The Bernie Effect Puts Corporate Greed Center Stage at Dem Debate, and Hillary Holds Her Own

Source: AlterNet

Author: Steve Rosenfelt

Emphasis Mine

The Democratic Party’s first presidential debate of its 2016 candidates showed the country that the party has stronger candidates and a clearer common agenda than many people may have expected after a summer dominated by the antics of angry Republicans.

Despite what individual candidates may claim, there was not a clear winner. Bernie Sanders, after a nervous start in his first nationally televised debate, found his footing and demonstrated how he fundamentally has reshaped the Democratic Party, pushing all the candidates to embrace his strong views about income inequality and the need for dramatic responses to capitalistic excess. There has not been a presidential debate in recent memory with such a detailed economic discussion and the need for remedies that would boost wages, workplace benefits, healthcare and other pocketbook concerns. All the candidates supported a federal family leave law for mothers of newborns, for example. And all agreed that wealthy Americans should foot the bill.

Hillary Clinton also demonstrated why she is the front-runner and likely to remain so. Where Sanders was passionate and emphatic, she was poised and forcefully pushed policy specifics that she said could be enacted and make a difference. She firmly rejected the moderator’s characterizations that she took politically expedient positions and said she was proud to be a “progressive” who “wants to get things done.” On a string of issues, she was not a centrist Democrat in the mold of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, saying, for example that she supported stronger gun controls, criminal justice reform, comprehensive immigration reform, medical marijuana and opposed the latest international trade agreement.

The other three candidates were largely asterisks to the Sanders-Clinton interchange. Ex-Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee, ex-Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, and ex-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley sought to distinguish their records and values—with O’Malley giving the most detailed prescriptions. But in most instances their comments lingered in the debate’s shadows, with the exception of O’Malley’s closing remarks where he said that unlike the two previous Republican presidential debates, no candidate denigrated women, made racist statements about immigrants or spoke ill of the other candidates.

There were important differences, however, between the positions taken by Sanders and Clinton on a half-dozen issues, which illustrates both how much Sanders has pushed the Democratic Party to the left—and how Clinton has staked out saavy positions that may sound more progressive to Sanders backers than would prove to be the case if elected. Without Sanders’ presence in the race, it is doubtful that Wall Street’s excesses, which is shorthand for where and how wealth is accumulated but not shared, would be targeted for reforms by all the candidates.

For example, Sanders wanted to increase Social Security retirement benefits and would pay for that by removing a cap that only taxes the first $118,000 of income. Clinton said that she would raise payments for impoverished seniors, especially women. Sanders said he favored a Nevada ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana, while Clinton said she only favored legalizing medical marijuana. Sanders wants tuition at public colleges and universities to be free, saying he would pay for that with a Wall Street financial transaction tax. Clinton said that she would like free tuition too, but would include a weekly 10-hour work requirement. Only on gun control was Clinton to the left of Sanders, who did a poor job of responding to her attack on his stance—where he has opposed militarized weapons but supported hunters’ rights.

On the crucial issue of reigning in Wall Street’s excessive greed, Sanders said that he would break up the biggest banks and restore the Depression Era Glass-Steagall Act, which barred commercial banks from investing in speculative financial deals. Clinton said that she would not restore Glass-Steagall but instead spoke of regulating speculators and risky investments, jailing executives who break the law, and looking for the emerging threats posed by non-traditional firms. Sanders replied that she was “niave” if she thought Wall Street would do the right thing because a president was pressuring them.

Nonetheless, these stances by Clinton are shrewd, in so far as they show that she agrees with most of what Sanders is saying is the problem, but her solutions—while clearly left of center—aren’t as threatening to their targets and sound more moderate. While Democrats may be wringing their hands over these differences, saying that they represent a gulf between systemic and incremental reform, it’s noteworthy that there’s almost no crossover or common ground with the Republican candidates, with the exception of saying criminal justice reform for non-violent crimes was needed.

On matters of war and peace, while the candidates had some differences—all were opposed to the kind of adventuristic foreign policy of the Bush Administration, which launched a war of choice in Iraq and ignited chaos in the region that continues. They did not want to send ground troops into Syria, nor did any of them believe that Russia’s Putin was trustworthy. They praised President Obama’s restraint for what Sanders termed a “quagmire within a quagmire.”

The candidates, especially Sanders and Webb, said that none of their progressive agenda items would become a reality unless there were changes to the current campaign finance system, where several hundred of the wealthiest Americans are bankrolling most of the presidential campaigns and congressional contests. While Webb pointedly told Sanders that his grassroots “revolution” was not going to happen, Sanders repeatedly said that a record high voter turnout and public protests would force Congress to respond.

