Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oaxaca Teachers' Union

Subject: Teacher mobilizations Oaxaca

Dear family, friends and colleagues:
I am writing from Oaxaca, Mexico, to inform you of critical developments in the teachers’ struggle here.

Tomorrow 70,000 Oaxacan teachers are expected to mobilize in the center of the city of Oaxaca to support/defend their democratic election of their new state union leadership. Meanwhile, the official delegates to the State Congress where the union election will occur this Thursday and Friday are to be sequestered starting today for their own protection inside the union hall until the election is completed. Outside the hall, several thousand teachers have been encamped in a "plantón" since last weekend, in a vigil to protect all the pre-congress meetings and attendees.
Tomorrow it is expected that the government-supported splinter union, the so-called Sección 59, will be moving into the encampment outside the union hall. To avoid a confrontation, I have been told by my colleagues that the huge Sección XXII will move its encampment to the central plaza, the Zócalo, and surroundings. In 2006, the teachers´ strike encampment was composed of 40,000 teachers and covered 52 square blocks of the downtown. I can only image what a mobilization of 70,000 teachers in the heart of the city will look like.
Also tomorrow, the "official" representatives of the national teachers' union, the SNTE, will arrive to "observe" the elections. All bets are off as to what this will mean. In various other state union elections, the president of the national union, the infamous Elba Ester Gordillo who colludes openly with the Calderon government, has sent in her henchmen (known here as "charros") to manipulate and control the state elections. Given the fact that Oaxaca is known to be the most democratic and rebellious state union, it is no secret that Elba Ester wants to make a public example by "breaking" Sección XXII. Oaxaca is highly militarized at this moment. Even my colleagues from the Coalition of Indigenous Teachers and Promoters of Oaxaca who are central to this struggle are not predicting what the outcome of the next few days will be. It is possible, if the SNTE or the government makes a major move to destabilize the election process, that Sección XXII will again mobilize en masse.
Perhaps some of you know that various state union delegations, even some that are not known for their activism, are mobilized in Mexico. Most notable is the union of Morelos, which has closed down all public schools in the state since the beginning of this school year in protest over Elba Ester's collusion with the government's neoliberal education policies. The Morelos teachers took over the national offices of the SNTE in Mexico City yesterday. Other state union sections (Michoacán, Guerrerro, Quintana Roo) are also mobilized. Once the union elections in Oaxaca are over, and assuming that no repression has occurred here to mobilize teachers locally, I understand Sección XXII plans to join forces with the national movements for union and education reform.
Those of you who have union or teacher contacts in or around Boston might be interested to know that Mt. Holyoke College will bring two committed Oaxacan indigenous teachers and very wise leaders of the union struggle to its campus as guest presenters at a conference called Teaching, Learning, Leading: A Mt. Holyoke College Summit on Education, Oct. 10-12, 2008. The timing is excellent, as Fernando Soberanes and Beatriz Gutiérrez Luís will be able to inform about the very latest happenings, those that will take place in these critical next days. I believe the conference is open to the public, though please confirm all details with Mt. Holyoke. I understand Fernando and Beti will also speak with several activist groups in the area, though I have only been involved with details about their trip from the Oaxaca end.

Just as I was finishing this email, Fernando Soberanes called. Two pieces of good news: a) Sección XXII is hopeful there will be no "frontal attack" by the government or the SNTE against their election process, though they are still very concerned about the election of leaders silently sympathetic to the government's agenda; b)indigenous educators have put forward a very strong agenda against social discrimination by official institutions, and in favor of communal, bilingual and intercultural education, as well as the rights of women, children, and all human rights. The next several days will determine whether this educational and social agenda put forth by indigenous educators will rise to the top as the agenda of the entirety of Sección XXII.

Please feel free to share this email widely with concerned educators and listservs.

Lois Meyer
University of New Mexico
On sabbatical in Oaxaca, Mexico

War Times: The Financial Crisis

Washington's Wars and Occupations:
Month in Review #41
September 29, 2008
By Max Elbaum, War Times/Tiempo de Guerras


Last month the prime example of Washington's hypocrisy was John McCain's remark about Russia's military action in Georgia: "In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations."

This month it's U.S. hypocrisy about economic policy that makes front page news. Covering the opening of this year's U.N. session the New York Times reported:

"With a pillar of American power - its financial leadership - so badly shaken, there was a certain satisfaction among some of the attendees that the Bush administration, which had long lectured other nations about the benefits of unfettered markets, was now rejecting its own medicine by proposing a major bailout of financial firms... 'They are all remembering the unforgiving advice they got from American financial institutions to let your banks go to the wall'... 'There is resentment at what they see as evidence of double standards'... The extraordinary nature of the outpouring was that it came from some of America's closest allies and trading partners."

Of course there are more links here than just hypocrisy:

*Both Washington's Middle East invasions and its 25-year deregulation crusade were largely ideology-driven, fueled by the right-wing belief that American Free Markets Are Ordained to Rule the World.

*Wars and deregulation - and now the bailout - are justified by lies, fear-mongering (the-sky-will-fall-if we-don't-invade/bailout!) and "Trust Us!" demagogy. ("This goes back to the Iraq War," Rep. Sam Farr said about the bailout Sept. 23. "Nobody on the Hill, of either party, has confidence in the White House.")

*Oil is central to both crises: real petroleum in the case of Washington's drive to control the Middle East; and fictitious capital snake-oil in the form of exotic "financial instruments" that Wall Street has used to boost profits, swindle home-buyers, and now dump it all into the public debt.

*Structurally, both Washington's militarism and the financial crisis are connected to deep underlying features of U.S. capitalism and its role in the world. Maintaining the global empire that is such a source of corporate profit requires a huge military - and entrenches a tendency to use that military to gain control of other countries' resources. With the spread of manufacturing and industrial might to rising powers (China, India, Brazil, and more), U.S. capitalists have become increasingly dependent on financial speculation (one bubble after another) to maintain the flow of profit.


Finally, there is the parallel between neoliberal financial policies and the Iraq War that now dominates the news: Both have crashed. Now the people who are responsible for these messes are scrambling to find a way to limit the damage to their fortunes and their power (and cover their butts).

As with Washington's debacle in Iraq, the impact of this now-exploded financial mess will not be limited to the next few weeks. It will take months and even years for its ripple effects to sink in. Much of what lies ahead is unpredictable. But already two things seem all but certain:

1. The bailout of the big financial institutions now working its way through Congress is a swindle on U.S. workers and the poor. We will end up holding most of the bag for the financial elite's two-decade long party. The extent of public outcry meant that the final bailout version is not as horrific as the administration's original proposal (and the fightback is continuing as of this writing). But it comes nowhere near meeting even the minimal standards of a fair-to-ordinary-people measure. For one outline of a progressive response go to:

2. Even with such a giveaway to Wall Street, this crisis is a huge blow to U.S. global power. Against the background of failure in Iraq, this financial meltdown marks another big step away from U.S. international hegemony toward a multipolar world.

The essence of the new situation was laid out bluntly by Germany's finance minister Peer Steinbruck in Berlin Sept. 24. Steinbruck laid responsibility for the crisis right in Washington's lap: "the conditions that gave rise to the current turmoil in the markets were allowed to develop because of a reckless pursuit of short-term profit and huge bonuses in Anglo-Saxon financial centers." He went on to say:

"The U.S. will lose its status as the superpower of the world financial system. The world financial system will become multipolar."

This is no isolated statement or reckless boast. An official U.S. government intelligence forecast being prepared for the next president envisions "a steady decline in U.S. dominance in the coming decades" according to Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community's top analyst. The report also concludes that the one key area of continued U.S. superiority - military power - will "be the least significant" asset in the increasingly competitive world of the future.

From the left, Immanuel Wallerstein comes to the same conclusion via assessing the aftermath of the Ossetia-Georgia-Russia conflict: "It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the agreement on Sept. 8 between Nicolas Sarkozy of France and the President of Russia. It marks the definitive end of Act I of the new world geopolitical order. This accord was reached between Europe and Russia; the U.S. played no diplomatic role whatsoever. What is the bottom line? Russia has gotten more or less what it wanted in Georgia. The U.S. has no real cards to play. Ignored in Georgia and under attack by its closest allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the U.S. is somewhat unhappily entering the realities of the post-Cold War world, in which it has to play by new rules... [all this] has sealed the reality of a true multilateral geopolitical arena."


These blows to U.S. power weaken, but far from end, U.S. capacity to invade, occupy and make war on other countries.

The latest crisis almost certainly takes the possibility of a military strike against Iran off the table, at least for the duration of the Bush presidency. Washington is being blamed worldwide for jeopardizing the whole global economy. Even conservatives lack any confidence in the Bush White House. So this President is in no position to start a war that everyone knows would throw the oil-based world economy into a whole new level of crisis.

