Saturday, August 31, 2013

Malcolm X and the March on Washington

Recently, I attended the national march on Washington.  The march commemorated the fifty-year anniversary of the march for civil rights where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.  While participants in the march raised many issues, the most noticeable were: justice for Trayvon Martin, support for voting rights, and the demand for jobs.

I have seen numerous articles and documentaries that looked back at the 1963 March.  None of these stories mention what Malcolm X had to say about the March.  While Malcolm was an uncompromising supporter of Black rights, he didn’t like the March.  He argued that when the White House discovered that they could not prevent the march, they did their best to control it.

The 1963 March

The purpose of the 1963 March was to pressure the government to pass civil rights legislation.  Malcolm was familiar with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.  These Amendments stated clearly that everyone in this country is supposed to have full rights, including voting rights.  The Fourteenth Amendment states that any state that denies people the right to vote will loose proportional representation in congress.  In a recent Supreme Court decision, we see how this court still refuses to recognize the Constitution. 

In other words, from a legal perspective, the laws protecting the rights of Black people had been written in the 19th century.  The reason for the 1963 March on Washington was to pressure the government to enact laws that had already been written into the Constitution.   

In fact, President Kennedy refused to defend the Freedom Riders who rode on buses where Black people sat in the front and Caucasians sat in the back.  Kennedy was the Commander and Chief of the most powerful army in the world, yet he made no effort to arrest the racist thugs who viciously beat these peaceful protesters.  To the contrary, Kennedy sat back and allowed the Freedom Riders to be taken to jail.

Malcolm also argued that President Kennedy chose six Black leaders to organize the March.  Protesters were told not to bring signs, and only to sing the song “We Shall Overcome.”  Malcolm felt that this song was clear evidence that the government did not represent the people.  He especially didn’t like the fact that the words to this song were, “We shall overcome some day.”

John Lewis was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and he had prepared an uncompromising speech to be given at the 1963 March.  A. Phillip Randolph pressured Lewis to alter his speech to make it more acceptable to the conservative forces who supported the March. 

In the years after the 1963 March, the government passed the Equal Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act.  These laws were mere redundancies of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.  However, it was still up to the government to enforce these laws.

Cities across the United States erupt in insurrection

In cities throughout the nation Black people began to understand that nothing significant was changing with respect to police brutality, as well as institutionalized discrimination in housing, education, and employment.  These conditions sparked rebellions in cities throughout the nation. 

Corporate officers and their supporters in the government began to understand that these uprisings were bad for business.  I believe we can say that these rebellions also played a role in convincing those who had power that Black people needed to be given opportunities they never had before.

However, Michelle Alexander documented something that began to happen at the same time as these opportunities opened up.  In her book, The New Jim Crow - Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, she documents how citizens of the United States have a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the would.  Black people are grossly over-represented in this horrendous system of incarceration.      

Cities erupt across Southern Vietnam

While the cities in the U.S. were erupting and the National Guard was used to suppress these uprisings, the armed forces were also being used in a war against the people of Vietnam.  Malcolm X supported the Vietnamese in this conflict and gave them credit for their heroic liberation struggle.  Martin Luther King was also against the war and argued that the U.S. armed forces might appear to be “strange liberators” to the Vietnamese.  King also argued that the United States government was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.

General Westmoreland was the commanding officer for the U.S. troops in Vietnam.  Westmoreland argued in 1967 that the U.S. forces were winning the war.  The Vietnamese responded to this absurd statement by launching the Tet Offensive and attacked the U.S. forces in the cities and towns throughout southern Vietnam.

Mohammed Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the world at that time.  Ali had been influenced by Malcolm X, and refused to be drafted into the military.  Ali argued that: “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.”  

The 2013 March on Washington

In the recent March on Washington, demonstrators brought their own signs.  However, the freedom of movement was more tightly restricted than in the 1963 March.  When we look at photos of the 1963 March, we see there were no fences.  In the recent March, there were fences everywhere and the movement of the demonstrators was also severely restricted by police officers carrying guns.

