divide the past three years into two periods – before September 2001 and after September 2001. We do so to categorize stages of political development.
The attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center sent a political shockwave through the United States and its impact is still felt. It served as a pretext for an all-out attack on people here and abroad. Looking into the future we can identify several fronts of struggle that are likely to represent the most important political struggles in the coming time period.
Bush was placed into office in 2001 in a stolen election. This created a situation where a substantial section of Americans believed that he should not be president. Add to that group a large section of people who believed he was not fairly elected. The election was stolen through the blatant disenfranchisement of African-American voters in the South, through their illegitimate removal from voter roles. He arrived in office facing a crisis of legitimacy that in modern history has only been paralleled by the final years of the Nixon administration. As a result, during the first period of his administration there was a necessity for the Bush Administration to proceed with some caution, and to seek some cover, while planning attacks domestically and internationally.
It is worth noting that from the moment Bush took the presidency, there came into a being a substantial section of the working class, oppressed nationalities, youth, and the petty bourgeoisie that opposed the administration and nearly all its actions, and that consistently rejected the entire direction the country was moving in. After 9-11, manifestations of these sentiments included the spontaneous calls from within the anti-war movement to "Impeach Bush."
In general, the Bush administration represented the centrist wing of the Republican Party. Within his administration there are elements that represented both the historically isolationist section of the Republican Party and a section ideologically tied to the notion of a "New American Century." On issues of foreign policy, the unity between these two currents lied in moves to step up the level of rivalry with the other imperialist powers. However, the New American Century grouping (also know as the neo-conservatives) dreams of an all powerful United States setting unilateral policies to be followed by all other imperialist powers and their lackeys. They aim to achieve this by military means.
From the day he arrived in the White House, Bush has shown himself to be a determined enemy of the working class, oppressed nationalities, and the American people as a whole. The policies under Bush have reflected a continuation of a long-term process of eroding government benefits, increasing privatization, changing the tax structure, and arranging environmental protection and trade rules to the benefit of the capitalist class.
George Bush intensified efforts to restructure the political economy of the United States in order to decrease the amount of the social wages going to the working class. The basics of his program are the dismantling of the social safety net put in place during the popular upsurges of the 1910s, 1930s and 1960s. Bush's push to eliminate the estate tax, privatize social security, weaken Medicare and weaken affirmative action represent the continuation of a project that began under Reagan in the 1980s.
Overtime regulations that have been in place since the 1950s are under attack by Bush. New OSHA regulations on ergonomics that were years in the making have been shelved. The estate tax, first passed in 1916, will be gradually phased out and is slated for elimination in 2010.
In many ways, current policies are a logical continuation of those developed during the Clinton presidency. Beyond the obvious fact that both were political representatives of the capitalist class, let's take two examples: Under Clinton we saw a major dismantling of the welfare system and the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. By abolishing pubic assistance as an entitlement, Clinton rolled back one of the greatest victories of the past and set the stage for the absolute impoverishment of millions. NAFTA combined the looting of Mexico with the loss of millions of jobs in the U.S., especially in the manufacturing sector. During a time of relative economic growth in the 1990s, the gap between rich and poor increased under Clinton. Despite occasional pro-worker rhetoric, Clinton was an enemy of the U.S. working class, who set the stage for the assault launched by the Bush Administration.
The attacks on the Pentagon and on the heart of the U.S. financial district strengthened a turn to the right on the part of the U.S. ruling class. It helped to create objective conditions that made it possible to carry out a set of policy shifts that a section of the ruling class already wanted. We do not believe in a “great man theory” of history. Political figures represent definite classes, and if Gore had been in the White House, there still would have been war in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as repressive measures at home.
This turn to the right was accompanied by a temporary muting of the expression of contradictions amongst the ruling class, and between classes. In other words, immediately following the events of September 2001, all of the contradictions in society, which in general are sharpening, were for a time concealed in their expression.
One form in which this manifested itself was that the repressive and anti-immigrant Patriot Act was passed with the overwhelming support of both major parties. Only one Democrat in the Senate voted against this repressive bill. It took another form when the labor bureaucracy temporarily pulled out of the anti-corporate globalization movement. Still another was evidenced by a lower level of mobilization in some oppressed nationality communities to killings by police ( Cincinnati, NYC). Also, unions that were poised to strike during this period either canceled or postponed their strikes for reasons of "national unity."
At this historical juncture, leftist forces in the respective movements refused to remain silent. By constantly opposing plans and policies of the Bush Administration, they played an extremely important role in creating the basis for more favorable conditions in the future.
Attacks on Democratic Rights
The all-out attack on democratic rights serves to illustrate the right-wing shift that has occurred since September 2001. The Patriot Act eliminated restrictions on domestic intelligence and political repression that had been put in place as a result of the social movements of the 1960s, thereby granting sweeping powers the ruling class had wanted for years. More than 1000 immigrants were taken into custody and disappeared. There is no doubt that a least some were subjected to torture. Military tribunals are being used to try citizens and non-citizens. In every region of the country, immigrants and Islamists have faced well-publicized trials with ridiculous, trumped-up charges. There has been a greatly increased militarization of the border with Mexico, along with mass deportations and arrests of Mexican immigrants in the Southwest.
Every major metropolitan area has set up a so-called Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force, bringing together federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. While immigrant communities are the main targets of the Task Forces, they also take aim at the anti-war movement.
A powerful apparatus for repression has been built and consolidated in the form of the Department of Homeland Security. The creation of this department represents the most dramatic shift in matters of "internal security" since the end of the First World War and the creation of the FBI.
Return of Polarization
While the overall political context has shifted to the right, as we move towards our 4th Congress it can be safely said that the period characterized by the muted expression of society's contradictions is over. Political polarization, a concentrated form of polarization in the economic base (including the applicable class and national relations), has reasserted itself with a vengeance.
The anti-war movement, as opposed to contradictions among the enemy, played a critical role in the development of this process – it has served in a decisive manner in carving open progressive political space. Right after the events of 9-11, we noted that the "war on terrorism" was the leading edge of reaction, and that we should go all-out in building a visible and active movement to oppose it. Life has confirmed that our analysis was correct. After the elections, regardless of who wins, the foundation of our work as revolutionaries will be to continue to build the mass struggle.
Polarization is also showing itself in the form of a profound hatred for both Bush and the direction that the country is heading in. It is also manifested in every sphere of the country's political life.
We are not indifferent to the outcome of the upcoming elections. As noted earlier, among the masses of people – specifically among working people, the oppressed nationalities, and in the mass movements – there is deep sentiment that Bush has to be removed from office. There is real anger about the state of the economy, and among a significant section of people there is a great hostility towards the wars that the Bush administration has launched.
As revolutionaries, we ignore these sentiments at our own peril. The masses of people who constitute our political base (or the base that we are trying to give leadership to) want to see Bush out of office. In a real sense, the upcoming election will be seen as a referendum on the policies of the Bush administration – particularly on the war. Furthermore, during elections, the minds of the masses are more on politics and we are given a chance to make advances.
There is no qualitative difference between Kerry and Bush. The contradiction between them is a contradiction within the enemy camp. In the coming period, regardless of which party wins the White House, we can expect continued attacks on the social safety net, weakening of trade protections, and continued privatization of the federal workforce.
That said, we do think it is important that Bush is voted out of office, and we should raise slogans like "Vote Against Bush" and "Dump Bush." While this may entail voting for the nominee of the Democratic Party, at best we should treat this as referendum on specific policies; we will not be running around singing the praises of Kerry.
We believe that this approach will help us harness anti-Bush sentiment and avoid political isolation. It is a good thing that many people hate the Bush Administration and its policies. We should utilize this area of activity to strengthen and systemize that dissatisfaction, while doing so in such a way that will create a more favorable climate for struggle against whoever is elected to office next.
One aspect of the current period is that space for independent political action in the electoral arena has narrowed. Not only is the Nader campaign much smaller and less influential than last time around, it also describes itself as a "second front against Bush."
Taken as whole, the current period provides favorable terrain for us to make advances. While there are ebbs and flows, a powerful mass anti-war movement has come into being. In our communities and workplaces, the level of struggle generally lags behind the objective (material) conditions. This means that it is possible for communists to spark and lead major mobilizations and battles, and to win the advanced to Marxism-Leninism in the course of these struggles.