Regarding Iraq, Washington's new troubles have hardened the stance of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki regarding a timetable for U.S. withdrawal and Iraqi jurisdiction over U.S. troops' actions. Anti-occupation sentiment among Iraqis is stronger than ever. Iran's capacity to influence events in Iraq has risen. Washington's is steadily declining. So is the U.S. capacity to re-escalate with additional troops. It will still require great pressure (no matter who wins the election) to get the U.S. totally out, much less hold Washington to account for all the horrors it has inflicted on Iraqi society. But Neocon bluster notwithstanding, the main drama centers around how far the U.S. can be forced to retreat, not whether any of its original strategic goals (pro-Western government in Baghdad as part of a "new Middle East) will be met.

Washington is also more out on a limb than ever in Afghanistan. That war is being lost. Each civilian death in a U.S. bombing is turning the population ever more against foreign occupiers. The U.S. is responding by expanding the war in a futile attempt at victory, which in this case means military raids into Pakistan. The result is weekly reports of armed clashes between U.S. and Pakistani troops. There is nothing but disaster at the end of this road. And with the U.S. stymied in regard to Iran and Iraq, the whole enterprise now makes little strategic sense even from an imperial point of view. A few voices in the policy-making elite are beginning to cautiously call for a change of course here. After the melodrama now pre-occupying Washington ends, such voices are likely to grow even louder.

Regarding Israel-Palestine, no one even pretends any more that Bush's goal of a peace agreement by the end of 2008 has a ghost of a chance. New Israeli settlement building plus the uptick in Jewish settler terrorism (see "Radical Settlers Take on Israel," New York Times Sept. 26) make any possible deal less likely than ever. U.S. policy is still hostage to the give-Israel-a-blank-check mantra of the Israel lobby and Christian right (among others). So even a U.S. administration forced to retrench and make some serious compromises regarding Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be extremely difficult to budge on Israel-Palestine. Even here though, anti-occupation voices such as Jimmy Carter's are being raised on the edges of mainstream politics. And now lame-duck Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admits himself that Israel must withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem if there is to be any hope of peace (New York Times Sept. 29). Such statements provide openings for the grassroots Palestine solidarity movement to reach an expanded audience with its anti-colonial, anti-racist, self-determination message.


The far right is not reconciled to the new balance of world power. An alignment of the most militarist wing of the ruling elite and true believers from the Christian right insist that victory everywhere can be won - if only the "soft-on-our-enemies-appeasers" get out of the way and "America's full power" is unleashed.

The McCain-Palin is today's political expression of this position. Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan lays out the reality (Sept. 22) more bluntly than most left-of-center pundits are willing to do:

"It's very important for people to realize that the McCain-Palin ticket is explicitly running on war against Iran. It isn't a matter of if but when. For McCain, it is a matter of fighting wars to win, instead of accepting any limits on American power. For Palin, it is a matter of theological destiny."

What's especially dangerous is that this attitude toward war is tucked into a larger set of beliefs characterizing a re-energized, racist, right-wing populism. The threat is visible in the populist right's response to the financial crisis: in their view, the culprits are "eastern elites" who devote themselves to "coddling Blacks and immigrants" while ignoring the difficulties - and disrespecting the values - of "hard-working white ordinary Americans." (Tales about Jewish bankers running the country are in the mix too, though these are kept in the background lest they disrupt the cozy alliance between the Christian right and many hard Zionist Jews.)

Sarah Palin is emerging as the know-nothing public point person for this dangerous trend. And this current won't go away even if they are beaten this year in the electoral arena. On the contrary, if a Black man occupies the White House it is likely to get all the more strident in its appeals to jingoism and racism, doing all it can to make military confrontation with the entire Muslim and Arab world (and Russia too) a litmus test of any political figure's patriotism and "real American-ness." Especially in the hard economic times ahead, no one should under-estimate the appeal of such demagogy to significant layers of the white population.


These dangers noted, at present the stronger tide seems to be flowing in a different direction. The majority of the country is sick of the Iraq war, inclined toward some kind of more equitable response to the financial crisis, and hungry for a change from eight years of Bushism (and in many cases 25 years of conservative dominance). A new generation is jumping into politics with its majority having a different sensibility than their elders on issues of global warming, war and peace, race and sexuality.

For the popular majority, the electoral arena has become a key site of battle against the far right. But not the only one. In response to the financial crisis, as in response to Washington's wars, opposition voices - including broad coalition efforts - are taking to the streets as well as the electoral campaign. There were nationwide anti-bailout actions Sept. 25; called by TrueMajority, USAction and UFPJ; also note the statement by a broad array of trade union and community leaders at: http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2008/09/24-19

It remains to be seen if this progressive motion can cohere into a grassroots movement capable of holding every politician's feet to the fire and driving the country in the direction of peace, equality and justice. Future historians are likely to see the last few years as a turning-point, when the U.S. empire peaked and went into decline. But what will come after is still up for grabs.

You can sign-on to War Times/Tiempo de Guerras e-mail Announcement List (2-4 messages per month, including our 'Month in Review' column), at http://www.war-times.org. War Times/Tiempo de Guerras is a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Third World Organizing. Donations are tax-deductible; you can donate on-line at http://www.war-times.org or send a check to War Times/Tiempo de Guerras, c/o P.O. Box 99096, Emeryville, CA 94662.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Bacon: immigration

David Bacon will be speaking at CSU-Sacramento at the Progressive Forum on Oct.9,2008.
See http://www.ProgressiveForum07.blogspot.com

By David Bacon
The Nation, October 6, 2008

Research support for this article was provided by the Puffin Foundation Investigative Fund at The Nation

TUCSON, AZ (9-17-08) -- A special Federal District court convenes every day at one PM in Tucson. All the benches, even the jury box, are filled with young people whose dark brown skin, black hair and indigenous features are common in a hundred tiny towns in Oaxaca or Guatemala. Their jeans, tee shirts and cheap tennis shoes show the dirt and wear from the long trek through north Mexico, three days walking across the desert, and nights sleeping at the immigration detention center on the Davis Monthan Air Base.
Presiding over one court session in June, Judge Jennifer Guerin called these defendants before her in groups of eight. They walked up in tiny waddling steps, heavy chains binding their ankles and wrists to their waists. Judge Guerin recited a litany of questions, translated into Spanish through headphones. "You've been charged with illegal entry, a criminal offense...at trial you would have the subpoena power of the court...you have certain rights," she intones. At the end she asks anyone who doesn't understand to stand up. No one does. She asks if they plead guilty. After a moment in which her question is translated, seventy voices mumble "Si."
Leaving the courtroom a young woman stumbles, eyes streaked with tears. A public defender tells the judge her feet are covered with blisters from walking through the wilderness. A boy looking no older than 13 or 14 searches the room with his eyes as he's led away, perhaps seeking a friend or relative. No one seems older than 30, and most are much younger. They are today's border crossers - the mostly-indigenous youth of southern Mexico and Central America.
They all plead guilty to a Federal criminal charge. Sentences run from time served to six months in a Federal lockup run by Corrections Corporation of America.
According to the Spanish news agency EFE, this new court process, dubbed Operation Streamline, convicted 5187 migrants from January 14 to June 10 of this year. Isabel Garcia, who heads Derechos Humanos, a leading immigrant rights organization in southern Arizona, says the current daily quota of 70 chained defendants will soon be raised to 100 - 50 tried on one shift, and 50 on another. Twenty-one new federal prosecutors will handle the surge, with CCA detention facilities to house it.
A new bureaucracy is growing rapidly, thanks to drastic changes in immigration enforcement. In past decades, migrants were treated very differently when caught without papers. They were allowed to leave voluntarily, or deported after being found guilty of an administrative infraction, the equivalent of a parking ticket.
Today's migrants have become criminals. The features pioneered in Tucson's courtroom - serious Federal criminal charges, mass trials of defendants in chains, and incarceration - are becoming standard features of immigration raids from Postville, Iowa, to Los Angeles, California. State laws now supplement Federal statutes, and Federal, state and local authorities cooperate closely to bring a large variety of criminal charges against migrants.
Working without papers has become the most serious crime of all. The vast increase in workplace raids under the Bush administration, however, is motivated by more than a zeal for enforcing the law, or even placating the nativist wing of the Republican Party. Enforcement is part of a pressure campaign designed to win passage of immigration reform centered on guest worker programs.
In November, 2006, 1282 workers were detained by hundreds of heavily armed ICE agents in military garb at six Swift and Co. packinghouses. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff then told reporters that raids would show Congress the need for "stronger border security, effective interior enforcement and a temporary-worker program.'' Bush wants, he said, "a program that would allow businesses that need foreign workers, because they can't otherwise satisfy their labor needs, to be able to get those workers in a regulated program."
This spring, in a New York Times interview, Chertoff elaborated: "We are not going to be able to satisfy the American people on a legal temporary worker program until they are convinced that we will have a stick as well as a carrot." His carrot is the prospect of massive contract labor programs for business. The sticks are the chains in the Tucson courtroom.
According to Garcia, each day's defendants are less than 10 percent of those picked up on the Arizona border. "They're making an example of them to create a climate of fear," she charges. "We are a laboratory. The model they're developing in Arizona is coming everywhere."

