Tuesday, July 03, 2007 

You got that, Asshole: Standing in solidarity with my fellow university employees

Below is a reprint from Fight Back! News, the paper printed by the folks at the http://www.frso.org Freedom Road. My personal allegiances aside, it points to a problem that's all too familiar to University employees.

Neo-liberalism has brought budget cuts and corporate style governance that continually reinforces austerity in terms of staffing, supplies and pay in the daily lives of hourly employees. It causalizes the professoriate by increasing the prevalence of adjunct faculty; workers paid barely $7.00 an hour, teaching between 1 and 5 classes with no job security beyond the semester they are contracted for. All the while, allowing for massive opulence at the top. Administrative salaries nation wide approach the $500,000 per year mark (with notably higher exceptions). Usually these pay packages also include public funded mansions in the local ruling class neighborhood, 5 figure expense accounts, cars, yearly 6 to 7 figure bonus packages, and even private airplanes.

Here's hoping that U of M gets reminder that these folks are "hard working tax paying people" who "don't take shit from no one."

U of M Workers Standing Up for Standard of Living (originally at Fight Back! news)
By Brad Sigal

Minneapolis, MN - Workers at the University of Minnesota are fighting for a wage increase. On June 13, members of U of M AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) packed the room and testified at the University on Minnesota Board of Regents public hearing on the budget. They told the regents that union members’ salaries have lost about 5% of their value compared to inflation since 1994. Meanwhile, the university president’s salary has gained almost 80% in value above the rate of inflation, and all other high-end administrators have also gained salary increases well over the rate of inflation.

AFSCME members and supporters then rallied on June 27 outside the Board of Regents meeting where the budget was voted on. They demanded that the regents allocate money for a serious wage increase for clerical, technical and health care workers, to reverse the trend of low-paid workers falling behind inflation while top administrators continue to get larger and larger increases.

Members of AFSCME began contract negotiations in late May. Clerical, technical and health care workers at the university are negotiating together in a unified negotiating committee for the first time. This unity is also visible in the workplace, where hundreds of workers from the various unions have come together in a series of lunchtime meetings to hear the union’s presentation on wage disparity at the University and to organize to change the situation.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007 

Sign the Iraq Moratorium Pledge!

September 21 and every Third Friday thereafter

Today the Iraq Moratorium project steps onto the public stage!

Over 60% of Americans want this war over--and they want it over yesterday. The political process is moving glacially, at best, to make that happen. It's got to stop! We've got to stop it!

The idea is simple. On September 21 and on every subsequent Third Friday, millions of Americans will break with their daily routine to take some concrete step to demand an end to the war and the return home of the troops.

The hallmark will be the wearing of black ribbons and armbands, in mourning for all of those who have died in this senseless adventure--Iraqis, American and other coalition troops, and others. All of us who want this war ended can decide what steps we will take, individually or with others, on September 21. Together, acting where we live, work and study, we will create a mighty shout so loud that the media won't be able to white it out and the politicians won't be able to ignore it.

The Iraq Moratorium is not an organization. It was initiated by a small group of anti-war activists from very diverse backgrounds. We see it as a project that will strengthen the work of existing anti-war groups. Even more important, the clear and simple message, the local focus and the variety of activities it can encompass will bring into motion great numbers who have not yet taken any action against the war.

It is a 21st century project: the reach of the Internet and the Web will help get word of the Moratorium to tens of millions. Please help by forwarding this message widely.

To learn more, to pledge to take part in the Iraq Moratorium, and to get involved, please go to the website

Iraq Moratorium Committee
June 19, 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007 

Chris Hannah: Worst Canadian!!!

Busy, busy, busy. On Saturday night I took time out to drive 4 hours and 15 minutes with my little brother to watch Propaghandi play. Needless to say, it was amazing. Finally getting to see a band you have loved since you were 15 - wow.

Anyways at the show it was brought to everyone's attention that the band's lead singer and lyrical mastermind Chris Hannah has actually made it into the Canadian popular history magazine The Beaver's 10 Worst Canadian poll. He currently appears to be ahead of both Celine Dion and Bryan Adams.

