Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Remembering Midwest Radical: Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson passed away Aug. 5 in Chippewa Falls, Wis., at age 84. His long life was marked by resolute opposition to war, local and national leadership in the Socialist Workers Party, government persecution, an exceedingly frugal life style, and from middle age, devoted care to his mother during her final years.

I first met Joe when I transferred from the Chicago branch of the Socialist Workers Party to the Twin Cities in the fall of 1965. After a long dry spell during the Fifties, the SWP was beginning to grow once more. This was primarily the result of a youth radicalization expressed through developments such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committees involved in civil rights, the Free Speech Movement launched in Berkeley, and the “New Left” Students for a Democratic Society—who organized the first national protest against the Vietnam War.

The party’s Young Socialist Alliance, founded in 1960, participated in and recruited from these movements. The Twin Cities had done particularly well in campus recruiting, but many transferred elsewhere upon graduation and reinforcements were needed. At the request of the party’s national secretary Farrell Dobbs, three of us from the Windy City headed to the Land of Sky Blue Waters.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Remembering Eugene Debs

In the annals of American socialism, the name of Eugene V. Debs stands out as the most prominent personality in the movement’s history. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-described independent socialist now campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, considers Debs one of his heroes.

It’s almost certain Debs would not have approved of Sanders running for nomination in the Democratic Party. As a leader of the early 20th-century Socialist Party, Debs once said he was more proud of going to jail for leading a rail workers’ strike than early in his career serving in the Indiana state legislature as an elected Democratic representative.

Unfortunately, there’s a tendency among defenders of the status quo to turn great historical figures into harmless icons, saintly martyrs to high ideals who loved everyone and threatened no one. This to a degree has happened with the Rev. Martin Luther, King, Jr., a radical fighter for civil rights in his day that the political establishment now treats with a kind of perfunctory reverence.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Iron Range Miners Rally as Contract Set to Expire

Hundreds of Steelworkers and supporters from across Minnesota’s Iron Range marched and rallied on Thursday as part of nationwide actions by the union as it fights concessions demanded by mining companies U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal and Cliffs Natural Resources.

The union began bargaining new contracts with U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal in June. The two master agreements, which cover about 30,000 workers in all, are scheduled to expire on Sept. 1. 

The contract with Cliffs Natural Resources, which is set to expire Oct. 1, covers more than 2,600 Steelworkers from four local unions in Minnesota and Michigan.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Why Obama’s epic climate plan isn’t such a big deal

The carbon regulations that President Barack Obama is unveiling today sound like they’ll be a bit stronger than the toothless draft rules he unveiled last year. That doesn’t mean they’ll be strong. And it certainly doesn’t mean they’ll be “the strongest action ever taken to combat climate change,” as The New York Times breathlessly referred to them in its news pages yesterday morning.

It’s not yet clear exactly what they’ll be, because so far the Obama administration has only revealed some non-binding national goals, not the hard emissions targets that states will be required to meet. But the early leaks suggest that the Clean Power Plan will require the electricity sector to decarbonize slightly more than it would have under the draft plan. The sector’s emissions are expected to drop 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, up from 30 percent in the draft. The plan now anticipates renewable energy to rise to 28 percent of the grid’s capacity by 2030, instead of 22 percent, and coal to drop to 27 percent of capacity, instead of 31 percent.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Screwed by vulture funds, Puerto Rico is the US's 'Greece'

The world has been focused on the spectacle of the “Troika” of the International Monetary Fund, European Union and the European Central Bank crushing the Greek people, but it is far from the only example of strong nations using a “debt crisis” to extract more wealth from those that are weaker.

A case in point is the US colony of Puerto Rico. In a June 28 New York Times interview, the governor of the Caribbean archipelago nation declared its debt of US$73 billion “is not payable. There is no other option. I would love to have an easier option. This is not politics. This is math.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

$15 Wage Movement Makes Gains

June was a good month for the fight for a $15 minimum wage. On June 13, Los Angeles, the second largest city in the country, saw the mayor sign the bill passed by the city council that raised the minimum wage from $9 to $15 over the next five years. This will keep the city ahead of the statewide minimum wage, which was raised to $10 in 2016.

The California State Assembly is now considering raising it to $13 in 2017. Last November, the people of San Francisco voted to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2018. And not to be outdone, a nearby city, Emeryville, raised its minimum wage to $16 by 2019. On June 2, its city council unanimously passed the ordinance, which will be adjusted annually for inflation.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Last-Minute Assault on Wages & Workers in WI State Budget

The Wisconsin legislature sent a $72 billion biennial budget bill to Governor Walker's desk last week, giving him just four days to process and sign the budget before his July 13 scheduled presidential announcement. The bill slashes $250 million from the University of Wisconsin System, advances school vouchers and the corporate privatization of Wisconsin public schools, and is chock full of public policy provisions that did not have public hearings or public input.

Although the governor has recently been projecting surpluses for the next fiscal year, the drastic cuts in state programs will still leave the state facing a structural deficit of some $490 million, according to the Wisconsin Budget Project.

