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.

Good news, overall — November 28, 2018

Good news, overall

I am writing this on November 15, nine days after the mid-term election. Ballots are still being counted. There are still 7 contests for seats in the House of Representatives that are “too close to be called,” two in California, two in New York, one in Texas, one in Mississippi, and one in Utah. Both are leaning Democrat. In Mississippi and Florida they are still counting ballots for Senate contests.  The ballots for Governor in Georgia and Florida are still being counted.

How state-level elections are run is a matter of state law (http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/election-administration-at-state-and-local-levels.aspx). The person who is accountable for how an election is run can be elected or appointed, and if they are appointed, it may be by the Governor, by the legislature, or by some commission whose members are themselves appointed. This person has a lot of leeway in how they run the election. Deadlines, for example — they vary from state to state. Ballots that aren’t  counted by whatever deadline the state decides may not get counted at all. Lawyers can go to court and get judges to move the deadlines, however. Some states have requirements that a contest be close within a certain percent in order to trigger a run-off. There are laws about when to use machine counting and when you have to use hand-counting.  One state has poll workers eyeballing the signatures on the outside of ballot mailing envelopes and determining if they match a sample signature in some other record. To say nothing of old ballot-counting machines and new ballot-counting machines. Right now, Florida has one manual recount and six machine recounts going. It is Florida again where the Governor has tried to have all the election equipment and processes impounded by the police. Florida, of course, is the state where Bush vs Gore, the 2000- election, was decided.

Here is a parody of what the right has done with our electoral system. It’s five of the weirdest old white guys you ever saw, wearing wigs, and singing Beach Boys songs:

watch

Nonetheless, in many places, state and local level, Democrats have already won or appear to be leading in the un-called races, as mail-in and provisional ballots get counted.  Races that appeared to be lost on Nov 7 now are flipping. Josh Harder out in Stockton, for example, whom we supported, has won. Four California districts flipped to blue and one more seems to be coming along.  In Florida, Andrew Gillum conceded first, and then as the count continued, withdrew his concession. In Georgia, Stacy Abram’s numbers are climbing.

Overall, in the House of Representatives the Democrats gained 35 seats and hold 230. The Republicans lost 35 to hold 198.

In the Senate, the Democrats lost 1 to hold 47 and the Republicans gained 1 to hold 52, but two races are still uncalled, so it may turn out to be 49-52.

The Democrats won seven Governorships to have 23 and the Republicans lost 6 to have 25. Again, two races (Florida and Georgia) are undecided. As more and more major policies (like Medicare expansion, unemployment compensation, public sector labor laws, school funding) are enacted at the state level as compared to the federal level, people figure out that they have to think about holding state leadership to account and not vote a nationalist “patriotic” ticket on the state and local level.

This is some pretty good news, and the best part of it is that many of the wins for the Democrats are people who are not the old-style corporate liberal Democrats. Many of the candidates who won were endorsed by OR, Our Revolution – the organization that spun off of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign.

This is in spite of our Electoral College process, the 2-senators-per-state rule for the Senate, and then a 60-plus year (post Brown vs Board of Education) strategy on the part of the right wing to bring back the Confederacy.  (See Nancy McLean’s Democracy in Chains.) In spite of failing to re-authorize the Voting Rights Act, permitting massive gerrymandering, and voter suppression down to closing polling places or moving them at the last minute, and on and on, so that the old “3/5ths” rule pretty much is back in place, with only 3/5s of those who could vote being able to vote.

It looks as if we have in fact been able to make a lot of our battered machinery of democracy work anyway. Amazingly. Yes, it has taken a lot of money (individual donations by people who don’t have much extra to begin with) and a whole lot of time. It’s not something you can keep doing forever. But it does look like it happened.

I wrote about his before the election and said, in response to the question, “What would a revolution look like?” — that maybe, if we could make our democracy work, it would look like a shift of the basis of power from the few with bottomless pocketbooks to the many like us. That hasn’t really happened but this is a warning.

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Ultimately, Andrew Gillum in Florida, Stacy Abrams in Georgia and Mike Espy in Mississippi (all Black candidates) lost, but lost by a handful of votes. Now (two weeks later) Barbara Lee is contesting Nancy Pelosi’s candidacy for Speaker of the House. 

And in between, the hills and mountains northeast of us, up above the Central Valley, went up in flames. A town called Paradise was completely burnt to the ground. Years of alternating drought and heavy rains created thousands of square miles of flourishing forest that would dry out and wither and become kindling. People moved up into these hill towns because land is cheap and living is relatively simple, but if you live way out along a narrow two-lane road and a massive wind-borne wildfire comes pouring down the mountain, and you get stuck behind your neighbors in a traffic jam on that two-lane road, you die. So far there are 80 or more identified deaths and several hundred people simply missing.

The smoke from the wildfires rolled down towards the Bay Area which acted like a basin and collected it. For two weeks the sky was black. According to the air quality index, we had the worst air quality in the world, worse than Beijing on a bad day. Schools were closed and people stayed indoors. If you went outdoors, you work a N95 mask (if you could get one — stores ran out).

At last it rained. The water in the creek running through John Hinkel Park and in the street gutters was thick and black and sudsy.  We’ve washed the floors, curtains and other surfaces. But we’ll keep our masks and our new air purifier. There are thousands more square miles of forest to burn, just in Northern California, and it will all pool down into the Bay.

