Friday, June 23, 2006

Sam Farber's new book on Cuba

Paul Hampton has a review of Samuel Farber, The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered (University of North Carolina Press, 2006) on his blog at the Alliance for Workers Liberty.

Farber grew up in Cuba, but has lived in the United States since the 1960s. He has been associated with "third camp" socialism, including the journal New Politics, the organization Solidarity, and its magazine Against the Current.

Hampton writes

... Farber’s book is exceptionally useful, dispelling the veil of romanticism that surrounds Castro’s Cuba on the left. It is vital contribution towards reorienting the left and a tremendous contribution towards understanding the nature of the Cuban regime today. With Fidel Castro’s death likely to set off a chain reaction inside and outside Cuba, Marxists have a substantial task in seeking to understand the Cuban social formation and its direction. This book helps us to do that work.
[Not only "Marxists." This book should be valuable to a wide spectrum of the democratic left.]

Hampton's review is divided into several parts. I've linked to them indivually below. The most critical is Part Six.
Farber's book is not an analyis of the Stalinist system that Castro created after 1961. But the basis of the Castro system is defined by Farber in these terms
The mass rally, in which leaders control the podium and speak and spell out policies while the masses applaud, not daring to amend or object, became emblematic of the regime. Such manipulative methods, together with the spying functions of the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, the activities of the newly-established state security apparatus, the purging of many individuals and groups, and the elimination of all opposition and independent newspapers (which occurred during the summer of 1960, when most of the printed and visual media supported the regime and the government faced no clear and present danger), completed the tripod on which Castro consolidated his power: popular support, manipulation pf that support, and repression.
Earlier this month U.S. labor leaders appealed to Castro to release imprisoned trade unionists

Cuban workers given lengthy jail sentences for efforts to form free trade unions

Campaign for Free and Independent Trade Unions in Cuba, June 5, 2006.

WASHINGTON - A petition urging Cuban President Fidel Castro to release eight workers imprisoned for attempting to form free trade unions was delivered to the U.S. Cuban Interest Section today. The petition, signed by leaders of 23 U.S. unions, calls on Castro to restore fundamental workers' rights guaranteed by international conventions long ignored by the Cuban regime.

"Cuba is obligated as a member of the International Labor Organization and as a state which has ratified Conventions No. 87 and 98 to guarantee freedom of association - the right of workers to form organizations of their own choosing and to bargain collectively. But these rights have long been repressed in Cuba," the petition states. The ILO is the oldest UN organization.

The workers were among scores of journalists, human rights activists and pro-democracy reformers who were rounded up and imprisoned in Cuba in 2003 for terms up to 26 years. While some of the others have been released, the trade unionists remained locked in walled-in cells "filled with vermin and rats," according to a report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Some are gravely ill because of the harsh prison conditions and lack of medical attention.

Those jailed include Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, Miguel Galván, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, Nelson Molinet Espino and Hector Raúl Valle Fernández. Another, Carmelo Díaz Fernández, has been granted leave status because of failing health. Lázaro González Adán, has been in prison since October 2004 without charges or trial.

"The only 'crime' they committed was talking with other workers about organizing to bargain with their employers," said Thomas R. Donahue, the former president of the AFL-CIO who is spearheading the campaign. "What Castro is doing to these men not only is inhumane, but it also is a violation of international law."

The ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association in June 2005 issued a report finding that Cuba was in violation for imposing a trade union monopoly controlled by the state, and urged the immediate release of the imprisoned workers:

"The Committee can only express the firm hope that the Government will take steps to ensure a climate free of violence, pressures or threats of any kind so that trade union activities can be carried out freely, even by organizations which do not share the same economic and social objectives," the report concluded.

Union leaders signing the petition submitted [June 5] to the Cuban government represent millions of American workers in both the AFL-CIO and Change To Win labor federations. They include: Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers; Edward J. McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers; James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Edwin D. Hill, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; R. Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; William Lucy, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and chairman of the AFL-CIO International Affairs Committee; Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/United Food and Commercial Workers; William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union; and Capt. Duane E. Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association.

