How to Deal with the Money Changers

Submitted by Charles Sackrey; Dedicated to Karl Patten

We all know now that the money changers have ruined a good part of the world economy, brought millions to our knees and many more to the streets.   Yet, on the bright side these blue suited, repeat offenders have forced us to ask a crucial question:  Is our worship of capitalism simply another fantastic dream about a pie in the sky that was never there?

And, if so, two other questions:  “What is to be done?  And, just whose advice should we follow?”   We will all have our favorite words of wisdom in these matters, ranging from the soft and resolute murmurs of the advocates of non-violence to the shouts of those demanding that we raid Goldman Sachs amd the home office of the Koch Brothers’ empire, and capture the felons as they try to slither their way to safety.

About these questions, I have found myself lately thinking about two of my own mentors who most usefully to me now about how to unseat these corporate criminals.  Well, first off, there’s Jesus, who led my family to raise me as a Southern Baptist and made me come to believe that you had to worry about the fellow down the road who was in trouble.  I’ll say more about Jesus in a minute.

Second, when I went to college in Texas, I was inspired and radicalized by left wing professors and I became in a predictable order first a communist, then an anarchist, then the democratic socialist that I am now.  That path meant that along the way I would gather wisdom and inspiration from Joe Hill, the most famous member of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies.  The Wobblies were anti-capitalist unionists who, began in the early 1900s to wage a mighty class war with the bosses.  This is one war you should read about if you haven’t already.  The Wobblies were crushed in 1917 by the federal government for their opposition to capitalism and to World War I, only to rise again to organize farm workers in the 1920s and 30s.  And, they still exist on a much smaller scale.

Joe Hill, an immigrant from Sweden, was an active organizer, speaker, and troubadour for the Wobblies from 1910 to 1915.  Then in 1915 he was executed on trumped up murder charges by the state of Utah. He was enormously popular within the union, and famous for many of his songs and great courage in organizing.  He is especially famous for a comment to a friend just before he was executed.  He said, “I will die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.”  He also added, “Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”

The Wobblies believed in resisting the bosses in every way possible, but the weapon they considered the most powerful was the general strike.  In such a strike, the workers – knowing that they are the ones who produce the output — simply would lay down their tools.  The Wobblies knew that without their wage slaves, the capitalist bosses could not produce anything, and the system would stall and become vulnerable to being overthrown.  In my anarchist days, I, too, used to dream about the general strike, and once again it seems to me a promising weapon in the war with the corporate bosses.

Given these views, I see the Occupy Wall Street movement as at least in part, a fabulous reincarnation of the spirit of Joe Hill and the Wobblies. And, I know that many of the older ones are being urged forward by remembering Joan Baez, or someone else, singing “ I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night. Alive as You and Me.”   My hat is off to those in this movement, in my town and in all the others around the world, because they switched from being complainers to being organizers.  Now, I dream happily that they and I will become worthy ancestors of the Wobblies.  And, as they talk among themselves about short and long strategies, surely the idea of a general strike somewhere down the road will find its way into their discussions.

So, what about my second mentor, Jesus, himself, And, here, I’m not talking about the one who claimed his to be the son of God, and whose followers claimed he healed the sick, and could turn water into wine, among other miracles.  The Jesus that most influenced me after I grew up was the rabble rouser who loved the poor and loathed their oppressors. Like many radicals, my favorite story about Jesus is the one, told by his disciple, John, and confirmed by many other witnesses. According to John, this is how Jesus answered the question, “What is to be done?” Just before Passover, Jesus went to the Jerusalem Temple and found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove the men and animals from the temple area.  He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

Jesus apparently was particularly perturbed about the burden of Temple commerce on widows and their children.  Given this story,  and whether we are faithful followers of Christ’s sacred word, or just an admirer of the parts of Jesus that were like Joe Hill, we might see this story as a mandate to do something like this:  we organize a caravan and go to the offices of Goldman Sachs and of the Koch Brothers where, armed with whips made from cords, we demand that they follow us to the jailhouse where they can begin to pay for their crimes against humanity and democracy.    

It is also interesting that, according to his disciples and other witness, the fracas as the temple was the only time they ever saw Jesus really angry.  In fact, if you didn’t’ know this story, you might think Jesus spent most of time talking about love, grace, forgiveness and how awful things would get for us if we didn’t behave. I think we can all understand at this point why it was the bankers of his time who helped to push Jesus over the line into violence.

