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All Out for the January 20–21 Actions in D.C. and Elsewhere

by George Shriver, co-managing editor, Labor Standard

Stephanie Coontz was someone I knew in the Socialist Workers Party. I remember her best as the author of the pamphlet What Socialists Stand For, a highly readable summary of our basic socialist ideas.

In the back of my mind I used to think, we should also outline “What Socialists Will Not Stand For.”

Much of what is happening now falls under that heading—what we and millions of others will not stand for.

One example: the ex-CEO of Exxon/Mobil is slated to become Secretary of State, one of the top positions in the government of the USA. Exxon/Mobil is notorious for having known that global warming was coming, but hushing it up. Like other huge and hugely wealthy fossil-fuel companies, Exxon, and the super-rich 1% that it is part of, care only about the enormous profits they make from the extraction, processing, and sale of fossil fuels—and the rest of us can burn in the hell of global warming.

Another pro–fossil-fuel climate-change denier slated for the U.S. Cabinet is Scott Pruitt. He has a long record of consistently opposing and challenging the Environmental Protection Agency. Now he is slated to become the head of EPA, which is tantamount to abolishing that agency and totally negating the idea that our environment should be protected.

Those are flagrant examples now of what we should not stand for.

Stephanie Coontz now teaches history at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington. She had an excellent article on the opinion page of the New York Times January 9 supporting the January 21 Women’s March on Washington, D.C.

Here are some excerpts from that article that are well worth thinking about.

She opens her article with this comment:

“The Women’s March on Washington was not initiated by any national organization but sprang from an individual expression of outrage at the politics that Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence represent; it is an expression like that of the young people I saw after election night holding placards reading ‘Not My President’ and ‘Not My Vice-President Either.’”

This is an apt observation. Protests like that by the young people she describes have been unceasing all over the USA (and other countries too) ever since the Nov. 8 election.

Stephanie then makes some pertinent comments about the “multi-issue” nature of the demands being made by the current protest. She contrasts them to the “single-issue” movements that we were part of in the 1960s and ’70s.

“One problem for organizers of the march is the welter of contradictory positions proposed by members and supporters of the incoming administration, which makes it hard to articulate a central theme for the protest. Historically, mass demonstrations have worked best at shifting public opinion and pressuring the powers-that-be when organizers highlighted one concrete demand: ‘Bring our Boys Home from Vietnam’; ‘End Segregation NOW’; ‘Support Women’s Right to Choose.’

“But at a time like this, an outpouring of grass-roots concern over a multitude of issues is not to be taken lightly. Fewer than half of Americans trust Trump’s ability to handle key international and domestic duties. Seventy percent of Americans oppose overturning the Supreme Court decision legalizing women’s right to abortion. A mere 40 percent of voters approve Trump’s choice of cabinet members, compared to 72 percent approval for President Obama’s in 2008. People here and around the world need reminding that Trump lost the popular election by nearly 3 million votes, and that this majority doesn’t intend to be silenced.”

What Stephanie does not say—but probably thinks, as I do—is that if we had a militant Labor Party in the USA today, say, something like the Corbyn-led British Labour Party, its platform would in all likelihood consist of the many demands being made by those engaging in action on January 20 and January 21 in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

But she hints at the kind of program a fighting workers party would advocate when she refers to “policies that women [and their partners] of many differing viewpoints support—freedom of reproductive choice; vigorous enforcement of equal pay and antidiscrimination laws; limits on unpaid overtime or arbitrary shift changes that wreak havoc with family life; and a better deal for displaced and low-wage workers.”

In her concluding paragraphs Stephanie make some vital points, in particular the failings of the Democratic Party and what “supporters of a just and democratic society” should stand for.

“It’s equally important that march participants don’t paint everyone who voted for Trump as racists, fascists, or misogynists. Demonstrators should put politicians on notice that they won’t tolerate a rollback of hard-won civil rights, health coverage, and labor protections. But they should simultaneously reach out to voters who felt neglected by both parties and either stayed home or pulled the lever for Trump even though they had supported Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“Many voters had good reason to be dissatisfied with what the Democratic Party offered them this fall, but their legitimate grievances will not be redressed by the new administration. Supporters of a just and democratic society should offer such people somewhere to turn when their hopes are dashed, and make sure they don’t feel backed into a corner by unnecessarily divisive rhetoric.”