In the period ahead, we can see the broad outlines of struggle that will shape the people's movements and the political terrain of this country. These battle lines, while by no means being the only domestic battle fronts, represent the key links that will propel forward our movement as a whole. It should be noted that the movement against U.S. imperialism has special significance. Because it has both domestic and international dynamics, it is treated in a separate section but nonetheless will remain another key front of struggle.
1. In Defense of Our Standard of Living
There has been a broad-based economic restructuring taking place in the U.S. for the better part of the last decade. This restructuring, shaped and intensified by economic crisis, competition on a world scale, and by Bush's economic policies, means that we are in the midst of a protracted attack on our standard of living, including attacks on wages and working conditions. Key battlegrounds include beating back concessions in the unions and fighting health care and budget cuts, as outlined below.
Health Care Crisis
There is a health care crisis in this country. The profit-driven health care delivery system is irrevocably broken, with no solutions on the table. The unionized workforce, both private and public, remains one of the few sectors with reasonable health care benefits. In the last few years those benefits have been under attack, and have been the primary issue in a number of recent strikes. To stop the tide, it will require a movement much stronger than the one that currently exists, supported by the building of a common movement between the organized and unorganized sections of the working class.
Budget Cuts and Attacks on Poor and Working People
At the state level, we have witnessed some of the most significant attacks on poor and working people. Almost all states experienced budget crises driven by a combination of economic recession and years of tax cuts to the wealthy.
With the wholly predictable economic recession since March 2001, most states have embarked on a wave of cutting social services to the poor and bashing public employees. Across almost all the states, regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were in the statehouse, the ruling parties have opted for austerity programs and have refused to tax the rich.
In the coming period, we can expect continued attacks on social services to the poor and more demands for concessions from public employees.
2. Against Racist Attacks and National Oppression
Because the U.S. is a white supremacist country, all of the attacks on poor and working people have a greater impact on oppressed nationalities. We can expect a continuation and intensification of racist attacks. These attacks take many forms: police brutality, further attacks on already-gutted affirmative action policies, and the continued policy of incarceration of oppressed nationalities, wrongful imprisonment, and attacks on public and bilingual education. Key battlefronts in this area include the movements against police terror, and for immigrants' rights.
Police Brutality and the Movement Against It
Police brutality is a daily reality in urban America. Racial profiling, shootings by police, and police harassment are daily occurrences. The rich want enforcement of social order; the politicians will deliver it; thus, the cops will create fear in the neighborhoods.
Immediately prior to 9-11, one of the main social questions was the issue of racial profiling, linked to the struggle against police terror. In the aftermath of 9-11, racial profiling has become acceptable. This is a setback to the movement against police brutality. Fight backs will continue to be localized and situational. Nonetheless, this is a key front of the struggle against national oppression.
Prisons and the Death Penalty
The number of prisoners in the U.S. stands at around two million, rising from 500,000 in 1985. The largest percentages are Black and Latino. One out of three prisoners in the world is in the U.S., meaning that a higher percentage of the U.S. population is incarcerated than in any other country. This fact makes the fight to overturn wrongful convictions very important.
Related to this, the death penalty continues to be used in a racist way against Blacks and Latinos. As the struggle against the death penalty gains momentum, there have been victories made in declaring moratoriums against it in some states. At the same time, in other states, record numbers are on death row.
Immediately after 9-11 there was a wave of attacks on immigrants. This wave, centered at first on Arabs and Muslims, then spread to all immigrant groups, especially Mexicans and Latinos. In the face of these attacks, there was a pullback of some immigrants' rights struggles which were, before that, poised to make gains. This retreat has ended. The fight against anti-immigrant attacks and to expand immigrants' rights will be a key front of struggle against the right wing.
3. Democratic Rights
The new Red Squads operate under the moniker of Joint Terrorism Task Forces. They are active in many cities, with local, state, and federal agents colluding to take away the rights of political activists. Police repression of political groups is more obvious and more sophisticated, particularly with the implementation of the Patriot Act.
The struggle to preserve civil liberties intersects in many places with the struggle to defend immigrants' rights and to fight against national oppression. This fact, combined with the importance of preserving space for open political struggle, will make democratic rights an important front in the coming period.
4. GLBT-Q Rights
The continuing struggle to expand democratic rights for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (Queer) people will take a prominent role in the coming period. Part of this battleground will be the issue of state and federal constitutional amendments codifying discrimination against Queers into State and Federal law. A victory is not certain, no matter which political party is in power, and will require a more militant movement than currently exists on the ground.
We wholeheartedly support and laud the civil rights struggle currently being manifested in the battle for GLBT/Queer marriage.
We believe that the 1000 plus laws bestowing financial and legal "benefits" upon married heterosexual couples are rights that should be given to all people regardless of relationship or familial status.
The battle for gay marriage unfortunately coincides with a very conservative frame for relationships and family that should be rejected. Historically, the GLBT community has defined relationships and family much more broadly than the vision of the nuclear family: two adults who are the sole lifetime providers of physical, emotional, and financial sustenance to each other; and solely responsible for the couples’ biological children. The GLBT community has been at the forefront of celebrating and advocating relationships that openly reject the capitalist, patriarchal and Judeo-Christian belief system that U.S. law is based upon. We join with our queer comrades who continue to struggle for this alternative vision.
We denounce the efforts by the bourgeoisie, especially the Republican Party, to use the issue of gay marriage as a wedge to polarize the population and divert attention away from the economic and social crises in the U.S. This is merely the current attempt (and there have been many) to use racist, sexist and homophobic fear-mongering to divide the working class.
Finally, we call on revolutionists, including within Freedom Road Socialist Organization, to develop a much deeper Marxist analysis of GLBT issues and the Queer Liberation Movement.
There has been a stepped-up attack on women's reproductive freedoms in the last year. The recent passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act is the second major attack on women's right to legal abortion. The first was the passage of the misnamed "partial-birth" abortion bill in fall 2003.
While this law exempts abortion specifically, its definition of a fetus as a person is part of the attempt to undermine women's right to choose. Recently there have been other troubling attempts to control women's reproductive lives. In Utah, Melissa Ann Rowland was charged with murder because one of the twins she was carrying died during delivery. Rowland, who is reported to have abused drugs and had mental problems, refused to have a Caesarean section, though her doctor requested it.
Abortion rights and reproductive rights in general have been eroded over the last two decades. The next period will likely see a battle to preserve them.
The imperialists planned, plotted and campaigned for a war against Iraq for at least six months before they were able to proceed. During that time, a historic and global anti-war movement came into being. In the U.S., our mobilizations were the biggest since those at the height of the struggles against the war in Viet Nam. Although high levels of protest activity were not maintained long once the war began, important local- and national-level organizations were developed. Large numbers of people were organized and brought into motion at a level that represents a qualitative leap forward for the U.S. anti-war movement.
Some mistakenly viewed this upsurge as a stand-alone movement around a stand-alone issue. Rather than the Iraq war standing alone as a single foreign policy failure, it is instead the latest imperialist campaign. The movement that rose up to answer it can only be correctly understood as a direct continuation of the struggles around Afghanistan in 2001 and Palestine in 2002. A correct understanding of the development of this movement is key to moving ahead to continue building a strong anti-imperialist movement in the United States.
Afghanistan is very important because, while the government tried to use the events of September 11, 2001 as a justification for countless war crimes, for many people it served as a wake up call. More so than anytime in the last 30 years, people in the U.S. woke up to the idea that foreign policy can affect us here at home. While protested by relatively few (the largest was the September 29 ANSWER demonstration of about 15,000), the attack on Afghanistan was questioned by many. International ANSWER was the first national network to come together, and remains the strongest. Not In Our Name also mobilized early, and maintained a strong national presence for about one year, issuing several national calls for local days of action.
Local mobilizations continued into November, but didn't last much beyond that. The protests against the war in Afghanistan were incredibly important, at a time when there was a great deal of pressure to support the war as a justified retaliation for the September 11th attacks. The pace of the war slackened, and occupation troops and a puppet government took over Kabul. Almost simultaneously, the Bush Administration turned its eyes towards Iraq, and Ariel Sharon took power in Israel.
