Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Students and workers striking across France


By Richard Greeman

Montpellier, France
April 1, 2118

Not an 'April Fool' joke. Here are the facts:

Four days ago, (March 29) the ultra-conservative Dean of the Montpellier University Law School was summoned to police headquarters, interrogated, hauled into court, and held over in jail for arraignment by the Chief Prosecutor – all on the complaint of nine student strikers, who claim to have been brutally assaulted with Dean Philippe Pétel’s active complicity while ‘occupying’ a school auditorium.

The students, backed by live videos, described Dean Pétel encouraging masked thugs with wooden staves to burst into a Law School auditorium and violently expel a few dozen students who were ‘occupying’ it as part of the University-wide student strike. The thugs were videoed brutally beating students, even on the ground, and several were injured. The thugs then returned to the antechamber, where a counter-demonstration of conservative anti-strike law students including Pétel and several other faculty, was waiting. The Dean was videoed congratulating the bulked-out masked aggressors, whom no one was able to identify as students. The building was locked, but Pétel had the key to the antechamber from which the attackers issued. The complicity of other faculty members present is under police examination, and one has been arrested.

Within hours, the Law School attacks were all over the social networks, and student strikers, human rights groups, civil rights lawyers were busy organizing demonstrations and protests for the next day, framing it as a ‘fascist aggression.’ This epithet is less of an exaggeration then it may seem, as the tradition of law students supplying the thuggish muscle for extreme-right groups here in France goes back for over a century (as I recall from my student days in Paris opposing the Algerian War). As we all know, student striker complaints of police brutality normally go unheeded, and protests against them may bring down even more police punishment. Deans who ‘stand firm’ against occupiers get promoted. How then to explain this “man bites dog” reversal in Montpellier University (founded 1279)?

Today in France, twelve universities are already on strike, and the social and labor situation is heating up rapidly. Here in Montpellier, Université Paul Valéry, the Liberal Arts University, just voted an open-ended strike and blockade of classes at an outdoor General Assembly attended by over 2,000 students. So far, the mood has been temperate. Support for the strike is near unanimous, but there is deep division over the tactic of blocking classes, especially among first-year students who are worried about their exams (which will probably now be put off). Some profs are offering their courses on line and a radical ‘free university’ called “Vincennes2.0” in memory of Paris in May 1968 has been set up. The local high schools are also full of agitation, with two or three “on strike” and riot cops hanging around and making arrests. The situation is tense.

What’s At Stake for the Macron Government?

The paradox in this story is not the Dean Pétel’s more-or-less traditional role in the attack , but the Prosecutor’s outlandish decision to hold a venerable Law Dean in the clink. To be sure, Pétel, a youngish cocksure neo-conservative, was ‘asking for it.’ He at first openly bragged of his role, oblivious to circumstances and the consequences, and made the national TV news and the front page of the big Paris papers. But my guess is that the order to lock him up came from Paris. In centralized, hierarchical France the Prosecutor answers to the Prefect who answers to the Minister of Justice who answers to the President. President Macron, who has laid down a major long-term challenge to both the students and public service workers, wants to push through his reforms as quickly and as smoothly as possible. The social situation is heating up, and Macron is too smart to polarize the situation further and waste political capital on a far-right loser. He also wants to be seen as impartial and as willing to strike his enemies on the Right as on the Left (as he no doubt will when the student and worker struggles really heat up).

The immediate issue for the university students is President Macron’s educational ‘reform,’ which like all of his ‘reforms’ will be imposed buy administrative decree, rather than through the legislative process (which normally includes lengthy discussion and amendments). Macron seems to prefer ruling by decree, although he has a solid majority of followers in the National Assembly, having split and evinced the parties of both the Left and the Right. All his moves seem carefully timed, and perhaps he fears delay. Macron prefers the ‘fast track’ method, and his authoritarian, technocratic style definitely pisses off many many French people, but especially “the people,” who have long been fed up and are suffering cutbacks while the super-rich get subsidies (sound familiar?)

France now has five million students, and thanks to constant cutbacks, there aren’t enough places for about 20% of the incoming class. Hence the creation of ‘competition’ and U.S.-style admissions offices at each school. Moreover, although all French universities are under the administration of the national Ministry of Education, Macron wants to make them ‘competitive’ with each other, like in the U.S. So some schools will be “easier” to get into, but their degrees will be “worth” less. Both these ‘reforms’ are obviously unfavorable to underprivileged students, and favorable to the privileged. They are by definition “unpopular.”

