Quebec Movements Face Election Challenge

by Johan Boyden, Montreal

The community of Trois Pistoles along the northern banks of the St. Lawrence river is known for its picturesque beauty and historic links to Basque whalers, who travelled there hundreds of years ago from Spain. Now it has become a symbol of the pre‑election polarization and fear‑mongering going on in Québec.

A student protester in Quebec

An ecological festival in the town, put on by community activists including some who have been fighting high‑risk shale gas development in the region, wanted to invite student leaders to speak at their event.

A storm of controversy erupted. Mayor Jean‑Pierre Rioux met with organizers and threatened to withdraw all funding. “Around here, people think that [student leader] Gabriel Nadeau‑Dubois is […] like Maurice `Mom’ Boucher” one festival organizer said.

Mom Boucher is, of course, the convicted rapist, drug dealer and murderer who leads the Montreal Hells Angels. Continue reading

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Quebec’s Bill 78 Shifts the Struggle to a Battle for Democracy and the Right to Dissent

Rebel Youth Montreal Bureau

Last night the Charest Liberal government tabled its repressive Duplessis-style legislation while thousands of protesters marched well past mid-night in the streets of Quebec City and Montreal, waving flags, chanting and even burning a draft of the repressive law.

Bill 78 passed this afternoon with the right-wing CAQ party voting in favour, propping-up the precarous posistion of the Charest Liberals who are currently holding onto a majority of only one vote (following the resignation of the Minister of Education last week).  Links to the law in English are below.

The vote passed 68-48 at about 5:30 p.m. Continue reading

Communist Party and Young Communist League Demonstrate in Support of Six Nations

by Rick Gunderman

On Saturday, April 28, approximately 400 people marched through the small town of Caledonia, Ontario to demand justice for the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.

Many of those marching came from other parts of the province, with a significant presence from Toronto and Hamilton. Many were also members of the Six Nations or non-Native residents of Caledonia and the surrounding area.

Charles Yin, left, and Rick Gunderman demonstrate in solidarity with Six Nations

The demonstration was peaceful, positive and vibrant. A grand coalition of people from all backgrounds and walks of life came to express solidarity with Six Nations.

The demonstrators gathered in Edinburgh Square, on the north side of the Grand River. While gathering there, several officers from the Ontario Provincial Police skulked through the crowd with video cameras, recording participants from the pro-Six Nations side. When one officer came across two comrades from Hamilton’s Communist Party and Young Communist League, he stopped and stood recording for several minutes. Continue reading

Lies Concerning the History of the Soviet Union

by Mario Sousa, Communist Party Marxist-Leninist Revolutionaries (Sweden)

From Hitler to Hearst, from Conquest to Solzhenitsyn

The history of the millions of people who were allegedly incarcerated and died in the labour camps of the Soviet Union and as a result of starvation during Stalin’s time.

In this world we live in, who can avoid hearing the terrible stories of suspected death and murders in the gulag labour camps of the Soviet Union? Who can avoid the stories of the millions who starved to death and the millions of oppositionists executed in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s time? In the capitalist world these stories are repeated over and over again in books, newspapers, on the radio and television, and in films, and the mythical numbers of millions of victims of socialism have increased by leaps and bounds in the last 50 years.

But where in fact do these stories, and these figures, come from? Who is behind all this?

And another question: what truth is there in these stories? And what information is lying in the archives of the Soviet Union, formerly secret but opened up to historical research by Gorbachev in 1989? The authors of the myths always said that all their tales of millions having died in Stalin’s Soviet Union would be confirmed the day the archives were opened up. Is that what happened? Were they confirmed in fact?

The following article shows us where these stories of millions of deaths through hunger and in labour camps in Stalin’s Soviet Union originated and who is behind them. Continue reading

What is really going on in Hungary? Information for the communist and workers’ parties of the world

Presidium, Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party

On the 1st of January 2012 a new constitution came into force in Hungary. In connection with it the Western press has published many materials saying that what is happening now in Hungary, “leads to impoverishment of people” and ”threatens democracy and tightens the government’s grip on the media and the judiciary despite criticism from Europe and the United States”.

