Teaching Industrial Relations in Vietnam: a US Labor Academic at a Union-sponsored University

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

So How Would a Revolution Actually Start in the US? — October 8, 2018

So How Would a Revolution Actually Start in the US?

So how would a revolution actually start? 

Our daughter, an ER nurse who thinks ahead, has been reading the New York Times Op Eds post-Kavanaugh. She asked this question.

I don’t think it will start before the election on November 6. Everyone is too busy.

But first, a word from our sponsor:

NJ

 This is not me.This is my friend and she said it was OK to use this.

After the mid-term election, if the Democrats pick up some seats – enough to make some difference at the national level – there will continue to be a period while people are waiting to see what happens next.  If there is good stuff at the local level – like, if Jovanka (a democratic socialist and DSA member) wins for California Assembly District 15 – then people will take a breath and focus locally. People will get behind the more do-able parts of her Bernie-esque agenda and try to move it forward. That’s all.

But if people feel that this is just another election that has been stolen like Bush vs Gore in 2000 or 2004 and Hilary vs Bernie  vs Trump in 2016, then the rope that ties things together will start to shred visibly, like in a movie where the hero is hanging off the side of a cliff and people up above on the top and down below can all equally see what’s about to happen. We will all agree: We’ll say: “You stole it!” and they’ll agree, “Yes, we stole it! Ha ha!”

Like Samuel Jackson in the Instagram mashup, yelling at Kavanaugh: “You did it!! Yes, you did, Brett!”

https://youtu.be/pR5ushM2_gQ

Then things may start moving.

There are two clocks ticking. One, obviously, is climate change. There will be increasing wildfires, hurricanes, floods, new diseases, etc. The price of food will go up (it already has; I used to be able to buy everything I wanted at the Monterey Market for $35. Now it’s more like $70.) It will probably take a year or two for us here in the Berkeley bubble to feel the big changes, so we will just sit like the frogs in the pot while other parts of the world burn and drown and people put what they can carry on their backs and leave home.

The other clock is the economy. There is another crash coming, and this time the ruling class will not even pretend to put a cushion under those who fall to the bottom. We will all be Puerto Rico while the top .01% sweeps up whatever shakes loose and stashes it away. Note that in the wake of the vote for Kavanaugh, the stock market went up. These people are placing bets.

The economic crisis clock is ticking faster than climate change because the people placing their bets will want to get out with their winnings before it all blows up.

These two clocks will run out no matter what happens on November 6. There is no Planet B, no Westward Expansion, no Darkest Africa to claim, raid and rob.

At the point I called Joe to come and help me think about this. What follows includes his ideas.

A Real Revolution Requires a Power Shift

A revolution in America would not be guerilla warfare like Cuba or Vietnam, despite the millions of guns that are out there. If the civil institutions of our limited and distorted but persisting democracy can survive an electoral transition, a revolution in America could start using these existing institutions. That sounds like Bernie’s agenda:  free public higher education, rebuilding infrastructure, tax the rich, jobs in a reclaimed public sector, Medicare for all. But that agenda is the outcome of a power shift, not the power shift itself. A real revolution is, by definition, a shift in class power, in our case from the present ruling class of capital to the working class, the vast majority.

Not all so-called “revolutions” really involve a power shift. When there is just a replacement of one ruling group by another, but no fundamental change in class power and therefore social institutions, that’s not a real revolution.  Examples of this are the Philippines and the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and former USSR republics, etc.  There have only been a few real revolutions, maybe five, in the last 100 years.  They can also be reversed and/or distorted nearly beyond recognition.

If a revolution in the US actually began electorally, or looked like it might, at some point the current ruling class would either fix the election, deny the results or attack the new government, eventually by force if necessary. The key example for comparison might be Chile. We would have to be prepared to defend the gains by force, as Allende was not prepared to do in Chile, despite the movement, and many workers, asking him to do so.