Last weekend, the Joint Finance budget-writing committee produced a large addition to the budget, an anonymous "999 motion" that took 24 pages just to summarize. Tucked into the motion were major changes to Wisconsin's open records law, a direct response to CMD's lawsuit against the governor over his efforts to axe "the search for truth" and the Wisconsin Idea from the budget. On Tuesday, Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick acknowledged for the first time that the governor's office played a role in developing the records proposal.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

TPPA: Capitalism at its Predatory Best

President Obama was granted “Fast Track” authority by Congress on June 24, thus clearing the way to rapid passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

The TPPA has been 10 years in the making, including the last six under the aegis of the Obama administration. The agreement, written in secret by some 600 top corporate advisers, will encompass 40 percent of world trade. It is slated to be signed by 12 Pacific-rim countries—United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Free Leonard Peltier!

This June will mark the 40th anniversary of the shoot out at Oglala on the Pine Ridge reservation. Leonard Peltier has been wrongly imprisoned for the shooting of two FBI agents at this shoot out between the U.S. government and American Indian Movement activists. Events are planned all over the country to mark the event, raise awareness about Peltier's case, and to call for his release from prison.

Please join us for a one hour picket at the corner of Lake Ave. & Superior St. in downtown Duluth on Friday, June 26.  We'll be there from 4:30 to 6pm.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Necessary and Just Transition From Fossil Fuels

Alister Doyle writing in a recent Reuters story said,
“An apparent slowdown in the pace of global warming in recent years may be an illusion based on skewed data, according to a study on Thursday that found no break in a trend of rising temperatures. In 2013, the U.N. panel of climate experts reported a ‘hiatus’ in warming since about 1998, despite rising man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. That heartened skeptics who say the risks of climate change have been exaggerated. The new U.S. study in the journal Science, based on a re-analysis of worldwide temperature data, found no pause in the warming blamed by most climate experts for producing heatwaves, downpours and higher sea levels. ‘There is no discernible … decrease in the rate of warming between the second half of the 20th century and the first 15 years of the 21st century,’ experts led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wrote.”

Monday, June 8, 2015

Gentrification & Inequality in Duluth

As a child, I loved trips to Woolworth's with my mother and great-grandmother.  They shopped while I coveted the soft pretzels.  Little did I know that these were the last of downtown's good old days.  As years passed, business after business closed its doors, leaving sad relics of storefronts.  Duluth continued its careen into economic depression, of which our shuttered downtown was a visceral symbol.

Fast forward to 2015.  Downtown is home to art galleries, microbreweries and indie movie theaters.  Again it is a symbol, this time of a city on the rebound.  But is it?  While Duluth is thriving in many ways, not all of us share the benefits.  Twenty-four percent of us live in poverty, including half of Black and Native Duluthians.  Rental housing is the best affordable in the state, while wages are among the lowest.  In other words, Duluth is going as the rest of our nation: into growing economic disparity.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Workers Rally in Defense of Duluth Mail Processing Center

Fifty people gathered in front of the post office on West Michigan Street in a rally to save the Duluth mail processing center.

"What do we want?" a man with a megaphone asked the crowd Wednesday. The crowd shouted, "Permanently restored services!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"

The Northland's city, state and federal officials joined members of the unions affiliated with the United States Postal Service in calling for the mail processing center to be kept open permanently because it serves as a regional hub. The center processes mail for Duluth and Superior as well as the Iron Range, North Shore and other parts of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Duluth's mail processing center has been slated to close as part of the Postal Service's consolidation plan to save money.

Friday, May 22, 2015

In Wisconsin, A Test Case for Right to Work

Three years after losing a ten-week strike over the right to collect dues, about 200 union members at Manitowoc Cranes in northeast Wisconsin face continuing efforts to decimate their treasury—an experience other unions may soon also face under the state’s new so-called “right to work” law.

“A lot of workers feel pressure,” said Bill Brault. A 40-year member of International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local Lodge 516, he abhors the company ultimatum that ended the strike: make dues voluntary and get a raise; or resist and lose jobs to replacement workers, otherwise known as “scabs.”

Brault won’t say the “S” word or give an opinion about workers who don’t pay dues. According to the company’s post-strike harassment policy, “I would lose my job,” he said.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Minnesota CEOs Paid 305 Times More Than Average Worker

Five hundred Minnesota CEOs made an average of $13.9 million in 2014 – 305 times more than the average worker, according to the AFL-CIO’s annual Executive PayWatch report. The highest paid was Target CEO Brian Cornell, who made $28.2 million in 2014, 779 times the average worker’s pay.

The Executive Paywatch report, the most comprehensive searchable online database which tracks CEO pay at S&P 500 companies, showed that nationally in 2014, the average worker earned approximately $36,000 per year, while CEO pay averaged $13.5 million per year – a ratio which has grown to 373-to-1.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Iron 5 Win the SMI Strike!

After a hard fought 127 day strike the Iron 5 have prevailed against Specialty Minerals Inc.  The workers and the company announced a tentative agreement this week that included all of the workers demands. 

We offer our heartfelt congratulations to these five brave men who have been out there every day since Jan. 1, from 5:30am to 6:30pm, walking the picket line.  They endured a lot of brutal weather, the absence of a paycheck and the uncertainty that inevitably comes from taking on a deep pocketed corporation like SMI.  But despite the odds, they stood their ground, refused to accept the concessionary contract SMI was demanding, and they won!  And in doing so they have inspired workers across the region!