On the 2nd of January a large demonstration took place at the Opera house in Budapest. The official organiser of the demonstration, the newly formed Solidarity movement, has a couple of dozen members. Its leader is the former president of the trade union of army and police servicemen, he himself is a former army officer trained among others in one of the US military institutes.

Behind the demonstration one can find the Hungarian Socialist Party and liberal forces and also the „civil” organisations, formed by them. In this demonstration did not take part any civil organisation which really struggle against poverty, to protect families, against eviction, etc., or for example traditional student organisations? Neither the movements of agricultural workers, nor trade-unions were present. Among the slogans of that demonstration you can find nothing about a new labour code, no protest against the IMF pressure and intervention. The reaction of western media to these events results from the same sources which earlier have supported the former social-liberal government and their austerity policy.

But what is really going on in Hungary?

1. In April 2010 the conservative Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Union won the parliamentary elections and replaced the former government of socialist-liberal forces led by the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP).

The parliamentary parties consider the elections of 2010 as a turning point in Hungarian history. The Fidesz declares that it was the „beginning of a new revolution”. The socialists and its allies consider it as the „beginning of autocracy and dictatorship”.

2. The Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party has the opinion that the real historic change took place not in 2010 but in 1989-1990 when socialism was destroyed in Hungary. It was a capitalist counterrevolution. The power of the working class was replaced by the power of capitalist forces. State owned industrial factories and banks, agricultural collective farms were privatized. Hungary joined the NATO in 1999 and entered the EU in 2004. The capitalist system based on private economy and bourgeois democracy was stabilized.

It was the change from socialism to capitalism that lead to the general impoverishment of the Hungarian people. Hungary has a population of 10 million. 1, 5 million Hungarians live under the poverty line which means that they live of an income less than 200 euros a month. Almost 4 million live of an income of 250 euros per month. The official number of unemployed is 0, 5, in reality there are about 1 million people without any chance to get a job.

The limitation of democracy began not in 2010 but in 1989-1990. Political forces fighting against capitalist system, first of all the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party do not have access to public media. Red star, hammer and sickle – ”as symbols of tyranny” – were banned in 1993. In 2007 the whole leadership of the HCWP was accused of “libel made in public”. Anti-communist campaigns have taken place regardless of which bourgeois party is at the power.

3. The Hungarian capitalist class has different parties to express their interests. On one hand it is the Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Union which expresses the interests of conservative, nationally minded part of the capitalist class. It is traditionally orientated on Germany.

On the other hand there are the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Party „Politics Can Be Different” which represent the liberal and social democratic part of capitalist class. They are closer to the United States and Israel.

The fight between the two parts of Hungarian capitalist class has deep historical roots. Before 1989 there were two main streams of the anti-socialist oppositional movement, the nationally minded conservative line and the liberal tendency. In 1990 the first capitalist government was formed by the conservatives. At the same time the liberals agreed about a long-term cooperation with the Hungarian Socialist Party, a rightwing social democratic party. Many of the leaders of this party are coming from the former socialist period but they fully changed their position and many of them became rich capitalists.

After destroying the socialist system the capitalist forces created a new political structure which existed untill 2010. It was based on the following principles:

– The nationally minded conservative forces and the liberals together with the socialists will rotate in the power.

– None of them can have absolute power.

– They prevent any anti-capitalist forces from entering the parliament.

– All of them will respect obligations in connection with NATO and EU and there will be no discussions on foreign political issues.

All the parliamentary elections between 1990 and 2006 demonstrated a clear equilibrium between the two groups of parties. The situation changed dramatically after 2006. It became clear that the Hungarian capitalism is in deep crisis. It had three main reasons. First, the Hungarian economy fully depends on foreign capital. Second, the Hungarian people are poor, they have exhausted their reserves. Third, corruption became a serious problem, paralyzing the normal functioning of state.

By 2010 the capitalist forces realised that the socialist-liberal forces cannot guarantee the internal stability of capitalism, are not able to prevent social explosions. That’s why they decided to change the socialist-liberal coalition and to open the way before the Fidesz.

