Monday, November 29, 2010

Solidarity and Hope: The Ongoing Saga To Close ‘School of the Assassins’


Bearing Witness, Making Solidarity:

5000 Turn Out vs. Torture and Murder

At Fort Benning’s ‘School of the Americas’

By Carl Davidson

CCDS Field Organizer

The annual School of the Americas Watch vigil and procession are a unique and powerful event in America political life

Going on for 20 years now, the mobilization against the training of torturers and killers in Fort Benning, GA is part peace mobilization, part solidarity with Latin America event, part religious pageant, part public face of the Catholic left, and part gathering of the tribes for newly radicalized youth. The gathering draws thousands of people, including nuns and priests, veterans and labor organizers, along with other peace and solidarity activists. They all come for a two-day creative mixture of diverse events that leaves everyone politically transformed and emotionally peaked.

This year’s event was no different. Over the weekend of Nov 19-21, close to 5000 people took part is a series of colorful and dramatic actions. Thirty were arrested and held several days by police. Four of these were arrested after intentionally committing civil disobedience by climbing over a fence topped with barbed wire at the entrance to Fort Benning. Others were arrested for simply straying off a sidewalk in an attempt to march to downtown Columbus, GA. Local courts imposed heavy fines and maximum sentences.

Why is the U.S military training torturers and death squads? The answer is an old one: wealth, power and intimidated, non-union labor.

“For the past several decades, the US has allied with dictators in Latin America who helped that region’s small, elite group of wealthy landowners,” said SOAW founder Father Roy Bourgeois, a Louisiana native, who lives just outside the gates of the school in Fort Benning where he carries on his work.

“We got involved militarily with these countries because they were rich in natural resources, with coffee in Colombia, bananas in Central America, copper in Chile, petroleum in Venezuela and tin in Bolivia. With their militaries, the U.S. joined with them to exploit those natural resources and to pay workers $1 a day. There were no labor laws there,” Bourgeois noted. “We were like the new conquistadors.”

The high point of the weekend was the Sunday procession of thousands, each carrying a white cross with the name of a slain Latin American peasant, worker or child, and a number of priests and nuns, including Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, slain by those trained in Fort Benning’s SOA facility. Teams of singers mournfully sang the names and ages, and after each one, everyone raised their crosses, and answered with the classic salute of the living to those who have fallen in battle: “Presente!”

The procession lasted for hours as the column of mourners bearing crosses of the dead walked from the front of the stage up one side of the street to the police barriers and back down the other side of the street to the back of the stage. There they placed the crosses into the chain link fence blocking the entrance to the military base. Many mourners cried. Some raised their fists. Some knelt in prayer or meditation as the singing of the names and the chant of “Presente!” continued. Behind the stage a theatre group staged a scene of murdered members of a religious order, their bodies spattered with blood. Others snapped pictures or stood quietly.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Pittsburgh Rally Defends Clean Water, Opposes Natural Gas ‘Fracking’

Photos by Bill Allen

Western PA Activists

Deliver ‘Street Heat’ vs.

Marcellus Shale ‘Frackers’

By Carl Davidson

Beaver County Blue

“No Fracking Way! No Fracking Way!” was the chant resounding off the steel, granite and glass walls in downtown Pittsburgh on the sunny afternoon on Nov. 3, as nearly 500 environmental activists headed for the David Lawrence Convention Center. Their target was a gathering of 2000 natural gas drillers being addressed by Karl Rove, advisor to former President George W Bush.

Inside, the industry executives were meeting to discuss the "future" of hydro-fracking gas drilling and planning to use heavy explosives to blast apart the 4000-foot-deep Marcellus Shale formation to get the natural gas beneath.

"Only a dying soul," said Stephen Cleghorn, "can contemplate the destruction of life that they're discussing in that building right now!" Cleghorn is Reynoldsville, PA farmer, and his views reflected those of many semi-rural residents of Pennsylvania and other nearby states, where water was polluted and cattle died.

“They promise people all sorts of money,” said Bob Schmetzer, “but what’s your home worth if you have bad water? Nothing!” Schmetzer, carrying a placard demanding ‘prosecute the polluters,’ is the council president of South Heights in Beaver County, and the vice president of the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Report Back: Huge Rally in DC for Jobs, Justice, Education and Peace

‘One Nation’ March Shows the Tough Fight

Ahead for the Emerging Progressive Majority


By Carl Davidson

Beaver County Blue

If you wanted to know what a dynamic and emerging progressive majority of Americans looked like, the place to be was the National Mall at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on the beautiful and sunny Saturday afternoon of Oct. 2, 2010. 

It was a sight to behold. Pulled together by the ‘One Nation Working Together’ coalition of some 400 groups, an estimated 175,000 people filled the area. They were the country’s trade unions, civil rights, women’s rights, and community organizations, peace and justice groups, and many more. The focus was jobs, justice and education, with sizable contingents against the wars as well.

“I hope they look at the mall today,” stated the Rev. Al Sharpton from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, referring to the GOP and the Tea Party right, “because this is what America looks like, not just one color or one gender.”

