Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Public Act 4 and the Attacks on Collective Bargaining: Implications for African American Civil Rights and Self-Determination

Public Act 4 and the Attacks on Collective Bargaining: Implications for African American Civil Rights and Self-Determination

Emergency management designed to enhance control of capital over the affairs of the oppressed

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Note: The following talk was delivered at a Workers World public meeting on September 22, 2012 in the city of Detroit. Other speakers at the event included Martha Grevatt, UAW member and labor historian and Atty. Jerome Goldberg, an organizer for the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs. The meeting was chaired by Andrea Egypt, a City of Detroit employee and a member of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI).
2012 is a unique election year with both state and national issues being on the ballot in the state of Michigan. The efforts to re-elect President Barack Obama is shrouded in a myriad of class and national contradictions.

Obama being the first self-identified African American president in the United States has been a source of pride among many within this oppressed nation as well as others throughout the country and the world. At the same time, as I have pointed out on numerous occasions, he is a representative of the Democratic Party, a party of capitalism and imperialism.

The Democratic Party has a different constituency than the Republican Party. Most African Americans and Latinos vote for this party in local, state and national elections. Trade unions in both the private and public sector tend to be overwhelmingly democratic in their orientation.

In 2008 Obama gained tremendous trade union support along with almost unanimous votes from the African American community and the vast majority of Latinos voted for Obama and the Democrats as well. Many young people and women also voted for Obama and the Democrats.

Nonetheless, as dialectical and historical materialists, we look at politics from the perspective of the class interests of those involved. We recognize that the working class and the national oppressed, women and other discriminated and exploited segments of the population need a political party of their own that can speak and act in the interests of the most exploited within capitalist society.

With the capitalist crisis escalating and the mass opposition to imperialism growing around the world, the ruling class is becoming more desperate for the acquisition of profits and political control of the majority people globally. These dynamics manifest themselves outside the U.S. through the constant military threats imposed by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) throughout Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. Even in Europe, where recession and the sovereign debt-crisis is worsening conditions for people in Greece, Spain, Portugal and other countries, these developments have their origins on Wall Street.

Inside the U.S. there have been political and ideological attacks on the public and educational sectors with specific reference to unions representing school and municipal employees. The distortions presented through the corporate media tend to blame the public sector unions for the municipal crisis of debt and deterioration of city services.

Almost every single day the corporate-controlled Detroit News and Free Press publish editorials and stories that exalt the virtues of emergency management and the need to cripple unions. Despite the majority opposition to Public Act 4 within the city of Detroit, the papers and other news outlets continue to ignore the will of the people.

The Origins of the Opposition to African American Political Empowerment

Since the conclusion of the Civil War there has been an organized opposition to the political rights of African Americans. The victory of the Union forces in 1865 did not resolve the problems of democracy and self-determination for the former enslaved nation.

During the Reconstruction period an ideological tendency arose within the political and intellectual culture of the U.S., in both the South and the North, which enunciated that any form of African American political power was inherently inefficient and corrupt. The portrayal of Reconstruction in popular culture was designed to provide a rationale for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South and the intransigence of the southern land owners and capitalists who re-exerted their authority after the elections of 1876.

The film “The Birth of a Nation,” by D.W. Griffith, was released in 1915 and led to the revival of the Ku Klux Klan which was formed in 1866 by defeated Confederate generals such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former slave trader who made a fortune from the selling of African people. The film was based on a novel entitled “The Clansman,” published in 1905 by Thomas Dixon, Jr.

In the academic realm, Walter L. Fleming, a southerner and graduate of Columbia University, became an “authority” on the Reconstruction era.

His book entitled, “Documentary History of Reconstruction: Political, Military, Social, Religious, Educational and Industrial, 1865 to 1906,” was a standard text on the period.  Fleming was a racist and sought to justify the defeat of Reconstruction and the establishment of institutional discrimination.