Garcia's warnings have made her a target of rightwing talk radio hosts, who routinely urge listeners to call the county executive to get her fired from her job as a public defender. But in Postville, Iowa, where Tucson's assembly-line justice was transplanted virtually intact, her warning was accurate.
On May 12 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents swooped down on workers at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant. Twenty minutes after the shift started, Maria Rosala Mejia Marroquin saw people running past the line where she stood cutting up chicken breasts, shouting that the migra was in the plant. She ran too, and in a dark warehouse tried to squeeze between huge boxes. "Men came in with flashlights. One pointed a gun in my face, shouting 'No one will escape!'" she remembered. When she was interrogated, she told agents she had a daughter in childcare, but lied to keep them from knowing where the babysitter lived, fearing she'd be picked up as well. Agents finally strapped an electronic monitoring device onto her ankle, telling her she had to wait for a hearing.
Her brother Luz Eduardo was taken with 388 others to the National Cattle Congress, a livestock showground in Waterloo, two hours away. In a makeshift courtroom they went in chains before a judge who'd helped prosecutors design Tucson-style plea agreements five months before the raid even took place. In order to get a job at Agriprocessors, workers had given the company Social Security numbers that were either invented, or belonged to someone else. The judge and prosecutor told workers they'd be charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a two-year prison jolt, and held without bail. If they pleaded guilty to misusing a Social Security number, however, they would serve just five months, and be deported immediately afterwards.
"They told [my brother] if he signed the papers they'd deport him, but it was a lie," Mejia says. "He didn't know he was agreeing to criminal charges, and now he's been in prison in Kansas for months." Translation into Spanish was provided, but according to Elida Tuchan, who was also arrested, about half the detainees speak only Cachiquel, an indigenous language from San Miguel Dueñas, their Guatemalan hometown. "They felt terrorized, that everything was against them. They didn't understand anything about the process or their rights."
To the workers, deportation became desirable. Anacleta Tajtaj was also braceleted, while her husband was deported and three brothers went to prison. "Our family in Guatemala was eating because of us. Now they'll go hungry," she lamented. It cost them each 33,000 quetazales (about $4000) to get to the U.S., a huge sum in San Miguel Dueñas, requiring them to mortgage homes and farms. "Now we just want to go back. Everything here is a crime - all the normal things like working." Tajtaj and the other women can't go home yet, however. Three months after the raid they didn't even have dates for their first hearing.
"They can't work, they have no way to pay rent or buy food, their husbands or brothers are in prison or deported, and they're being held up to ostracism in this tiny town," says Luz Maria Hernandez, who heads the support network for 48 braceleted women at Postville's St. Bridget's Catholic Church. "This is a form of psychological punishment."
Ostracism has become a common element of workplace raids. Women released for so-called humanitarian reasons to care for children become isolated and dependent on friends and relatives. In Los Angeles,, women braceleted after a raid at the Micro Solutions electronics plant on February 7 were shunned by their own roommates, who left them and their children facing eviction. A challenge by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles finally won removal of the bracelets after three months, but the support network of immigrant rights groups is not as strong in northern Iowa.

Workplace raids are sweeping the country. According to Secretary Chertoff, "arrests in worksite cases have jumped from a total of 850 in 2004 to 4,940 last year, including 863 arrests based on criminal charges." From January 1 to May 31, 2008 alone, ICE had arrested 3000 people for immigration violations, and 875 more on criminal charges.
In June among those arrested were 160 workers at Action Rags in Houston, 32 farm workers for Boss 4 Packing in Heber, California, and nine workers at water parks in Arizona. In May "cops and guns and badges and everything" were used to detain 16 workers at San Diego's French Gourmet bakery, according to Rod Coon, company vice-president. The same month, 25 construction laborers were picked up in Florida working on the Lee County Jail. April saw raids detaining 28 landscapers in El Paso, 24 construction workers in Little Rock, 63 taco makers at El Balazo restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area, 22 restaurant workers on Maui, 33 laborers on the federal courthouse project in Richmond, Virginia, 20 workers at Shipley's Do-Nuts in Texas, and 45 workers at a Mexican restaurant chain in several states.
This two-month snapshot is an incomplete count of smaller worksite enforcement actions, which go on constantly, along with frequent raids on street-corner day laborers. But in addition to Postville, large raids have also become much more frequent.
Worksite enforcement, in turn, is used to dramatize Bush reform proposals that come from some of the country's largest corporations. In 1999 a group of corporate trade associations, in industries employing large numbers of immigrant workers, formed the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition because U.S. industry, it said, faced a huge labor shortage. "Part of the solution," EWIC announced, "involves allowing companies to hire foreign workers to fill the essential worker shortages."
The group, headed by the US Chamber of Commerce, includes the American Meat Institute, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (Wal Mart, among others), the National Council of Chain Restaurants, and other industry associations. While EWIC doesn't contribute money directly to political campaigns, any politician its lobbyists visit know EWIC member industries give plenty. In the 2000 election cycle, for instance, the meat processing industry gave $1,292,877 -- $145,520 to Democrats and $1,143,107 to Republicans. So far in 2008, the restaurant industry has already given $7,361,945 ($2,918,797 / $4,427,704).
In an August 2001 letter to Bush, EWIC argued for "a temporary worker framework that provides a role for such workers whose labor is needed in the US." A 2002 Cato Institute report, authored by Daniel T. Griswold, said "the experience of the bracero program demonstrates that workers prefer the legal channel." A huge temporary visa program "should be created that would allow Mexican nationals to remain in the United States to work for a limited period." EWIC and its member associations immediately greeted the report. The National Restaurant Association warned that restaurants faced "a worker shortage of 1.5 million jobs," and said the plan "would give employers greater opportunities to fill these jobs."
The Bush administration issued its own proposals a year and a half later, and they were identical to those in the report. Cato's ties to the media helped guest worker proposals achieve greater legitimacy. When the Institute asserted that industries face a tremendous labor shortage, rather than a corporate unwillingness to pay higher wages to attract workers, much of the media treated it as fact. Cato and EWIC members shared an aversion to minimum wages. Rob Rosado, director of legislative affairs for the American Meat Institute, said "We don't want the government setting wages [in guest worker programs.] The market determines wages."
EWIC's ideas were embraced by Democrats as well as Republicans. The McCain/Kennedy, Hegel/Martinez and STRIVE bills all shared a similar architecture. They established large guest worker programs, allowing corporations and contractors to recruit hundreds of thousands of workers a year outside the country, on temporary visas that would force them to leave if they became unemployed. To force workers to come only as guest workers, and to stay in the program once they were in the U.S., the bills all mandated a tighter border to make crossing without papers more difficult, and beefed-up employer sanctions to make it impossible to hold a job without a guest worker visa.
In the bracero program of the 1950s and early 1960s, many workers simply remained in the U.S., working under the table until they found a way to get a permanent visa. Many workers in current guest worker programs also stay in the country as undocumented immigrants, even though getting permanent status has become almost impossible. The enforcement provisions sought to cut off that option.
"Enforcement is not an issue you can separate from guest worker programs," says Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. An SPLC report, Close to Slavery, documents extensive abuse of workers in current programs, and the benefit to employers of a workforce with few rights, whose vulnerable status makes organizing to raise wages difficult. "Immigration enforcement is structurally necessary for these programs," she explains.
Most comprehensive bills also contained legalization provisions for currently undocumented people, but would have imposed fines and long waiting periods from 11 to 18 years, during which time applicants would be as vulnerable as ever. Employers, however, would be immune to employer sanctions for employing them, while recruiting new workers through guest worker programs.
A much more liberal immigration bill sponsored by Congress member Sheila Jackson Lee and members of the Congressional Black Caucus was dismissed as "politically unrealistic" because it contained no guest worker program. EWIC anchored an alliance with immigration lawyers, establishment civil rights organizations and several unions. John Gay, representing the National Restaurant Association in EWIC, became board chair of the National Immigration Forum, a powerful mainstream immigration lobbying group in Washington. Tamar Jacoby, former staffer at the rightwing Manhattan Institute, was one of the coalition's most prominent spokespeople. Today she has organized a new corporate lobby, ImmigrationWorks, that includes EWIC, National Council of La Raza, the National Restaurant Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. One key affiliate, the Federation of Employers and Workers of America, calls itself "the national voice of the existing legal guest worker programs," and represents industry associations that push for them.
After Congress failed to pass a guest worker/enforcement/legalization package, the administration began to implement its enforcement proposals through increased raids. "But we would have had raids with those bills too, because of their enforcement and funding provisions," says Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
The administration also used the bills' failure as a pretext for relaxing restrictions on current guest worker programs. ICE Director Julie Myers told the Detroit Economic Club in April that "the administration has both streamlined the H2-A [agricultural guest worker visa] application process and has given U.S. employers more flexibility... These changes will make it easier for agricultural employers to hire foreign temporary or seasonal labor to harvest crops." It also allowed employers seeking H2-B guest workers to simply "attest" that they'd tried to find local workers, rather than have the Department of Labor certify that they'd made a real effort.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, the AFL-CIO and immigrant rights groups have bitterly opposed these changes. Employers have generally supported them. "We see employers on the Hill all the time, saying they have to have guest workers. At one hearing they had to open extra rooms to accommodate all the lobbyists," Bauer fumes. "And support is coming, not just from Republicans, but from Democrats like Barbara Mikulski, Zoe Lofgren, Ted Kennedy and even John Conyers."