There is also the possibility of international action against a revolutionary USA from Europe, Japan, even a capitalist China. From the point of view of the EU, a revolutionary USA might look like a Venezuela. On the other hand, it is possible that if we are prepared, and much of the military refuses to fight us, then it might be fairly peaceful, as it was in 1917 in Russia. Remember that one of the reasons we eventually pulled out of Vietnam was because the soldiers themselves were starting to refuse orders. There still might be a civil war later, with or without foreign intervention. The point is that in order to achieve a real power shift, there would have to be mass support clearly demonstrated for radical changes.

The best way to minimize violence is to be prepared, openly and publicly, and have a big strong mass movement with a leadership that can be trusted. In this we can think of it as a super strike on a much bigger level. We are light-years away from that now, but things can change very fast, even in our lifetimes.

What are the Obstacles?  Racism, Police, Lack of Leadership

We can’t just think of a revolution as voting in the good guys and re-writing laws. There will be opposition. One way to evaluate the likelihood of a successful power shift is to look at what would stand in the way.

The profoundly racialized structure of our society is a major obstacle. Racism has power over us white people through our weakness and fear, which can make us impotent in this fight. The House of Kavanaugh is big and well-built (and like the White House in Washington, was built with slave labor). It will be easier to empty it than to knock it down, but one way or another, it has to go. Exiting the House of Kavanaugh onto level ground where people are equal means leaving behind all the little perks and privileges that it enables. Outside the House of Kavanaugh, a white man has no more points than a Black man or a woman. He doesn’t get to talk more or eat more or walk in front. He doesn’t necessarily get the job if he’s applying for one. People inside the House of Kavanaugh are aware of what will happen if they really exit. No matter where their sympathies lie, they will find it hard to do. “I can’t afford it,” they’ll say. But outside the House of Kavanaugh, gains can be made even for white men that they could never win on their own.  We have seen this happen in strikes, when by uniting across race and gender lines, major gains were won.

Second, our police system is embedded in our racist culture. There may be individual good guys, but as an institution, they are on the wrong side. Today in America, their job is to protect property. They are now equipped with military-grade weapons. Their system feeds the prisons, where one out of three Black men spend some time during their lives. Then there’s the pseudo-military civilian armed forces that operate with government approval, like ICE, which feed the detention centers and the tent camps in the Texas desert where a thousand children are held captive. There is also a huge force of non-governmental security guards and private armed personnel. These entities also have guns, helicopters, trucks, drones, etc. Their power is force. They might prove unreliable politically at some point, since they are basically mercenaries, and some are unionized now, but that’s a far stretch.

The lack of real leadership is third obstacle. There are voices rising, and new faces that are getting familiar, but no one, no group of people who represent a major movement, has emerged. For that matter, there is no overall movement right now that includes everyone who wants a revolution. Instead, we have dozens or hundreds of campaigns. We have no revolutionary organization. If history is any judge, a revolutionary organization is needed. Even here, the recent growth of the explicitly socialist left, largely due to the Bernie campaign, and outrage over Trump, suggests that both a mass socialist movement and even a core revolutionary leadership might soon emerge.

Some of the real leaders may come from the prisons. Prisons have been opened before: the Bastille, for example. And remember Mandela who was released after 27 years? There is movement inside our prison system, too: they just had a mass strike. Again, racism is our key obstacle here.

Are there some hopeful signs?

Hopeful signs include the fact that the public sector itself is still large and a site of struggle, the teachers especially. Under Hitler, all the teachers just became Nazis or shut up overwhelmingly. The Nazis did not have to do mass purges in the schools or the public sector generally. We think, and hope, that would be different today in the USA.  The teachers’ strikes of last spring are a something to be very proud of. West Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Arizona teachers went on statewide strikes, without the leadership of the teacher’s unions telling them to – or even supporting them, until it was clear that they were going ahead with it. The public sector is important. The right wing Supreme Court was not confused when they came down with the Janus vs AFSCME Council 31 decision! The progressive organizing among nurses and other health care workers, both into unions and for the welfare of their patients (Medicare for All)  is also suggestive for the future.