In a 1966 reissuance of this book, the forward by David Donald notes that “Though Fleming’s Documentary History has been accepted as a basic reference work for half a century, some critics have charged that it has fundamental defects. Fleming, argued W.E.B. DuBois, is ‘a man who has a thesis to support,’ and he compiled his Documentary History to prove that the Negro is ‘sub-human and congenitally unfitted for citizenship and suffrage.’ Without accepting this accusation entirely, it must be agreed that Fleming shared the prejudices standard among Southern whites of his day; he was, as his best biographer writes, preeminently a ‘Historian of Conservatism.’ “(p. vii)

Donald continues noting that “The introductions to several chapters in which Fleming grouped his documents reflect his white supremacist views. Any present-day scholar would, of course, capitalize “Negro” throughout, and few historians today would call the freedmen ‘blacks’, speak of ‘the negro propensity for petty thievery,’ or assert that the results of the Ku Klux Klan were ‘good.’”

It would take nearly another century for African Americans to achieve any semblance of civil rights and self-determination in the U.S. The passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, re-emphasized on a federal level the need to eliminate institutional racism.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 grew out of the southern freedom struggle which culminated in the Selma to Montgomery March of that same year. Later the mass demonstrations and rebellions escalated the implementation of affirmative action and a brief period in the decline of poverty.

Nonetheless, without a sustained movement for total liberation, the ruling class, still racist and capitalist to its core, would rescind many of the gains that grew out of the African American struggle from the 1950s through the 1970s. Today in light of the global capitalist crisis, the attacks on the working class and oppressed harkens back to the days of the post-Reconstruction period.

In Detroit, where African Americans and other workers created the conditions for the elimination of systematic discrimination in employment and services, are today facing mounting assaults on the right of people to maintain their jobs and a decent standard of living. Utilizing racism, the aim of the corporate media and the agents of capital is to once again portray African American political figures and trade unionists as undeserving of fair and equal treatment before the law.

The notion that “privatization,” in other words, ethnic cleansing and the purging of trade unions, will solve the bank-imposed deficits is the main thesis of the ruling class as a rationale for its anti-working class, anti-women and anti-Black policies. Yet what must be emphasized is that it is Wall Street and the multi-national corporations who are responsible for the current global crisis and it is they who should pay for it and not the victims of their policies.

Our Task in This Period

We have participated on a principled basis in the struggle against PA 4 and other attacks on the workers and oppressed. Leading up to the January 2 rally against PA 4 at Tabernacle Church, we emphasized the need for a broad-based united front while distributing 8,000 leaflets.

Attending the City Council and community meetings prior to the passage of the draconian Financial Stability Agreement (FSA), we continued to point out the role of the capitalist class in creating and maintaining the crisis. The FSA had no basis in law and should have never been approved by five members of the City Council or the Bing administration.

Now we have an opportunity to reach millions of workers with our message related to the campaign to repeal PA 4 and to uphold collective bargaining rights.

Despite the limitations of both these referendums, we can add a political context which emphasizes the role of the banks and the corporations in the crisis. We must also state clearly why the workers and oppressed need their own independent movements and organizations that will analyze and attack the problem at its root.

Utilizing our revolutionary politics, we can once again spread the view that capitalism is at an impasse, that the masses need a new economic and political system. Our efforts related to the moratorium struggle to stop foreclosures and evictions, the continuing demands for a federal jobs program to employ the 35-40 million unemployed and underemployed in the U.S. and the role of the Pentagon budget in the urban crisis, has played a significant role in the consciousness of people in this area as well as around the country.

We can easily take our leaflets to the work places, community centers, schools, universities, churches and social gatherings, telling people to vote against PA 4 and in support of collective bargaining but also saying that this is not enough. The real solution to the crisis is the self-organization of the workers and oppressed and we can and will play an important role in bringing this into existence.

Our Monday night meetings can be a focal point for mobilizing people for this mission. Just as we have played an important role in the struggle for housing and against the war, we are in a position now to do similar work related to the attacks on self-determination and the rights of working people.

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