These events brought new energy to the U.S. anti-war movement. The racist USA PATRIOT Act and related policies were directly tied to the terror war abroad. The campaign of fear waged against Muslim and Arab immigrant communities has remained intense since 9-11. Many cities spent scarce budgets to expand local police forces, under the claim of increased security needs. Detentions and deportation proceedings also moved ahead. Racial Justice 9-11 was launched in February 2002 as a national network of organizations working within communities of color to oppose the war on terror – on both foreign and domestic fronts.
Other new formations included the September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which was founded in July 2002 to give voice to anti-war sentiment among people who had family members die in the September 11 attacks. United for Peace and Justice came together in October 2002 and is the second largest national anti-war coalition, issuing national calls for local days of action and co-sponsoring national protests.
An Israeli terror offensive launched in March culminated with the 11-day siege and massacre at Jenin. Palestinians and their supporters hit the streets of cities across the US, and marched together in Washington on April 20, 2002. 100,000 people amassed for two coordinated demonstrations, both called against threats of war on Iraq, but ANSWER shifted its focus to Palestine. The size of this mobilization was unprecedented in recent years and buoyed a growing national movement against the war on Iraq.
Local work in solidarity with Palestine has been established in cities and on campuses across the country; however, there have been few coordinated national actions or campaigns. The Divest from Israel campaign has not taken off, and no single coalition or network has come forward to give national leadership. That leaves our movement ill-equipped to respond to urgent developments on the ground, such as the recent assassination of Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
One promising exception is Al-Awda, the Right of Return Coalition, a national network that has strong committees in a few cities nationwide. Al-Awda plays an important national role because the vast majority of its leadership is progressive and left, and because the demand for the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees is an inherently anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist demand. The work in Al-Awda marks the first time in over a decade that activists and organizers in the United States are talking about one, secular state in Palestine again.
Work in solidarity with Palestine has caught the attention of many anti-intervention activists, as well as Arab and Muslim immigrant communities, especially since much of the post-9-11 repression of these communities and their institutions has targeted organizations and individuals that support Palestinian rights. There's a great deal more potential.
As threats of war on Iraq became more imminent, organization on the ground locally and nationally became decisive.
The anti-war movement began with massive protests as early as October 2002 – hundreds of thousands demonstrated around the U.S. Mostly local actions continued for months, culminating in the January 18, 2003 national demonstration in Washington, D.C., with as many as half a million people. February 15 was another red-letter day, with 11 million hitting the streets of cities and towns on every continent and in most countries of the world. Broad-ranging attacks here at home fueled the anti-war movement. While bombs were falling on Iraq, working class organizations across the U.S. were fighting state budget cuts that slashed the safety net and social programs. The official involvement of local labor unions in anti-war efforts was a positive development without precedent in 30 years. When the war began, so did many local campaigns of civil disobedience. The mobilizations included students, organized labor, Hollywood stars, leaders from communities of color, and activists who hadn't been involved since the Viet Nam war.
The student movement, while it has regained some steam in the last two years, is still weak. Students had difficulty building organization and maintaining momentum. Lack of experienced leadership and an emphasis on educational tactics both held the work back. The gains made are very important, but unlike the community-based anti-war movement, they couldn't be described as representing a lasting and qualitative change.
Disagreements about political line, mostly in the form of slogans, were evident from the beginning. Backwards slogans like "inspections not war" and "win without war" were counter-productive and pro-intervention. Many people opposed them, remembering the failure of the "sanctions not war" campaigns of 1990. The more dominant view called actions around slogans like "stop the war before it starts." This was a correct demand, but left the movement without enough direction once the shooting war began. Liberal forces were able to step in, gain influence, and take over leadership of some sections of the movement.
They insisted that "peace is patriotic" and "support our troops" must be up-front; the correct demand, "US out now," took a back seat at many local and some national mobilizations. Liberal forces frequently denounced the Iraqi government, failed to connect the war in Iraq to a broader imperialist agenda in the Middle East, and didn't explicitly support the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. Organizations that held these views actively worked to divide the movement and failed to give strong leadership once the war was underway.
Once Baghdad fell, protest numbers shrank significantly and media attention dropped off. When President Bush declared victory on May 1st, it was clear that the war wasn't over. Nonetheless, the movement lacked direction, and protesters were not prepared to stay in the streets. Activity continued at a very low level in most cities through summer and fall. Most student organizations didn't renew anti-war campaigns in fall 2003.
On October 25, 2003, the anti-war movement hit the streets again in full force. One hundred thousand marched in the streets of Washington, DC to call for an end to the occupation of Iraq. The demands were clear and directly responded to renewed fighting in Iraq. As more U.S. troops were coming home in body bags, military families began organizing against the war. Iraq is back on the front pages, and that has brought people back to the streets across the U.S. – local demonstrations on March 20, 2004, numbered 2 million across the globe. Recent Iraqi victories in Fallujah inspired emergency protests calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces.
Latin America and Free Trade
Work in solidarity with Latin America is very important, and remains relatively independent of the larger anti-war movement. Key struggles include solidarity with the socialist revolution in Cuba, with the national democratic movement in Venezuela, and with the armed national liberation movement in Colombia. Each of these has caught the attention of local and national organizations, but there are few coordinated national campaigns. Campaigns to oppose the military aid to Colombia, Free the Miami Five, and Boycott Killer Coke have been taken up by university students and by organizations that have historically supported Latin American revolutionary movements. None of them have developed as broader social questions.
After the Battle in Seattle, and a few subsequent national and international protests, the movement against free trade lost much of its momentum. In recent years, the movement has begun being rebuilt at the local level, characterized by broad coalitions, increasing public awareness, and many disagreements among the bourgeois politicians. In November, thousands mobilized in Miami to protest a meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement. On the ground in Miami, local leadership was largely made up of oppressed nationality workers – African Americans from the Miami Workers Center and Mexican migrant workers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Nationally, trade unions, including the Steelworkers and SEIU, brought workers from across the country to the protests. Extreme repression by Miami police, funded by millions of federal dollars, reflected how important the trade agreement is to the Bush Administration. In addition to the protests in Miami, local solidarity actions were organized in cities across the country.
The Bush Administration has failed to push forward much of its international economic agenda. A key example is the opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which has come from all sides. Even the Democratic Party has lined up against the treaty, seeing it as a way to win support from labor while risking nothing in terms of the upcoming presidential elections. Local organizers in the U.S. have been inspired by strong opposition in Central America. With rising pressure, it is possible that CAFTA may be the first trade agreement to be defeated in a Congressional vote.
These two sections of the anti-intervention movement – that against war in Iraq, and that in solidarity with Latin America – came together in response to the March 2004 invasion of Haiti and the arrest of democratically-elected President Aristide. Emergency demonstrations were organized across the U.S. to demand that U.S. troops leave Haiti, and that Aristide be restored to power. ANSWER issued a national call for protests by the anti-war movement, while other protests were organized locally by Latin America solidarity activists. It is unlikely that the response would have been as strong from either part of the movement if not for last year's massive anti-war mobilizations.
The U.S. anti-intervention movement is in a new historic period – its strongest in decades. Anti-war sentiments have reached into every sector of society, and hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets. As the people of the world resist U.S. domination – from Fallujah, Iraq, to San Vicente del Caguan, Colombia, from Jenin, Palestine, to Caracas, Venezuela – we will be called on again and again to take to the streets.
This movement has shown incredible potential to rise to the tasks at hand. All we need is strong leadership.
Our movement needs to consolidate the new mass leaders who have come forward since September 2001. We need to continue building national coalitions that can bring large numbers of people into the streets under sharp slogans that are consistently anti-imperialist and pro-self-determination. If we do that, we will stand proudly beside the world's peoples, counting the victories against U.S. imperialism.
Since the last Congress, a number of major developments have affected oppressed nationalities in the United States (principally African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Arab Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders). The three main developments discussed in this introduction are the Bush Administration's "War on Terrorism," the recession that began in 2001, and the growth of the Latino population.
After September 2001, the Bush Administration unleashed its "War on Terror" on two fronts. Internationally, the United States installed a puppet regime in Afghanistan and then invaded and occupied Iraq. Domestically, the Bush Administration led an attack on civil liberties in the name of "Homeland Defense." The principal targets in the United States were oppressed nationalities, in particular Arab Americans and Muslim Americans who faced imprisonment, deportation, special registration, loss of jobs, harassment, and murder by the government and racists in the United States. South Asians, in particular Sikhs and Filipinos, were also attacked by racists and through the firing of non-citizen airport screeners.