Other activity in the world of labor is also hopeful. The Fight for Fifteen started as a ridiculous pipe dream; now Amazon boasts it will pay its workers $15 an hour.  Right now there is a national strike going against Marriott Hotels, led by workers in UNITE HERE. David Bacon (dbaccon.igc.org) has some wonderful photos posted of workers on the picket lines in the Bay Area. Based on what we know about internal organizing within UNITE HERE, especially among the housekeeper staff, preparation for this huge action has occupied at least 10, probably 15 years. Not overnight, in other words! That’s a lot of hard work.

Finally, the country might actually split geographically. It happened once already, although the immediate causes were primarily economic, competition against unpaid slave labor, and only secondarily the moral outrage of, and against, the slavers. Also important to remember that what began as a war to save the Union against secession became, of necessity, a war to end slavery, with the action of the Black people themselves, enslaved an d free, absolutely essential to both the change in the war goals and in the final victory. Things can change a whole lot.

What is the comparable issue today?  Maybe the two ticking clocks – climate change and the economic meltdown – will force a revolution, but they won’t split the country by themselves probably; we are all in both of those together (only in the final analysis is that strictly true, and as Keynes said, in the final analysis, we are all dead.) But the sharper the differences between the states, in terms of minimum wage, unemployment benefits, environmental regulations, public education, labor protections, Medicaid expansion and public services generally, the more you wonder if we even know that we belong to the same country. In Illinois, speaking of workers’ compensation laws, we used to say, “If you’re injured in Indiana, crawl to Illinois!” But it looks as if people move to where jobs are, or given the price of housing, where they can get a roof over their heads.

So, when?

An optimistic view, therefore, may be no revolution in our lifetime, but a discernable movement toward socialism or at least toward a post-capitalist future where working people have the greatest say-so over what happens. But it could happen sooner. Some famous revolutionary (maybe a Russian?) once said that in an actual revolutionary situation people learn in a week what would take them a lifetime in normal times. Things can change very fast.

Our job is to try to both move them and get ready for the unexpected.

 

 

 

 

The Mansion of the Kavanaughs — October 3, 2018

The Mansion of the Kavanaughs

It’s been nearly two months since I’ve posted. What could I say that wasn’t bad news? But now the Brett Kavanaugh hearings have happened and all hell has broken loose.  Women protesting all over the place, occupying offices in government buildings, clamoring for the white boys in charge to listen to their stories and pay attention. The best quickie is the Instagram mashup that has Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction leaning over Kavanaugh and shouting, “You did it!! You know you did it!”

Here is what I wrote on September 29, 2018. I was responding to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Lindsay Ellis, from September 27: As Kavanaugh Allegations Widen, Elite-College Alumni Recall Harassment From Decades Past Students, by Lindsay Ellis. She has said she wants to post it in various places so I figured I’d post  it here, too.

The Mansion of the Kavanaughs

As a 1965 graduate of Radcliffe (which was then still in the process of becoming Harvard), I am being urged by family and husband to write something about all this.

I have a slightly different take on the #MeToo stories.  I would tell three kinds of stories, not one. First and foremost and overwhelmingly important is naming and describing the patriarchal social structure that we all lived in back then, men and women together. It still exists, as we saw displayed in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings yesterday, but I am going to talk about it in the past tense for now. Picture it as a mansion made of marble, with columns and twenty wide steps leading up to the front doors. How you inhabited it depended on your gender. At Harvard when I was a student, there was a whole undergraduate library just for “men.” There was one – only one – women’s “lounge” Harvard Yard, in a basement. Walking through the Yard, women could wear trousers only if the snow was a certain number of inches deep. A prominent professor, beloved by many, responded to my request that he be my thesis tutor with “I don’t do girls.”  Women professors for role models of how to survive in the mansion? To my knowledge, there were two: one was a poet who committed suicide.  And there was the white-coated, silver-haired Cambridge doctor to whom I went seeking birth control — a diaphragm – who said, “Educated women make wonderful mothers.” Did he actually assault me? No — but I nearly died of a back street abortion the week before I graduated. This is at a time when the ratio of men to women if you include the graduate schools was about 20 to 1 and getting hit on was as certain as getting rained on if you went outdoors in March.