Making it a crime for an undocumented person to hold a job is made possible by the Immigration Reform and Control Act, passed in 1986. Prior to that, workers could be deported for being in the U.S. without a visa, but working itself was not a crime. The then-Immigration and Naturalization Service conducted some workplace raids, but immigrants were either forced to leave the country voluntarily, or held for deportation hearings. They could make bail.
In the late 1970s, the INS and others began seeking laws to make it illegal for people without papers to work, and for employers to hire them. They argued that if people could not work legally, they would leave. The INS campaigned for passage of IRCA (then the Simpson-Mazzoli and Simpson-Rodino bills), with a wave of raids called Operation Jobs. Agents would arrest workers in a factory, and go to the local unemployment office to hold a press conference. With reporters and unemployed workers in tow, they'd return to the raided factory, claiming they'd "created" jobs. They would then demand that Congress pass sanctions.
Raids became more difficult after the INS was sued by Molders Union Local 164 and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in the early 1980s. After the suit was won, agents had to stop their practice of locking workers in a factory, interrogating foreign-looking people about their legal status, and instead were required to have warrants naming specific individuals.
Then IRCA's passage made it a federal offense for an employer to hire someone without immigration papers, and for that person to hold a job. Job applicants now have to provide two pieces of identification to show their status, and a Social Security number. By inspecting employer hiring records, INS agents can come up with the names of workers to put on warrants for a raid.
Immigrants didn't go home, however. Defenders of sanctions ignored the ongoing displacement of people by structural adjustment programs in Mexico and other developing countries, reinforced by the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In the NAFTA years, over six million Mexicans came to live in the U.S. Since relatively few visas are available for legal immigration, most came without them.
Although Bush officials claim worksite enforcement hardly existed before the present administration, the current wave actually started in the Clinton era. The Social Security Administration began sending letters to employers listing employees' names and numbers that didn't match SSA records. Employers were then left free (and often encouraged) to assume that the reason for the mismatch was that the workers were undocumented. After numerous employers used the letters to fire activist workers during union campaigns, unions and immigrant advocates convinced SSA to include language in the letters warning employers not to construe a mismatch as evidence of lack of immigration status. Nevertheless, although no count has ever been made, thousands of undocumented workers have lost their jobs because of the letters.
In 1999, using Social Security numbers in Operation Vanguard, INS agents sifted through the names of 24,310 workers in 40 meatpacking plants throughout Nebraska. They then sent letters to 4,762, demanding they report to INS agents at their jobs. A thousand did, of whom 34 were arrested and deported. The rest, over 3500 people, were forced to find new jobs. One of Operation Vanguard's architects, INS Dallas District Director Mark Reed, claimed success, saying the operation was really intended to pressure Congress and employer groups to support guest worker legislation. "We depend on foreign labor," he declared. "If we don't have illegal immigration anymore, we'll have the political support for guest workers." Reed and the INS also conducted more traditional raids during those years, seizing workers for deportation at Nebraska Beef, Montfort Packing, Tyson Foods, and other plants.
Social Security grew so uncomfortable with the use of its database for immigration enforcement that after Operation Vanguard the agency refused to make it available for similar operations in other states. Today, however, ICE seems to have regained access to the files, and now uses mismatches to identify workers for raids, and to charge them with criminal offenses. Meanwhile, the money paid by undocumented workers under bad numbers reached $586 billion in 2006. Since those workers may never collect benefits based on those earnings (which go into the Earnings Suspense File), they are contributing a huge subsidy to the retirement of all Social Security recipients.
Worksite enforcement actions accelerated enormously after George W. Bush took office. Following the 9/11 attacks, raids dubbed Operation Tarmac targeted airports around the country, leading to the firing and deportation of hundreds of mostly food service workers. After the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the new Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took over from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service, and more raids followed.
The administration used worksite enforcement actions to dramatize its call for comprehensive immigration reform (the shorthand name given by Washington groups to the bills combining guest workers, increased enforcement and legalization). On April 10, 2006, the first huge immigrant rights march took place in Los Angeles, protesting House passage of the Sensenbrenner bill (HR 4437) the previous December, which would have made undocumented status a federal felony. On April 19, 1187 workers were arrested at plants of IFCO Systems North America, Inc. in New York, Texas, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Then in December, after the Senate passed an immigration bill more in line with administration proposals, ICE mounted probably the largest workplace raid in U.S. history, detaining 1282 workers at six Swift and Co. packinghouses.
The administration's drive was dramatized by other large-scale, highly publicized worksite sweeps. They included the arrest of 81 plastics workers at Iridium Industries in Poconos, Pennsylvania, 136 chicken workers at George's Processing in Missouri, 165 workers at Portland's Fresh Del Monte produce plant, 327 workers at the Michael Bianco leather factory in New Bedford, and 200 janitors for Rosenbaum-Cunningham International in 17 states.
Once the comprehensive reform proposals died in Congress in 2007, more major raids followed, including two at the Smithfield pork slaughterhouse in Tarheel, North Carolina, which took place in the middle of one of the country's longest and hardest-fought union organizing campaigns. In addition, 130 immigrants were arrested at Micro Solutions in Van Nuys, dozens at a Fresh Direct produce warehouse in New York City, and 161 poultry workers at Koch Foods in Ohio. Just before the Postville raid, 311 workers were detained at Pilgrim's Pride plants where they cut up chickens for KFC.
As early as the IFCO raid, some workers and low-level supervisors were charged with criminal violations, not just being in the country illegally. At Swift the administration began to shape its new strategy of substituting criminal charges for status violations. Some 65 of the workers arrested there were charged with identity theft or other criminal offenses, as were the workers picked up at Smithfield. Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokesperson, told reporters outside one Swift slaughterhouse that "we have been investigating a large identity theft scheme that has victimized many U.S. citizens and lawful residents." ICE head Julie Myers told other reporters in Washington, D.C. that "those who steal identities of U.S. citizens will not escape enforcement."
Dramatic identity-theft charges were intended to gain public support for the raids and the bills in Congress, but ICE was also announcing a new strategy for criminalizing work.

ICE claims that raids and sanctions protect wages against employers' use of undocumented labor. A week after the Postville raid, ICE Director Myers claimed enforcement targeted "unscrupulous criminals who use illegal workers to cut costs and gain a competitive advantage." An ICE Worksite Enforcement Advisory claims "unscrupulous employers are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions. ... ICE's Worksite Enforcement Unit also helps employers improve worksite enforcement of employment regulations."
Actual enforcement of labor standards, however, is in freefall. On July 15 the Government Accountability Office charged that Department of Labor inspectors routinely fail to investigate complaints, and close half of them after short calls to employers.. From 1997 to 2007, the number of inspectors dropped from 942 to 732, and the number of cases went from 47,000 to 30,000, the lowest since World War Two. Meanwhile, the budget for the Border Patrol has climbed to $1.6 billion, while 15,000 agents make ICE the second-largest investigative agency in the Federal government.
The affidavit supporting ICE's search warrant for the Postville plant stated a source saw a supervisor "duct-tape the eyes of an undocumented Guatemalan worker shut and hit the Guatemalan with a meat hook, apparently not causing serious injuries. The Guatemalan did not want to report the incident because 'it would not do any good and could jeopardize his job.'" Although ICE would not identify the beaten worker or confirm his detention, it is probable that after the raid he was in Federal prison, while the supervisor continued working. The Iowa Labor Commissioner documented 57 cases of child labor at Agriprocessors and filed 9000 child labor charges against the company. Some of the 57 young people are now undoubtedly in prison or wearing electronic ankle bracelets. Although some may get temporary visas as witnesses, all will eventually be deported.
Despite ICE claims that raids protect labor standards, enforcement often helps employers attack efforts by undocumented workers to better conditions. The two raids at Smithfield's Tarheel, North Carolina, packinghouse created a climate of terror during the union organizing drive, according to organizers. When housekeepers at the Woodfin Suites in Emeryville, California, tried to enforce a new municipal living wage law, ICE investigated them at the request of Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-San Diego), and company president Samuel Hardage. According to Mejia, supervisors often used immigration status to threaten workers in a union drive at Agriprocessors a year before the raid. And at Pilgrim's Pride packing plants ICE and employers cooperated to arrest employees this spring.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jose La Luz: Latinos for Obama