The main task of the conservative Fidesz, and its government headed by Viktor Orban was to prevent any developments similar to the events in Greece. The Fidesz won the elections with social slogans (full employment, social security etc.). The majority of the people were deeply unsatisfied with the socialist-liberal government. The Fidesz could easily manipulate them and to get a two-third majority in the new parliament.

4. The conservative government has been realising changes in different directions:

They strengthened their own class-basis. The Fidesz put its people on all positions in the political life, media, and culture. They declared their idea to create a new middle-class.

They satisfied the nationalist forces in Hungary by introducing double-citizenship for people of Hungarian nationality living abroad, introducing new memorial events connected with the Trianon peace-treaty of 1920.

They took a clear turn to conservative and nationalist tradition in politics, culture, and education.

They decided to prevent a social explosion by different means. First, they introduced a new Labour Code which gives very wide rights to the capitalist owners and turns workers practically into slaves. Second, they divided the working masses by giving serious money to railway-workers and raising the minimal salary. Third, they concluded an agreement with the leading confederations of trade unions. They could save their privileges and at the same time gave up real class-struggle.

The new government launched a general anti-communist campaign. In 2010 the Penal Code was changed. They declared that communism and fascism are the same and those who reject the „crimes of communism and fascism” can be sentenced up to 3 years of imprisonment. (Until now there have not been any legal sentences.)

In the last days of 2011 a new law was accepted regulating the process of transition to the new constitution. Among other it declares that the period of socialism (1948-1990) was illegitimate, full of crimes. Leading personalities of the socialist period can be accused and sentenced. Their pensions can be reduced. The law contains a general statement: the contemporary Hungarian Socialist Party as legal successor of the ruling party of the socialist period has responsibility for all what had happened at that time. It is not clear yet what consequences it can lead to.

5. The socialist-liberal forces have launched recently serious counterattack against the government.

The Socialist Party took over many social slogans and demands of the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party. They began to use red colour which the traditional colour of communists.

The socialists and the liberals began to create new civil organizations and movements. In October 2011 the Solidarity movement was created with clear pro-socialist orientation.

They introduced a new demand: down with the Orban-government! Their program is to create a new socialist-liberal government.

6. The United States of America has openly interfered into the internal affairs of Hungary. The US ambassador in Budapest criticises openly the official government and supports the position of the socialist-liberal forces. Secretary of State Clinton made the same in her letter on 23 December 2011. The letter was published by the liberal press.

7. The Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party considers:

Hungarian capitalism is in crisis. The general crisis of capitalism in Europe makes the Hungarian situation even worse and unpredictable.

The Hungarian capitalist class understands that if the euro system or the EU itself collapses, it will lead to social explosions even more dramatic than in Greece. They understand that people are unsatisfied and many of them consider that socialism was better that the actual capitalism.

Both the conservative and the socialist-liberal groups of capitalist class want to prevent any social explosion. They are different not in their main efforts but in the methods they want to use.

What is now going on in Hungary, it is on one hand a common fight of the capitalist class against the working masses, on the other hand, a struggle between two groups of the capitalist class. Even more it is a struggle between the leading capitalist powers, the US and Germany for European dominancy.

The Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party does not support any of the Bourgeois parties. We declare that the main problems of working people are unemployment, low salaries, high prices, exploitation, and uncertain future. These problems are the consequences of capitalism. The capitalist governments cannot and do not want to solve them.

The only solution of the problems of working people is consequent struggle against capitalism and fight for socialist perspective.

The Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party does not support the mass-demonstrations of the socialist and liberal forces. Their aim is not to change capitalism. Their aim is to change the conservative capitalist government with a socialist-liberal capitalist government.

The Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party does not support the Fidesz either. Their aim is not to create socialist society but to reform and strengthen capitalism.

The Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party considers its obligation to explain people that there is only one way to solve their problem. We should fight against capitalism.

We want to be present everywhere there are working people. We want to help them in small things in order to get their confidence in great things.

We will unveil all efforts of revisionist and opportunist forces which want to manipulate working people and to win them for the social democracy.

There is not any revolutionary situation in Hungary. But things can turn worse in Europe and in Hungary. That’s why we prepare the party, our members and units for more radical class struggle which can happen at any time.