Macron has also laid down the gauntlet to public service workers including to the venerable CGT railway workers union whose militancy is legendary. Last Spring, despite militant protests, Macron succeeded in pushing through, by decree, his reformed Labor Code, taking away seniority rights and legal protections enjoyed by private sector workers and making it easier and cheaper for bosses to fire them. This Spring, instead of relying on the traditional divide-and-rule precept, Macron proposes to take on both the five million students and the five million public sector workers (about 20% of the total labor force) together. He may have bit off more than he can chew, especially with the general population in a hostile anti-government mood and ready to support these popular struggles.

For in attacking the public sector workers’ alleged ‘privileges’ and proposing to dismiss them in large numbers, Macron is effectively attacking precious, popular public services which are used by the large numbers among the popular classes. Trains, subways, hospitals, social services, public offices, roads, etc. These services have all been subject to cutbacks, which make life harder and lines longer for regular folk, and now it is obvious to all that Macron is downgrading them in preparation for privatizing them to sell off cheap to corporations, as has already happened to the French Electric Company, the French Gas Company and to most of the French Post Office. They fear he will privatize the SNCF French railroad as Margaret Thatcher, his spiritual guide, did to British Rail (which is now expensive, dangerous and mostly late).

“From One Wild May to Another?”

Fifty years ago, in 1968, the highpoint of the French May Revolt was the conjuncture of the student movements occupying the universities and the organized working class occupying the factories under the discipline of the Communist CGT and other unions: the “student-worker uprising”, as it came to be known. But to those who lived it, the conjuncture never quite jelled, as the union leaderships mostly kept the workers barricaded inside the occupied and their student supports outside, minimizing contact and exchange. A big disappointment, as recalled by a number of 1968 activists questioned by Mitchell Abidor in his lively just-published book of interviews May Made Me (PM Press, US; Pluto, GB). Perhaps today’s student and worker activists are ahead of the game and will not let themselves be ‘divided-and-ruled’ like previous generations. Also, today they have the advantage of social media which allows them to bypass the establishment media, get out their information and organize themselves in real time.



Ironically, both this first mass demonstration and the Montpellier Law School incident took place on March 22. That date marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 student occupation of the Administration building of Nanterre University which eventually set off a national general strike that shook de Gaulle’s authoritarian regime and send the General scurrying to Germany for Army support. Might something similar be in store for Macron’s France today? The public mood is somber, after long years of high unemployment, stagnant wages, neo-liberal chipping away of hard-fought social support systems and privatization of social services under Sarkozy (now also on trial!) and the “Socialist” government of François Hollande.

The echoes of the May 1968 uprising reverberate in the air. A website calling itself lespaves (cobblestones) has issued an international “call to converge in Paris on May 1st” with the slogan: “They are commemorating May ’68. We are re-starting it!”

Friday, April 06, 2018

What is your question to the general?



Suzanne Hedrick last night had the audacity to make a statement about US endless war at an event where retired Lt. Gen. Castellaw was on a panel at the University of Southern Maine.

The general is obviously not used to old women challenging the imperial project - which he says he was proud to serve - and you can see he had to work hard to keep his trigger finger in check as he berated her for daring to challenge the three-stars that used to sit atop his shoulders.

But congratulations to Suzanne - we need alot more citizens to rattle their chains against the profit making war industry and the huge (#1) carbon bootprint the Pentagon dumps onto our fragile planet.

The general should be reminded that the public is not required to salute him.

His bio reads:

For 36 years he led Marines around the world while flying more than two dozen different aircraft. Castellaw participated in humanitarian operations in Africa, the former Soviet Union, and the Philippines; served with the United Nations (UN) during the Siege of Sarajevo; commanded the American forces in the multi-national security operation in East Timor; and was the chief of staff of the U.S. Central Command at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His last tours were in the Pentagon where he oversaw Marine Aviation and then the Marine Corps budget.

Bruce

BIW/GD story still has legs....


I discovered this letter yesterday on the Local S6 Machinists union Facebook page.  Immediately after the state legislature in Maine approved the General Dynamics (GD) corporate welfare bill of $45 million the company laid off 31 shipyard workers.  The union is not happy about it.