Another similarity to the 1963 March was the support it received from the White House.  After the 1963 March President Kennedy invited the six appointed organizers to the White House and informed them they had done a “good job.”  President Obama gave a speech four days after the demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial where he attempted to show how he supported the same ideals as Martin Luther King.

The myth that Obama supports the ideals of King

In order for President Obama to make this absurd argument he needed to completely leave out of his speech everything he has done for the past five years.  He applauded the non-violence of the demonstrators in 1963.  Yet, during every day of his Presidency he has been supporting a war costing thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars against the people of Afghanistan.  Afghanistan happens to be one of the poorest nations in the world.

At the same time as he applauded nonviolence, he was planning a bombing campaign against the people of Syria.  The so-called pretext for this attack is that Syrian President Assad apparently used chemical weapons against the people of that country.  In fact, the U.S. government has a long history of supporting ruthless dictatorships throughout the world.

Obama talked about how he found the system of Jim Crow segregation to be reprehensible.  Jim Crow was a system of legalized discrimination.  Today, President Obama has a vicious policy of legally discriminating against immigrant workers.

We might consider that Martin Luther King wrote a letter while the government in Birmingham, Alabama held him in jail.  At the time, there were some religious officials who argued that King should be “patient,” and that change with respect to segregation would come in time.

King responded that his daughter once asked him why she could not play in a local park.  King told his daughter that she couldn’t play in that park because she was Black.  King didn’t like that answer and explained that this was the reason why he would not patiently wait for change to happen.

President Obama has deported over one million immigrants from this country.  Thousands of these immigrants are parents of children who were born here.  The Immigration and Naturalization Service deported these parents and sent the children to foster homes.  Yet, President Obama argues that he shares Dr. King’s dream.

Obama acknowledged that the unemployment rate is higher today than it was in 1963.  He also spoke of the unfairness of the disparity between those who are struggling to survive, and the billionaires who have more money than they could ever use.  Obama didn’t mention that he supported giving banks literally trillions of dollars in his so-called “bailout plan.”  While the banks and the billionaires have been bailed out, the unemployment rate has not changed in the years since he’s been President.        

Hundreds of thousands of dollars per person

While I was one of the more than 100,000 people who came to Washington to demonstrate, I was thinking of a very basic idea.  Anyone who has a relatively modest salary of $30,000 per year will pay about $10,000 in taxes.  This means that in a thirty-year period this person will pay $300,000 in taxes.  The penalty for not paying these taxes might be a term in prison.  In other words, each one of the 100,000 demonstrators will be required to pay at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.

We might also argue that employers do not hire workers because they are kind-hearted.  No, the basic idea is that corporations hire workers in order to maximize their profits.  In other words, every working person generates enormous amounts of wealth and receives relatively little in return.

I believe that the 100,000 marchers might agree on the idea that we would all like to be treated with respect.  At our jobs employers demand that we do what they say.  Advertisers attempt to sell us items all day long, just so they might get our money.  This column documents how politicians pretend to support our interests, while allowing corporations to maximize profits.  Yes, we would like the people who hold power to be honest with us and to give us the respect we deserve.  This is just an example of common decency. 

The Cuban example

It seems like every other day the press has something negative to say about the island of Cuba.  One accusation the press never makes about the Cuban government is the idea that they are dishonest.  No, in the many long speeches Cuban leaders make to the people that haven’t been caught in a lie.

When the Cuban government says that education and health care are their priorities, this is no ploy to win votes.  Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than any other nation in the world.  While Cuba was once a sugar producing country that was a playground for the affluent, today people come from all over the world for Cuban health care and education.
I believe that this is because the Cuban Government has a basic respect for the people. 


Martin Robinson Delany was an abolitionist and a nationalist who lived at the time of the Civil War.  Delany made the following comment that not only is relevant today, but I feel this comment cuts through much of the nonsense the media promotes today. 

“A people, to be free, must necessarily be their own rulers: that is, each individual must, in himself, embody the essential ingredient--so to speak--of the sovereign principle which composes the true basis of his liberty.”