Naturally, my request is a simple one. Take five minutes, head to The Beaver's poll here, and vote for Chris Hannah 3 times (surveymonkey is kinda dumb, so if you have multiple IP-unique machines around you can maybe vote 15 times or something). Do your part!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007 

"We're fuckin' AFSCME"

A needed pick-me up on this most wonderful of aniversaries.

Monday, March 12, 2007 

Sinn Féin Cheers Trade Union Leader

Jack O'Connor, General President, SIFTU, speaking at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, March 2, 2007

I would like to begin by congratulating Sinn on the progress it has made, and the courage of its leadership in working towards a just and lasting settlement of the issues that have divided the people of this island for so long.

In more ways than one we are living through a remarkable period in our history, one which is laden with potential for good but one in which danger lurks as well. We have unprecedented levels of prosperity but are also experiencing the most sustained assault on the gains made by working people here, and across Europe, since 1945.

This offensive is carried forward under the banner of market liberalisation, exploiting millions of vulnerable people who have no alternative but to work for half nothing. This assault is conducted with the assistance of a neo-liberal creed that depicts the world as locked in a battle between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. The Good Guys are consumers and the Bad Guys are producers. The Good Guys are champions of free choice and competition, while the Bad Guys are protectors of selfish vested interests in this virtual universe. Naturally workers are among the Bad Guys.

We all know of course that this is a completely artificial division of humanity because workers and consumers are the same people. Like designers of video games, the neo-liberals have to erase certain realities to make this paradigm work. The most important of these is the inalienable right of every citizen in a democracy to a fair opportunity of experiencing a full, free and happy life.

Despite our prosperity and being spoilt for choice as consumers, this is becoming increasingly difficult. The reality is that many things people took for granted in less prosperous times such as occupational pensions, the 39 hour week, security of employment and being paid the rate for the job, are being systematically dismantled.

Now, in a world that confuses cheapness with value for money and wage cuts with competitiveness, we are witnessing a dramatic casualisation of jobs through bogus self-employment in some industries and the outsourcing of jobs in others to employment agencies who compete with each other in a relentless race to the bottom - driving down and undermining terms and conditions of employment.

Last week I saw a contract of employment in one of our premier industries, aviation, where a worker with an employment agency was paid the princely sum of ¤9.21 an hour. In return they were obliged to work a shift roster which had no regard whatsoever for any entitlement to rest, relaxation or participation in family life.

Indeed, if you look at CSO figures on trends in average pay across industries such as construction, hotels and catering, you will see they are only half the rates provided for in 'Towards 2016' and also substantially less than inflation. It is ironic that this is happening as we approach the centenary decade for the critical years in the founding of the modern Irish state, including the formation of the first of the unions that eventually gave birth to SIPTU, the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. In fact it is exactly 100 years this week from the day when Jim Larkin addressed his first meeting of workers from the Belfast docks and events were set in train for the 1907 general strike in the city, which not alone united catholic and protestant workers, but picketers and policemen in a demand for better pay and conditions!

I am very conscious therefore of the significance this decade has for Sinn Fein and of your dedicated commitment to the aspiration of a free and independent Ireland. But I want to remind you of what Connolly wrote, not 100 years ago but over 110 years ago, 'The struggle for Irish freedom has two aspects; it is national and it is social. ... Nationalism without Socialism - without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed formŠ is only national recreancy'.

Present day patriots who violate the rights of ordinary working people are certainly recreants by Connolly's definition. For them the Tricolour is nothing more than a flag of convenience.

Along with the battle for independence in the political arena there is an equally important struggle underway in the workplace, the outcome of which will determine whether working people in this country, who constitute the vast majority, will have any say at all in determining the shape of the future. Otherwise it will be shaped exclusively by those whose only preoccupation is the accumulation of profit to the exclusion of every other social and human consideration. In their vision of the world everything should be decided by what happens in the supermarket and the stock exchange, rather than through the democracy of the ballot box.

