Winds of Change
In spite of the fact that working people are taking huge economic hits while corporate profits are soaring, there is a fightback beginning. Workers, students and even prisoners are taking action indicating that a deep radicalization is taking place.
Corporate profits soar
In a November 23, New York Times article by Catherine Rampell titled, “Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter”:
“...the tax benefits will flow most heavily to the highest earners, just as the original cuts did when they were passed in 2001 and 2003. At least a quarter of the tax savings will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population...
“The wealthiest Americans will also reap tax savings from the proposal’s plan to keep the cap on dividend and capital gains taxes at 15 percent, well below the highest rates on ordinary income...
“In fact, the only groups likely to face a tax increase are those near the bottom of the income scale—individuals who make less than $20,000 and families with earnings below $40,000.”
And, the new tax package will continue to guarantee the transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy elite. In a December 7, 2010 New York Times article by David Kocieniewski, titled, “Tax Package Will Aid Nearly All, Especially Highest Earners”:
“...the tax benefits will flow most heavily to the highest earners, just as the original cuts did when they were passed in 2001 and 2003. At least a quarter of the tax savings will go to the wealthiest one percent of the population.”
Decertifying state employee unions
If this were not bad enough, signs of worse things to come were outlined in an article that appeared December 12, 2010 in the Leader-Telegram Eau Claire Now, a small newspaper from Chippewa Valley, Wisconsin, titled, “State Labor Unions now Facing Reality of Benefit Costs,” by Tom Giffey.
“After angering rail advocates by rejecting $810 million in federal funds for a high-speed line from Milwaukee to Madison, Gov.-elect Scott Walker seems intent on picking a fight with state employees. Last week, the incoming Republican even suggested moving to decertify state employee unions in an effort to cut workers’ benefits and save the state money.”
The article goes on:
“In an era of chronic budget shortfalls and double-digit health cost increases, overly generous public employee benefits are no longer reasonable or sustainable. Walker is on the right track when he suggests state workers should pay 12 percent of their health costs and make five percent pension contributions—moves that would save the state $154 million in only six months.”
And what of a labor fightback? The article continues:
“Beginning in 2009, state workers have taken what amounts to a three percent pay cut because of mandatory furlough days. And Friday, the Wisconsin State Employees Union voted for a no-pay-increase contract that included eight furlough days annually as well as increased payments toward healthcare and retirement.”
While the economic news is dismal and on the surface there doesn’t seem to be much fight left in U.S. workers, the signs point in another direction; to a growing consciousness among workers, especially, students—even prisoners buried in the U.S. prison industrial complex—that their struggles are the same and they face the same enemy.
Georgia prisoners show the way
Beginning on December 9, 2010 according to an article titled, “Thousands of Georgia Prisoners go on Strike,” by “Anonymous,” published December 10, 2010, that appeared on Infoshop News1, in an unprecedented action organized through contraband cell-phones between prisons, prison inmates across Georgia united and refused to work. These are their demands.
“No more slavery: Injustice in one place is injustice to all. Inform your family to support our cause. Lock down for liberty!
“A living wage for work: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the Department Of Corrections (DOC) demands prisoners work for free.
“Educational opportunities: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.
“Decent healthcare: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.
“An end to cruel and unusual punishments: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.
“Decent living conditions: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.
“Nutritional meals: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.
“Vocational and self-improvement opportunities: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.
“Access to families: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.
“Just parole decisions: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.”
Originally scheduled as a one-day strike, it spread to more than seven prisons in Georgia and while some prisoners have returned to work, the strike is continuing.
The most powerful and encouraging aspect of this largest prison strike in U.S. history is that the inmates, in spite of previous deep divisions between them, have unified and are acting in solidarity with each other. Black, Latino and white inmates have put aside their differences to demand humane treatment for all.
In addition, their actions have been carried out peacefully. This is no prison riot, but a conscious, clearly thought-out plan of democratically decided mass-action, albeit within the prison walls of one of the most repressive states in the country. They simply refused to leave their cells or to report to work, exercising the most powerful tool working people have—the right to withhold their labor.
Of course, the prison’s response has been to place the prison population in “lock-down” in spite of the fact that the prisoners already, in essence, “locked themselves down.” There have also been widespread reports of beatings by prison officials of those thought to be the leaders of these united actions.
Nothing to lose but their chains
It’s hard to fathom what could make these prisoners—already incarcerated, tortured, deprived and seemingly helpless—to be so bold as to plan and carry out such a massive and effective action. Why are they able to organize such a fightback under the worst conditions of incarceration; locked behind bars without any weapons of self-defense against their well-armed jailers; many with no hope of ever getting out of prison; many who are undoubtedly innocent of the crimes they have been jailed for; how is it they can take such action when workers on the outside appear to cave in to the bosses—their economic jailers?