S6 is the largest union at BIW (representing over 3,500 workers) and they refused to endorsed the bill to give corporate welfare to GD after workers were evenly divided on the issue at a membership meeting.

Then in this morning's Bangor Daily News they have a top of the mast front page of the State section article entitled: As [Governor] LePage OKs $45M tax break, BIW union lashes out about layoffs.

The article states in part: 

One day after Gov. Paul LePage signed into law a $45 million tax break for Bath Iron Works, leaders of the shipyard’s largest union blasted the management for laying off 31 employees while hiring for new positions.

In a leaflet distributed Thursday at the shipyard, leaders of Local S6 of the Machinists Union wrote that the 31 layoffs announced Friday are in addition to 27 employees still out of work due to previous layoffs, whom Local S6 president Mike Keenan said Thursday have been denied new positions.

“It’s time they look at it through the eyes of the folks getting laid off,” Keenan said. “It’s easy making a decision when you’re the guy sitting behind the desk. Try being the person who’s receiving the pink slip … maybe they should look back at the words they said in Augusta.”

In addition I received a message this morning from Rhode Island journalist Alex Nunes (who broke the GD buybacks story and DeChant emails with BIW) who wrote:

Maine folks, I have signed a legal agreement with the Law Office of David Sinclair, which has generously agreed to represent me pro bono in challenging the Bath Police Department's denial of my Freedom of Access Act request seeking documents related to the planning of policing protests at the Bath Iron Works shipyard. As many of you recall, Maine Superior Court Justice criticized police in open court for allowing the department to be "outsourced" to the company. Police Chief Michael Field said he could not disclose information relevant to this case, citing a law that exempts documents related to planning for possible terrorist activity. David Sinclair told me recently there is "no applicability of the terrorism exemption with respect to your request." Sinclair is a former Bath City councilman and a passionate defender of Freedom of Access. This article I posted previously summarizes the details of the case.

See a Nunes background article on this story here

So on it goes here in Maine as BIW/GD can't stay out of the media.  Can there be any doubt that the Bath Police Department, some local media, and the state legislature have been outsourced to BIW/GD?

Expect more as the ripples keep coming....

Bruce

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Remembering the U.S. directed April 3 massacre on Jeju island



The Jeju Island April 3rd incident broke out during the US military occupation at the end of WW II and lasted for seven years.  The Jeju April 3rd massacre resulted in the loss of more than 30,000 lives due to the US Army directed counter-insurgency campaign.

After gaining independence from Japan in 1945, Korea was in turmoil due to the failure of the policies of the US military administration.  The US placed former Koreans, who had collaborated with the previous Japanese fascist occupation, in charge of the country.  Army officer Lt. Col. Dean Rusk (who later became US Secretary of State) made the arbitrary decision where to put the dividing line between North and South Korea.  The US then tried to force elections in the south but people who wanted real democracy in Korea rose up in protest.  The US painted all these protests as communists and began the counter-insurgency campaign that killed more than 100,000 people throughout the country.

On Jeju Island the largely independent-minded peasant population was targeted by the US Army which directed a massive round-up of the people.  Jeju people were also protesting the US forced election in the south saying they had been betrayed as their demand for true democracy and real independence had been denied.  The US directed the newly formed 'Korean Constabulary' (largely made up of right-wing forces) and began the slaughter of the people on Jeju.  Villages were burned to the ground, people were forced into concentration camps, and over the next several years the extermination campaign began.

The story of the Jeju massacre was kept quiet and most people throughout Korea knew nothing about the tragic events until the full history finally emerged during the pro-democracy movement in the 1990's.  On Jeju Island families were severely punished if they ever spoke of the April 3 massacre so the truth was essentially covered up for generations.

The tragic story of the April 3 massacre takes on even greater meaning when you consider the forced construction of the Navy base in Gangjeong village which now ports Pentagon warships in the 'pivot' of 60% of US military forces into the Asia-Pacific to encircle China and Russia.  The resistance to the Navy base, now in its 13th year, is truly an outgrowth of the long-simmering resistance on Jeju Island to the US brutal colonization and domination of Korea which still continues to this very day. 

Bruce

Our killing culture in the U.S. started with the indigenous people


Agneta: Age is not a ticket out of the struggle......




Agneta Norberg lives in Stockholm, Sweden and is a board member of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.