Malcolm X also had these words of wisdom taken from an interview with the Village Voice.

“The greatest mistake of the movement,” he said, “has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals.  You have to wake the people up first”. . .

Wake them up to their exploitation?

“No, to their humanity, to their worth, and to their heritage”

I believe that the recent March on Washington is clear evidence that the people are beginning to wake up.    


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Auto Production, Supermarkets, Fast Food, and Ghost Cities

Recently I visited a new supermarket in the vicinity of where I live in Philadelphia.  This supermarket is also located on the outskirts of the North Philadelphia, which is a largely Black working class community.  There hasn’t been a large market in this area for quite a while, making shopping for food a bit more convenient for many people.  However, my co-worker claims that the prices at this store aren’t any better than the average.

When I was in high school, I worked in a supermarket and learned that the prices and the expiration dates were better in the suburban stores.  This is because there are more stores in the suburbs and the people who live in these areas have the resources to shop around.

The reason why I was interested in this store is because I worked in an auto factory across the street for twelve years.  Next to the supermarket is a fast food restaurant.  Both these stores are located in what used to be the parking lot for the auto factory.  The former auto factory has been abandoned for about ten years.

Auto production in the U.S.A.

When this plant was open, every ten to fifteen minutes an eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer would deliver huge rolls of sheet metal.  Another tractor-trailer would take away the finished auto parts.  This continued twenty-four hours per day seven days per week.

This factory was over seventy-five years old and it was originally built with rail lines running through the plant.  Rail cars also transported finished auto parts, as well as the scrap metal generated from the plant.  The rail transport was more fuel-efficient and required fewer workers than transport by tractor-trailer.

The reason why corporations prefer transport by tractor-trailer is because auto production is overall more profitable than rail.  This is why corporations teemed up with politicians to build highways.  This is one of the main reasons why there is a fuel shortage in the world.  This is also one of the reasons why about 40,000 people die every year in auto related accidents in the United States.

The company was obsessed with producing the maximum number of auto parts.  I remember one day hurrying to the bathroom, and this took only about two minutes.  When I returned to the line the leader screamed at me for leaving my post.  Another time, I hesitated at my job for about three seconds.  A co-worker then started to scream at me to get the line running.

Jobs in the plant were potentially dangerous.  Some workers lost their lives, others lost their limbs, their hearing, or developed carpal tunnel syndrome.  I was lucky not to have had any lasting injuries.

When the U.S. auto manufacturers lost about 25% of their market to their Japanese competitors, they understood that changes needed to be made.  As a result, the company required us to improve quality and increase production. 

It is impossible to describe in print the seemingly super-human effort the workers gave to accomplish these tasks.  The company rewarded us awards and jackets for meeting these goals.  Then, they closed down the plant.                         

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the reason for the plant closure was “excess capacity.”  This means that the auto industry has more production facilities than they needed.  What the editors at The Inquirer didn’t understand is that this story was not exactly news.

In the year 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote a pamphlet titled: The Communist Manifesto.  Almost one hundred fifty years before the closing of this factory, Marx and Engels gave the following reason for why corporations close factories:

“In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity—the epidemic of overproduction.”

In other words, when the Native Americans gathered more food than they needed they had a party and celebrated.  In the so-called civilized atmosphere of capitalism, where the government argues there is, “liberty and justice for all,” corporations throw workers in the street, like used garbage, when there is “excess capacity.”

Many jobs went to China

For many of my years at this factory, I worked in the tool and die department.  I completed an apprenticeship in this trade sponsored by the union and the company. 

Auto dies transform flat pieces of steel into usable auto parts.  Although this trade is essential to all manufacturing, tool and die making has been in decline in the U.S. for many years.

One day when I was working in that department, I came across a magazine that had an article about the trade of tool and die in Hong Kong.  The article stated that in Hong Kong students had to apply for training in this trade, and if accepted, they needed to pay for that training.  However, all graduates were offered jobs in the trade, and worked with the most sophisticated machinery.