A rainbow of nationalities, men and women, young and old, and with a solid core from all sectors of the working class filled the area. The crowd’s mood was upbeat and militant, and they let it be known with a range of voices, from old-fashioned liberals to the socialist left, that they were fed up with the right wing assaults from Tea Party, the GOP neoliberals and the Blue Dog Democrats going along with them.

“This gathering is a wakeup call for the American people,” declared Harry Belafonte, in one of the strongest and most critical speeches of the day. “"Do we really believe that sending 100,000 troops to kill innocent men and women in Afghanistan and Pakistan makes any sense?” he continued, clearly and sharply criticizing Obama’s concession to the war machine. The actor-singer went on to attack the “crippling poison of racism” and "the undermining of the Constitution and the systematic attack on our most inalienable rights….At the heart of this danger is the Tea Party which is coming close to achieving its villainous ends. On November 2, in the millions, we must overburden our voting booths, and vote against those who would have us become a totalitarian state." 

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Mondragon and the Transition to a Third Wave Future

Mondragon Diaries: Day Five

Need, Trust, Realism and Well-Chosen Allies

“The world has not been given to us simply to contemplate it, but to transform it. And this transformation is accomplished not only with our manual work, but first with ideas and action plans.”

--Father Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, founder of the Mondragon Coops

By Carl Davidson

Keep On, Keepin' On

Today the Mondragon valley is misty and grey, with small clouds drifting between the mountain peaks. It's somewhat otherworldly, I think to myself on the bus ride up the slopes, almost like a scene from “the Lord of the Rings.”

Today is also our last day, and we're full of mixed feelings. Melancholy that our week-long seminar is coming to a close and that the news friends we've made will scatter. But there's also excitement that we'll soon be back home and able to share it all with our communities.

Our first stop is another component allied with Mongragon University called SAIOLAN. It's an incubator project for helping to launch new coops and high-tech businesses.

We're greeted in a classroom by a young woman from Mexico, Isabel Uriberen Tesia,  who is also our presenter. She wastes no time bringing up her powerpoint on the screen and getting into the topic.

“Our aim is generating employment, creating new jobs,” she says. “our purpose is to do this by developing new business projects and training new entrepreneurs.”

An few years back, as the economic crisis was developing, nearly 60 percent of the students graduating in the Basque Country were having a hard time finding employment. The government, the MCC coops and other businesses, as well as the students themselves, all turned to SAIOLAN to help launch new enterprises that could put young people to work.

“There are five levels in the training of entrepreneurs,”  Isabel explained. “First is motivation. Second is finding opportunities. Third is defining a suitable project for the student, in tune with his or her interests and ideas. Once you get past these three, the next two, planning the startup and launching what you have developed, also involves finding resources, such as grants and loans, that can get the new businesses operating.”

What kind of businesses were being started? One involved processing plants for cleaning waste water in a new and better way, another was called 'micro-manufacturing,' producing very small components accurately, quite a few were new software products. One from FAGOR, the large home appliance worker-cooperative, involved finding new uses for stainless steel, including exterior products, like one-piece transit stop structures.

Some of our group were concerned that many of the new startups were simply new businesses rather than also coops. This was 80 percent, or 138 out of 172 new small enterprises over the last few years, with 2281 new employees. SAIOLAN didn't seem worried. “It's their choice,” was the explanation. “Some of them will later transform into coops, and in any case, it's good to create new employment for our entire Basque community, not just the minority in cooperatives.”

We got deeper into the subject in our next session. It was further up the mountainside at Otlalora, and we had as our resource person one of the senior MCC leaders, the head of the “Innovation Group', who had been with Mondragon for 48 years.

After laying out some of the basic features of innovation—infrastructure, science, technology, strategic planning—he made it much more real by talking about a fundamental conflict facing all manufacturing businesses, not just MCC. “Take FAGOR, our home appliance manufacturing coop. It's a mature business. We can continue to compete by making some additional improvements in quality, or cutting our profit margins. But in the end, it's going to be very hard to compete with similar products produced in Asia. We should keep at it as long as we can operate in the black and our worker-owners can maintain their standards, but where, really, is our new growth potential?

He named three broad areas—renewable energy, health and eldercare, and information technology. I got even more interesting to me as he became more specific about new product lines—fuel cells, wind turbines, photovoltaics, embedded software, wireless, ambient intelligence, and bioprocessing in supercomputers. He was presenting the shift from second wave manufacturing to the high-design and high-touch products of a third wave future in a knowledge economy, and he had 200 people working full time on coming up with new ideas and plans.

I asked a question. “Have you had any inquiries from those countries trying to define a new 21st century socialism, in whatever way, such as Venezuela, Cuba, China, Vietnam or even South Africa, on how they might use Mondragon's ideas and services? Do you thing you have something to offer here?”