There is an explanation. The prisoners have nothing to lose and a chance of something to gain while the prisoners on the outside, the majority of the U.S. working class, still have much to lose, although they are now losing those things at breakneck speed.
There is also a great divide in consciousness between those workers who still have jobs, credit cards, etc. and those who have already had to forfeit those things to unemployment and foreclosure; or those poorer workers—youth especially—who have never had any job security, let alone credit cards2.
As Gov.-elect Scott Walker’s suggestion of decertifying state employee unions in Wisconsin shows, the economy promises to get much worse for the working class. But there are strong signs that a major change is in the air. The Georgia prison strike is one of these signs.
Students on the rise
Students are also beginning to take matters into their own hands. In fact, students in the San Francisco Bay Area recently issued a solidarity letter to Georgia inmates that expresses the basic human instinct that workers’ solidarity is power:
“We fully support all of your demands. We strongly identify with your demand for expanded educational opportunities. In recent years, our state government has been initiating a series of massive cuts to our system of public education that continue to endanger our right to a quality, affordable education; in response, students all across our state have stood up and fought back just as you are doing now. In fact, students and workers across the globe have begun to organize and fight back against austerity measures and the corresponding violence of the state. Just in the past few weeks in Greece, Ireland, Spain, England, Italy, Haiti, Puerto Rico—tens- and hundreds-of-thousands of students and workers have taken to the streets. We, as a movement, are gaining momentum and we do so even more as our struggles are unified and seen as interdependent. At times we are discouraged; it may seem insurmountable, but in the words of Malcolm X, ‘Power in defense of freedom is greater than power on behalf of tyranny and oppression.’”
Students and workers unite
In the massive student strikes in England recently, similar sentiments were expressed by the striking students in support of striking transit workers. At a Coalition of Resistance National Conference Youth, Students and Education Workshop that took place November 27, 2010 in Camden, London, a 15-year-old student said:
“We are no longer that post-ideological generation; we are no longer that generation that doesn’t care. We are no longer that generation that’s prepared to sit back and take whatever they give us. We are now the generation at the heart of the fightback. We are now the generation that will stand with everyone who’s fighting back. The most inspiring thing, I think, was that just after Wednesday hundreds of people joined the Facebook group—school students—joined the Facebook group in solidarity with RMT (Rail Maritime and Transport) members on strike. Those are people that previously thought tube strikes were something annoying because they stopped you getting into school, now they think they’ve got to link arms and fight back with everyone. So we want to show solidarity with everyone who’s fighting back. We hope you’ll show solidarity with us and send a strong message to this government that they can’t throw their cuts at us. We’re going to stand up and we’re going to fightback!”3
And, according to a December 20, 2010 Guardian article by Peter Walker titled, “Students Win Trade Union Support for Tuition Fees Protest” the sentiment expressed by the students has been reciprocated:
“Students protesting against increased tuition fees and cuts to education spending have won pledges of trade union support ahead of their next demonstration in London on January 294, .
“The fourth national protest, organized by the National Campaign Against Cuts and Fees and the Education Activist Network, will be the first since the chaotic scenes in the center of the capital on December 9, the day MPs voted in favor of the bill allowing tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year.
“...The two organizing groups asked unions to assist in ‘a united struggle to defend education.’
“Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB union, replied: ‘Can I express complete support for the call for opposition to the disgraceful and immoral attacks on access to education which these latest fee rates represent? It was bad enough having tuition fees to start with, but these attacks—dressed up as being required because of the banking crisis—really are immoral.’
“Len McCluskey, the new leader of Unite, said unions had been ‘put on the spot’ by the student demonstrations. ‘Their mass protests against the tuition fees increase have refreshed the political parts a hundred debates, conferences and resolutions could not reach,’ he said.”5
Freedom’s just another word for nothing else to lose
Clearly, workers, including prison inmates at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, and students, in the U.S. and across the globe, are quickly realizing that they are running out of things to lose!
1“Thousands of Georgia Prisoners go on Strike,”
By Anonymous, Infoshop News, December 10, 2010
2 Study Shows Depth of Unemployment for Blacks in New York
“Only One in Four Young Black Men in New York City Have a Job.”
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
December 13, 2010, 10:17 am
315 year old Tells Establishment to Stick-it.
4 National demonstration - 29 January 2011, London
5Students Win Trade Union Support for Tuition Fees Protest
GMB and Unite leaders support planned London march while police chief says demos mean officers are not fighting crime
By Peter Walker
Monday 20 December 2010 14.32 GMT