This article underscored the point that much of the manufacturing in the world has been transported to China.  Why did this happen?

Chinese ghost cities

The Chinese Revolution transformed China from a nation that was ravaged by imperial powers into a nation that would stand on its own.  This enabled the government to make substantial investments in infrastructure and today China is leads the world in the construction of rail lines.

However, the so-called Chinese communists decided to allow for widespread capitalist development in their country.  A recent story on the news program 60 Minutes took a look at the results of these policies.

Today there are several cities in China with miles and miles of skyscrapers that are completely abandoned.  This is in the most populous nation in the world.

The Chinese are an extremely industrious and inventive people.  The government forced many residents to leave their homes to make way for the construction of these ghost towns.  Many former residents of these cities actually collected the bricks from their former homes so they might use those bricks in another location.

The problem with these ghost towns is that they have been sold to speculators as investment properties.  Most Chinese, like many workers in the United States, can not afford the costs of new construction.         

What do working people need and want?

Understanding these facts we might consider the question of: What do working people around the world need and want.  In my opinion, this would include about eight basic goods and services including: food, clothing, housing, health care, education, transportation, communications, and exposure to cultural activities like music, art, films, theater, dance, sports, etc…

We might consider this when listening to Zhang Xin, a woman who happens to be one of China’s new billionaires.  Xin, who used to work for Goldman Sachs, is in the business of profiting off of the construction of numerous luxury office buildings in China. 

Understanding what working people want and need, we might also argue that these goods and services rarely, if ever, are produced in office buildings.  Yet, Zhan Xin argues that while the market for useful housing has dried up, the market for office buildings continues to be healthy.  In other words, one of the reasons why working people in China and the United States are not able to afford new homes, is because the price of this new housing includes the cost of almost useless office buildings.


The cause for the closing auto factories is essentially the same as the building of ghost towns in China.  This is what Marx and Engels called “the disease of overproduction.”  What can we do about this?

We might consider the concluding words of Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto:

“The proletarians have nothing to loose but their chains.  They have a world to win.

Workingmen (and women, my addition) of all countries unite.”      

Monday, August 12, 2013

James Baldwin & The Fruitvale Station

Recently I viewed the film, Fruitvale Station, produced by Ryan Coogler.  This film is a docudrama of the criminal police murder of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale train station in Oakland, California in 2009.  The film effectively portrays Oscar Grant as a young Black man who loved his family and usually had positive interactions with those who met him.

The Fruitvale Station

Like many young people today, Grant had difficulty finding and then holding a job.  At one point in his life he sold drugs and served time for that offence.  However, before his murder he decided to stop selling drugs and to do his best to find a job.

When Grant was in prison he gravitated to Black men who were also doing time.  This made him a target of Caucasian gang members.  On his way home from a New Years Eve celebration he encountered one of the Caucasian gang members and there was a fight.

The film then showed how the police intervened in this fight in order to come to the aid of the Caucasian gang members.  In other words, the police only detained Oscar Grant and his African American friends for fighting on the train.  The police murdered Oscar Grant while they came to the aid of a Caucasian gang.

Allen Iverson, who was an all-star player in the National Basketball Association had a similar experience as Oscar Grant.  When Iverson was in high school in Virginia he was in a fight in a bowling alley with young men who happened to be Caucasian. 

Iverson and his Black friends were arrested for this fight and he served four months in prison for this so-called offense.  Iverson eventually received clemency from the Governor of Virginia.  An appellate court also dismissed all the charges against Iverson.  Ironically, the law that initially convicted Iverson was designed to protect people against lynchings.

I wasn’t especially interested in seeing the film Fruitvale Station.  We know of the extreme brutality of the capitalist system and I wasn’t intrigued about seeing one more example of this criminal brutality. 

Take This Hammer

After seeing the film I didn’t think about doing a review for this same reason.  Then, I received a link to a documentary by James Baldwin titled Take This Hammer produced by KQED television.  This film is about Baldwin’s interviews and thoughts about the city of San Francisco in the year 1963.  Thinking about Baldwin’s narrative in 1963 gave me a compelling perspective to the film, Fruitvale Station.