If I were a money changer, or a political hack in their pay, I would be worried about the collective rage now building about their actions. What they have done and are doing is likely to cause many of us to cross all sorts of lines in our struggle to regain the power they have seized.

A final note here is about a wonderful irony.  While Jesus was the founder of Christianity, and Joe Hill was an atheist with a deep contempt for the church, they were as one in their unfettered anger for the money changers. And, as the Baptists in my family would put it, they were also both great witnesses for the good.

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Welfare Capitalism

(submitted by Joe Detelj)

By all accounts we are bearing witness to a financial collapse of epic proportions. It is serious enough that our political appointees have offered a trillion dollar prescription to the Bush administration, no questions asked. The properly credentialed experts residing in our economic institutions warn that we have yet to suffer the effects of this in the “real” economy. The job losses announced to date will continue unabated well into the future. A double digit spike in home foreclosures clearly portends hard times and an economy whose fundamentals are far from sound.

In my opinion this situation needs to be viewed from a set of assumptions that are not necessarily those of the corporate media, Fox business news, or their sponsors. I assume that wealth is created from manufacturing and agriculture: Energy from the sun, mixed with air, water, soil, and mystery plus raw materials worked into the stuff we use to feed, clothe, house, and amuse ourselves generates the surplus that allows us to live in towns and cities, attend university, go to the opera, movies, or church such  as our inclinations warrant. The service economy is a myth, a Ponzi scheme whose effect we are now experiencing. How can we live by taking in each others laundry while the material substance of our lives is made in places the average person could never find on a map?

It is in this context that I find it difficult to control my passions in light of the Senate’s reaction to an auto industry loan. The opposition is largely centered in the right to work Southern states that are home to the foreign auto plants held up as  industry standards.  We are to suppose that the market share these plants would inherit in the event of a collapse of the domestic auto industry plays no part in the civic virtue exhibited by our kin south of the Mason-Dixon line. We have been issued the talking points that as guardians of the taxpayers money  these good fellows can not in good conscience help a failing industry unless the recipients  restructure. They could not support failure. If a restructuring takes place then limited help would be acceptable, with conditions similar but different from those imposed on Germany after WW1.  At last compassion reigns.

But let us be clear what is meant by restructuring, and that is that the union must be broken. If you listen to the latest rhetoric it does not obscure this  requirement which was originally inferred. Were we to scrutinize our civic guardians of virtue with a modicum of oversight comparable to that which they believe they are practicing, we would find circumstances that should give pause. Every foreign plant located in the US has been the recipient of huge subsidies. These factories have been given the facilities where they are located as an economic development stimulus. They are housed in State provided land , buildings, water, sewer, and a host of municipal services. They pay discounted utility bills not available to the rest of the citizenry. They all require rail service that has been routed and rerouted for their convenience, all at taxpayer expense. Their State and local taxes have been deferred, reduced or eliminated. Of particular relevance, is their absence of “legacy costs”.   

These plants being of more recent origin have a work force who have not reached retirement age, consequently their pensions are not factored into the published wage rates. Of greater significance is the fact that these factories are assembly plants. They assemble components imported from their European and Far Eastern parent companies: Multinationals that are not hindered by “legacy” costs since universal, single payer health care and a social safety net is provided as an entitlement of citizenship. It is not a cost of production incurred by the industry. The mystic market workings of a fair and impartial “invisible hand” guiding economic behavior is rubbish. The nonsense that we need only leave the market sort itself out is a veil of tears meant to obscure the ideological and financial self interests of the very persons who have created this disaster and laid us to rest on a bed of nails.  It has occurred to me that much is made of the wages that auto workers receive. They produce cars and trucks fundamental to our economy. They produce wealth. The industry is in a collapse and the workers, the least culpable cause of this situation are being blamed. The financial industry is  in a collapse of immensely greater proportions and we hear hardly a murmur of the need for reorganization cast at our friendly banker, broker, auditor, SEC/Federal Reserve director, Treasury Secretary, or President. I have not been able to find any call for a reduction of their compensation and benefits. They have destroyed wealth and have avoided scrutiny. The major difference is the color of their collar.    

Leadership at every segment of society has failed. A rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic appears to be the order of the day. A clearer vision of remedial action that does not blame the victim needs  to be the first prerequisite for a proper correction to happen. People are hurting and are experiencing a great deal of uncertainty. In the grand scheme of things, they are not the engineers who brought this upon themselves.