In response to the Campaign for Free and Independent Trade Unions in Cuba, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney added his voice in April, sending a letter to Castro urging the release of the imprisoned trade unionists. The AFL-CIO's International Affairs Committee also has endorsed the campaign to insist on freedom of association and freedom of expression in Cuba.

Full list of signers:

  • Paul E. Almeida, President, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO
  • Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union,UFCW
  • Baxter M. Atkinson, President, American Federation of School Administrators
  • Dana A. Brigham, General President, International Union of Elevator Constructors
  • R. Thomas Buffenbarger, International President, International Association of M achinists & Aerospace Workers
  • William Burrus, President, American Postal Workers Union
  • Thomas R. Donahue, Former President, AFL-CIO
  • John J. Flynn, President, International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers
  • Warren S. George, President, Amalgamated Transit Union
  • Leo W. Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers
  • Edwin D. Hill, President, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
  • James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  • Joseph J. Hunt, President, Iron Workers International
  • Frank Hurt, President, Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union
  • Thomas F. Lee, President, American Federation of Musicians
  • James C. Little, International President, Transport Workers Union
  • William Lucy, International Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees; Chairman, AFL-CIO International Affairs Committee
  • Edward J. McElroy, President, American Federation of Teachers
  • Patrick Quinn, President, Actors' Equity Association
  • Kinsey M. Robinson, International President, United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, & Allied Workers
  • Michael Sacco, President, Seafarers International Union
  • Michael J. Sullivan, General President, Sheet Metal Workers International Association
  • Capt. Duane E. Woerth, President, Air Line Pilots Association, International
Campaign for Free and Independent Trade Unions in Cuba
1925 K Street, NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC 20006

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Raise Oklahoma reports

More than 60 Oklahomans rallied at the state Capitol on Monday to urge legislators to pass legislation increasing the state minimum wage while they're in special session this week.

The rally was organized by Raise Oklahoma, a group circulating an initiative petition for an election to increase the state's $5.15 per hour minimum wage by $1, beginning Jan. 1, 2007, and by another $1 per hour beginning Jan. 1, 2008. The petition with a minimum of 117,101 valid signatures must be filed with the secretary of state June 28.

Speakers at Monday's rally urged Oklahomans to contact their legislators about getting a minimum wage bill on the special session agenda and passing it this week.

However, Gov. Brad Henry, who set the agenda for the special session, has wanted it limited strictly to appropriations.

"As he has said many times in recent weeks, Gov. Henry believes the special session agenda should be focused entirely on the most pressing issue at hand, the state budget. With a July 1 deadline looming on budget actions, the governor does not want lawmakers to be distracted or delayed by other issues, no matter how worthy they may be," said Paul Sund, the governor's communications director. "Certainly Gov. Henry wants to raise wages for Oklahomans and thinks the minimum wage issue is worthy of debate, but again, he believes the special session's focus must remain on the state budget."

Some who attended Monday's rally carried signs that said, "Why agree 1997 wages in 2006 are OK for citizens but not legislators?" and "Unions Raise Everyone's wage."

Linda Gray Murphy, campaign manager for Raise Oklahoma, told those gathered at the south steps of the state Capitol that most Oklahomans think the minimum wage should be increased.

"Over 30 percent on minimum wage are single working mothers," she said.

She also told the group not to believe the opponents' argument that the minimum wage increase would hurt business.

Those speaking at the rally included some legislators and clergy.

Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, author of a bill to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma, said it is morally wrong not to increase the minimum wage.

"Those who oppose it know it's wrong," he said.

The Rev. Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman, said the minimum wage is a moral issue, and refusing to fairly compensate workers for their time and energy is "an egregious injustice."

"Why must Oklahoma be an economic dust bowl for working people?" Prescott said.

Rabbi Barry Cohen of Temple B'nai Israel, said, "Raising the minimum wage is a simple act to help restore justice in our nation and our land."

Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, said people deserve a fair day's pay.

"What is fair about $5.15?" she said.


House Republicans Block Voting Rights Extension

CNN reports

Republican leaders on Wednesday postponed a vote on renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act after GOP lawmakers complained it unfairly singles out nine Southern states for federal oversight.