James Baldwin was in no way interested in the typical tourist spots in San Francisco, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Fisherman’s Warf.  No, Baldwin was interested in the Black community in the city that reminded him of the place where he was raised in Harlem, New York City.  In his interviews, Baldwin found that the Black community of San Francisco faced the same problems as Blacks in Harlem.  This is how one person described those conditions.

“Let me tell you about San Francisco.  The white man is not taking advantage of you in public like they doing down in Birmingham.  But he’s killing you with that pencil and paper, brother.  When you go and look for a job, can you get a job?”

Baldwin learned that one of the only jobs available to Blacks was to tear down the homes they lived in.  In one scene, Baldwin stood outside an unfinished housing project.  Understanding the racist character of this country, Baldwin argued that the seeds for the destruction of this project were in place even before the building was completed. 

We might recall that Baldwin made these remarks in 1963.  A recent article in the San Francisco Examiner reported that there was a 37% drop in the city’s Black population from 1990 to 2010.  Even in Oakland, the city with the second highest Black population in the state, the African American population is declining.

Another issue that Baldwin looked at was police brutality.  The San Francisco police arrested one person he spoke to at the age of eight.  The New York City police didn’t harass Baldwin until he was ten years old.  He described two of his experiences with the police in the following passage:

“I was thirteen and was crossing Fifth Avenue on my way to the Forty-second Street library, and the cop in the middle of the street muttered as I passed him, ‘Why don’t you niggers stay uptown where you belong?’  When I was ten, and didn’t look, certainly, any older, two policemen amused themselves with me by frisking me, making comic (and terrifying) speculations concerning my ancestry and probable sexual prowess, and for good measure, leaving me flat on my back in one of Harlem’s empty lots.”

There have been many changes in this country since 1963.  Jim Crow isn’t the law of the land.  Many Blacks have managed to attain a college education.  A Black man happens to be the President of the United States.  However, the problem of unemployment might even be worse than it was in 1963.  The murder of Oscar Grant demonstrates that the brutality of the police department is no different from that same brutality half a century ago.

I will conclude with another quotation from James Baldwin taken from his wonderful book The Price of the Ticket:

“Power, then, which can have no morality itself, is yet dependent on human energy, on the wills and desires of human beings.  When power translates itself into tyranny, it means that the principles on which that power depended, and which were its justification, are bankrupt.  When this happens, and it is happening now, power can only be defended by thugs and mediocrities––and seas of blood.  The representatives of the status quo are sickened and divided, and dread looking into the eyes of their young; while the excluded begin to realize, having endured everything, that they can endure everything.  They do not know the precise shape of the future, but they know that the future belongs to them.  They realize this––paradoxically––by the failure of the moral energy of their oppressors and begin, almost instinctively, to forge a new morality, to create the principals on which a new world will be built.”    

You can view Baldwin’s documentary Take This Hammer at the following web page:

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation & the war against the working class

The other evening I viewed the so-called news program 60 Minutes.  One of their featured stories was of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  This story, narrated by Charlie Rose, attempted to paint this foundation as a group of people who came down from the heavens to save the human race. 

William Gates spoke about how he has a timetable for curing several diseases that especially effect people who live in abject poverty.  Gates is also interested in financing programs to educate people who, he claims, would not have this opportunity without his foundation.  How could there be anything wrong with these initiatives?

What is wrong with the Gates Foundation?

First, we must understand that William Gates is a billionaire.  He also has received funding from Warren Buffet who also is a billionaire.  The question to be asked is: How did these individuals attain the obscene amounts of money they possess, while forty percent of the world’s population lives of two dollars per day or less?

First, we might look at some facts.  For the past thirty years the standard of living in this country has been deteriorating.  Literally hundreds of millions of jobs have been eliminated, and the replacement jobs usually pay less.  While computers and robots have advanced technology, these advances have also eliminated jobs. 