In March 2001, a recession officially began in the United States. Oppressed nationalities were hardest hit. The official unemployment rate for African Americans, which is twice that of whites, hit double-digits. The loss of jobs also led to the loss of health insurance benefits. At 30%, Latinos have the highest rate of losing health insurance. That is more than three times the rate for whites. Oppressed nationalities were also hardest-hit by the cutbacks in education, health care, welfare, and other social services, both as recipients of the services and as government and nonprofit employees.
Finally, the faster rate of growth of the Latino population owing to immigration led it to surpass the African American population. This highlights the strategic importance of Latinos in general and the Chicano nation in particular, on account of its growing size, importance in the working class, and its ties with growing national liberation struggles in Latin American countries.
The comprador bourgeoisie of the national movements, represented by Secretary of State Colin Powell, have joined the monopoly capitalist class' "war on terrorism" at home and abroad.
The national bourgeoisie has been marginalized by both parties of the monopoly capitalists, with both Democratic and Republican candidates skipping the NAACP convention. In general, the national bourgeoisie has not stood up to the right. Those who do try to stand up to the right and question the "war on terrorism" are severely punished, as with the defeat of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who angered the ruling class and the Zionists.
The petty bourgeoisie of the national movements, along with much of the national bourgeoisie, rallied to turn back two attacks on affirmative action at the University of Michigan and in California Proposition 54. However, in electoral politics, there is a growing tendency to just promote one's own ethnic group, as seen in situations such as the Los Angeles mayor's race, in which the black national and petty bourgeoisie mainly endorsed a white liberal who promised political appointments instead of forging a black-brown alliance to elect a progressive Chicano. Redistricting has also led to tension among the petty bourgeoisie from Asian American and Latino communities in California, as elected officials try to concentrate their ethnic base while dispersing others. In general the petty bourgeoisie sees using elections and the courts as the main arena of struggle.
The working class masses of the oppressed nationalities, along with the most progressive sectors of the petty bourgeoisie, have struggled against attacks on their communities, but the struggles have mainly been localized and/or limited to a single nationality. Some examples of this were the Latino Economic Boycott in California to oppose the repeal of drivers' licenses, the uprising by the African American community in Benton Harbor, Michigan, the mass involvement of Arab Americans in anti-war protests, and the struggle of Filipino airline screeners for their jobs.
The number of Latinos in the U.S. will be over 40 million by 2010. Latinos are reproducing at a faster rate than the white or Black populations, and are, on the average, younger. By 2010 they will be the largest "minority" group in the country. The Chicano/Latino people have a long history of resistance dating back to the fight against Spanish colonization of the indigenous nations and to the struggles for independence from Spain and the other European colonial powers. In the 1800s, the resistance continued against U.S. domination. The U.S. war of annexation of Mexican national territory gave rise to the development of the Chicano nation in the Southwestern U.S. (Aztlan). Resistance also confronted the U.S. in the Spanish-American war, where the U.S. took political and economic control of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines. In the current historical period of the decline of imperialism, national oppression has intensified with the continued denial of political and economic power, including land, cultural and language rights, and self-determination for the Chicano nation within the U.S., along with the denial of full equality for all Latino peoples.
Facts and Conditions
The Chicano/Latino community in the U.S. is diverse, with the majority being either Mexican or Chicano. In addition to a high birth rate, the community is also growing very fast due to an increase in immigration. Significant immigration took place from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America since World War II, especially rising since the 1960's. Mass immigration intensified into the 1980's caused by U.S. foreign economic and political intervention, which brought misery, repression and revolutionary wars. The Latino growth has been concentrated in the largest urban areas. New York is over 30 percent Latino with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians and Central Americans being the largest groups. Los Angeles and Miami are more that 50% Latino. The four most populous states – California, New York, Texas and Florida – contain more that 60 percent of the Latinos in the U.S.
This major demographic transformation of the racial make-up of the U.S. has challenged the narrow European outlook of identity, culture, history and language. It is challenging the power structure and institutions of the U.S., which have responded with repression.
While a small petit bourgeoisie or middle class has emerged, the majority of Chicanos/Latinos continue to suffer an increase in racism and exploitation. The community faces an increased use of hard drugs, police murders and brutality, incarceration of youth, high prison populations, inferior housing and educational conditions, bad working conditions, underemployment, low-paying non-union jobs, lack of health care and insurance, and over 10 million undocumented immigrants unable to vote or fully participate in society.
The War on Iraq and Conditions after 9-11
The twin tower attacks and the new so-called war on terror has brought an increase in discrimination against Chicanos/Latinos and immigrants in the form of arrests, firings and deportations. Other hits include widespread acceptance of racial profiling, an increase in hate crimes, and more border deaths at the hands of vigilantes.
Latino casualties in Iraq are high, especially from California. Jose Gutierrez, the Marine killed in Iraq, was from Guatemala; he had fled a repressive U.S.-supported regime that massacred over 200,000 people. The U.S. military targets poor Latino youth for recruitment, to be used as cannon fodder on the front lines of imperialist wars.
How War Affects La Raza and Education
School conditions for Chicanos and Latinos are bad. Schools are overcrowded and dirty. Resources for teachers and students are increasingly scarce. Budget cuts at community colleges and public universities have meant decreased access for Chicano and Latino students because of under-funded outreach efforts, increased tuition, and cuts in the quality of education. This has forced Latino youths into high drop-out rates and low-paid jobs. Meanwhile, Armed Services recruiters are targeting Latinos in poor communities. The U.S. Army wants to increase Latino enrollment to 27%. Latinos make up high percentages of dangerous jobs in the military, such as gunnery & infantry: Marines 20%, Army 25%. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 provides the Department of Defense with young people's names for easier recruitment.
Movements on the Rise
Anti-war activism was organized on a larger scale by Latinos than in the past, especially in California. The anti-war efforts were linked to the demands and conditions of Chicanos/Latinos, especially in relation to education and the targeting for military recruitment of young Latinos in the barrios. Major united front marches, teach-ins and rallies were organized. Latinos also supported the major protests initiated by ANSWER. The Chicano student movement (MECHA) has grown stronger, especially in California. Students continue to fight for education, college admissions, Chicano Studies, for immigrant rights and against racism and war.
Immigrant rights struggles for legalization, equal rights and workers’ rights were on the rise, but took a brief downturn after 9-11. In late 2003, the movement refocused and re-emerged as a potent force with the fight for licenses in California and a broad legalization program nationwide. The success of California AB 540 – college tuition for non-residents, and the fight for the federal Dream Act – residency for immigrant students, as well as other progressive immigrant rights legislation, along with immigrant worker struggles, will see an increased activity in this movement.
Struggles for unionization and better wages and health benefits have increased among Chicanos/Mexicans, with more rank-and-file participation in unions. The new generation of Chicano labor leaders is more progressive and pushes organizing and immigrant rights work, along with leading many successful electoral campaigns.
Electoral Work and Legislative Reform
There has been arising a new generation of Latino elected officials who are more activist- and liberal-oriented but still within the Democratic Party. They push for better education and living conditions but sometimes compromise, and are influenced by corporate business interest.
The left trend is represented by various local Chicano organizations with revolutionary views. They do agitation, education, and mobilizations in the Chicano/Mexican barrios, either calling for an independent Chicano nation or reunification with Mexico.
Liberal social service and advocacy organizations have grown and begun to take on local organizing efforts, yet do not challenge U.S. war policy or political and corporate power structures.
Cultural work among youth and women has taken a new and independent form. New collectives of young people and women have developed or expanded on the new arts forms of spoken word and performance art. While not doing direct organizing, they have linked this to support for the struggle in Chiapas, Mexico, and other indigenous struggles.
A political trend that can be characterized as Chicano indigenismo has grown in the last 20 years, primarily among college youth with the reaffirmation of the indigenous history, culture and traditions. They have linked and identified with the Zapatista struggle for self-determination in the primary rural peasant agricultural life, sometimes romanticizing this struggle and trying to apply it to the urban industrial life of the large barrios in the Southwest.
For the African American people, life in the United States, 2004 is not about living the 'American dream' – it's about being trapped in an American nightmare. Persistent poverty, exploitative work conditions, high unemployment rates, incarceration, systematic police violence, together with the lack of political power underscores a simple fact – monopoly capitalism blocks the road to full equality and liberation. National oppression – the systematic economic, political and social inequality, pushed upon the African American people is intensifying.