It is an unequal battle in which those endowed with wealth and privilege enjoy enormous advantage, but I know I am speaking to people who are not overawed by long odds, and they are not as long as some would have you believe. Despite all the negative criticism from the right wing press there are actually more people in trade unions on this island now than there have ever been before, and this reflects a passion for justice and fair play that is deeply embedded in the history of our society.

It is this sense of justice and fair play that has seen Irish people stand up for the rights of migrant workers. As internationalists we have actively sought to recruit them and non-Irish nationals now comprise ten per cent of SIPTU. As you will recall from the Irish Ferries dispute we insisted on taking the issue of workers' rights to the top of the agenda in negotiations on a new national agreement and secured significant improvements in employment legislation, as well as better enforcement of existing regulations. Our whole policy in this area has been determined by the principle that every member of the workforce is entitled to the same rights, to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace, irrespective of their country of origin.

I want to conclude by thanking the Ard Comhairle for the opportunity of speaking here today and to wish you every success with your conference. I look forward to the participation of Sinn Féin activists in the trade union movement, in encouraging people to organise in unions and to have the confidence to stand together in solidarity in the fight for a better future for all.

Sunday, January 21, 2007 

Repost: Take Five--Points Toward a Summation of the 1st Annual Blogging Against White Supremacy Day

My good friend Jimmy Higgins reminded us that simply doing is never enough without summation of what was done. So I have reposted his thoughtful summation of the first Blogging Against White-Supremacy Day (to borrow from comrade Lauren). So for your reading pleasure:

Take Five--Points Toward a Summation of the 1st Annual Blogging Against White Supremacy Day

[Take Five. Every Friday, Fire on the Mountain picks a category and lists five cool things in it. It's up to you, dear reader, to add your own in the Comments section. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the piece and you're off to the races.]

Okay, so this is kind of low road. I didn’t have a topic (like political James Brown tunes a few weeks ago) conveniently thrust before me by the world, and I wasn't having much luck casting about for ideas—five kinds of dental floss? five cool episodes of My Mother The Car?

At the same time I have been feeling a little unsettled that the first annual Blogging Against White Supremacy Day came and went without any summation. This is, I know, in keeping with the short shelf life of stuff on the Internet but I get old school about this sort of thing. When a project of some political importance is undertaken, there should be some summation. What follows is not that summation, but one guy’s ideas about what happened and how to look at it. Others should please chip in. (The most complete set of links to participating blogs is at Pottawatomie Creek, the blog where the original call went up.)


1. Quantitatively, I count twelve or thirteen bloggers who put up something privilege–related between the 14 and the 17th. (A few who signed up to do it don’t seem to have actually posted at the time.) In addition there were a bunch of interesting comments, especially on the better-established blogs. While I knew most of those who participated, there were a couple of gratifying discoveries, and I trust others had that experience.

2. Most of the posts can be slotted (or forced) into a few broad groupings (leaving out Lauren’s inspired choice of an Audre Lorde poem and CelticFire’s graphic).

Historic documents: Haisanlu, LeftSpot and me

Reflections on Dr. King’s role and his holiday: Bolivariano Roja, the indefatigable LeftSpot, EightOneUnderRedStar

Aspects of white supremacy today: Yolanda (twice). Lefty Henry, John, Modern Pitung

Personal reflections: Jesse on hipness and white supremacy in Santa Cruz and Nelson H on having a White Citizens Council skeleton in the family closet.

[I personally found these last the most interesting and most thoughtful. They were also the most in the diary spirit which blogging still carries from its origins, a spirit which is more personal and less instrumental that most political blogging.]

3. Ya gotta organize. As Mao says, without a general call the broad masses cannot be mobilized. Nelson H issued such a call. But Mao goes on to call for going deeply into the work in a few places to make breakthroughs. As above, this isn’t how Teh Internets work in general, but we aren’t average netizens; we are, most of us, revolutionary socialists, and we know a few things about organizing which may be applicable in situations like this.