Stepping back from the debate stage, it was a good night for all the Democrats. Nobody made any mistakes. All the candidates gave strong presentations of their positions, even if Sanders got off to a somewhat tense start and Clinton showed right off the bat that she was comfortable on the stage. There were even moments of levity, such as when Sanders told the audience and country that everyone was tired of hearing about Clinton’s private e-mail server when she was the Secretary of State—for which she thanked him. And Sanders, unlike any of the other candidates, mentioned the name of African-Americans killed by police in an answer that strongly supported the Black Lives Matter movement.

Another big takeaway is that this debate will probably prompt Vice President Joe Biden to recconsider his presidential ambitions. With Sanders setting the domestic agenda and Clinton embracing much of what he says, but presenting it in a smoother way that likely to have greater appeal across the country—outside its liberal epicenters—there seems to be no void that a Biden candidacy could fill. if anything, Clinton is running to defend Obama’s record and legacy, while Sanders is running to take it to a new orbit, where federal safety net programs would be expanded to assist working- and middle-class Americans.

As the candidates continue to campaign in coming weeks, it clearly helps Clinton that Sanders is a strong campaigner and revving up the Democratic base. If she continues to be the front runner, she will have to find ways to bring Bernie’s base into her fold. That will be worth watching. In the meantime, Sanders has made a career of confounding expectations and has the stamina of a long-distance runner. The contest for the 2016 Democratic nomination isn’t over by any means, but it’s getting more compelling.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).



Radical roots of the great grape strike

Source: Portside

This is an expanded version of an article in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Author: David Bacon

Emphasis Mine

This is an expanded version of an article in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Fifty years ago the great grape strike started in Delano, when Filipino pickers walked out of the fields on September 8, 1965.  Mexican workers joined them two weeks later.  The strike went on for five years, until all California table grape growers were forced to sign contracts in 1970.

The strike was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country.  It helped breathe new life into the labor movement, opening doors for immigrants and people of color.  Beyond the fields, Chicano and Asian American communities were inspired to demand rights, and many activists in those communities became organizers and leaders themselves.

California’s politics have changed profoundly in 50 years.  Delano’s mayor today is a Filipino.  That would have been unthinkable in 1965, when growers treated the town as a plantation.

But a mythology has hidden the true history of how and why the strike started, especially its connection to some of the most radical movements in the country’s labor history.  Writer Peter Matthiessen, for instance, claimed in his famous two-part 1969 profile of Cesar Chavez in The New Yorker: “Until Chavez appeared, union leaders had considered it impossible to organize seasonal farm labor, which is in large part illiterate and indigent…”

After 50 years that curtain of silence is lifting. Dawn Mabalon, a history professor at San Francisco State University, has documented the radical career of Larry Itliong, who headed the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), one of the two organizations that carried out the 1965 strike.  Itliong not only shared leadership with Cesar Chavez, but actually started the strike.  In tens of thousands of words Matthiessen only mentions Itliong twice, in passing.

The Delano strike was not spontaneous or unexpected.  It was a product of decades of worker organizing and earlier farm worker strikes.  Leaders of the grape strike, like Itliong, had helped organize previous unions, including ones expelled from the CIO in the anti-communist purge of 1949.

The timing of the 1965 strike was not accidental.  It took place the year after civil rights and labor activists forced Congress to repeal Public Law 78 and end the bracero contract labor program.  Farm worker leaders then acted because growers could no longer bring braceros into the U.S. to break strikes.

The 1965 strike did not, in fact, start in Delano.  In Coachella, where California’s grape harvest begins, Filipino workers went on strike that summer.  They won a 40¢/hour wage increase from grape growers, and forced authorities to drop charges against arrested strikers.

Larry Itliong organized the Coachella strike.  He and the Filipino workers of AWOC then started the walkout in Delano.  Itliong had a long history as an organizer, going back to the 1930s.  He was a protégé of Ernesto Mangaoang, a revered leader of the CIO union for Alaska fish cannery workers, Local 7 of the United Cannery, Agricultural and Packinghouse Workers of America.  Itliong himself ran for office in that union.

The Federal government accused Mangaoang of being a Communist during the McCarthyite hysteria, and tried to deport him to the Philippines.  After UCAPAWA (renamed the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers) was destroyed in the 1949 purge of the CIO, Local 7 was taken in by Harry Bridges’ union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.  It became ILWU Local 37, and today is part of the ILWU’s Inland Boatman’s Union.

In leftwing unions Filipinos and other farm workers mounted huge agricultural strikes in the 1930s.  After World War Two, Local 7 struck Stockton’s asparagus fields in 1949.  Itliong was active in that strike, as was Chris Mensalvas, who later became Local 37 president.  The Federal government also tried to deport Mensalvas as a Communist.