We are convinced that it corresponds to our common position agreed on the 13th International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties.


*note: This document, and many others, are available here on the English version of the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party website.

Spanish General Strike Reaches 77% Participation, But Officials Turn Deaf Ear

by Diana Rosen

Demonstrators crowd Cibeles Sqare in Madrid during Spain’s general strike on March 29. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Workers across Spain yesterday took to the streets today in a 24-hour general strike called by the country’s two main trade unions, General Workers Union and the Workers’ Commissions, over the economic reforms passed by the recently-elected People’s Party under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.  Last month, the Spanish government passed labor reform laws making it cheaper and easier to cut wages and lay off employees, including reducing severance pay from 45 to 33 days.

Today, the government announced that it would not modify the labor reforms–which could still be amended in Parliament–despite the participation of hundreds of thousands in yesterday’s strike.

On Wednesday, economy minister Luís de Guindos had said that regardless of how widespread participation in the strike became, the government would not modify “a single letter” of the labour reform.

Although high unemployment has led to declining support for trade unions in recent years, General Workers Union Secretary General Candido Mendez estimated that the strike had 77 percent participation, and said that this figure was as high as 97 percent in industry and construction. Unions declared the strike a success and threatened further demonstrations if the government did not negotiate changes to the law before May 1.

The Spanish unemployment rate is currently at almost 23% overall, with a 50% unemployment rate for young people.

Yesterday marked Rajoy’s 100th day in office. The vote for the People’s Party dropped from 46% to 41% in an Andalucia regional election last weekend.  There is speculation that Rajoy delayed announcing the budget cuts until this week to avoid losing support from Andalucia voters.

The strike enjoyed greatest participation in Madrid and Barcelona, where large marches and other events, including a group siesta, have been taking place all day.  Still, workers are striking all over the country.  Bus and rail services were severely limited all over and only a small fraction of domestic and international flights operated.  As of 9:00 am, electricity consumption was reported as down 25% by Red Eléctrica.  According to the General Workers Union, almost all of the Renault, Seat, Volkswagen and Ford car workers participated in the strike.  Spanish Twitter users have been using the hashtags #huelga and #enhuelga (“strike” and “in strike,” respectively) to trend the topic and spread the word.

Angel Andrino, a 31-year-old protestor in Madrid, explained his participation in today’s demonstrations to BBC:

“We are going through a really hard time, suffering. The rights that our parents and grandparents fought for are being wiped away without the public being consulted.”

Andrino was laid off in February after the labor reforms were passed.

The strike remained almost entirely nonviolent throughout the morning and afternoon, with the exception of a scuffle between police and protestors early this morning at a Madrid bus depot.  Protestors attempted to prevent a bus from leaving for work, leading to 58 people getting detained and nine injured.  Several small fires were started in Barcelona mid-afternoon, but no injuries were reported.

At around 7:00 pm, however, police began using rubber bullets and tear gas on protestors in Barcelona.  Barcelona protestors have been smashing shop windows and some reports have come in saying that a Starbucks was set on fire.

The last general strike in Spain was held in September 2010 and targeted the labor reforms of the then-Socialist government, which were ultimately upheld.

*note: This article originally appeared on In These Times, a left-leaning journal. The article can be found here

The Dubious Legacy of César Chávez

by Michael Yates

review of Randy Shaw’s Beyond the Fields: César Chávez, the UFW, and Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 347 pp., $24.95.

The thesis of this book is simple. Randy Shaw argues that most of the social movements of the contemporary U.S.—labor, immigrant rights, antiwar, worker and consumer health and safety, anti-sweatshop—are fundamentally the progeny of César Chávez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Shaw attempts to prove this by showing that UFW alumni have been critical leaders of these movements, and these causes have employed tactics pioneered by Chávez and the farm workers. Shaw’s argument is deeply flawed.

It is certainly true that thousands of young people, radical activists, trade unionists, clergy, and assorted other actors, politicians, writers, and artists worked for or with the UFW during its heyday from the mid-1960s until about 1980. I did, in the winter of 1977, when I worked at La Paz, the union’s headquarters in Keene, California. For most of us, our UFW experiences were exciting and meaningful. We carried them with us, and they informed our lives and actions.