 

None of what I’m talking about here constitutes sexual assault in and of itself. It’s not individual, it’s the whole structure — the famous professor, the kindly doctor, the library that did not admit women — these are just people occupying rooms in this mansion, but it is designed and run to make all men the masters of all women. Women trying to walk around in that mansion? Well, if you didn’t take the back stairs you had to wear a maid’s outfit or just accept the idea that they assume you were a slut.

 

I can’t begin to touch how this was racialized, at least not in this letter.

 

But it wasn’t all the men, of course. When I connect with old classmates, men especially, my strongest feeling is affection and I want to ask, “You were there too, how was it for you?” This house of patriarchy was great for bullies like Brett Kavanaugh, for whom a drunken party with girls was normal, but it was awful for young men who watched with shame and fear as their women friends and sisters got hurt or bashed around psychologically. What’s more, the roaring of the bullies was as much directed at other young men as it was at us, the women. They suffered right along with us, although we didn’t have a way to talk about it. The house of patriarchy was a totality and occupied all possible space, but there were some safe places tucked away within it — a theater group, a lab, a civil rights organization that had some politics, a chess club where a guy who wasn’t a bully could be undisturbed and actually study. They also might find a partner, a woman who wasn’t attracted to bullies, who could help keep both of them safe. But other young men got dragged or dazzled into the magic circle of the jerks for whom the patriarchy was designed, the football guys and other athletes. During my years at Harvard I could spot those jerks a mile away: they were the B-School guys, the Law School guys, and some of Government majors who aspired to be law school guys. Not so much the Medical school guys, who were usually nerds. (And these grad schools were overwhelmingly male; 50 years later, I probably have to explain that.) If those who were dragged in weren’t Kavanaugh themselves, they hung out with him and basked in the glow, and did what he dared them to do or else. Him renting a bus to take his buddies to Fenway Park and drinking themselves silly both ways would be typical.

 

The mansion itself is just a place, although it’s a place with rules. But it doesn’t in itself perform sexual assault. It has rooms where Harvey Wienstein can be left undisturbed for a few hours after lunch, and someone at the front desk who will call him when the girl shows up, and someone else who will walk her to the elevator, but the mansion itself doesn’t do anything. If it was a workplace, we would call it “hostile environment,” but it’s not a workplace, it’s the world. Or it wants to be the world.

 

So that’s the first way I’d like to see the #MeToo stories told: the mansion. The second way I’d want to see them told is through the eyes of the people who were men but not bullies. I was lucky enough to know quite a few of them. These were my friends. I told my husband that these were guys who would stop when I said “Stop,” but many of them I had no sexual relationship with at all. Today I am still friends with some of them. I have also been to reunions where a guy or two has come up to me, someone I didn’t know, and apologized — not for himself, necessarily, but on behalf of his cohort.  It brings tears to my eyes right now to remember this. There have also been suicides and long depressions and mental illness among some of these guys, I want to say, whereas others have done fine (but none are rich lawyers, by the way). Some of the men who were not bullies themselves were undoubtedly sexually abused, just to show who’s boss. Mark Judge’s depression and alcoholism might be the price he paid for hanging out with Brett Kavanaugh.

 

These guys, the good guys who are not natural bullies and who hesitate to become members of the Kavanaugh gang get hurt in many ways that are not getting headlines these days. Living around bullies can make you crazy; maybe it’s like PTSD.