African Americans today number 36 million people, 13% of the United States' population. Over 50% of African Americans still live in the South, where slavery flourished for most of America's history. Thirty-three percent are under the age of 19, and the likelihood of their being in poverty for at least one year throughout their lives is 91%. The average lifespan for all Americans is 77; for African Americans it is 65. Among African American families, only 29% are headed by traditional two-parent households. These socioeconomic realities directly impact the world view of African Americans and how they regard the United States of America.
African American Labor
In 2002, African American workers were 13.9% of the United States workforce, accounting for 5.9 million people. Women made up 7.6% while men made up 6.3%. There were more African American women working rather than men in the U.S. This fact is startling, considering the fact that among every other national and ethnic group, more men work than women. The causes are several. They include: the high incarceration rate of Black men, an increase in post-high school education enrollment rates for young Black men, employer racism, and the changing nature of the American economy.
The decline of manufacturing jobs particularly disadvantages African American young men. Historically, African Americans have been the "last hired, first fired." This has been borne out in the cyclical economic crises of capitalism. The recent recessions of 1982, 1992 and 2000 statistically show higher rates of unemployment and lower rates of reintegration of African Americans into the workforce. The lack of manufacturing jobs following an economic downturn impacts entry-level positions because there is higher competition for these jobs, which then translates into higher unemployment for Black men, especially teenagers and young adults with fewer skills. Hence, it is understandable that in 2003 less than 52% of working-age Black men in New York City were employed. From 1979 to 2000, the employment rate for African American men aged 16 to 24 decreased 17% nationally.
Service sector employment has grown to be larger than manufacturing employment in the United States, and today represents the largest single category of workers. Unfortunately for African American men, most employers perceive that they do not have the "soft" skills to work in the service sector (1). In addition, service sector occupations such as nursing and hospitality are filled predominantly by women. These occupations have grown in size throughout the 1990s, creating more opportunity for Black women.
The African American family has fewer than 30% of households with both mother and father. As a result many families are headed by single women. In 1996, President Clinton placed lifetime limits on welfare and required women to work in order to qualify for benefits. Black, Chicano/Latino, other oppressed nationality, and POOR white women faced dramatic changes with the enactment of so-called welfare reform. As a result of this attack, many women were coerced into low-paying jobs in order to stay on public assistance. Consequently, Black women continue to face the triple burden of national oppression, oppression as women, and class exploitation. Many Black men, on the other hand, disproportionately find themselves in the reserve army of labor and are driven to find work outside the regular market economy.
African Americans represent the largest group of people in the prison system (about 43%). This is true despite the fact that they are still a minority of all people in the United States. It should be noted that many African American and other oppressed nationality prisoners are in fact wrongly convicted – having never committed the crimes for which they were convicted. Blacks are not only overrepresented at the local, state, and federal jails – but also on death row. Mumia Abu Jamal, who has spent 17 years on death row, continues to be a powerful voice against the racism of the American injustice system. His case is that of purely political persecution for his involvement in the MOVE organization, a Black Liberation Movement group.
African Americans participated in the drug trade to no greater extent than white Americans. Nonetheless, the "war on drugs" is in fact a war on African Americans. The racist enforcement of prison time by mandatory minimums, such as California's Three Strikes Law, swelled the number of Blacks in prison through the 1990s. This factor also contributes to the lower labor force participation but is usually excluded, despite the fact that people with criminal records are even less likely to be hired. Blacks and others working in the prisons are paid less than minimum wage. Today, slavery exists in America's prisons.
Community Under Siege: National Oppression Impacts Black Families
North and south, the African American community is a community under siege. In the urban areas, police terror by killings and beatings has reached epidemic proportions. This has been met by powerful mobilizations in the Black communities of Cincinnati, Benton Harbor, New York City, and numerous other cities. The housing crisis, which is impacting all poor and working class people, has fallen disproportionately on African Americans. Among African American families, only 29% are headed by traditional two-parent households. In cities across the country, urban "development strategy" means that mainly white developers, city officials, and banks gentrify or demolish African American residential areas.
Any crisis that one can think of, be it health care, housing or transportation, is hitting the Black community harder.
The same applies in the rural areas – especially those in the South. Over 50% of African Americans still live in the South, where slavery flourished for most of America's history. A related point is the process of Black farmers, who are overwhelming concentrated in the South, being systematically and continually disposed of their land, a trend which is accelerated by the discrimination by banks and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Taken as a whole, African American culture has democratic and progressive content, and African Americans historically have played a leading role in American culture. This is most visibly the case in literature, the arts, dance and music. The evolution of jazz, soul, rhythm and blues, and rap into hip hop illustrates the continuing dynamism of Black culture and the leading role it continues to play in American culture.
Today, hip hop reflects what is on the mind of Black youth, but it also has a much broader appeal and influence. Youth of all nationalities in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and Africa have adopted hip hop culture and styles as their own, blending it with their own cultures.
African American newspapers, magazines and websites, radio and television, recording studios and labels, theater groups and cultural institutions, schools and colleges continue to amplify the African American national consciousness and identity.
In recent years, the South has become more of a center for Black culture. This has coincided with a ‘reverse migration’ of Black people moving back to the South. It is significant that the South is playing an increasingly important role in African American culture.
The Electoral System
There is no consistent democracy in the U.S. today, and this intersects with the issues of elections and political power. The events surrounding the presidential race in Florida, particularly the widespread disenfranchisement of African American voters, are the tip of the iceberg. From Texas to the Carolinas, there are ongoing court challenges to voting rights, particularly concerning redistricting. In the U.S. in general and the South in particular, electoral districts often dilute the strength of African American voters. In addition, there are a host of practices ranging from voter intimidation to felon disenfranchisement to bureaucratic barriers that further limit the participation of Black voters.
African Americans are the second largest voting group in America, influencing the selection of the Democratic Party's candidate ever since the 1970s. Since President Kennedy was elected in 1960, African Americans have consistently voted and registered Democratic. In recent years, more African Americans have become independents or third party but still vote Democratic.
Republicans routinely write-off the Black electorate and openly use racism in their campaigns to energize their white electoral base. In 1988, George Bush Sr. used Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis. In 1994, Pete Wilson used undocumented immigrants against Kathleen Brown. In 2000, Al Gore received 90% of the Black vote (higher than Bill Clinton who received 86%). Only through the undemocratic Florida suppression of the Black vote did George W. Bush Jr. come into office after the Supreme Court judicial coup selected him.
Black female elected officials have made significant contributions in the last four years. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a former garment worker representing South Central Los Angeles, is a staunch Democrat representing the basic interests of her constituency, including rallying around President Clinton during his botched impeachment hearings. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney weathered a firestorm for questioning President Bush's ability to handle the 9-11 situation. Congresswoman Barbara Lee took a strong stand against the Iraq war. Carol Moseley Braun, former Senator from Illinois, is the first Black woman to run for President.
Among African American male politicians, their impact on the national stage has been waning. Rev. Jesse Jackson faced scandal for adultery and has retreated from public life. Rev. Al Sharpton articulated the Black experience in this year's election campaign, yet moved few to support him as the African American block voted for Senator John Kerry instead. With regard to Kerry, he is someone who could win the White House, but most importantly, he is not Bush. Most African Americans know little about him, however, they do know a lot about Bush.
In 2004, African American artists have become more interested in politics. Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records is pushing a Hip Hop rock-the-vote style message to defeat George Bush. He and other artists are encouraging voter registration and get-out-the-vote mobilizations in order to "fight the powers that be."
Blacks and the Military
Many African Americans have looked at the military as a means to acquire job skills and as a career. Most Blacks see themselves serving for one or two tours of duty and then leaving to pursue civilian life and go on to college. In Iraq today, there are many who would rather be in the United States going to school instead of fighting in the war. However, the lack of other job prospects and the determined recruitment of high school seniors in oppressed nationality communities have brought a "willing," and financially-coerced peacetime soldier.
Since America's defeat in Viet Nam, the military has resisted drafting young men. This view comes from the experience of officers being killed by drafted soldiers, desertions, and psychological casualties that made fighting the Vietnamese more difficult. The military has learned and seeks to maintain a professional army because of these factors.