Please enjoy this important and wonderful documentary film about her life and her work.

This film shows protests against the ongoing US-NATO takeover of significant regions of the Nordic high-north country for military exercises in preparation for war with Russia.  Most people think of the Nordic nations as neutral but that is no longer the case. 

It is a timeless and universal story about peace activism.

I loved it and love Agneta's spirit.

Bruce

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Weapons R us - the western allies



Israel's apartheid system against kids



This is purely a tactic to destroy Palestinian culture - it's genocide and illegal under international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Israel is an outlaw state and so is the United States that helps fund Israel.  The US enables all that Israel does that is illegal.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Where do we go from here?



media taken over  - Sinclair broadcasting

Political parties taken over
the lobby
now pushing the agenda

courts largely gone

jails

teachers on strike
books so old
falling apart
masking tape on them

'entitlement reform'
social security
medicare
medicaid
what's left of welfare
all to be
taken down

No corporate welfare

don't call military
'defense'
it's offensive

they want our
dumbed down kids
to go die
for
resource extraction

stop the killing
No little guns
or big guns

No corporate control

rolling the dice
for world domination
before Russia
and China
form a
wall of defiance
getting hot

it hurts so bad
to see the daily
cultural disintegration
people imploding
and exploding

everything falling apart

saw this story
in Vietnam,Yugoslavia, Iraq,
Afghanistan,
Libya, Honduras,
Congo,
Syria, Ukraine
among others

destabilize
controlled chaos
by Mr. Big

No corporate domination

They are bringing
it on home now
breaks my heart
see it coming
ear on railroad tracks
hear the train
everyone
going onto rez
population
thinning time

money trumps
everything
sanity, goodness,
protecting Mother Earth
honesty
fairness
$$$ is a sickness

No corporate lies

The world
these greedy
psychopaths
want to take us into
is a ring of fire
like Gaza

I can't
go along
with the show
and you shouldn't
either

change
in the streets
can you spare
some change?

Bruce 

Monday, April 02, 2018

Talking heads: Corporate media consolidation in the U.S.




The mainstream media is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

One voice - one message- one agenda - the total takeover of the US by the corporations. 

It's happening here in Maine as well - one man now owns virtually all the newspapers in the state except for the Bangor Daily News.

See more here 
and here

Alternative media is more important than ever.

Strong words from a Maine senator.....



A corporation wrote legislation to benefit themselves only. Classic. I guess that's just how it works around here. The legislature is being held hostage. Just because a corporation says jump, we don't need to say how high. So to recap the General Dynamics $45 million tax break:

~ Tax break isn’t designed to create jobs, in fact if thousands of jobs are lost, we are still picking up the tab
~ We don’t know how they will spend this $45 million handout because the corporation darts the question
~ Corporation hasn’t demonstrated financial need because they refuse to answer basic financial questions
~ Taking advantage of many state and local tax breaks already beyond this one
~ Parent company already has committed to at least a $100 million investment without this break
~ Profits have soared to $3 billion last year alone and CEO makes $20 million, this isn’t an emergency


I'm not against public investment to incentivize new job creation, but folks this is not it. There are better ways to create economic opportunity and better tax incentive programs that need resources.


By Maine Sen. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) who serves on the Taxation Committee that held public hearings on the GD corporate welfare bill.  Chenette was one of only two on the committee who voted against the bill and one of nine in the Maine Senate who voted NO.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Reflections on a hunger strike



I've had a request to share some words about my recent 37 day hunger strike.

I began the hunger strike on February 12, a few days after the first Taxation Committee work session on LD 1781.  I was laying in bed talking with MB and told her I had come back from Augusta so upset that I knew if I didn't calm down I was going to have a heart attack.  I knew the bill would be slow moving through the halls of the capital so I needed to do something.

Twice in the past I fasted for two weeks in solidarity with a hunger strike by Yang Yoon-Mo from Jeju Island, South Korea and another time in solidarity with friends in the Czech Republic who were opposing a US missile defense radar.  I always felt serene while doing them.  So the decision was made largely for that reason - to stay focused, sane and calm during this campaign.

I also knew that as an organizing strategy hunger striking can draw others closer to the effort which is something we needed to do if we hoped to have any impact.  When I worked for the United Farm Workers Union from 1978-1980 I learned how Cesar Chavez used fasting to drive the UFW's boycotts of grapes and lettuce across the nation.