 

Of course, neither the victims nor the witnesses could talk about their experience out loud. It was worse than forbidden, it was unspeakable. There were no words for it. You couldn’t name it because there was no vocabulary for it. Lacking practice, we none of us knew what to say or how. That will make you crazy.  Doing what Christine Blasey Ford did was an act of sanity in the face of that prohibition. Apparently her just saying those forbidden words out loud in public was so powerful that Brett Kavanaugh has decided that it has destroyed his family, his reputation, his career. No wonder it was forbidden!

 

The third story, then is the experience that Christine Blasey Ford recounted. I want to say first off that her story was so familiar to me that I felt that I could have told it myself. This, and things like this, is what happened not just once or twice but all the time back when I was at Harvard. Maybe not exactly that way, and maybe not to me, but the banal normality of her experience was so absolute that I felt I could have walked right up those stairs and heard those boys laughing— giggling, really, keeping up a running commentary on the challenges of peeling a girl out of a one-piece bathing suit.

 

Maybe the best way to communicate how banal and normal it was to experience sexual assault at Harvard is to say that there were lists of abortionists that circulated among the girls in my dorm. There was one famous one, in Ashland, Pennsylvania, whose name had been mentioned in a poem by Anne Sexton, but there were others, in Montreal and Switzerland and Puerto Rico, and it was not unusual for someone to say, “Hey, can I get a look at that list, please?” I heard it referred to as “the cost of doing business.” You could stay in the dorm, wear your fuzzy slippers and hair curlers, and be pretty sure of staying a virgin, or you could go out into the world and try to live the same kind of life the guys were leading, going places, meeting people, coming back late in a taxi, in which case you took a whole set of risks that the boys did not take and those risks were with you all the time, with payday coming once a month when you did or did not get your period.

 

Yesterday I was so upset (both upset and awed) by what I was hearing during Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony that I took my iPhone, left the house and walked down to the bus stop near our house and just rode the Number 18 bus for a few hours, listening, from Berkeley into Oakland and back, making myself invisible in the company of the other bus riders. A bus is a nice alternative to the mansion. I did notice that quite a few other riders were women my age and they were all listening intently to something on their phones.

 

Then the Senators went to lunch and came back home and now Kavanaugh was being questioned. I do not want to pay him the respect of saying a lot about him. Instead, I want to say what happened to me while I listened to him. I was shocked to find that I was watching him re-build the mansion of patriarchy, brick by brick, log by log, marble column by column, right in front of my eyes.  While listening to Christine Blasey Ford testify, it had been like being in some plain flat place like an open field, just plain reality. She and I were both in the world I recognize, the world I live in now, where girls can get birth control and marriage is not necessary and gay couples are no big deal, and where we can and should talk about bad things and call them by their name and send bullies and jerks and rapists to prison, not put them on the Supreme Court.  Blasey Ford sat there under the lights being stared at by millions of people and she said out loud things that were true in 1982 and true today, and millions of people listened to her and nodded their heads and agreed that she was telling her story the right way, at the right time, to the right people. “Credible,” everyone agreed.

 