Latino Voters Key to Obama Win in Battleground States
Jose La Luz Organizing for Change and Obama

The Nov.4th. presidential election is frighteningly close and labor and Latino votes are critical to a win, particularly in some Southwestern swing states. It appears that the election will be decided in fewer than 12 battleground states.
Jose La Luz is a leader in Latinos for Obama and is working in New Mexico and Colorado to organize the critical Latino vote in these battleground states. He is also the director of the Leadership Academy with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
Latino voters represent 35 percent of the electorate in New Mexico, 11 percent in Colorado, 12 percent in Nevada and 14 percent in Florida. Obama is winning the majority of Latino voters in California. In New Mexico, Obama leads McCain 56 percent to 23 percent among Latino voters. Among non-Latino voters McCain leads 50 percent to 34 percent. Who says that race is not an important issue in this election?
In Colorado, Obama has a 56 percent lead over McCain’s 26 percent among Latinos. And among non-Latino voters Obama has a narrow 45 percent lead over McCain’s 41 percent.
In Nevada, Obama leads McCain at 62 percent to 20 percent among Latinos. Yet McCain leads among non-Latino voters at 46 percent to 37 percent. The ground campaign in Nevada has registered more than 50,000 new Democrats, well enough to carry the state.
Election victories in these states will depend importantly upon Latino voter registration and voter mobilization. In California, where we are confident of an Obama win, we are calling into Nevada. Our task is to call the 150,000 undecided voters . We need to find the 50,000 who might vote for Obama. Then, Spanish speaking volunteers in Nevada go the homes of these individuals to try and convince them to vote for Obama. The telephone lists are kept and identified for get out the vote telephoning near election day.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama: the historic moment

[Photo]By Carl Pinkston
BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator

On August 28, 2008, Barack Obama made history by standing before an audience of 85,000 in INVESCO Field at Mile High stadium accepting his nomination as a presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. At least 35 million people were watching on television while Barack Obama and family stood before the world and declared a new day has arrived with a sense of hope and purpose. But for 36.4 million people of African descent, they will break down in tears of joy knowing that life in the United States has not been a crystal stair. They know that for Barack Obama and for another 36.4 million people of African descent this moment in history was not easy or clear.

Why is this moment historic?

To people of African descent living in the United States, Obama represented many years of hope, false starts, failures and fears. Let me begin with hope. Peoples of African descent in the United States have known capture by slave traders, the middle passage and enslavement for almost 300 years. During those terrible periods, African Descended people maintained hope for a better life. They did not give up hope and sometimes they fought back in open rebellion or quiet resistance. As one spiritual song said:

O freedom, O freedom, O freedom after a while, And before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave, And go home to my Lord and be free.
The Civil War ended formal slavery and for the short period of Reconstruction African descended people burst forth into United States politics. Laws were passed providing for public education for all, equality of voting, and economic development. The reconstruction period ended with massive violence which forced African Descended people back into a new form of slavery – Jim Crow. For the next sixty years African Descended people were faced with the most brutal forms of exploitation, segregation, and racial subordination. During the Jim Crow period, African Descended people never once gave up on hope for a better life. They traveled north to Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, New York and the West coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, and Seattle). They fought battles on the legal front, political front, from the school to the hospital ward. Or as W. E. B. Dubois wrote in 1897, that African Descended people:
“still press on, they still nurse the dogged hope, - not a hope of nauseating patronage, not a hope of reception into charmed social circles of stock-jobbers, pork-packers, and earl-hunters, but the hope of a higher synthesis of civilization and humanity, a true progress, with the chorus ‘Peace, good will to men”
By 1954, the Civil Rights movement exploded on the scene. Once again hope was in the air. Commencing with the Brown vs Topeka Board of Education and the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott launched a massive wave of mass protest that did not end until the Vietnam War. The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and affirmation action laws were all tools of hope that gave rise to the new black middle class and hope for African Descended people. The Black power movement and the rise of the Black Panther Party gave both militancy and hope for the youth. By the 1980’s, the rise of crack, gangs, poor schools, no jobs, the collapse of the inner city, the poor and working poor African Descended people were faced with new challenges – Post Civil Right capitalism. During the 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s, Black youth were incarcerated at greater rates than white youth. Funding for the criminal justice system increased 600% while funding for schools increased a miserable 25%. The poor and working poor African Descended people are faced with triple trap doors of incarceration, lack of employment, and inadequate education. But in the midst of all that pain and difficulty African descended people still had hope. 2Pac said this best:
Baby don't cry, I hope you got your head upEven when the road is hard, never give upBaby don't cry, I hope you got your head upEven when the road is hard, never give up -Keep ya head up
Since 1619, African Descended people arriving in the United States had only hopes to keep them going. August 28, 2008, Obama now has given many African Descended people's a new level of hope to stand up for change.
What about false starts and failure?
By 1964, a major political re-alignment occurred when African Descended people gave 95% support behind the Democratic Party and opened a new arena for political leadership. In 1968, an unknown African Descended woman named Shirley Chisholm ran as the Democratic candidate for New York's 12th District congressional seat and was elected to the House of Representatives. Shirley Chisholm would become the first African Descended woman to go Congress. In 1972, she made a bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Shirley Chisholm won 28 delegates during the primary process. Shirley Chisholm campaigned hard and long but it would only become a symbolic act. Shirley Chisholm proved that running on a Democratic ticket can be done and that African Descended people do have the capacity and the ability to run a national campaign.
By 1984, Jesse Jackson understood that in order to build a national campaign he would have to build a base outside of the Democratic Party. Jesse Jackson's campaign was founded on building a Rainbow Coalition as a base of support and as a vehicle to capture the nomination of the Democratic Party. During the 1984 campaign, he and the Rainbow Coalition were locked out of the Party. The Black politicians remain committed to white candidates and viewed Jackson's campaign as a one-time effort. However, Jesse Jackson came back in 1988, with the Rainbow Coalition and a national campaign (institutional structure, money, and staff) to take to all fifty states. Jessie Jackson was on his way to becoming the first serious Black contender for the nomination after the Michigan Democratic caucus. But the with his defeat in Wisconsin primary race, whites viewed Jessie Jackson as a Black candidate and white racism was not going allow a person of African Descent to win the nomination. Although Jesse had captured 6.9 million votes and won 11 contests; seven primaries (Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Virginia) and four caucuses (Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont), he was still a person of African descent.
Barack Obama was able to learn from these experiences. Living and working as a community activist on the South Side of Chicago, he understood that you need to have your own institutions and a broad base of support. To people of African Descent we understand that we cannot have a person of African Descent speaking only for us, but the candidate needs to understand that to obtain African descended support you have to support our core positions and serve as a defender against right wing attacks. Obama represents the culmination of failure and false starts of African Descended people's historical mission to nominate a person of African descent for president in the United States. Today, Obama is standing on the history of false starts and failures.
Our Fears
Most elders of African Descent carry the fears of what racism can do to Black leaders in the United States. The first and most obvious fear was that Obama would be killed before he got to the White House. White racism is very deep in the United States; African Descended people love Obama to such a degree that they prefer him alive not winning the presidency than dead and killing a dream. To many Blacks the word is “we cannot afford another Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to die”.
But an even greater fear of African Descended people is covert racism. Covert racism prevented Shirley Chisholm from having institutional resources to run a campaign. Covert racism prevented Jesse Jackson from winning the nomination by viewing Jesse as a Black candidate. Black folks did not forget the Chisholm and Jackson experiences and believe that covert racism would befall Obama as well. In the beginning, no pundits, political advisors and a many people of African Descend believed that Barack Obama could overcome all the obstacles that would be put in front of him.

On January 3, 2008, Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucus in a state with African descended people constituting 2.5 percent of the Iowa state’s population. After the Iowa win, convert racism was put into high gear in the United States. The first challenge Obama had to faced was in January, 2008, when Bill Clinton stated, “ And there’s no difference in your voting record and Hillary’s ever since. Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” Next Obama would face another attacked from one of his own people. Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, raised the so-called specter of Obama's past drug use.