"We have time to address their concerns," Republican leaders said in a joint statement. "Therefore, the House Republican Leadership will offer members the time needed to evaluate the legislation."

It was unclear whether the legislation would come up this year. The temporary provisions don't expire until 2007, but leaders of both parties had hoped to pass the act and use it to further their prospects in the fall's midterm elections.

The statement said the GOP leaders are committed to renewing the law "as soon as possible."

The four-decade-old law enfranchised millions of black voters by ending poll taxes and literacy tests during the height of the civil rights struggle. A vote on renewing it for another 25 years had been scheduled for Wednesday, with both Republican and Democratic leaders behind it.

The dramatic shift came after a private caucus meeting earlier Wednesday in which several Republicans also balked at extending provisions in the law that require ballots to be printed in more than one language in neighborhoods where there are large numbers of immigrants, said several participants.

A majority of the majority' required

"The speaker's had a standing rule that nothing would be voted on unless there's a majority of the majority," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Georgia, who led the objections. "It was pretty clear at the meeting that the majority of the majority wasn't there."

A New Progressive magazine "Democracy"

This may not have been the best week to have come across a new progressive journal. For some reason, the mail piled up and in my mail box on Monday, there was the latest Nation, Dollars and Sense, Rolling Stone,In These Times and Sierra Club's magazine.

I haven't begun to make my way through these, when I learned about a new progressive journal.

Democracy is a quarterly and befitting the internet age, it appears in both print and web versions. You can register on-line and read the journal on-line. The editors write

we launch this endeavor at a time when American politics has grown profoundly unserious. As they have amassed more power for themselves than at any point in nearly a century, conservatives have grown tired in their thinking as it's become clear that their ideas have failed. But instead of stepping into the breach with a coherent response, many progressives have adopted a compulsive fixation on electoral posturing and crafting the message of the day. Progressives too often have come to eschew bold ambition, preferring to take shelter in the safe harbor of "realism" and "competence."

The times demand more. We are undergoing a profound transformation in our economy, in the nature of global realities and national security threats, and the character of American democracy and society. This transformation has rendered obsolete the comfortable assumptions of the 1930s, the 1960s, the 1980s–and even the 1990s. As progressives have during previous times of similar flux, we must craft a response that moves beyond the mere criticism of the right wing or a rigid adherence to the past. We need a twenty-first-century progressivism that builds on our proud history, is true to our central values, and is relevant to our times.

Democracy will serve as a place where ideas can be developed and important debates can be spurred. We see our role as upsetting accepted assumptions and pushing the boundaries of what is accepted by, and expected from, progressives. We believe that many of the old cleavages that divided progressives in the last century have been rendered irrelevant and, if you agree, we hope you’ll comment on the pieces you read here, offer new ideas and arguments, and enter the debate. Now is the time to fashion a new progressivism for the twenty-first century and we welcome all who are willing to join in this conversation.

Here are the features and book reviews from the first issue. Descriptions are from Demoracy's TOC.
  • The New Biopolitics Jedediah Purdy:
In a time of globalization and terrorism, Americans have learned to worry about what happens in foreign schools, on foreign battlefields, and in foreign houses of worship. With a male baby boom in Asia and a baby bust in Europe, Americans now may need to worry about what's happening in foreign bedrooms, as well.

  • Our Unhealthy Tax Code Jason Furman
The federal government spends more subsidizing Americans' health insurance than on anything except for Social Security, Medicare, and the military. It is the single biggest tax subsidy in the budget-more than twice as large as the mortgage interest deduction. With 46 million uninsured, does anyone think we're really getting our money's worth?

  • The Progressive Case for Military Service Kathryn Roth-Douquet
Progressives are fine sending their kids to the Peace Corps. Now it's time to send them to the Marine Corps.

  • The Wealth of Neighborhoods Gar Alperovitz
What does it mean when more workers own their companies than belong to labor unions?

  • A City on a Hill Michael Signer:
Neoconservatism has failed. Realism compromises our identity. Why exemplarism is the right choice for a post-Bush foreign policy.

There 's als oa reviews by former Oklahoma Congressman Brad Carson of new book on the House of Represenatives and Sarah Wildman looks at books on the European-Muslim conflict. Efraim Karsh (Islamic Imperialism: A History) and Bruce Bawer (While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within).