In the early 1950s Filipino farm workers continued to organize with the National Farm Labor Union, headed by Ernesto Galarza (author of Merchants of Labor – The Mexican Bracero Story).  They struck the giant DiGiorgio Corporation, then California’s largest grower.  In 1959 the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) was set up by the American Federation of Labor, which had merged with the CIO to form the AFL-CIO in 1953.  Despite the federation’s conservative politics, AWOC hired Itliong as an organizer because of his long history among Filipino workers.  AWOC used “flying squads” of pickets to mount quick strikes, and struck the Imperial Valley lettuce harvest in 1961-2, demanding $1.25 per hour.

Many Filipino workers in Coachella and Delano were members of ILWU Local 37 in 1965, when the grape strike began.  Every year they would travel from the San Joaquin Valley (where Delano is located) to the Alaska fish canneries.  Through the end of their lives, they were often active members of both Local 37 and the United Farm Workers.

Cold war fears of communism were strong in the 1960s – one reason why the contributions of Itliong and the Filipinos were obscured.  The strike in Delano owes much to Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla and other Chicano and Mexican leaders who came out of the CSO.  But the left wing leadership of Itliong, Philip Veracruz and other rank-and-file Filipino workers was equally important.

The alliance between Itliong’s AWOC and the Cesar Chavez-led National Farm Workers Association was a popular front alliance of workers who had, in many cases, different politics.  AWOC’s members had their roots in the red UCAPAWA.  NFWA’s roots were in the Community Service Organization (CSO), which was sometimes hostile to Communists.  Yet both organizations were able to find common ground and support each other during the strike.  They eventually merged to form the UFW.

Both the Filipinos and Chavez, in the CSO, opposed the bracero program.  To organize farm labor they sought immigration policies favoring workers, which would keep growers from using braceros to break strikes.  The Delano strike was a movement made up of immigrant workers, who wanted to keep growers and the government from using immigration policy against them.  Their opposition to contract labor programs is as important for immigration reform today as it was in 1965.

Chavez willingly acknowledged that the NFWA hadn’t intended to strike for another two or three years.  The decision to act was made by Filipinos – left wing workers.  It was a product of their history of militant fights against growers.

The political philosophy of the Filipinos saw the strike as their fundamental weapon to win better conditions.  The 1965 grape strike was started by workers on the ground, not by leaders or strategists far away.  Although some couldn’t read or write, as Matthiessen charged, they were politically sophisticated.  They had a good analysis and understanding of their situation as workers, and chose their action carefully.

In Delano Filipinos used popular front ideas they’d used before – that workers and organizations with different politics, or of different nationalities, could work together to win fundamental social change.  Growers had pitted Mexicans and Filipinos against each other for decades.  When Filipino workers acted first by going on strike, and then asked the Mexican workers, a much larger part of the workforce, to join them, they believed that workers’ common interest could overcome those divisions.

Strikers in Delano developed close friendships and personal connections with each other.  Many of the Filipinos died as single men, because anti-miscegenation laws prohibited them from marrying non-Filipinas, and the immigration of women from the Philippines was limited until the late 1960s.  Cesar Chavez’ son Paul recalls the way the older Filipino men looked at him and other children of Mexican strikers as their own family.  In the wake of the grape strike, the UFW and scores of young activists from California cities built a retirement home for them in Delano, Paolo Agbayani Retirement Village, to honor their contribution.

Philip Veracruz, a Filipino grape picker who became a vice-president of the UFW and later left over disagreements with Chavez, wrote during the strike’s fourth year:  “The Filipino decision of the great Delano Grape Strike delivered the initial spark to explode the most brilliant incendiary bomb for social and political changes in U.S. rural life.”  The contribution of these Filipino workers should be honored – not just because they helped make history, but because their political and trade union ideas are as relevant to workers today as they were in 1965.

The first school in the nation named after Filipino American labor leaders is in Union City, the Itliong/Vera Cruz Middle School. The New Haven Unified School District Board approved the renaming of Alvarado Middle School, effective January 2016.

Filmmaker Marissa Aroy has released a video on Filipino farmworkers, “The Delano Manongs.”

David Bacon is a California writer and documentary photographer. A former union organizer, today he documents labor, the global economy, war and migration, and the struggle for human rights. His latest book, The Right to Stay Home (Beacon Press, 2013). discusses alternatives to forced migration and the criminalization of migrants.

Mythology has hidden the true history of how and why the great grape strike started, especially its connection to some of the most radical movements in the country’s labor history. After 50 years that silence is lifting. Dawn Mabalon, a history professor at San Francisco State University, has documented the radical career of Larry Itliong, who headed the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), one of the two organizations that carried out the 1965 strike.