Sunday, January 31, 2010

Eugene Debs

Gene Debs Understood the Root Cause of Our Problems

He was born in Terre Haute, Indiana
a town where rail road workers lived.
He became fascinated with their stories
and at age 14 he dropped out of school to work on the rail lines.

He was the kind of person who
always helped a neighbor.
When the Brotherhood of Railworkers came to town,
they made Gene Debs their secretary.

Because of his popularity
he ran for political office and won.
Unsatisfied with his effectiveness at this job
he edited the Brotherhood’s Magazine full time.

There was a different Brotherhood for each craft,
and many unskilled rail workers could not join.
Debs saw that one union was needed to organize all rail workers,
and helped form the American Railway Union.

Pullman was a town outside of Chicago
which was the headquarters of the Pullman Palace Car Company,
which was owned by George M. Pullman,
who worked rail workers to death.

The wages at Pullman didn’t provide
a family with enough food to live.
Therefore workers were tied to the town by a debt.
When conditions became intolerable they asked the A.R.U. to organize a strike.

Gene Debs was reluctant about the strike,
but once called, he gave it one-hundred and ten percent.
Because Pullman was so powerful,
appeals were made for all rail workers to join the battle.

Although this strategy was logical,
and there was a real chance of victory,
most other unions failed to give their solidarity,
and Pullman blacklisted the strikers throughout the industry.

For his crime of attempting to win food for working people,
Gene Debs was sent to prison.
The charge was violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
A law designed to protect the public from corporate greed.

Debs said: “There is something wrong in this country;
the judicial nets are so adjusted as to catch the minnows
and let the whales slip through and the federal judge is as far removed
from the common people as if he inhabited another planet.”[1]

At the age of forty, Gene Debs began to understand
that the methods he used were insufficient to advance the cause of working people.
He saw that the entire government needed to be replaced
and became a socialist. He said,

“You do not need the capitalist.
He could not exist an instant without you.
You would just begin to live without him.
You do everything and he has everything;
and some of you imagine that if it were not for him
you would have no work.
As a matter of fact,
he does not employ you at all;
you employ him to take from you what you produce,
and he faithfully sticks to his task.
If you can stand it, he can;
and if you don’t change this relation,
I am sure he won’t.
You make the automobile,
he rides in it.
If it were not for you,
he would walk;
and if it were not for him, you would ride.”

Throughout his life he opposed wars
that supported capitalist greed.
When war erupted against the people of Mexico
Debs said:

“You never had a country to fight for
and never will have so much as an inch of one
as long as you are fool enough to make a target of your bodies
for the profit and glory of your masters.
“Let the capitalists do their own fighting
and furnish their own corpses
and there will never be another war
on the face of the earth.”

When the U.S. government supported World War I
activists who spoke against this holocaust of workers
were sent to prison and many of Debs friends
buckled to the pressure and supported the war.

Gene Debs could have retired at this point in his life
with the reputation of a great labor leader.
But he could not fathom living in a world
where working people murdered one another while he just sat by.

In Canton, Ohio Gene Debs gave one
of the most important speeches in the history of the United States.
He showed exactly what soldiers
were asked to fight for,

“They tell us that we live in a great free republic;
that our institutions are democratic;
that we are a free and self-governing people.
This is too much, even for a joke.
But it is not a subject for levity;
it is an exceedingly serious matter.”

“Why, the other day, by a vote of five to four
a kind of craps game
come seven, come’leven
they declared the child labor law unconstitutional
a law secured after twenty years of education and agitation
on the part of all kinds of people.
And yet, by a majority of one, the Supreme Court,
a body of corporation lawyers, with just one exception,
wiped that law from the statute books,
and this in our so-called democracy,
so that we may continue to grind the flesh and blood and bones
of puny little children into profits for the Junkers of Wall Street.
And this in a country that boasts
of fighting to make the world safe for democracy!
The history of this country is being written in the blood
of the childhood the industrial lords have murdered.”

For these and other words Gene Debs
served three years in a Federal Penitentiary.
As a prisoner he ran for President of the United States.
As prisioner number 9653 he received almost one million votes.

During this time he learned
that the wealth of the United States
could be used to provide real opportunities
to those sentenced to prison.