Keeping Jobs at Home: Give the Workers Control

by John Peeler (originally published by the LA Progressive November 20, 2008)

Robert Reich, writing on the LA Progressive (November 19, 2008), calls for a “Bottom-Up Bailout,” by which he means not aiding the auto manufacturers, but rather providing direct credit and loan guarantees to small businesses and individuals, and supporting those big companies whose managers and workers are willing to put up their own resources and to restructure the companies. That approach would certainly be better than what we’ve seen from an administration that is as much lame-brained as lame-duck. But we can do still better.

To right this listing economy, we must do more than rescue large corporations that are “too big to fail.” We must redress a gross imbalance between management authority and worker rights, and to give the government a fundamental role in defending the public interest. Corporations are publicly chartered institutions that are supposed to serve the public interest even as they make profits for their stockholders. Obviously, the Big Three automakers-and hundreds of other corporations-have ill-served the public interest by making decisions like sending millions of jobs overseas, in pursuit of larger profits.

Rather than bailing out companies that have been consistently mismanaged and have failed to serve the public interest, and rather than just letting them fail, Congress should provide for the option of having the employees of the company take control, and reserving bailout funds as loans to worker-controlled corporations. In a bankrupt company, stockholders have already lost their stake, but employees have a very direct interest in correcting mismanagement in order to keep the company in business. In particular, employees have an interest in making management decisions that will maintain their jobs where they are, rather than sending them overseas. This might mean accepting lower wages or benefits in return for job security, but that would be a better bargain than workers now get, when they make concessions without any assurance that their jobs will thereby be saved.

There are obviously pitfalls to be avoided. The mere fact of worker ownership and control does not guarantee that management will serve either employee interests or the public interest. United Airlines, for example, came under employee ownership in an earlier crisis, but it was managed just the way other airlines were managed, and as a result continued to have poor relations with the employees who supposedly owned the airline! Go figure! What this means is that the leaders who are charged with managing the company need to be both competent and accountable.

Accountability is easy enough to arrange. The employees ought to have a direct, voting voice (one employee, one vote?) in selecting the chief executive, should receive regular, frank communication from the chief executive, and should have the right, under specified procedural conditions, to dismiss and replace the chief executive.

Competence is tougher. We know from our political system that democracy does not guarantee competence. If we didn’t know that before, eight years of George W. Bush should be convincing. But the right of dismissal allows workers who were manipulated initially to rectify their error after they have seen a chief executive in action. There is still a risk that employees would put short-term gains ahead of strategies intended to enhance long-term viability of the firm, but in this they would scarcely be any more short-sighted than the present management.

The government, as defender of the public interest, could have an important role as an external monitor of management competence. The Commerce Department, for example, could be vested with a seat on the board of the corporation, with the right to full information about its affairs, and the obligation to report both to the employees and to the public as to how well the company is being managed. The government representative could have the authority to order an employee vote on dismissing a chief executive.

Giving employees direct ownership and control of failed corporations, with government loans to let them regain their footing, is the best approach to a “bottom-up bailout.”

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John Peeler

The Employee Free Choice Act and Reestablishing Prosperity

This article is by John Enyeart!

The Employee Free Choice Act and Reestablishing

Prosperity

In January, Congress and President-elect Obama can lay the foundation for getting us out of our current economic crisis by passing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  The EFCA would allow workers to organize unions by signing authorizations.  Currently workers have to sign a petition, send that petition to the National Labor Relations Board, and then wait for the NLRB to schedule an election.  Between the petition drive and the election employers typically turn to a well-rehearsed set of intimidation tactics–such as sending threatening mailings to employees’ homes and firing union leaders–in order to frighten workers and prevent them from establishing a local union as their bargaining agent.  If passed, EFCA would also guarantee workers a contract within ninety days of organizing, and levy stiff penalties against employers who refused to recognize these new unions.

Like the Wagner Act, which guaranteed workers the right to organize in 1935, this measure will lay the foundation for a future round of American prosperity.  In fact, union membership went from a little over 3.5 million in 1934 to 13.5 million in 1943.  When the post-World War II economic boom occurred, workers were well positioned, because of their unions, to claim a larger share of the wealth their work produced.  By the late 1970s conservative attacks on organized labor, including the constant appointments of pro-business advocates to the National Labor Relations Board and state sponsored violence, saw union membership plummet.  Not surprisingly, because of this decline real wages have not gone up for the vast majority of Americans since 1976.

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