For example, uniting with the advanced to win over the intermediate. Two places where more effort, I would argue, would have been richly repaid occur to me immediately. One is Stan Goff’s interesting and well-trafficked Feral Scholar. Even more important, I would argue is the young feminist/womanist of color patch of the blogosphere. Folks like Yolanda and Zooey are steady blogging about white (and male) privilege and the intersectionality of oppressions, never mind a particular day, and coming up with some really interesting stuff.

4. Overall, I thought the first Day of Blogging Against White Supremacy went pretty good and I hope folks are primed to keep addressing these issues over the coming year. Keep your eyes open to develop links and ties with others you come across over the next 12 months who address these questions, so we can start the 2008 BAWS push with a cohort at least triple what we wound up with this time.

5. As I’ve been mentioning every chance I get, The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism, the fantastic new book by Chip Smith and a small research and writing team, will be out within weeks. Along with it will come a new website for the book, which promises to deliver some “value added” for folks who visit it. Right now, I’d like to ask each person who blogged on BAWS Day for permission to add a link to their contribution. If you say “yes,” it’ll spare me chasing you down one-on-one to solicit you.

(Okay, so 5 is not a point of summation. Sue me.)

Monday, January 15, 2007 

Fighting to Lose What White Folks Have

Today is recognized as a day of remembrance for Martin Luther King, Jr. This man's whole life, the life of his wife and family and the many twists and turn that the Black Liberation Movement (BLM) went through during the course of some thirteen years becomes "history." Branded for mass-consumption. Cleansed of dangerous politics. Reduced to trite snippets about peace and non-violence in the most ultra-personal of ways.

Dr. King was a complex human being, to be sure, full of infinitely greater depth and detail than any 45 minute television special with plenty of room for commercials can ever do justice. He was one of the greatest mass leaders the U.S. has ever known. He was on the right side when it came to the majority of society's pressing questions in his time. And yet he was often on what most of the readers of this blog ought to consider the wrong side of any number of disputes within the Black Liberation Movement.

Blogging on the anniversary of his birth, attempting to respond to my own general call that we as radicals, socialists, activists and Marxist-Leninists collectively take up issues of white supremacy as our topics for the day, I was thoroughly reminded of Dr. King's complexity. The initial post I had begun last week was much in the vein of what LeftSpot posted yesterday, entitled MLK, the Black Sanitation Workers Struggle in Memphis, and the Ongoing Struggle. I am a Tennessee public sector worker engaged in struggle to win the same rights that brought Dr. King to Memphis in 1968. A day after marching with striking sanitation workers, this trip would ultimately end in Dr. King's assassination. The T.V. specials will leave a large "gap" in King's life and politics that stretches from the 1964 March on Washington to King's death in 1968. They will only briefly mention his work to end the U.S. imperialist war in Vietnam and his work against institutional poverty in the U.S. These aspects of who Dr. King was are consistently excluded when his life is presented as "history." And with my personal connection with the trip that fatefully brought him to my home state of Tennessee, understanding and helping others to recognize this gap has always held special importance for me. But LeftSpot's piece is better written and better researched than what I had planned on posting, so on to plan B.

"Just Fighting to Keep What Little Bit They Had Left"
So although I took a couple of hundred words to introduce the King holiday and Dr. King's story as one of complexities, intentional "gaps" and struggle, this is not really a post about Dr. King. Instead it is one dedicated to him and to the work of those who made him what he was. History, as the Gang of Four lyric goes, is not made of great men. History is the aggregate of millions of lives, each filled with her or his own complexities, struggles and gaps. Together these lives form the narratives of nations, classes, peoples and families during certain historical periods. The story I want to tell is one concerning my own family, and the complexities, struggles and gaps I associate with my great-grandfather.

This past summer my wife and I were staying with one of my uncles. We were up playing cards and talking. The conversations had focused on aspects of family history me and my cousins did not know. Stories about my uncle who died when he was 16, drama between my grandmother and her sisters, and how my dad got kicked out and sent to live with my great-grandparents when he was in his mid-teens. When the subject of my great-grandparents came up, my partner posed the $10,000 question. Was it true, she asked, that my great-grandfather was in the greater Nashville White Citizens’ Council?