Less than 50% of African American men graduate high school. Many are presented with military recruitment instead of college as their first real life experience. Veterans of military service experience many broken promises in terms of their health benefits, retirement income and social standing after service, even though they do the hard dirty work of U.S. imperialism and risk their lives in the process. Many homeless men are former veterans. As such, military service is not a promise to a higher quality of life; it is only an opportunity to serve (blindly) an imperial power content to exploit other nation's resources.
African Americans are an oppressed nation inside the United States with a homeland in the Black Belt South. Under President George W. Bush, Blacks have fared even worse. Discrimination and national oppression is the root cause of African American underemployment, unemployment and low labor force participation. Despite the rapid economic growth under President Clinton's second term, African Americans were left out of the "tech bubble".
Today most African American leaders remain inadequate in organizing the people to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination. As African Americans continue to fill the prisons, leave the schools, and receive less for their labor, we must begin to ask ourselves an important question…
Frederick Douglass once said in a speech July 4, 1852, "What to the American slave is your Fourth of July I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim." Slavery is now only legal in the American prison system today. African Americans still must answer what America means to them, and instead of giving their lives for the benefit of the few, to stand with the people of the world to share in its wealth equally.
(1) An important battle around the service sector of the economy took place in Inglewood, California, when a predominantly African American and Latino community rejected, in 2004, Wal-Mart’s attempt to build a superstore the size of 17 football fields in its city center. After failing to pass through the city council, the world's largest corporation gathered signatures to be placed on the ballot. The electoral battle focused on Wal-Mart’s desire to enter the second largest economic market in the United States. It attempted to bypass environmental regulations and the bureaucratic barriers. Fortunately, there was strong organizing and labor/community opposition to a corporation determined to drive out large businesses such as Albertsons and Safeway, which are union, and small businesses as well. The result would be lower wage jobs than those already present and a higher concentration of capital. The African American citizens of Inglewood rejected Wal-mart, realizing that it was detrimental to their community's economic interest.
Asian Americans are the fastest-growing oppressed nationality in percentage terms, but are still much smaller than Latinos and African Americans (about 12 million Asian Americans vs. more than 36 million Latinos and 36 million African Americans). The two highest concentrations of Asian Americans are in Hawaii and the San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose Bay Area, where Asian Americans are the second largest racial group (after whites) in the five largest counties.
The largest Asian American nationalities are Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese (from largest to smallest), who together make up almost 90% of the Asian American population. While all Asian American nationalities (except for Japanese Americans) are a majority immigrant, with different languages and fairly distinct communities, there is growing interaction as seen in intermarriages and professional organizations.
Because of the selective immigration of many college-educated Asians, Asian Americans have a larger petty bourgeoisie than other oppressed nationalities, and higher average family incomes. At the same time, most Asian Americans are working-class, and there is a higher rate of poverty among Asians than whites.
In addition to the attacks following 9-11 on Asian American Muslims, Sikhs, and Filipinos, the monopoly capitalists are also targeting Chinese Americans as economic tensions with China rise. There is a growing tendency to blame China (and India) for the loss of jobs in the United States, when in fact it is U.S. corporations who are moving jobs to wherever they can find the cheapest labor. Because India and China have also had struggles with Islamic fundamentalists, these economic tensions have been somewhat blunted by some common ground in the "war on terror." Nonetheless, economic tensions are only likely to worsen as the Chinese and Indian economies grow, and the United States job market continues to stagnate.
Asian Americans are struggling against the impact of the "war on terrorism" by defending the jobs of Filipino immigrant airport screeners and opposing the deportation of Cambodians and other Southeast Asians because of the government's general crackdown on immigrants. Patriotic forces are leading efforts to publicize the need for unification of the Korean peninsula and are supporting the struggles of the Philippine masses against the pro-U.S. government. Progressive Asian Americans have joined the anti-war movement, raising the link to national liberation movements in Asia and the fight to defend immigrants' rights at home.
The Asian American national movements tend to be dominated by the petty bourgeoisie, which has strong nationalist and reformist tendencies. There is a larger business sector than with other oppressed nationalities and a very large professional sector (engineers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants, etc.). Much of the more progressive petty bourgeoisie is based in social service agencies. There is also a very high number of ex-Marxist-Leninist forces among the Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese communities, as well as revolutionary patriotic forces among Indians, Filipinos, and Koreans, who identify with the national liberation and mass struggles in their countries of origin. There are a number of nationality-based workers centers.
There are approximately 3.5 million Arab Americans in the U.S., although the 2002 census claims only 1.5 million. They live in all 50 states, but two-thirds reside in 10 states; one-third of the total live in California, New York, and Michigan. About 94% live in metropolitan areas. Los Angeles, Detroit, New York/NJ, Chicago and Washington, D.C. are the top five metro areas of Arab American concentration.
Lebanese Americans constitute a greater part of the total number of Arab Americans residing in most states, except New Jersey, where Egyptian Americans are the largest Arab group. Americans of Syrian descent make up the majority of Arab Americans in Rhode Island, while the largest Palestinian population is in Illinois, and the Iraqi and Assyrian/Chaldean communities are concentrated in Illinois, Michigan, and California.
Arab Americans with at least a high school diploma number 85 percent. More than four out of ten Americans of Arab decent have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 24% of Americans at large. Seventeen percent of Arab Americans have a post-graduate degree, which is nearly twice the American average (9%).
Similar to the national average, about 64 percent of Arab American adults are in the labor force, with 5 percent unemployed. Seventy-three percent of working Arab Americans are employed in managerial, professional, technical, sales or administrative fields. Nearly half as many Americans of Arab decent are employed in service jobs (12%) in relation to Americans overall (27%). Most Arab Americans work in the private sector (88 %), while 12 percent are government employees.
Median income for Arab American households in 1999 was $47,000, compared with $42,000 for all households in the United States. Close to 30% of Americans of Arab heritage have an annual household income of more than $75,000, while 22% of all Americans reported the same level of income. Mean income measured at 8% higher than that national average of $56,644.
The high numbers for income and education must be considered in the context of the fact that the Syrians and Lebanese, especially, have been here since the turn of the century. In the more metropolitan and inner city areas, many Arabs are living under the poverty level. More recent immigrants from the Gulf, especially Iraq and Yemen, Palestine, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt, are predominantly working-class and work either in the service sector or as small-business owners in Arab, Black, and Latino communities. Victims of racism themselves (which makes it difficult to secure bank loans large enough to start businesses in middle-class communities), and competing for markets with other oppressed nationality groups, these Arabs often economically exploit the Black and Latino communities where they establish their businesses, which causes major social tension.
The post 9-11 "War on Terrorism" has greatly affected Arab Americans and Arab immigrants in the U.S. Although the discourse of an increase of Islamic fundamentalism has dominated the "security" concerns of the capitalist class, the repression and criminalization of Arabs and Muslims has mostly targeted mosques, community-based organizations, and humanitarian aid formations that support the rights of Palestinian and Iraqi self-determination. Many individual organizers and activists have been detained, some under "secret evidence" provisions, and deported. Also, both the PATRIOT Act and the policy of "special registration" have caused the detentions and deportations of tens of thousands of Arabs (who were only guilty of minor, technical violations of immigration law), as well as massive restrictions on immigration from Arab countries. To justify its "War on Terrorism," specifically the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the U.S. government needs an "enemy face" to present to the American public. These faces are mostly of Arabs and Muslims, but also of undocumented Filipinos, Mexicans, and others.
In April of 2002, tens of thousands of Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims marched against U.S. war policy and in support of Palestinian self-determination, in the largest mobilization of these communities in the history of this country. This demonstration became a watershed moment, challenging the rightist, liberal, reformist, and pacifist tendencies of the anti-war movement that refused to acknowledge the connection between the "War on Terrorism" and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The liberal and pacifist tendencies within the anti-war movement have continued to resist and struggle against the anti-imperialist segments of the anti-war movement on the question of Israeli occupation, owing to confusion, national chauvinism, or ties to the Democratic Party. Segments of the Arab American petit bourgeoisie have failed to speak out about the war on terrorism for fear of repercussions.
The leadership from the Arab American national movements in the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movement comes mostly from the Islamic forces and the left, which have formed alliances in some cities. The bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces have assimilated into mainstream political lobbying formations (such as the ADC, the AAI, and Arab Democratic and Republican clubs), or nationalist formations. The more progressive petty bourgeois are based in social service or advocacy agencies.