But the same things could be said about the IWW before the First World War; the CIO or the Communist Party during the 1930s; or the SDS, the SWP, and the antiwar and the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Of course, there were historical continuities in all of these movements—a problem for Shaw’s arguments. The UFW didn’t spring full-blown from the body and mind of César Chávez and his mentor Fred Ross. There is history here, and Shaw, by and large, ignores it. Would the UFW have been possible without the radical Filipino farm workers who started the organizing? The Filipinos drew strength from struggles in their homeland and from the CIO upheavals of the Great Depression. The union used the boycott to good effect, at least in the beginning, and its use of volunteers to staff boycott offices in every major city in the United States and some in Canada was innovative. But the boycott built the AFL in the 1880s and 1890s. Similarly, the civil rights movement used boycotts, nonviolent demonstrations, and volunteers by the thousands, the sorts of tactics that Shaw attributes to Chávez’s genius. Certainly, someone could write a similar book using this movement as its template. The UFW was not unique.

Flaws up close

Consider three points, two small and one large.

First, Shaw says that, “During the 1950s, Chávez met Father Donald McDonnell, who introduced him …to a recent encyclical from Pope Leo XIII on the church’s support for workers who protested unfair labor conditions.” The encyclical, Rerum Novarum (“Of New Things”), was written in 1891, which hardly made it recent. But Shaw doesn’t say that the Pope wrote it in response to the growing popularity of left-wing unions and politics among working people. It is an anti-socialist screed, aimed at Catholic workers. It is very much a defense of capitalism, and only goes so far as to suggest that capitalists must treat workers fairly.

Shaw makes much of the UFW’s alliance with religious groups and clergy, and there is no doubt that church support for the farmworkers’ struggles helped the union immensely. However, the close relationship the UFW and Chávez had with churches was a mixed blessing. The Catholic Church is a hierarchical, dogmatic, and sexist organization. The Church view is, at best, that the poor are worthy sinners who have to be looked after by the priests, who, like Christ, sacrifice for them.

Chávez imbibed this paternalistic ethic, and the ministers, who flocked to the union and were powerful within it, encouraged him. Chávez said that to sacrifice is to be a man. With the union’s successes, Chávez began to think of himself as a holy person, Christ-like and above reproach. Once in a community meeting at La Paz, César was criticized by some of us for making an incredibly sexist remark. He became enraged and said, “I work eighteen fucking hours a day for the union. Who of you can say the same?”

How do you challenge Christ?

Is it any wonder that when Chávez showed his disdain for rank-and-file power in the union, almost none of the clergy challenged him? Or many of his staff or board members either? Is it surprising that Chávez was a staunch anti-communist and engaged in vicious and mindless purges and red-baiting of those who challenged his authority?

Chávez had a history, and the social doctrines of the Catholic church were part of it. Unfortunately, Shaw ignores the seamier side of these. You would never know from this book that the Church did some evil deeds during the great CIO movement of the 1930s, even informing about left-wing labor leaders to the FBI.

The Game

The final chapter in the book contains a long list of UFW alumni who have continued to fight the good fight. It is a kind of “shout out” to these often unrecognized models of courage and social solidarity and an attempted empirical validation of Shaw’s thesis. There are some curious inclusions and omissions, and these raise a second point of criticism. Under the heading “Labor Organizer/Union Staff,” we find the name, Fred Hirsch. Fred is a communist plumber, and he was one of the first researchers to uncover the close relationship between certain unions and the CIA. He worked diligently in support of the UFW, beginning in the 1960s. Fred did not owe his politics or dedication to labor to Chávez or the UFW but to the communist movement.

Fred’s daughter, Liza, who is not on Shaw’s list, began working with (and then for) the union from age twelve. I helped her develop a piece rate proposal for tomato pickers at a ranch near Oxnard, California. We shared a friendship with a volunteer at La Paz, a man who did carpentry and maintenance work for the union.