All of this has meant that most working people need to work more hours for effectively less pay.  The increased cost of, health care, education, transportation, and housing, have outstripped the so-called wage increases of workers.           

As a part of this war against working people, there is discrimination against Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants, and women.  By paying these people less than white men, capitalists like Gates and Buffet can reap enormous profits. 

We don’t need to look at individual examples of people who were discriminated against by these employers to verify this statement.  In order for these men to derive any profits they needed investors.  Those investors have profited from many years of workers toiling under horrendous and discriminatory conditions.

Today, many of the investors of the world have moved their factories to nations where wages might hover around two dollars per day.  In other words, while William Gates claims he is helping the poor people in the world, he has also reaped enormous profits from many of those same people.

Today thousands of workers who toil in China in the Computer industry might have an age of less than eighteen, working sixty hours per week, with forced overtime.

We might also understand that by setting up a charitable trust fund, Gates is allowed to keep much of the money he would have had to pay in taxes.  This means that, while cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit are closing schools and cutting pensions, William Gates is sitting in rooms thinking about how to spend billions of dollars.

I will not deny that this foundation has given people opportunities they would not have had otherwise.  The problem is that the overall standard of living in the world continues to deteriorate.  Profits that have been derived from these billionaires also help to drive down the standard of living.

The foundation doesn’t support these causes

We might consider the organizations that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will not contribute to.  Clearly they do not contribute to unions that attempt to make life better for workers.  In order to make life better for workers, unions need to demand that corporations reap less in terms of profits.  This is why the so-called nonprofit organizations never, to my knowledge, aid unions.  In fact, the so-called nonprofit organizations exist because they receive funding from highly profitable corporations.       

Clearly this foundation does not contribute to the Cuban government that is giving real aid to the less developed nations in the world.

In fact, Cuba has sent tens of thousands of doctors to nations that have little or no health care systems.  In fact, Cuba has trained tens of thousands of doctors, from around the world, free of charge.
No doubt, some of the money that financed William Gates’ Microsoft Corporation, might have come from profits derived on the island of Cuba before the revolution.  In those days, working people in Cuba relied on sugar production and lacked work for most of the year.  One of the other jobs for many Cuban women was prostitution. 

While there continues to be many problems in Cuba, this nation has gone through a complete transformation.  Cuba today has more teachers and doctors per capita than any other nation in the world.  Infant mortality in Cuba is about half of what it is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The percentage of people in Cuba with HIV/AIDS is about one-sixth of what it is in this country.

With this record, we might ask a legitimate question as to why the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation isn’t giving money to the Cuban government.  I believe a strong case can be made for the argument that today Cuba is doing more to improve health care in the world than any other source.

Clearly this foundation isn’t giving money to free Mumia Abu Jamal or Leonard Peltier who have won international support of their freedom from the prisons in this country.  We might also mention the five Cubans who are also held in US prisons for working to end U.S. sponsored terrorism against their homeland.  No, this so-called wonderful foundation isn’t supporting any of these causes.

Living in denial

In the so-called news story about this foundation we learn that William Gates is an avid reader.  While Gates might read many books, he lives in denial of a fact established hundreds of years ago.

John Locke was a philosopher who argued that: “All wealth is the product of labor.”  This means that working people and farmers produce all the wealth in the world.  The food we eat, the cars we ride in, the clothes we wear, are all produced by working people.  The capitalist system takes that wealth and allows a tiny percentage of the population to control it.

In other words, William Gates never created any jobs.  While he ran a company that manufactured computer software, his primary goal was profits.  Working people are the ones who created all the wealth Gates will ever have.

Because Gates refuses to recognize these facts, he actually believes that the obscene amount of wealth he has will benefit humanity.  He also refuses to look at the fact that while he gives away billions of dollars the standard of living in the world continues to deteriorate.      

No, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation doesn’t represent a solution to our problems.  Charitable organizations have been around for a long time, and the standard of living continues to deteriorate.  Only when working people mobilize to make this a world where we are treated with the respect and dignity we deserve, will we be able to liberate ourselves from the likes of William Gates.