“What incentive would there be for a man to steal
when he could acquire a happy living so much more easily
and reputably by doing his share of the community work?
He would have to be a perverted product of capitalism indeed
who would rather steal than serve in such a community.
Men do not shrink from work, but from slavery.
The man who works primarily for the benefit of another
does so only under compulsion,
and work so done is the very essence of slavery.[2]

A share of the community work or slavery?
Gene Debs felt that the struggle for a new world
was worth the work of a lifetime.
For all those who choose to fight to make this a better world,
you won’t find a better speaker of the truth than Gene Debs.

[1]Debs, Eugene V. Eugene V. Debs Speaks P. 51, 52
[2]Debs, Eugene V. Eugene V. Debs Speaks P. 317

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ida Wells

Ida Wells, An Uncompromising Struggle for Human Dignity

She was born
in Holly Springs, Mississippi
into the world
of chattel slavery.

350,000 Union soldiers died in the Civil War
President Lincoln said they did not “die in vain”,
and the Thirteenth Amendment said,
slavery was abolished.

Black people learned to read,
they voted, and held public office.
But the federal government abandoned reconstruction,
and the Ku Klux Klan took political power.

Her mother was a cook.
Her father was a carpenter,
and they managed to support
Ida and her seven siblings.

Then the yellow fever took
the lives of her parents.
Her first struggle, at the age of sixteen,
was to keep the family together.

She taught school,
and cared for the entire family.
Eventually she earned money
as a journalist.

People who had power said that Black people were not supposed
to sit where white people sat on rail cars.
Ida was asked to vacate her “first class” seat.
She refused and several white men forced her to move.

She sued and won her case.
But there was an appeal,
and the judges ruled that Ida’s case
was not “reasonable.”

Ida was an independent minded woman
who found it difficult to make many friends.
Thomas Moss, a letter carrier was her friend.
He owned a grocery, had a wife and a child, with another on the way.

There were white people who resented Moss because he had money.
He was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit,
Seventy five racists took Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Will Stewart
out of a jail and lynched them.

Ida was so incensed by the horror of this reality,
that she made the campaign
against lynching her life’s work.
Unlike many others, she would never back down.

While many understood that lynching was wrong,
many also argued that Black men
raped white women.
Therefore they argued that white women needed to be protected.

Ida Wells wrote, “The Truth About Lynching.”
she argued that, at times, some white women had
consensual relationships with Black men,
but segregationists didn’t feel this was possible.

She said that Black women were oftentimes
raped by white men who went unpunished.
Lynchings took place in order to intimidate
Black people so they would continue to work the worst jobs.

Ida learned from these lynchings that
“a Winchester rifle should
have a place of honor in every black home.”
“for protection the law refuses to give.”

She also advised Black people to take Thomas Moss’ advice,
and move out of their homes in the south,
to new homes in the west.
Thousands took this advice.

This was too much for the racists
and Ida’s life was threatened in Memphis.
She needed to abandon her business,
and did not return for thirty years.

Some people said that Ida preached hatred
against white people who lived in the South.
They isolated her in order to accommodate
to the powerful forces in the United States.

But thousands of Black men,
women and children were lynched.
They were beaten, tortured, hanged,
shot, and burned to death.

Their body parts were cut off,
collected, and even sold as souvenirs.
But the government chose
not to prosecute these known murderers.

How was she to fight against a government
that refused to prosecute murderers?
She did this by introducing her readers
to the individuals who had been lynched.

She wrote about Frazier Baker,
who was the Post Master of Lake City, South Carolina.
After his enemies burned the Post Office to the ground,
Baker used his home as a Post Office.

Hundreds of racists surrounded his home and set it on fire.
When Baker and his family came out of the home,
He and his infant daughter were murdered,
His wife and children suffered life changing injuries.

The government made an investigation.
When no one was prosecuted,
The government that claims to represent “liberty and justice for all”
became an accomplice in the murder of Frazier Baker.

No reason was given for this murder.
Ida Wells understood that Frazier Baker was murdered
because he was a Black man
who attempted to get a descent job in the United States of America.