Take a look.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Three items on immigration

Progressive Economist Thomas Palley offers a "workers' rights" solution to the immigration issue.

a comprehensive “worker rights” approach can tackle the painful problem of illegal immigration. It includes giving undocumented workers the full protection of labor law, creating pathways to legal status for such workers, legal and policy measures deterring firms from hiring undocumented workers, and robust border enforcement. The minimum wage should also be raised to compensate for the depressing wage effect of illegal immigration.

This comprehensive approach is currently missing. The House bill makes progress on penalizing employers who hire undocumented workers, but its categorization of these workers as felons is cruel and will increase exploitation by driving them further underground. The Senate bill makes progress with its pathways to citizenship proposal, but this comes at the cost of a guest worker program. This placates business by promising a continued guaranteed supply of cheap labor, but it will continue placing downward pressure on wages. Neither addresses the issue of worker rights of undocumented workers.

What is needed is to keep the employer penalties, expand the pathways to citizenship program, improve border security, address worker rights, and raise the minimum wage, while jettisoning the felon provisions and guest worker program.

Liberal pollster Ruy Teixeira on What Does the Public Want on Immigration?

5. But there is little enthusiasm for an enforcement approach that focuses exclusively on illegal immigrants themselves and removing them from the country, especially when posed against alternatives. In the Pew poll, only 27 percent said illegal immigrants already here should be required to return home, compared to 32 percent who said they should be allowed to stay permanently and 32 percent who said they should be granted temporary worker status. And, in the same poll, 49 percent said the best way to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico was to penalize employers, compared to 33 percent who chose increasing border patrols and 9 percent who favored building more fences.

6. The public is open to a guest worker program for illegal immigrants and to making it easier for them to obtain citizenship, but only if certain strict conditions are met. For example, if you just ask, with no further specifications, whether we should make it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal workers, as Quinnipiac University recently did, you get a negative response, 54 percent against/41 percent for. And you get an even more negative response on whether we should make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens, 62 percent against/32 percent for.

But that initial reaction turns around, if it sounds like helping illegal immigrants to get legal worker status or to become citizens isn’t a free lunch for those who broke the law. In the Time magazine poll, they described making it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal workers as “Allowing illegal immigrants already working in the United States to register as guest workers for a fixed period of time, so the government could keep track of them”. That gets a 79-18 positive response.

Similarly, the Time poll framed making it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens as “Allowing illegal immigrants now in this country to earn U.S. citizenship if they learn to speak English, have a job and pay taxes". That’s supported by the public by a very wide 78-21 margin

Much of the discussion of Mexican immigrant issues is not fact-based. The Mexican Migrant Project at Princeton University is an exception. Unfortunately, the results of their research are not on the web site that I could find. But one of their academic studies, Crossing the Border published by Russel Sage Foundation is described on the RS website and has some interesting observations.

Crossing the Border dispels two primary myths about Mexican migration: First, that those who come to the United States are predominantly impoverished and intend to settle here permanently, and second, that the only way to keep them out is with stricter border enforcement. Nadia Flores, Rubén Hernández-León, and Douglas Massey show that Mexican migrants are generally not destitute but in fact cross the border because the higher comparative wages in the United States help them to finance homes back in Mexico, where limited credit opportunities makes it difficult for them to purchase housing. William Kandel’s chapter on immigrant agricultural workers debunks the myth that these laborers are part of a shadowy, underground population that sponges off of social services. In contrast, he finds that most Mexican agricultural workers in the United States are paid by check and not under the table. These workers pay their fair share in U.S. taxes and—despite high rates of eligibility—they rarely utilize welfare programs. Research from the project also indicates that heightened border surveillance is an ineffective strategy to reduce the immigrant population. Pia Orrenius demonstrates that strict barriers at popular border crossings have not kept migrants from entering the United States, but rather have prompted them to seek out other crossing points. Belinda Reyes uses statistical models and qualitative interviews to show that the militarization of the Mexican border has actually kept immigrants who want to return to Mexico from doing so by making them fear that if they leave they will not be able to get back into the United States.