According to the 2000 census, Native Americans make up 1.5% of the U.S. population, with a count of 4.1 million. Forty three percent of Native Americans live in the West. The highest regions of concentration are northern and western Alaska, the 'four corners' region in the Southwest, central and western South Dakota and eastern Oklahoma. Sixty six percent of Native Americans live in urban areas (up from 45% in 1970). The largest tribes, in descending order, are Cherokee, Navajo, Latin American Indian, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois and Pueblo. An average of 24.5% of Native Americans lived in poverty between 1999 and 2001, compared to about 10% for the U.S. population as a whole.
Throughout the genocide of Native Americans, the Europeans and the U.S. took great pains to wipe out Indian language, culture and economic life. Today, Native Americans are less than 2% of the U.S. population, and that number grows even smaller when you look at individual Indian nations or peoples. These small numbers can have the effect of skewing the influence of various movements and individuals, for better or for worse. Because of the history of extreme repression (genocide) and very sharp resistance, the Native national movement has a political impact beyond the numbers.
Most struggles are local, although some of these local battles have gained national followings. Common areas of contention in the rural areas include hunting and fishing (treaty) rights, land reclamation (for reservations), protecting and preserving sacred sites, stopping murderous reactionaries, fighting against racist mascots and geographical names, mineral rights and gaming rights. There are also pitched battles against (or for) corrupt reservation officials.
Many of the reservation leaderships are in fact tools of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). They sell natural resources at bargain prices (water, minerals, timber) in exchange for government backing. The BIA has essentially erected a system of neo-colonial regimes.
Current national (and often urban) issues include fighting against racist mascots, preserving certain sacred sites, and gaming. There are battles (by lawyers, native and not) fought in Washington D.C. over the corruption and problems in the BIA. There is also a trend to link struggles of Native Americans in the U.S. with indigenous peoples in Canada and Central/South America.
In the past few decades, almost all of the forces in the Native American movements have been essentially nationalist-led: fighting for sovereignty vis-à-vis the U.S. government. No clear Marxist tendencies have developed. It should be noted that many of the national forces have uneven reputations amongst the people. Charges and counter-charges of corruption and complicity with government agents are widespread, and far more pervasive than the other national movements.
It should also be noted that many Native struggles in the past – and even the recent past – have involved armed uprisings and other organized militant struggles, such as hostage-taking and government building occupations.
There has been a resurgence of celebrating native culture in the past 30 years. This started happening after the militant struggles for sovereignty in the 1970s. Examples include pow-wows, cultural/spiritual-based approaches to social problems, and fixing how indigenous peoples are presented in schools. Most of the conscious forces in the petty bourgeoisie put their energies into the social service sector.
Most reservations had almost no economic life before gaming, other than perhaps leasing land to white farmers, ranchers and loggers and selling mineral rights (in the four corners area). Casinos on reservations can provide an economic 'hub' where none existed before. This could be construed as good for cohesion of the people. However, most reservations and peoples benefit little or not at all from gaming, and the people are often shut out of direct economic benefit. Obviously, any big business is crooked (gaming especially!), and casinos are in bed with sectors of the white bourgeoisie. On the other hand, white reactionaries are dying to take exclusive casinos away from Indians, and this should be resisted.
Attacks on the Working Class
The working class has been under increasing attack in the last period. Unemployment remains high – 9.9 million jobless – and the number of unemployed running out of benefits is at an all-time high. Given high unemployment, capitalists are squeezing workers, continuing "lean production" methods, cutting jobs and driving down wages. Unemployment is already higher and wages lower for Blacks and Latino's. From union workers, who have had the best wages and working conditions, the bosses are demanding cuts in health care plans and pensions. The masters of Detroit, the automobile companies, are bent on de-unionizing the industry that was central to the greatest advance in the class struggle in U.S. history: the industrial unionizing that took place in the 1930's.
The attacks have been felt particularly severe among the lower sectors of the working class. States experienced shortfalls of $200 billion for the last fiscal year, and going into 2004, 41 states are looking at a total shortfall of $78.4 billion. State budget crises have resulted in massive attacks on the social safety net and on poor and low income people. At the same time as massive budget cuts and increasing poverty and unemployment, lifetime limits for welfare have hit states across the country, throwing entire families off welfare for the remainder of their lives. In 2002, 43.6 million Americans lacked health insurance, a 2 million increase since 2001. Emergency shelter and food assistance use has increased 13-17%. New York City has more people homeless (over 39,000 a night) than at any time since accurate records started in the late 1970's. Thousands of elderly or disabled refugees and immigrants are set to lose Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in early 2004, due to provisions in the1996 welfare law.
Of course, in this racist system, the ongoing economic crisis is falling disproportionately on oppressed nationality workers: African Americans, Chicanos, Mexicanos, Puerto Ricans and other Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders. The industrial cities of the "Rust Belt," had been where millions of African Americans and Latinos in past generations had made advances, through unionization and struggles for equality. The industrial areas have been the hardest hit by Bush's economic crisis, and the companies in manufacturing, autos, and high tech equipment are where African Americans and Latinos have been heavily concentrated.
For 40 years, the general crisis of imperialism has driven U.S. imperialism to rely more and more on the South and Southwest of the U.S. The reason for this is that these are the historic homes of the oppressed African American and Chicano nations. Light manufacturing and the high tech industry have transferred to the South and Southwest and are employing Black and Latino labor in low wage non-union jobs. Black and Chicano and Méxicano workers face more repressive laws, have fewer unions, fewer rights, and are paid less than the rest of the U.S.
Because of this set of objective conditions, all workers have to take up the struggle against discrimination as a part of the trade union struggle. This is not the task of oppressed nationality workers alone and is essential to multi-national unity.
Recent Battles of the Working Class
In the recent period, the working class has been on the defensive, engaging in sporadic and limited battles against a sharpened employer onslaught.
The period of capitalist recession, beginning in 2001, has seen a lower level of class struggle than the prior period. In the mid to late 1990s, a tighter labor market and some fighting leadership, especially in Teamsters and local leaders in the UAW, led to a resurgence of strikes against such major companies as Northwest Airlines, General Motors, and United Parcel Service. With the current economic crisis, the number of strikes has been at an all-time low.
Industrial workers have been especially weakened by the 2.3 million jobs they have lost in this recession. The continuing effect of Clinton's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade agreements has seen manufacturing jobs under increased pressure.
In addition, the ruling class is on an offensive against public employees. Private sector unionization is at the lowest point in over a century – only 8.2%, half the number it was in 1982. The public sector has a higher percentage of unionized workers, and corporate America wants to end that. Federal employees are likewise under attack, with moves to privatize 800,000 jobs and to bust the unions for Federal workers.
The airline industry has lost 100,000 jobs and the higher paid sector at the major airlines has been undercut by a fundamental realignment towards low wage airlines, pushed forward by the economic recession and downturn in travel. Billions of dollars have been transferred to management in the form of concessions, and even with the concessions one or more of the higher wage airlines may go under. The race to the bottom in this industry compares to the busting of the manufacturing unions in the 1980s.
A Time of Choices
The labor officials have had a basic choice to make in response to these employer tactics- the main response has been capitulation.
In sector after sector, unions continue to respond to the economic crisis with concessions, including in auto, airlines, and the public sector. They have not even attempted to fight back, or where they do have offered limited fights. Public sector workers have been under intensified attacks in recent years. Despite an often greater ability to fight back due to the political nature of their employment, public employees, with notable exceptions, have responded with a deafening silence. In state after state, rather than fight back against privatization, massive shifts in health care costs, and wage freezes, AFSCME and other unions have chosen to lie low.
In negotiating health care costs, most unions are taking the hit, resulting in workers shouldering thousands of dollar deductibles. This has represented a massive and fundamental shift in the negotiated benefit structures. For the most part, the labor movement has chosen to accept these cost shifts rather than stand up and fight. The grocery workers' strike in California represents a rare example of a union standing up to a particularly sharp attack on their benefits.
Some unions, notably the UAW, have sold out their members in a big way. The latest UAW contract with the Big 3 enshrines a three tier wage system. Instead of fostering solidarity between workers, tiers of wages mean older workers betrayal of their newer brothers and sisters. In addition, the UAW has made a trade-off with the parts supplier companies. Companies like MetalDyne will allow the UAW to represent workers in their factories, while the union agrees to a contract where those workers will take a $10 an hour pay cut.