She may have felt emboldened by her new status our recent marriage had given her within my family, she may have just been a little drunk. Whatever the reason for her asking, her question (and the negative connotation so obviously associated with the way she asked it) stopped the conversation dead in its tracks. Well, at least momentarily. After the folks in the room had a second to catch their thoughts, and my cousin had begun trying to change the conversation my uncle went into a half-drunken tirade. He was shocked by her "crazy" question, my great-grandfather was a good man, “a man of his community.” (Crazy being the an adjective most women reading this will be all to familiar with being labled after asking blunt, truth seeking questions). He even accused her of participating in some great "liberal" conspiracy to make up so-called white hate groups and denied that the White Citizens’ Council even existed.

Ultimately, my uncle conceded that my great-grandfather's politics were atleast sympathetic to the White Citizens' Council, couching his admission within a thick layer of "he just did what was right for people of his race at the time" bullshit. As far as my unlce was concerned, the familial patriarch and other white folks at the time had simply beem "fighting to keep what little bit they had left."

We were to believe that my great-grandfather wasn't a racist bigot who made tons of money by evicting Black sharecroppers and then selling off land that had been part of his mother’s family’s plantation. He wasn’t a Klan sympathizer, even if his own class status demanded that he engage in more cultured forms of repression against Middle Tennessee's Civil Rights Movement. He was not to be remembered for having a banker friend deny my parents a car loan because my Catholic succubus of a mother had corrupted his grandson by living with him prior to being married. He wasn't the one who refused to attend my baptism because he did not attend papist churches. He was, according to my uncle, a good man.

Drawing Lessons
So why share such a story? My intention is certainly not to perpetuate the argument that racism is a personal evil that each of us must overcome on our own. Recent polling shows how bankrupt such notions are. I share it because where there are complexities there are lessons.

My great-grandfather was in several ways what my uncle tried to describe him as - a good man. He deeply cared for his family as best as he knew how; in time he even came to like my mother most among the women and men that his grandchildren married. He was a man of profound moral conviction, although the definitions he used in determining what was moral were truly horrible. Like his moral convictions, my great-grandfather was a deeply damaged man. He was unable to see humanity is others, and unable to really love others as a result. This is the deceit at the heart of what white privilege offers, the ability to be considered "a person" in our society at the cost of white folks' very humanity.

The reason I was able to make it through college with next to no debt is entirely a result of the money my parents inherited upon his death and the lessons about how to generate wealth he taught my father during the 4 years my dad lived with his grandparents. The field of Wealth Studies has produced mountains of research that shows how society distributes both wealth in terms of inheritance and the skills to develop and manage wealth. Studies like United for a Fair Economy's The Color Of Wealth show how white supremacy as a system shapes these phenomena.

And certainly the vigor with which my uncle felt he had to defend his grandfather's actions reeks of sort of response necessary whenever privilege is challenged. Systems of power and privilege are naturalized to such an extreme that an organization used by wealthy white men to conspire against supporters of the Civil Rights movement by denying them home and business loans, foreclosing on their debts, and cheating them out of wages seemed justified to my uncle. Attacking the economic welfare of a community engaged in struggle for its very survival is nothing more or less than "fighting to keep what little bit [white folks] had left."

Mao challenged us to seek out the general in the particular, and radical feminists have argued that we must see the personal as political for nearly as long. I share this story because more than any other personal experience that I can think of, this exchange between my partner, cousins, uncle and I illustrates several of the key theoretical aspects I have come to associate with the study and understanding of, as well as the struggle against white supremacy.

As the five second memorials to Dr. King are made on day-time talks shows, mid-day news casts and prime-time public service announcements, I will ponder my great-grandfather's life, with all his sins, complexities, failures and successes. And by knowing where my family comes from, I hope I can draw strength that sustains me in the on-going struggle I and other white people must wage in order to destroy this most horrible of systems. That will be my tribute to the life and struggle of Dr. King. That will be my homage to the millions of freedom fighters whose contributions gave us this holiday.

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