Ida gave the facts showing how people
were victimized oftentimes for merely defending themselves
against hysterical mobs whose only concern
was to keep Black people in their place.

Anyone could read about these
lynchings in the newspapers.
Ida Wells collected these stories
and even made her own investigations.

The Twenty-fourth U.S. infantry of Black soldiers
had risked their lives in wars abroad.
In Houston, Texas those soldiers
attempted to defend their comrades from a racist mob.

Sergeant Vida Henry gave the order engage a racist mob.
After the battle, Henry committed suicide,
rather than face execution from the government
he valiantly served for thirteen years.

Ida distributed buttons which supported
the Black soldiers
who had been sentenced to death
by a court which pretended to represent justice.

“Intelligence officers” threatened to
arrest her on charges of treason.
Ida countered that it would be an
“honor” to go to prison under such circumstances.

Ida would go on to mobilize
women to support the
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters,
who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to gain union recognition.

She wrote the pamphlets:
The Requirements of Southern Journalism,
United States Atrocities: Lynch Law,
Mob Rule in New Orleans: Robert Charles and His fight to the Death,
The Arkansas Race Riot,
The East St. Louis Massacre: The Greatest Outrage of the Century
Lynch Law in Georgia,
and Colored Women of Chicago.

Some of the bravest leaders for human dignity
respected her work, That list includes,
Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony,
Marcus Garvey, and WEB DuBois.

However, those who pretended to be leaders of the movement
attempted to marginalize her accomplishments,
but she will be remembered as someone who
never compromised her struggle for human dignity.

Mother Jones

Mother Jones, General of the Working Class

She was born in Cork, Ireland,
and named Mary Harris.
Her parents probably had no idea
of the kind of life she would lead.

In her early years she saw and experienced
the effects of the Irish potato famine.
While English power brokers lived in opulence,
a million Irish starved to death.

Her family came to the United States
where she married and had four children.
Her husband was a trade union activist,
and she learned the importance of unionism.

When the yellow fever came to Memphis,
the affluent people left the city.
The Jones family stayed behind.
Her husband, and four children died in the epidemic.

She went to Chicago and started a dressmaking business.
Her customers were wealthy,
but she also saw those who yearned for the basic necessities.
The Chicago Fire took her business and she started over again.

One might think that the horror
Mary Jones had experienced
might have made her despondent
and cynical about the possibilities in the world.

But she joined the Knights of Labor,
and began to support every strike she could.
The United Mine Workers hired her,
and the mine bosses dreaded that day.

She was a different kind of general,
who talked to workers as if she was their mother.
But this mother was willing to do whatever was necessary
to win a better life for those who appeared to be slaves.

In West Virginia she told the miners
they could never make their families happy,
by doing backbreaking work
for those who broke the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”

At Arnot Pennsylvania, it was too dangerous
for the men to picket the mines.
Mother Jones organized an army of women with mops and brooms,
who kept the scabs out, and the strike was a victory.

In Philadelphia, Mother Jones
organized an army of child textile workers.
Ten and twelve year old workers
who had fingers missing, and toiled long hours.

The army marched 125 miles to Oyster Bay,
the summer home of President Theodore Roosevelt.
On the way the General of the Children’s Army
told the truth to those who would listen.

She pointed to the 10 year old soldier, James Ashworth,
whose back was bent from carrying seventy-five pound bundles.
James did this work, while the children of the rich
received a higher education.

In Douglass, Arizona Mother Jones
discovered that the police
kidnapped a Mexican revolutionary.
She initiated a campaign that won his freedom.

Then came the war for the miners in Colorado.
The Governor said that Constitutional law
did not exist in the counties
where the coal mines were located.

For the crime of thinking to go on strike,
those who mined the coal that kept people warm
were thrown out of company housing
into frigid weather and six foot snow drifts.

Mother Jones spoke to the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa,
and no Mexican workers crossed the picket lines.
As for the government officials in the United States,
she had less success.

For the crime of attempting to visit the miners,
she was placed in a dungeon where she battled with sewer rats.
She thought that if she were on the outside,
she “would be fighting the human sewer rats anyway!”

One thousand women and children
marched demanding her release.
General Chase ordered the state militia to “Ride down the women.”
Their sabers slashed through human flesh and the Constitution.