New Beach is gone; new New Beach will show up when the river goes down — November 6, 2018

New Beach is gone; new New Beach will show up when the river goes down

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It has rained on and off and then on again, hard, and the ground is saturated so the water runs right into the river. This is what the Old Swimming Hole looks like. We told Lorenzo about this and he asked if the New Beach was gone. We said we would go look, as soon as it stopped raining so hard.

The path to New Beach used to go through a low, open wooded area. That is now a pond. Our old path would go along the right side of what is now under water. You can see the river itself in the distance. The whitecaps are the water pouring over the rocks.

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In order to get to where we could look at New Beach, we had to cross some streams.

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We went past a pile of crushed metal left over from the flood. It looked like part of an RV. The flood, which was named Irene, picked up whole RVs, trailers and at least four houses in the town and pushed them downstream, wrecking them and twisting them up into little pieces. This was in 2011, seven years ago. Everyone who was in the town then remembers.

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If you look closely here you can see a bicycle. Somebody lost their bicycle.

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Finally we got to where we could look and see where New Beach used to be.  See that white pole hanging out over the water? That used to be up on top of a sand pile and people would hang towels on it or sit near it. You can see the pale yellow of the sand under the shallower parts of the water. That’s how high the water is now.

This is not a real flood, like Irene. This is just a lot of rain. This happens a lot.

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So New Beach, which was created along the West River below the State Park, is gone. However, it was a flood that created the first New Beach so when there is the next flood, we will probably get another on the same way.  Maybe the sand will be there. Or maybe not. Maybe it will be down the river a ways.

On the way back, we passed this lovely group of trees. There should be a special word for a group of young trees all standing together.

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Then we came out at the bottom of the field below the Tewksbury house.

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Still there.

 

 

 

Tuesday Nov 6: no matter what happens, we will be fighting on different ground — November 5, 2018

Tuesday Nov 6: no matter what happens, we will be fighting on different ground

The election is day after tomorrow. I remember how I felt after the 2016 election. In 2018, I am much better prepared. I think a lot of people are better prepared. I have never seen mobilization like what I have seen in the last year. Never — not even in the 1970s against the Vietnam War. But no matter what happens on Tuesday,  it’s not going to let up. If anything, the conflict will only get sharper.

I think people on both sides know this.  They’re not thinking of Tuesday as the end of the story.  Nobody’s going to take time off. If the bad guys win, we’re still stuck in a life and death struggle because global warming has given us a deadline: get it together, or get out. If the bad guys win we just keep moving towards the world we have seen in movies, with deserts, continents of toxic waste, and then islands or even mini-moons of luxury.  If that’s what happens, people like us just keep fighting. On the other hand, if the good guys win, the conflict will move to Congress. This doesn’t mean that people at the base  on either side can cool it. The good guys had better not cool it; if we have actually succeeded in electing people we want to represent us, we need to keep them on course and make them make the wheels turn. The bad guys will have a heightened romantic identity as underdogs and flag-wavers; they’ll keep themselves busy. William Berkeley, the colonial governor of Virginia at the time of Bacon’s Rebellion, said, “Woe be it to a governor, three quarters of whose citizens are indebted, discontented, and armed.”

The key races are all so close that wins, either way, are going to be by a handful of votes. It’s going to be 49.9% against 49.8%. That leaves a lot of unhappy, angry people out there. No one who loses by a thousand votes, or four hundred votes, or ten votes, is going to just walk away and say, “Never mind.”  There will be re-counts, lawsuits, ugly name-calling. More pipe bombs, probably.

There will be stunning examples of good leadership, too. Although I believed Bernie could have won – and would have won, if the Democratic National Committee had not screwed with him – I always also trusted that he would show us what losing with dignity looks like. I will never forget the speech he gave at the Convention when he handed Vermont’s electoral votes to Hilary. That was a mind-blowingly gracious and grown-up act. He rose to the occasion.

But maybe 2016 was too soon for a Social Democrat to win the presidency. Maybe the cleft down the middle of our country had to break wide open, maybe each side had to see more clearly exactly what the other side looks like. Maybe we had to actually see Jeff Sessions, the Proud Boys, Charlottesville, Kavanaugh……

Tuesday night we’ll be in Brattleboro at the bi-weekly meeting of the Vermont Workers Center Organizing Committee, a good group of people to be with on a night like that. There’s going to be those maps again, as House representatives who have 2-year terms and the 33 Senators who are up for election show up as columns of red or blue.Then the Governor’s races check in. The VWC meetings take place at a non-profit center called TheRoot, a comfortable building that is part artists’ studios and part community enter. It has parking, heat, a bathroom, a lot of comfortable chairs and books and posters.  It also has internet. I’ll go on line and try to see what’s happening in California, Pacific Standard Time.

I’m prepared to cry. I didn’t cry after 2016; I was just scared. This year, if we lose big, I’ll cry for pity for the human race. But intellectually – in my harder-headed side — I expect that I’m going to hear a big cracking noise, like a beam splitting or – come to think of it — like the 1989 earthquake which I remember vividly: a deep grinding noise way below eardrum-audible, but body-audible, as the East Bay Hills groaned and tried to turn over. When the noise is over, I think I’ll see a country split apart as it hasn’t been since the Civil War.