Monday, September 7, 2009

Why Honor Organized Labor?/Van Jones is Dead. Long Live Van Jones!

Published on Monday, September 7, 2009 by

Why Honor Organized Labor?

by Jim Goodman

Labor Day, to most people, is little more than the end of summer. Labor Day commemorates the labor union movement, the demand for an eight hour work day, better working conditions, fair wages and an end to child labor.

In 1894 Labor Day became a federal holiday celebrated as a “workingman's holiday” on the first Monday of September honoring the contributions of working men and women to America.

While labor unions were organizing in the 1870's, small farmers, through the Grange Movement were trying to break the power of the railroads, the meat packers and the grain milling interests. Mary Elizabeth Lease urged the farmers to “raise less corn and more hell”, but farmers could never unite as the labor unions had.

In the mid-1960's, farm worker organizers Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta formed the United Farm Workers (UFW). When the UFW's table grape boycott brought the plight of the farm workers onto the national stage, Dolores Huerta connected the feminist movement and gender rights with the farm worker movement. And why not? Women worked the fields along side the men.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) organized in 1925 became the first African-American union to join the American Federation of Labor. Many of those involved in BSCP became leaders in the civil rights movement.

Gender equality, racial equality, fair farm prices and farm worker rights were separate issues but all related to the struggle of the unions for a fair wage and decent working conditions. Labor unions may have initially been all white and all male but, that changed.

Unions were never about the individual, they were about everyone. If one is oppressed, all are oppressed. Labor unions recognized the need to bring everyone into the struggle regardless of color or gender, because the struggle was about everyone.

Now, generations after the early struggles of labor unions, corporations have done their best to de-unionize America. Exporting jobs, closing union factories and union busting have taken their toll on jobs, wages and the economy in general.

Whether it was exploitation from the “Robber Barron's” of the nineteenth century, the segregationists of the Jim Crow South, the growers who exploit migrant farm laborers, the agribusiness interests that squeeze and impoverish small farmers or the corporate mentality that suppresses women with a glass ceiling, the parallels are pointedly exact.

Labor unions, suffragists, feminists, civil rights advocates, small farmers and farm workers all struggle against the rich, the powerful and the corporate interests who intend to control the economy and maintain their notion of social class. The labor movement was, and still is, a reflection of society. They challenged the idea, that power and money are the trump card.

Everyone, owes a debt to the laborers. Those who often put their lives on the line, for safe work places, an eight hour work day, a five day work week, insurance, disability benefits, a fair wage, dignity and respect for manual labor.

Labor Day is a day to celebrate the power of the worker, but no less the social movements that evolved with and from the unions. It is also a day to reflect on how we can do better, for everyone.

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer and activist from Wonewoc, WI and a WK Kellogg Food and Society [1] Policy Fellow.

Published on Monday, September 7, 2009 by

Van Jones is Dead. Long Live Van Jones!

by Robert Shetterly

"... the 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."  --Alex Carey, Australian social scientist 

Three years ago I traveled from Maine to the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, California, to meet Van Jones so I could paint his portrait [1] for my Americans Who Tell the Truth series.

I had heard a lot about him & read his speeches & was incredibly impressed with his courage and articulate vision in taking on some of the world’s most serious problems: poverty, environmental racism, and climate change. More importantly, he understood the relationship between those issues, and that they could be confronted in the most efficient and just manner if seen as one problem: bring the manufacturers of green energy equipment into the poor and despairing ghetto where the jobs are most needed, educate poor minorities to do these jobs ( thus providing hope), and then construct the solar panels, windmills, and geothermal machinery that will be needed to power our future in a sustainable way. Everybody wins. Right?  Van Jones invited the people of this country to begin dreaming again --- to dream that a future based in justice and sustainability was possible. He said, “Dr. King didn’t get famous giving a speech that said, ‘I have a complaint.’”

Well, it should come as no surprise that the ‘everybody wins’ scenario is not popular with everybody. It’s a loser if you are a big oil or coal corporation that doesn’t want a lot of attention paid to climate change. It’s heresy if you don’t care about the poor and consider them the necessary collateral damage of capitalism. It’s anathema if you believe that economic justice is for socialist wimps, and sustainability is a code word for cutting into corporate profit. It’s threatening if you are corporate media supported by the dissemination of corporate friendly news.

So, when Obama invited Van Jones into the White House as his guru for green jobs and innovation, the attack dogs howled. They smelled blood.

I suspect that most Americans had never heard of Van Jones then, and were still unaware of him until he resigned. And then they probably breathed a sigh of relief that this “communist,” “racist,” “9/11 conspiracy nut,” “enemy of America” had been ratted out.

How do I know he was these things? For the past month my website has been bombarded with vicious attacks on Van Jones. How could I possibly have supported and honored this monster who is trying to poison our apple pie? Didn’t I know that this gremlin was perched on Obama’s shoulder whispering his loathing of America into his ear?

I don’t really know who writes this nasty stuff. But I suspect, like with many of the people who are shouting lies to block health care reform, that it comes from people who have been easily manipulated with fear and racism to attack those who would actually make their lives better. It’s come to that --- to advocate for the common good is to advocate for communism. To defend justice is to commit treason. To be concerned for the future is to impede progress. To feel compassion, to walk a mile in another’s shoes, is to be an pathetic idiot. To think that democracy means equality rather than domination is na├»ve.

One might wonder why Obama did not do more to protect Van Jones. But when Jones referred to Republicans as “assholes” as a euphemism for ruthless, he was beyond protecting. It didn’t matter that Jones said he would have to become an asshole himself to fight for his policies. The soundbite was history. Nothing to do but cut him loose. But the deeper reason he had to be cut loose was that Obama would have had to tell the truth to protect him: yes, Van Jones is for economic justice; he is for conservation and alternative energy; he’s for prison reform; he’s for a re-structured economy based in sustainability, not exploitation and profit; he’s for a serious investigation of 9/11; he believes that ‘clean coal’ is absurd, etc. Obama could not protect him, because to do so he would have had to endorse Van Jones’ beliefs. He was not about to do that.

I think it’s all for the good. I don’t think that Van Jones should have ever joined the administration. He’s much stronger on the outside organizing people to fight for the things he believes in. But he’s tainted now. He won’t be able to get grants from the status quo philanthropic organizations. He’s a mongrel with a tin can tied to his tail. That’s good. This brilliant man will now have to embrace courage, truth, justice, nature and love and start over. Leading. Organizing. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” And you can’t make demands if you hoping for crumbs while camped in the Man’s coat pocket.

Robert Shetterly [send him mail [2]] is a writer and artist who lives in Brooksville, Maine. He is the author of Americans Who Tell the Truth [3]. See his website [4].

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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