The recession and attacks on the safety net have led to more instability in the urban poor sector, due to losing welfare benefits, child care or health care, increasing evictions, homelessness, and the loss of phones and transportation. But people are very angry and the level of awareness of the attacks is high because so many are affected. The willingness to fight seems to be high as well. Those engaged in the fight become quickly radicalized in the class struggle. However, the level of struggle around welfare has been at a very low level on a national scale or even from state to state, except in the few areas where there are conscious elements leading the work. Where there are conscious forces there can be sharp battles.
Sporadic Fight Backs
Despite the overall trend towards capitulation, there are notable pockets of resistance in the last period. Workers are frustrated, and in some places, important struggles have broken out. The West Coast longshore workers took on the employer's alliance, Wal-Mart, and the Bush administration in fighting a defensive battle to preserve jobs. Transit workers in LA went on strike for several weeks with limited gains, and the reform leadership of the New York transit workers local took on Mayor Bloomberg in a high-profile battle. In Inglewood California, unions and non-unionized oppressed nationality workers took on a campaign against Wal-Mart building a superstore, and won.
Noteworthy also is the explosive struggle of the longshore workers of Charleston, South Carolina. In January 2000, 600 riot police attacked several hundred picketing members of the International Longshoremen’s Association. These workers, mostly Black, were up against the racist, anti-union political system, as well as scab shipping companies. The support movement that unfolded for the Charleston 5 was the key to beating back the state's charges of rioting. Both the militant fight of the workers and the immense support they solicited showed the desire of workers to fight back against the capitalists and against racist national oppression.
In the more recent period, several important struggles took place at universities, in part because these employers were not able, either politically or legally, to use the threat of permanent replacements to quash the idea of a strike. At Yale University, HERE locals, with the backing of the International Union, waged a two year war against Yale University, combining a mixture of community support, intermittent strikes and corporate campaigns to force management to reach an agreement. At the University of Minnesota, militant clerical union leadership took a stand against public employee bashing and health care cuts in striking for several weeks in fall 2003.
A major battle over the future of health care benefits took place in California this past winter. Some 70,000 striking and locked-out grocery store workers were on the picket lines from October to February. They resisted capitalist efforts to greatly increase what they pay for healthcare. Despite the broad appeal of their call, they were unable to stop the functioning of the stores. In the end, while the workers fought heroically, the leadership was inadequate. They didn't have a fighting plan in advance, pulled punches along the way, and sent people back to work calling their defeat a victory. The actual score card found the workers conceding to a two-tier wage and benefit system.
Most of the struggles in the recent period have been limited, with victories counted in slowing or moderating, or even standing up to management's attacks. The agreements reached after most, if not all, of the battles above have been full of compromises, mainly due to the balance of forces and the limited tactics employed by unions.
Class Struggle Unionism
The way forward for the labor movement is to revive class struggle unionism. We need unions to be fighting organizations, not dues collection machines. Class struggle unionism means broadening the outlook and demands of the unions – a return to solidarity unionism. That means organizing and mobilizing the membership to fight management and support other struggles. Our demands and our slogans should reflect class demands; we draw lines between the workers and the bosses in our work. It means social movement unionism – linking the union movement with other social forces. It means reviving tactics of earlier generations – of the 1910s and the 1930s. During those periods, workers did not content themselves with going on strike and holding up picket signs. They used every tactic in their arsenal, from sit down strikes to shutting down production at the plant gates or to taking the fight industry or class wide. Class struggle unionism also means solidarity unionism, where unionists go all-out in support of key struggles when they break out.
The approach of class struggle unionism differs from other progressive formulations, such as social unionism and democracy unionism. We fight for union democracy in order to have worker-run organizations and to more effectively wage class struggle – not just to have fairer rules for replacing one set of bureaucrats with another. While we support organizing as a task of unions, we reject the program of market density unionism, favored by the New Unity Partnership officials, as discussed below.
Until a section of the advanced embraces these tactics again, victories will be limited to specific industries and partial in scope. Those unions which in the last decade or two have started down this path, however fleetingly – such as the Staley workers, the Detroit newspaper workers in the mid 1990s, the mineworkers at Pittston coal in the early 1990s, and Local P9 at Hormel in the 1980s – have shown us the path to a renewed labor movement. The path of a militant, class-conscious labor movement is the only road forward.
Not only has the labor bureaucracy failed unionized workers, the broader working class gets their attention mainly insofar as they are potential dues payers. With regards to the poor, as the economic crisis continues, it becomes more important to remember that most unions do nothing to support welfare, even though union jobs continue to be privatized and replaced by "welfare to work" workers. We should work to unite labor and lower sector struggles to fight against attacks on the working class as a whole, including attacks on public sector workers, workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights, health care and the social safety net, and to raise the level of class struggle. The economic crisis and budget battles are fertile ground for increasing the level of struggle on a class basis that denounces tax breaks for the rich while poor and working people are being cut to the bone.
Assessment of Labor
When John Sweeney's New Voices slate took office in the AFL-CIO, we said that conditions were improved for struggle, and for the work of communists in the class. A look at the ledger sees some advances and some failures of their era. On the one hand, we see continued commitment by some unions to new organizing: to immigrants’ rights (the immigrant workers rides this year were an important event), and to coalitions (like the fight against the FTAA). The AFL is more open to working with other social forces, such as in Seattle. There are openings in working with the AFL that did not exist before. They had some successes in pushing the AFL-CIO towards organizing and getting rid of the worst of the old guard; there were some positive efforts internationally, including coming out initially against Bush's war in Iraq.
On the negative side, their organizing program is not working to stop the slide in labor's status. As of March, only 8.2% of the private sector remains unionized, and while the public sector is at 42.6%, that's down as a result of layoffs, privatization, and the Bush administration's attacks on federal workers.
Also on the negative side of the tally sheet, the AFL-CIO was up to their necks in the attempted coup in Venezuela; and once the shooting started, Sweeney turned and embraced – again – Bush's war drive. The relationship with other forces has been mixed and the support of key battles, such as the Staley workers in Decauter, IL, has been mixed.
While the reform program was unfolding, there had also been retrenchment in other places. The motion that led to the founding of the Labor Party has largely died down. Jimmy Hoffa won re-election in November 2001.
At the heart of the Sweeney program was organizing the unorganized, a task that had been largely ignored by the previous leadership of the AFL-CIO. Organizing the unorganized is an important task of the labor movement, especially where there are large concentrations of Chicano and Black workers who suffer exploitation and national oppression. Particularly, in the Southwest and South, where the Chicano and Black working class face brutal exploitation, racism, anti-labor laws and very low levels of union membership. In these struggles for union recognition we see the importance of fighting against national oppression for union democracy and strong rank and file leadership. However, the New Voices methods of organizing left much to be desired. They often ignored fighting the demands of current workers in their rush to organize new workers. Much of the so-called "new organizing" has consisted of getting agreements with employers, what used to be called "sweetheart" deals.
The staff driven model of organizing favored by the New Voices leadership has failed to turn around labor's decline. True breakthroughs in organizing will only come through class struggle unionism. When workers engage in mass struggles, it inspires other workers to fight back as well.
The limited success of the New Voices program has spurred the development of sections of the labor bureaucracy to intensify the push towards organizing with the development of the New Unity Partnership. This handful of officials includes the leaders of the Carpenters, SEIU, UNITE-HERE, and the Laborers. The New Unity Partnership is an odd grouping of the more liberal elements of the labor bureaucracy and the pro-Bush Carpenter's leadership. What unites them is what they see as a lack of progress of the AFL-CIO in re-orienting itself towards organizing. They favor the restructuring of AFL-CIO programs and resources towards organizing and an agreement among unions to organize in industrial sectors. In pushing for more organizing, they are correct, and the AFL-CIO certainly needs an intensified shake-up.
But the New Unity Partnership lacks a commitment to union democracy and a commitment to class struggle unionism. What the labor movement needs, and the New Unity Partnership cannot offer, is to develop fighting unions – unions that break beyond the bonds of the current ways of doing things and engage in all-out fights against the bosses. Market density, which is the mantra of the New Unity Partnership, will not alone produce class struggle unionism.