When the strikers refused to give up,
the militia fired a machine gun into their tents.
Then they burned those tents. Women and children
who were too afraid to leave were burned to death.

She was a general of working people in the Americas.
She traveled to where-ever the battle took place.
Most of the time the battle was lost,
but she gave the soldiers the confidence that they had the ability to win.

After 93 years of struggle,
the warrior passed away.
Four years after her death,
millions of workers joined unions
that Mother Jones used her life to build.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why won't the US give meaningful aid to Haiti?

The news media has barraged people throughout the world with scenes of the horror of the past few weeks in the nation of Haiti. Celebrities who have millions of dollars at their disposal have not missed a photo opportunity to appeal for contributions for aid to Haiti. The press has reported that hundreds of millions of dollars have been contributed and more is on the way. The question is, If there is so much concern for the welfare of the Haitian people, why is Haiti one of the poorest nations in the world? To expose the depths of this contradiction we need to look at several historical facts.

First, the Haitian Revolution was the first and only time in human history where freed slaves managed to take and maintain power. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians lost their lives in the course of the revolution. At the time of the revolution Haiti, which had been the French colony of San Domingue, was the richest colony in the world accounting for 40% of French foreign trade. The former slaves of Haiti defeated the French, Spanish, and British armed forces. This French defeat caused Napoleon to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States at a price of about three cents per acre.

One would think that the United States would have been grateful for what the Haitian people had accomplished. Under horrendous conditions Haitian slaves created much of the investment capital of the eighteenth century which has been used many times over throughout the world. They were the first nation in the Americas to abolish slavery, paving the way for the abolition of slavery in the United States. The US doubled its size for a bargain basement price.

However, the U.S. government never acknowledged the debt it had to Haiti and has done everything in its power to make Haiti the poorest nation in the world. What are the facts?

First the U.S. declared an economic boycott against Haiti because slave-owners didn't want freed slaves talking with the slaves on the loading docks where slavery continued to be the law. Because of this boycott and the fact that Britain and France would not trade with Haiti, the Haitian government felt compelled to pay reparations to France for abolishing slavery on the island. Then in 1915, the United States invaded Haiti and became the ruling power on the island for 19 years. During those years the US armed forces murdered 2,250 Haitians.

The leader of the Haitian resistance to the U.S. occupation was Charlemagne Mussena Peralte. The U.S. occupation forces murdered Peralte. The body of Peralte was tied to a cross and a Hatian flag was draped over his head. A photo of Peralte's body on the crucifix was taken and the U.S. forces distributed thousands of copies throughout the island.

The U.S. government then gave crucial support to the ruthless dictatorships of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvanlier. After the Duvanlier dictatorships became unable to continue to rule the Haitian people elected Jean-Betrand Aristide President of their country. The U.S. military then occupied Haiti again with 20,000 troops and forced President Aristide to leave the country.

Understanding this history we can see why planes carrying medical aid to Haiti after the earthquake have been told to leave the country by the U.S. military. The so-called aid to Haiti largely consists of crackerjack box sized food rations a bottles of water distributed by 60,000 U.S. soldiers.

On the other hand, the nation of Cuba has taken an entirely different approach to aiding Haiti. First we need to understand that while Cuba has a tiny percentage of the income of this country, they have more doctors per-capita than any other nation in the world. These doctors not only treat Cubans, but volunteer doctors treat patients in the poorest areas all over the world. Many of these doctors have also treated patients all over the world where there have been natural disasters.

In Haiti there were between 300 and 400 doctors in the country before the earthquake. About 500 Haitians became doctors studying in Cuba. After the Haitian earthquake Cubans doctors set up field hospitals treating hundreds of patients every day. Doctors from other nations were drawn to these field hospitals because these hospitals were the only place where they could attend to patients.

When we look at how the United States and Cuba has treated Haiti, the contrast is clear. Cuba has used its resources to give much needed support to Haiti. The United States has created the conditions where an earthquake has killed about 200,000 people. Then the U.S. government would like to make-believe that it is giving aid to Haiti knowing that Haiti will continue to be the poorest nation in the world.