In the winter of 1977, Chávez hooked up with Charles Dederich, who ran a drug rehabilitation center called Synanon. (To his credit, Shaw discusses this in a chapter on the UFW’s decline). Dederich had concocted a psychological warfare scheme called the “Game,” in which addicts were subjected to relentless group attacks, the idea being to break down their psyches so they could start over again, without drugs. At the time of Chávez’s fascination with Synanon and the “Game,” Dederich was a megalomaniacal cult leader, abusing his clientele. A reporter who exposed the organization found a rattlesnake in his mailbox.

César took to the “game” like Stalin to the secret police, and he used it for the same purpose—to consolidate his power in the union. He took some trusted members of his inner circle to Synanon for training and began immediately to force the game upon the staff. On April 4, 1977, he incited a screaming mob of “Game” initiates to purge the union of “troublemakers.” All sorts of ridiculous charges were made against “enemies of the union,” including our carpenter friend. When our friend confronted Caesar and demanded to face his accusers in a hearing, as the union’s constitution stated was his right, Chávez called the Mojave police and had him arrested for trespassing.

The last time I saw him was at Fred Hirsch’s house in San Jose, after we bailed him out of jail. A few weeks later, Liza went to La Paz to attend the wedding of a friend. César, with whom she had been very close and in whose house she had once lived, summarily threw her off the property and expelled her from the union.

Wreckage

If the UFW positively changed some peoples’ lives, it harmed and wrecked others. Shaw certainly knows this; he just chose not to mention it. He devotes considerable space to the admirable parts of the life and work of famed UFW leader Dolores Huerta, who is also on his list. He uses her as a prime example of the importance of the UFW in training and nurturing social change activists. She has won every imaginable award given to women leaders and been in the forefront of many struggles.

But Huerta has never repudiated Chávez’s dictatorial, hateful, and ruinous behavior. She could have, and it might have made a difference. Instead, she was and still is a Chávez apologist. Shaw reports that she was unhappy with the treatment of women in the union. She says that women need to have power. She doesn’t say for what. Had she been union president, I doubt things would have turned out much different.

Also absent from Shaw’s list of UFW luminaries is Chávez’s son, Paul. The younger Chávez still lives at La Paz, from where he runs a group of interlinked union enterprises, including radio stations and housing companies. The union raises money from these and many other sources: mass mailing fund-raising, marketing the Chávez name to sell union trinkets and win public grants, political consulting, and managing union trust funds. The union has precious few members; a handful of members collect pensions or get health care from the trust funds (though they sit on tens of millions of dollars); and the union leadership seems little concerned about any of this. Paul Chávez is paid more than $125,000 for his “services” to farm workers.

A charitable description of today’s UFW is that it has become a quasi-racket. Another UFW legacy Shaw neglects to discuss. Chávez created an undemocratic union of migrant workers. He ran it as if it were his property. History tells us that such an organization is ripe for corruption. And so it was.

Legacy

The final and most serious flaw of Shaw’s analysis shows itself in the opening pages, where he says, “This legacy should not be based on the size of the UFW’s current membership rolls. Rather, it should be evaluated by the impact of its ideas and alumni on current social justice struggles.”

Let’s see now. The UFW managed, despite long odds, to organize farm workers, attract thousands of talented volunteers to its banner, build a feared grassroots political action machine, defeat the Teamsters and the sweetheart contracts it had signed with growers, and win passage of a farm workers’ labor law unmatched by any other such statute in the country. By 1977, the union was poised to achieve a mass membership that would have made it a power to be reckoned with in California, and maybe in the entire nation.

But then, under Chávez’s autocratic leadership, the union dissolved the boycott staff, firing its leader and accusing him of being a communist; purged its staff, using the most disgusting means imaginable; refused to entertain any local union autonomy and democracy; denied the election of actual farm workers to the union board; ruined the careers, and in some cases, the jobs, of rank-and-file union dissidents; lost almost all of its collective bargaining agreements, and began a long and ugly descent into corruption.