Again, in March of 2008, Geraldine Ferraro made a racist statement that “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” It’s clear for Ms. Ferraro that Obama's background has no value. The fact that Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review is of no importance. The fact that Obama worked as a community organizer and practiced as a civil rights attorney before serving in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004 is of no importance. The fact that Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004 is of no importance. To Ferraro he is simply lucky, but to every person of African Descent there is no luck involved but overcoming the racial odds and hard work.
Once again Bill Clinton could not keep his month shut when he compared Obama's win South Carolina to that of Jesse Jackson. On May 8, 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton made a statement that, “Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.” In other words, white electors will support a white woman before they will support a person of African Descent. Next, Obama had to pass a racial litmus test. In 1984, Jesse Jackson failed the racial litmus with his connection with Louis Farrakhan. Obama was forced to disavow any connection with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. At a news conference on April 29, 2008, Barack Obama stated that Wright's remarks were “a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in the truth”. To the white electorate he had passed the racial litmus test. The African American community understood that Rev. Jeremiah Wright was speaking truth to power. However, speaking truth to power is un-welcome in United States politics.
The Clintons, Johnson, Ferraro attacks and the dumping of Rev. Wright were all designed to undermine Obama's broad base of support. The media was on a constant drumbeat to racialize Obama. The media attempted to wrap Obama in the so-called elites, inexperienced, and not acceptable to white people cloth. The fear of covert racism gave many people of African Descent reasons to be concerned that Obama would be robbed of the nomination. Today, Obama has people of African Descent's fears on his shoulder.
When on August 28, 2008, Barack Obama walked into the convention and declared, “America, This Is Our Moment”; people of African Descent interpreted the declaration as “This is our Historic Moment”.
BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Carl Pinkston, is the Education Chair of the Sacramento Area Black Caucus. Click here to contact Mr. Pinkston.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bolivia and the other Sept.11

Bolivia and the Echoes of Allende
Morales Confronts the Insurrection


September 15, 2008

As Bolivia teeters on the brink of civil war, President
Evo Morales staunchly maintains his commitment to
constructing a popular democracy by working within the
state institutions that brought him to power. The show
down with the right wing is taking place against the
backdrop of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the
overthrow of Salvador Allende, the heroic if tragic
president of Chile who believed that the formal
democratic state he inherited could be peacefully
transformed to usher in a socialist society.

Like Allende, Morales faces a powerful economic and
political elite aligned with the United States that is
bent on reversing the limited reforms he has been able
to implement during his nearly three years in power.
Early on, Morales--Bolivia's first indigenous
president--moved assertively to exert greater control
over the natural gas and oil resources of the country,
sharply increasing the hydro-carbon tax, and then using
a large portion of this revenue to provide a universal
pension to all those over sixty years old, most of whom
live in poverty and are indigenous.

The self-proclaimed Civic Committees in Media Luna
(Half Moon)--Bolivia's four eastern departments--have
orchestrated a rebellion against these changes,
demanding departmental autonomy and control of the
hydro-carbon revenues, as well as an end to agrarian
reform and even control of the police forces. The Santa
Cruz Civic Committee, dominated by agro-industrial
interests, is supporting the Cruceno Youth Union (UJC),
an affiliated group that acts as a para-military
organization, seizing and fire bombing government
offices, and attacking Indian and peasant organizations
that dare to support the national government.

Morales' efforts to transform the institutions of the
country have focused on the popularly elected
Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. The
assembly was convened in mid 2006 with representatives
from Morales' political party, the Movement Towards
Socialism (MAS) holding 54 percent of the seats. In the
drafting of the new constitution, the right wing
political parties, led by Podemos (We Can), insisted
that a two-thirds vote was needed even for the working
committees to approve the different sections of the
constitution. When they were overruled and a new
constitution was close to being approved in November,
2007, members of the assembly, including its indigenous
president, Silvia Lazarte, were assaulted in the
streets of Sucre, the old nineteenth century capital
where the assembly was being held.

Using words that evoked Allende's last stand in the
Chilean presidential palace, Evo Morales declared "dead
or alive, I will have a new constitution for the
country." He quartered the assembly in an old castle
under military protection where it adopted a
constitution that has to be approved in a national
referendum. Labeling Morales a "dictator," the civic
committees and the departmental prefects (governors) of
Media Luna were able to stall the vote on the
referendum, and instead organized departmental
referendums for autonomy in May of this year that were
ruled unconstitutional by the National Electoral

Taking recourse in democracy rather than force, and
searching for a national consensus, Morales then held
up the vote on the new constitution, and instead put
his presidency on the line in a recall referendum in
which his mandate as well as that of the prefects of
the departments could be revoked. On August 10, voters
went to the polls and Morales won a resounding 67
percent of the vote, receiving a majority of the
ballots in 95 of the country's 112 districts with even
the Media Luna department of Pando voting in his favor.

However, the insurgent prefects also had their mandates
renewed. Based on the illegal, departmental plebiscites
held in May, they moved to take control of Santa Cruz,
the richest department. UJC shock troops roamed the
streets of the city and surrounding towns, attacking
and repressing any opposition by local indigenous
movements and MAS-allied forces. Not wanting to provoke
an outright rebellion, Evo Morales did not deploy the
army or use the local police, leaving the urban area
under the effective control of the UJC.

Simultaneously, the right wing--led by the Santa Cruz
Civic Committee--began sewing economic instability,
seeking to destabilize the Morales government much like
the CIA-backed opposition did in Chile against Salvador
Allende in the early 1970s. As in Chile, the rural
business elites and allied truckers engaged in
"strikes," withholding or refusing to ship produce to
the urban markets in the western Andes where the Indian
population is concentrated, while selling commodities
on the black market at high prices. The Confederation
of Private Businesses of Bolivia called for a national
producers' shutdown if the government refused "to
change its economic policies."

The social movements allied with the government have
mobilized against this right wing offensive. In the
Media Luna, a union coalition of indigenous peoples and
peasants campaigned against voting in the autonomy
referendums, and have taken on the bands of the UJC as
they try to intimidate and terrorize people. In the
Andean highlands, the social movements descended on the
capital La Paz in demonstrations backing the Morales'
government, including a large mobilization in June that
stormed the American embassy because of its support for
the right wing. In July, the federation of coca growers
in the Chapare, where US anti-drug operations are
centered, expelled the US Agency for International

This past week the Civic Committees stepped up their
efforts to take control of the Media Luna departments.
In Santa Cruz on September 8, crowds of youth lead by
the UJC seized government offices, including the land
reform office, the tax office, state TV studios, the
nationalized telephone company Entel, and set fire to
the offices of a non-governmental human rights
organization that promotes indigenous rights and
provides legal advice. The military police, who had
been dispatched to protect many of these offices, were
forced to retreat, at times experiencing bloody blows
that they were forbidden from responding to due to
standing orders from La Paz not to use their weapons.
The commanding general of the military police, while
angrily denouncing the violent demonstrators, said that
the military could take no action unless Evo Morales
signed a degree authorizing the use of firearms.

What was in effect occurring was a struggle between
Morales and the military over who would assume ultimate
responsibility for the fighting and deaths that would
ensue with a military intervention in Media Luna. The
armed forces do not support the autonomous rebellion
because it threatens the geographic integrity of the
Bolivian nation. Yet they are reluctant to intervene
because under past governments, when they fired on and
killed demonstrators in the streets of La Paz, they
were blamed for the bloodshed.

On September 10, as violence intensified throughout
Media Luna, Evo Morales expelled US ambassador Philip
Goldberg for "conspiring against democracy." The month
before, Goldberg had met with the prefect of Santa
Cruz, Ruben Costas, who subsequently declared himself
"governor" of the autonomous department and ordered the
formal take over of government offices--including those
collecting tax revenues. Costas is the principal leader
of the rebellious prefects, and the main antagonist of
Evo Morales.

September 11, the 35th anniversary of the coup against
Allende, was the bloodiest day in the escalating
conflict. In the Media Luna department of Pando, a
para-military band with machine guns attacked the
Indian community of El Porvenir, near the departmental
capital of El Cobija, resulting in the death of at
least 28 people. In a separate action, three policemen
were kidnapped. The Red Ponchos, an official militia
reserve unit of Indians loyal to Evo Morales, mobilized
its forces to help the indigenous communities organize
their self defense.

The next day Morales declared a state of siege in Pando
and dispatched the army to move on Cobija and to retake
its airport that had been occupied by right wing
forces. Army units are also being sent to guard the
natural gas oleoducts, one of which had been seized by
the UJC, cutting the flow of gas to neighboring Brazil
and Argentina. General Luis Trigo Antelo, the commander
in chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces declared: "We
will not tolerate any more actions by radical groups
that are provoking a confrontation among Bolivians,
causing pain and suffering and threatening the national
security." In signing the order authorizing the use of
force in Pando, Morales stated that he felt responsible
for the humiliation of the military and the police by
radicals and vandals because he had not authorized them
to use their weapons. This was the quid pro quo for
getting the military high command to act.