And then Kavanaugh got started. He was told that he could make his opening statement as long as he wanted, and it was long. First, he seemed to be occupying the same reality that Christine Blasey Ford and I inhabit, on that same flat plain. I think he expressed sorrow for her, while also insisting that he didn’t do it: he himself had never met her, he didn’t know her. Then he talked about his family, his father (seeming to stifle sobs while mentioning his father) and his daughter. Then as he talked, his tone got louder and he seemed to puff up with air. At about this point I suddenly felt a chill: I could see the mansion start to rise before me. I could see what he was doing. He was building it right in front of us by listing all its rooms and telling us what went on in each one. He listed his jobs mowing lawns, his summer athletic camps, his “captain’s workouts,” the football team, the basketball team, lifting weights, working his tail off, going to church (which for him is automatic “like brushing my teeth”), the private Catholic boys’ schools he and his buddies went to and the matching private Catholic girl’s schools where the girls that were socially OK went. Then it was Yale and Yale Law School and clerking and working for George Bush, flying on Air Force One. Room by room, he was reconstructing the mansion with all its many rooms, painting it clearly for us, every single room full of regular guys like him leading lives like his. He was building a different “normal”, not the normal that Christine Blasey Ford and I live in, but the normal of himself, the normal in which he is the top dog. By the time he had pretty much listed just about every kind of elite male privilege (boy or man) that a white guy can get in this country, he had passed from calm to sorrowful to a little sniffly to mad, then really full-on pissed off and loud, making threats and finally in a white bully rage, leaning forward with his face blown up, saying things like “You will reap the whirlwind!”  At the climax he was up high in the mansion, standing on the very balcony, his arms wide to the world, suffering like Jesus on the cross because this woman had “ruined his life, his family, his reputation,” etc etc etc. — a victim, but also he had rebuilt the mansion, built an establishment around himself of which he was the exemplary deserving occupant.

 

My husband was also watching Kavanaugh on TV and he asked, “Is that Shakespeare?”  My sister in law was there and she said, “No, the Bible.”  But there’s a way in which Kavanaugh’s rage was something out of Shakespeare, in the sense of mad Lear on the heath, wild and raging that he has had his crown grabbed out of his hands. However, when Shakespeare builds up a character like this — usually someone who has lost something and tries to get the universe to converge on him and get it back for him  – Shakespeare makes sure we can see the other characters on the stage gaping at the guy who has gone off the rails. In Shakespeare, someone will survive to pick up the pieces when this guy blows up. It will be a tragedy, but someone will survive.

 

Not so with Kavanaugh, who finally stopping bloviating leaving everyone clearly exhausted. Diane Feinstein, who although she has a lot of money nevertheless grew up in that mansion, was probably having a hard time focusing on what is real and what is not. She seemed to fumble the first question. Kavanaugh then managed to filibuster his way through most of the ensuing questions. Ultimately, of all the Democratic Senators, only Cory Booker, the Black ex-mayor of Newark and now Senator from New Jersey, was able to bring the jerk to heel and keep him from interrupting. In fact, it seemed as if it was faintly possible that Kavanaugh was afraid of Booker. Which makes sense, especially if you believe as I do that the reason white policemen shoot Black men is because white bullies are afraid of Black men generally, and should be, because they owe them nothing and have nothing to lose.

 

Now I’ll bring this around to the #MeToo movement, which has brought out into the light the stories of what it is like for women in the mansion where most of us still live. #MeToo stories are usually individual stories. We need to go past that. I’m saying there are two other stories without which the stories of individual assaults and violence are incomplete.

 

One of these is the story of the mansion itself, by which I mean all the activities in all the different rooms, closets, hallways, basements and ballrooms where people who may think they play only a whisper or a shadow of a role nonetheless keep the building standing upright. Go back to the fine silver-haired doctor who didn’t give me a diaphragm; he was performing his role in the mansion, but you couldn’t exactly say he assaulted me, could you?

 

The second is the story of the men and boys who can see what’s wrong, can see the blows falling on the woman or girl next to them, but who just eat their own pain and fear being singled out by a bully if they speak up. The structure of the mansion, visible to women, is probably invisible to them; they bump into its walls and don’t understand where the doors are. They must experience something that makes them question what the value of being a man might be.

 

Ultimately, my husband and I calmed down last night by trying to figure out what could be done right now. He said, “Economic equality.” I said, “No, control over our bodies comes first.” Of course, that’s why the right wing wants Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court: to get rid of Roe versus Wade. So we agreed that the thing to do right now is to support Planned Parenthood. No wonder the Republicans want to de-fund it.

 

Enough for now. Thanks for reading all this.

Yours,

Helena Worthen