Today, farm workers in California are no better off than they were before the union came on the scene. They still don’t often live past fifty; they still suffer the same job-related injuries and illnesses; they still don’t have unions; they are still at the bottom of the labor market barrel. How is all of this not an important, indeed critical, legacy of the UFW? If we judge the union and Chávez in terms of the well-being of the workers they set out to organize, both must be judged utter failures. If we compare the UFW to any number of the CIO’s left-led unions, for example, the United Packinghouse Workers of America, the Farmworkers pale by comparison. The UPWA was not only a multiracial and democratic union. It also led the struggle to end segregation at work and in the workers’ communities, and it put the pay of the black and immigrant laborers who did the unenviable work of slaughtering the animals we eat on a par with those of steel and auto workers.

A union is supposed to organize workers and improve their lives. Chávez and the UFW had their chances, and they threw them away. Imagine that Martin Luther King had sought and taken advice from Chuck Dederich after his “I Have a Dream” speech. And after that, imagine that he had forced the Memphis garbagemen to play the “Game.” Surely historians would count that as a major part of his legacy.

Alumni

And if we follow Shaw’s lead and look to the “impact of ideas and alumni on current social justice struggles,” we are still left with serious problems. Consider two outstanding alumni, Marshall Ganz and Eliseo Medina.

Ganz was a master organizer, of both union and political campaigns, and he has put this skill, which he learned in the UFW, to use after he left the union. He has led election campaigns for former U.S. senator Alan Cranston, and he was a key organizer in getting Nancy Pelosi elected to Congress. He now teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Shaw makes much of the get-out-the-vote techniques Ganz has mastered. However, these were not new when he used them. The AFL-CIO employed them, and most of the tactics Shaw traces to the UFW, in a 1977 campaign to defeat a right-to-work ballot measure in Missouri. I don’t find Ganz’s work for the Democratic Party to be particularly progressive either. Nancy Pelosi? An old-line political hack trained in the art of politics by the king of pork, John Murtha?

With Medina, we can make a similar criticism. He did many good things with the UFW and after he left. But he was the one person who could have mounted a challenge to Chávez. He chose not to, and he has, to my knowledge, never repudiated the reprehensible tactics Chávez used with the “Game.”

There may be good reason for this. Today, Medina is a senior vice-president of SEIU, a union that has used somewhat similar tactics, but in a situation where the union is loaded with money. The SEIU hires scads of young nonmember organizers, puts them though a cult-like training (the same seems to be true of another union, HERE, which also has many former UFW people on it staff, and which even uses a variant of the “Game” to train new staffers), works them to death, gives them no power inside the union, brooks no criticism, and confines their education to the technocratic mechanics of organizing. They learn little about the labor movement, economics, and the many other things that would help them develop a radical, worker-centered ideology.

The same was true in the UFW; César even sent a spy to monitor a labor history class I had begun to teach interested staff. The SEIU is completely staff-dominated—and staff make a great deal of money—Medina is a long way from his UFW penury. His total compensation in 2006: $194,336. SEIU leadership is as fearful and intolerant of union democracy and rank-and-file power as the UFW. If local workers assert themselves, there is a good chance that their local will be put in trusteeship by the national union—exactly what happened recently to a large local of healthcare workers in California. It has been trusteed, and Medina is at the center of the whole sordid episode. [Randy Shaw himself, on the civil war within SEIU, is here; a more radical view, from Steve Early, here.]

SEIU is not above threatening to sue its critics, just like the UFW threatened to sue The Nation magazine in 1977 after it published an article I wrote critical of the union. Also, like the UFW, the SEIU has witnessed serious incidents of corruption, involving theft of money and shady dealings with third parties. There is a separate heading for SEIU in Shaw’s table of UFW notables. It is certainly debatable whether this legacy of the UFW is a positive one.

The problem with Shaw is that he simply assumes that the various movements and causes UFW alumni have either led or worked in are good. He doesn’t ask whether what they are doing is what needs to be done to build a better society. Get out the vote for what? Boycott for what? Organize workers for what? Teach people to organize for what?

I enjoyed the parts of Shaw’s book that recount the UFW’s epic battles. But I did not find the rest of it credible or penetrating. An objective history of César Chávez, the UFW, and the union’s legacy has yet to be written.

*note: This article is original to the Left Business Observer website and can be found here. (c) Copyright 2009, Michael Yates. All rights reserved. Michael Yates is Associate Editor of Monthly Review. A new edition of his book, Why Unions Matter, is just out. His blog is here.