After sustained fighting with at least three dead, the
army took control of the airport and moved on the city.
An order for the arrest of the prefect of Pando was
issued for refusing to recognize the state of siege and
for being responsible for the massacre in El Porvenir.
In Santa Cruz, the police arrested 8 rioters of the
UJC. Peasant organizations have announced they will
march on the city to retake control of the government
offices. The dissident prefects, led by Costas, are
still demanding departmental autonomy and refusing to
accept a national vote on the referendum for the new

Evo Morales refuses to back down, declaring in a
meeting with supportive union leaders, "we will launch
a campaign to approve the new constitution." He did,
however, indicate he may modify the draft to
accommodate some of the demands for autonomy by the
prefects. Like Allende, Morales continues to search for
a democratic solution to the crisis in his country. For
the moment, he has the backing of the Bolivian armed
forces along with overwhelming popular support, thereby
avoiding the ultimate fate of the Chilean president.

Roger Burbach is Director of the Center for the Study
of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, CA. He has
written extensively on Latin America and is the author
of "The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global

Sunday, September 14, 2008


South American Leaders Hope Diplomacy Can Save Bolivia
By Monica Vargas
September 15, 2008

SANTIAGO, Sept 14 (Reuters) - South American presidents
are racing to prevent a deeper political crisis in
Bolivia, where President Evo Morales has accused right-
wing opponents of trying to topple him, but diplomacy
may not be enough to avert more deadly protests.

Regional leaders will gather in the Chilean capital
Santiago on Monday, hoping to repeat a diplomatic
success scored in March when they coaxed Andean nations
away from armed conflict that would have pitted
Colombia, a U.S. ally, against Venezuela and Ecuador.

At that time, like now, the United States, which has
seen its influence in Latin America wane because of
President George W. Bush's war on terrorism and the rise
of leftist leaders in the region, was not at the
negotiating table.

Other regional heavyweights, especially Brazil, are
stepping in to fill the void. And virtually all South
American leaders, be they left-wing or conservative,
have rallied around Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous

The Bolivian government said on Sunday that Morales
would fly to Santiago for the meeting with the leaders
of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay
and Venezuela.

"A civil war in Bolivia would be terrible not just for
Bolivia but for the region. It would would affect the
national security of many countries," said Ricardo
Israel, a professor of international relations in Chile.

"Expectations are too high. The only thing the leaders
can do is encourage both sides in Bolivia to negotiate,
and it's not clear they will agree to do that."


Bolivia, a volatile country in the center of South
America, has suffered chaos in the past week during
clashes between supporters of Morales and right-wing
governors who want more autonomy. About 30 people have

The summit will be a test of the nascent South American
Union of Nations, or Unasur, a 12-member group created
in May. Its key members participated in a Group of Rio
summit in March that quickly ended the Andean crisis.

Both groups are seen as alternatives to the U.S.-
dominated Organization of American States, or OAS.

In an unusual move, right-wing governors opposed to
Morales' plans for deep socialist reforms demanded a
seat at the table in Santiago with regional heads of
state, though their plea could be denied.

The leaders may have their hands full just trying to
craft a diplomatic response that pleases everybody.

Brazil, which depends on natural gas imports from
Bolivia, is keenly worried about energy security, while
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Morales, has
entered a loud diplomatic dispute with Washington.

Chavez expelled the U.S. ambassador on Thursday -- after
Morales threw out the American ambassador in La Paz and
accused him of fomenting protests against his leftist

Washington, in retaliation, sent home diplomats from the
two countries and imposed sanctions on Venezuelan
officials it accused of helping Colombian rebels smuggle

"The Unasur leaders are in somewhat of a trap. On the
one hand, they want to show their support to a
democratic, unified and stable Bolivia. On the other,
they need to distance themselves from Chavez's personal
feud with the U.S.," said Patricio Navia, a political
scientist at New York University.

(Additional reporting by Ray Colitt in Santa Cruz,
Bolivia; Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Fiona Ortiz
and David Wiessler)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

ICE Raids and union solidarity

Original Workers Overcome Divisions After
Mississippi Raid

Monday 08 September 2008

by: David Bacon, t r u t h o u t | Report


Laurel, Mississippi - In the recent raid of the Howard
Industries electrical plant in Laurel, Mississippi, 481
workers have been detained for almost two weeks in
Jena, Louisiana. Neither they nor their attorneys know
when they will be formally charged, deported or
released, and Barbara Gonzalez, spokesperson for the
Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says
simply, "Their cases are being investigated."

"We don't know the fate of those people or what they
may be charged with," says Patricia Ice, attorney for
the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA).
"These people were rounded up and just dumped in a
privately run detention center. We've heard reports
that there weren't even enough beds and that people
were sleeping on the floor. Because they haven't been
charged, so far as we know, there's no process for them
to get bail. My gut reaction is that this is an

Ironically, Jena was the site last year of massive
protests over racial discrimination in the criminal
justice system, after a group of young African-American
men faced felony charges in a confrontation with a
group of young white men, who were not charged.

Approximately 100 women were released the day of the
Laurel raid for "humanitarian reasons," to care for
children or because they are pregnant, according to
ICE, and 50 of them have been required to wear ankle
bracelets with electronic monitoring devices. Their
situation is also desperate, according to MIRA
organizer Victoria Cintra. "People were living paycheck
to paycheck and rent is due," she explains. "They can't
work and provide for their families now, and many
others are dependent on husbands and fathers and
brothers who were all detained. We need to redefine
what humanitarian means."

Meanwhile, MIRA and other labor and community activists
say media coverage of the raid has heightened racial
tensions. Newspaper stories have painted a picture of a
plant in which African-American and white union members
were hostile to immigrants, based mostly on an incident
in which some workers "applauded" as their coworkers
were taken away by ICE agents. This simplistic picture
obscures the real conditions in the plant, activists
say, and the role the company itself played in
fomenting divisions among workers.

According to Clarence Larkin, African-American
president of IBEW Local 1317, the union at the plant,
"this employer pits workers against each other by
design, and breeds division among them that affects
everyone," he says. "By favoring one worker over
another, workers sometimes can't see who their real
enemy is. And that's what helps keep wages low."

Workers at Howard Industries, however, do not simply
look at each other as enemies across race lines. On
August 28, Cintra led a group of women fired in the
raid to the plant to demand their pay, after the
company denied them paychecks. Managers called Laurel
police. "They tried to intimidate us with 10 vehicles
of police and sheriffs. They tried to arrest me and
make us leave." After workers began chanting, "Let her
go!" and news reporters appeared on the scene, the
company finally agreed to distribute checks to about 70

The following day, Cintra and the women returned to the
plant to get paychecks for other unpaid workers. They
sat on the grass across the street from the factory in
a silent protest. "When the shift changed,
African-American workers started coming out and they
went up to these Latina women and began hugging them.
They said things like, "We're with you. Do you need any
food for your kids? How can we help? You need to assert
your rights. We're glad you're here. We'll support
you.' There's a lot of support inside the factory for
these workers who were caught up in the raid."

Meanwhile, the union has been in negotiations with the
company since its contract expired at the beginning of
August. In preparation for those negotiations, the IBEW
brought in a Spanish-speaking organizer, Maria
Gonzalez, to recruit immigrant workers into the union.
She visited people at home to help explain the benefits
of belonging. Larkin says many immigrant workers
joined, complaining of bad treatment. "Supervisors yell
at people a lot," he says, "not just immigrants, but at
everyone. Howard has always been an anti-employee
company, and treats workers with no respect, as though
they make no contribution to its success."

When workers have volunteered to become stewards,
Larkin says, or to serve on the negotiations committee,
the company "institutes a very aggressive discipline
against them, so people fear reprisals. It's a
challenge to get people involved. Bear in mind, this is
the South. It's always a tall order to talk about
forming a union here."

Local 1317 hasn't been as active as other unions in
nearby poultry plants, however, in bringing workers
together across racial divides. In Mississippi fish
plants, Jaribu Hill, director of the Mississippi
Workers Center, has worked with unions to help workers
understand the dynamics of race. "We have to talk about
racism," she says. "The union focuses on the contract,
but skin color issues are still on the table. We don't
try to be the union, but we do try to keep a focus on
human rights." Organizing a multi-racial workforce
means recognizing the divisions between
African-Americans and immigrants. "We're coming
together like a marriage," she warns, "working across
our divides."

Hill says it's important for workers to understand the
historical price paid for racial division in the South.
"Our conditions are the direct result of slavery," she
explains. "Today, Frito Lay wages in Mississippi are
still much lower than Illinois - $8.75 compared to
$13.75 an hour. This is the evolution of a historical
oppression. Immigrants have come here looking for
better lives - we came in chains."

Larkin makes the same point. Wages at Howard
Industries, the world's largest manufacturer of
electrical transformers, are $2 lower than other
companies in the industry, he says. That difference
goes into the pocket of the Howard family. "The people
who profit from Mississippi's low wage system want to
keep it the way it is," alleges Jim Evans, a national
AFL-CIO staff member in Mississippi, a leading member
of the state legislature's Black Caucus, and MIRA's
board chair.