When I first signed on to work with the UFW in Florida organizing fruit pickers I was sent to the union's headquarters in Keene, California for a month along with three other new staffers from Florida.  Cesar Chavez took an active role in our training while we were at La Paz and I've always remembered something he told us late one evening while in his office.

Cesar said, "We know our union is weak and that the agribusiness corporations know that the union is weak.  But none of that matters.  The only thing that matters is what does the public think about the way that farm workers are treated by the industry."  He said, we can beat them if we work hard at getting the public to listen to us and take our side in organizing campaigns against the corporations.

So it was the same with the bad corporate welfare bill for General Dynamics.

We didn't make threats or boasts that we could not deliver on.  We understood that the mainstream media would be reluctant to give us any coverage because of the power of BIW/GD.  So we had to find a way to get around the media blockage to reach the public.  We also knew that some number of workers at BIW were not happy with GD because of their last contract.  So that is where we began.

Another factor we discovered early on was that we were isolated within the 'progressive community' because of the fact that the bill was being sponsored and promoted by the Democratic party leadership.  Thus many liberal Democrats in Maine (including their activist groups like AFL-CIO, Maine People's Alliance, liberal churches and many environmental groups) were frozen because they would not go up against the Democrat's leadership. 

Instead we had to rely on the strong and widespread network of peace activists across Maine.  Because of our numerous peace walks over the years through the state we had friends from Presque Isle to Kittery - from Rangeley to Bath.  We reached out to all these folks and they began writing letters to local newspapers and before long others that we did not even know also began to write. (In the end we had at least 175 letters, Op-Eds, interviews, and articles in 35 different media outlets across Maine.  The letters to the editor are what really drove the issue home to the public and opened the door to other media.)

During the first two weeks of my hunger strike I went to BIW during the noon hour and at the 3:30 pm shift change to stand with my sign and hand out flyers.  Especially during lunch time I spoke with quite a few workers and began to hear their stories of frustration with GD.  As I started to weaken around the third week I stopped going to BIW at noon and just did the end of day shift change.  I noticed how at first some workers made snide comments but over time they became more subdued and respectful.  When I missed a day because I had to go to Augusta for another Taxation Committee work session some workers asked where I had been once I returned.  (Just yesterday when we were at BIW for the Lenten vigil during the noon shift change I saw one worker filming me with his phone as he walked out of the shipyard and heard him say, "This is the hunger striker" so I am certain that they were discussing my personal action as well as the bad bill during work hours.)

Along the way more than 30 others joined the hunger strike by fasting for a day or more.  Tom Ryan from Oquossoc fasted for 20 days and was a regular with us during the home stretch when we were spending so much time inside the state capital with our signs.

During the last two weeks of the hunger strike I stopped going to BIW because we were spending so much time in Augusta and I didn't have enough strength to do both.

People are surprised to hear that after the first week it was pretty easy for me to go without food.  MB kept me supplied with various fruit juices and fruit smoothies (twice a day) and friends were bringing me carrot juice and broths.  MB says I never got grumpy (I felt like I had one bad day during the hunger strike where I was impatient and such) but otherwise I was feeding on the collective spirit and energy of friends and supporters who were doing so much to help.  I was even amazed that after being in Augusta all day that when I came home I was eager to sit at the computer and blog about the day.

In the end our collective efforts made it possible for many in the public to consider taking a position against the powerful interests of BIW/GD.  We are increasingly finding in the US that the corporate agenda is dominating politics at the national, state and local levels.  We can't defeat that kind of power in one fell swoop so we have to be strategic about when and how we take these powers on.  I think our effort in Maine worked well for us - especially considering our weakness as compared to the money, political influence, and media power of BIW/GD.

I can't say enough how much I loved and appreciated the selfless efforts by so many Mainers who threw in with us on this campaign.  Thanks to all of you.

Determination and good spirit can take us a long way even when the odds are solidly against us.  We helped save Mainers $15 million (which isn't much to corporations like GD but to a struggling state like ours it is alot of money).

Keep the fires burning and always remember the most important job of a human being is to protect the future generations - our children, the animals, the plants, the waters, the air, the sacred lands.  Nothing could be more important especially as we increasingly face the coming ravages of climate change.

We've all got to find more courage to stand for what is right.  

Bruce

Sunday Song