Some state labor leaders, however, have contributed to
racial divisions and anti-immigrant hostility. After
the Howard Industries workers, many of them union
members, were arrested, state AFL-CIO President Robert
Shaffer told The Associated Press that he doubted that
immigrants could join unions if they were not in the
country legally. US labor law, however, holds that all
workers have union rights, regardless of immigration
status. It also says unions have a duty to represent
all members fairly and equally.

Divisions are likely to be deepened as well by repeated
public statements by ICE spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez
that the raid took place because of a tip by a "union
member" two years before. She claimed ICE waited two
years before conducting the raid, because "we took the
time needed for our investigation," but declined to say
how that investigation was conducted, or what led ICE
to believe the tip had come from a union member.

"It's hard to believe that a two-year-old phone call to
ICE led to this raid, but whether or not the call ever
took place, that possibility is a product of the
poisonous atmosphere fostered by politicians of both
parties in Mississippi," says MIRA director Chandler.
"In the last election, Barbour and Republicans
campaigned against immigrants to get elected, but so
did all the Democratic statewide candidates except
Attorney General Jim Hood. The raid will make the
climate even worse."

During the 2007 election campaign, the Ku Klux Klan
organized a 500-person rally in Tupelo, and when MIRA
organizer Erik Fleming urged Republican Governor Haley
Barbour to veto a bill making work a felony for the
undocumented, he was attacked by state anti-immigrant

Evans called the raid "an effort to drive immigrants
out of Mississippi. It is also an attempt to drive a
wedge between immigrants, African-Americans, white
people and unions - all those who want political change
here. But it will just make us more determined," he
declared. "We won't go back to the kind of racism
Mississippi has known throughout its past."

_David Bacon ____________________________________________

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sacramento Congress of African Peoples

Call To Action: “Seize the Moment”

Sacramento---The Sacramento Congress of African Peoples (CAP) in collaboration with a host of individuals and organizations (please see list of co-sponsors on page 2); will present the 2nd Annual Black Political Convention Saturday, September 20, 2008 from 9:00am to 5:00pm at Faith Fellowship Community Church, 5937 Watt Avenue, North Highlands, CA 95660. The convention is free and open to the public.

Purpose of the Convention: The convention will serve to inform the local Black population about offices, candidacies, ballot measures, and to lead to maximum involvement of Black people in the political process. Representatives of the various presidential campaigns, city council campaigns, school board campaigns, assembly campaigns, senate campaigns, congressional campaigns, and ballot measures will be present.

The Black Political Convention is a well-established practice in the United States. The first were national conventions held between 1830 and 1861 in what is frequently referred to as the "Black Convention Movement." An important Black convention was held in 1924 in Chicago. The National Negro Congress met between 1936 and 1940. In 1972 the National Black Assembly began meeting and drafted "The National Black Agenda" which became the legislative agenda of the Congressional Black Caucus. The National Black Assembly met in 1972, 1976, and 1980. The Black Convention movement has been well represented in California and Chicago. The first statewide Black convention was held in Sacramento in 1855. The second statewide Black convention was also held in Sacramento in 1856. In 1979 Del Paso Heights held a Black Convention which selected a candidate for the city council seat in district 2. The Summit of African American Concerns was an area wide convention held in 1990. We are following a well-established tradition.

The Sacramento Black Political Convention will have several original features:

· Proportional representation: The convention will announce the proportional votes of those in attendance
· for each candidate represented at the convention.
· Presentations by all candidates or their representatives who agree to participate.
· Opportunities for those present to vote for candidates of their choices and have the votes count, regardless of which candidate gets the most votes. The elections covered will be:
1 Presidential
2 Sacramento: Mayor, Selected Council Districts
3 Citrus Heights and Elk Grove
4 Selected School Districts, including SCUSD, Elk Grove, Folsom/Cordova, and Natomas Unified School District.
Sacramento Black Political Convention 2008

Endorsers and Sponsors:
Black United Fund of Sacramento Valley
Black Women Organized for Political Action
The Black Group
All of Us or None
Congress of African People
Dr. David Covin
Kakwasi Somadhi
The Honorable Lauren Hammond
The International Women’s Business Forum
Sacramento NAACP
Sacramento Area Black Caucus
The Foundation for Human Empowerment, Inc
The Abdullah Islamic Foundation
Sharon Stoddard
Donna Banks
David & Denise DeLuz
Carl Pinkston
Mathilde Mukantabana
Chastity E. Benson
Faye Kennedy

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

ICE Raids: the real costs

Tough on workers, but not employers

The recent roundup of hundreds of undocumented workers is a symptom of America's broken immigration policy
Gabino Zavala
Monday September 01 2008

Last Monday, US immigration and custom enforcement (ICE) agents swooped down on a manufacturing plant in Laurel, Mississippi, and detained almost 600 workers on suspicion of violations of immigration laws. This raid represents an escalation in Washington's war on the undocumented, surpassing the shock and scale of the recent raid in Postville, Iowa.

The dramatic scale and human cost of the raid strain credulity. Five-hundred ninety-five workers arrested. Four-hundred seventy-five immediately transferred to a holding facility to the infamous town of Jena, Louisiana, proving once again that irony is not dead. Nine workers under the age of 18 transferred to the custody of the federal office of refugee resettlement, supposedly to Miami, Florida, although information is sketchy.

Those 595 workers leave behind almost 300 children under the age of five and 187 school-age children to be cared for by someone, anyone - who, exactly? Clearly, in the mind of ICE, the almost 500 children left fatherless, motherless, auntless, uncless or just plain parentless are collateral damage in the war for who can be "toughest" on the immigration issue. Eight workers detained on aggravated identify-theft violations, one of whom is pregnant. ICE officials promise due process and respect for the rights of the accused, but given the mass criminal trials held on the grounds of the Cattle Congress in Iowa - like a twisted version of a cultish mass wedding - advocates and workers alike have good reason to be suspicious.

Numbers alone do not accurately convey the scope of this disaster and the flawed, draconian actions that precipitated it. Whole neighbourhoods are emptied of inhabitants, whether those detained by raid or those who have fled to local churches in fear. "Cars are being broken into, houses are empty, kids want to know where their parents are," says Marie Thompson, director of Mississippi Poultry Workers for Empowerment and Respect (Mpower). "It's a humanitarian disaster."

Mpower is a small workers centre staffed by two dedicated advocates for the rights of low-wage workers in Mississippi. This staff has suddenly been thrust into a role usually reserved for the UN high commissioner for refugees or aid agencies like the Red Cross. An emotional Thompson is left confronting the massive challenge of coordinating aid efforts for families that fear they will be next, and who have received little to no information about their loved ones and have no idea where to turn.

It is, to steal a theme from a recent speech, the most ordinary of ordinary Americans that are standing in the gap and being their brothers' and sisters' keepers. It is the clergy who have supported Mpower from its founding and Father Kent Ramon Landry of Sacred Heart Church in Hattiesburg who are providing the literal sanctuary, the cups of cold water - who are weeping with those who weep and who are scrambling to find lawyers, legal documents and loved ones.

It would be comical if the consequences weren't so dire that blue-shirted ICE agents congregated in a fast food restaurant claimed to a New York Times reporter that a "little inspection" was going on. It is appalling that workers were essentially rendered to Louisiana and Florida, according to most accounts, with minimal translation or explanation of where they were going. It is a sad commentary on the state of justice in the US that the same actions were deemed as correct process by a judge in Iowa who rendered as acceptable the guilty pleas of immigrant workers, many of whom did not speak English and were offered minimal translation. As rents come due, the diapers and wipes run out, and as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the Gulf coast, the disaster just grows in scope.

Is this not a sad, tragic commentary on the state of worker rights and the priorities of our national government and political class? A huge, coordinated effort that required intense planning and vast resources swoops up workers and whisks them away to who knows where, while local churches, workers centres and individuals of good will are left to pick up the pieces the best they can. Public agencies, funded by taxpayer money, are accountable to no one in their application of due process or even in their steadfast refusal to provide timely, complete and accurate information on the whereabouts, conditions and future of hundreds of people, including minors.

Employers routinely violate workers' rights and abuse, threaten and mistreat the undocumented labourers they knowingly hire. These hard-working, undocumented people who have come to the US to escape poverty and misery are terrorised by shotgun-wielding ICE agents and deemed criminals. Our immigration policy is broken, but it is not broken in isolation. We have substituted a blame-the–victim, tough-on-immigrants policy for a government that protects the rights of all workers, regardless of race, national origin, education level or documentation status. We have allowed the real lawbreakers - those who violate wage and hour laws, health and safety laws and other basic workplace protections - off the hook while clamping down on workers.

It is time for those who care about workers rights and human dignity to declare: no more Postvilles, no more Laurels, no more humanitarian disasters created by a flawed immigration policy. The children of central Mississippi and Postville deserve no less.