“Yes and No,” was the cautious answer. “We get queries from all of them. We've been to China and other places, and there is some genuine interest, to a point. But since spreading knowledge and worker's power at the workplace also often runs against the clinging to control by bureaucrats, socialist or otherwise., the interest often comes to a dead end. But it's not always the case, and we keep working on doing what we can.”

He went on to discuss the problems of cultural differences. “We Basques are often risk-adverse when it comes to business, unlike Americans. We other avoid risks when we shouldn't. On another hand, when we talk with Mexican workers about owning the firms we start there for themselves, and they elected the leadership, they simply don't believe us. They want to know where the trick is hidden, since businesses are always owned by bosses, never by workers. There is no trust.”

So what are the basic things need to start worker-cooperatives in our countries, asked one of our group?

“First the workers themselves must FEEL THE NEED. Without that, it's hard to get anywhere. Second there must be a culture of TRUST, since you are sharing money, sharing risks, and supporting new leaders. Third, is to BE REALISTIC. You need successes, especially in the beginning. To many early mistakes, and you are finished. Finally you need friends and collaborators, but pick them carefully!”

This had us inspired and buzzing all through lunch, another amazing sampling of Basque cuisine. I had steamed artichokes with a delicious sauce and braised pork, finished off with dark strong coffee and ice cream with slivers of dark chocolate.

The afternoon session featured a presentation of one of the students in MUNDUKIDE, a small overseas assistance program with the people of Mozambique, Brazil, Cuba and a few other countries. The discussion was largely about microloans, which weren't working very well, and road-building, whic was rather successful.

Our final session was with Fred Freundlich, the American professor, who was a veteran of the movements against plant closings in the U.S. A few decades back, who now was a faculty member at Mondragon University. Since he understood both our realities and those at MCC, he could handle any outstanding questions.

There were a lot of them. The first was how much was MCC's success a result of factors unique to the Basque Country. “It's somewhat important, but not decisive,” Fred answered. “One very important . factor was it started at just the right time. If it had started 10 years earlier, conditions may have been too harsh. But the first coops were launched at a time when people really needed a lot of things, and finally had a little savings to spent. Many businesses grew in this period. If it started 10 years later, MCC may have had much stronger competition, and may not have gotten off the ground so well.”

I asked what was the response of the socialist and communist groups in the Basque County and Spain to MCC? “Mixed and confused,” was the answer. Some thought it utopian. Others dismissed it as a diversion, as making workers into capitalists. But they still kept sending delegations for visits, and going away impressed. The Basque left was also fragmented over violence, when ETA, the Basque armed resistance group, assassinated a former leader of one of the MCC coops who was also a socialist official.

After a thoughtful pause, Fred made a point that applied to the U.S. Left as well. “There's two trends in the left,” he explained. “Those who think long and hard about business and what to do with it. And those who mainly like to discuss left ideas.” The implication was that they most often didn't overlap, even if it was wise to do so, both tactically and strategically.

Mikel brought the session to and end by asking us all for our new ideas and projects on how we might implement what we had learned. There were all sorts of plans in the works, from networking food coops, to producing new green products, to making a new film about Mondragon for a U.S audience. We had clearly all had our imaginations fired up by the experience. Mikel gave us each a certificate for completing a 40-hour study seminar, which was a lovely touch. But the truth was that most of us would need no reminder. What we had learned here had changed us, and we would be looking at people and projects in new ways for some time to come.

[Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a national board member of Solidarity Economy Network, and a local Beaver County, PA member of Steelworkers Associates. If you like this article, make use of the PayPal button above. For more info on these tours, go to]

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mondragon’s ‘Second Degree’ Coops Help Weather Today’s Crises


Mondragon Diaries: Day Four

Worker Coops, Worker Banks, Worker Skills

By Carl Davidson

Keep On Keepin' On

Most new small businesses fail. That's a fact, whether they are in the Basque Country or in the U.S. Or anywhere else, Yet the Mondragon Coops, which all started as small worker-owned businesses, have hardly ever failed. Why? The key is in Father Jose Maria Arizmendi's original founding conception of cooperatives as the interlocking of school, factory and credit union.

This was the thought I was rolling over in my mind as our bus again climbed the slopes on the Arrasate-Mondragon valley, this morning with grey skies and a light drizzle. We were headed for an administrative office of Caja Laboral, the worker-owned banking network of the MCC Coops. The ride wasn't far, and we were soon whisked into a small auditorium. Our mentor, Mikel, introduced the staff member who would introduce us to the world of banking, and Mondragon's modification of one corner of that reality.

Some people might question why workers for social change would want to be involved with banks at all. But certain kinds of credit and finance are important components of any society—capitalist, socialist or somewhere in between. Father's Arizmendi's conclusion tha two of the many reasons cooperative movements fail in the past was the lack of reliable credit and the lack of innovation and new ideas. Hence the reason he started with a school, but was soon to add a small credit union formed from the small deposits of his parishioners and their neighbors. To start a factory, you had to borrow some money, and borrowing the money of people close to you at lost cost was the best way to go.

By 1959, the small credit union had grown and transformed into Caja Laboral. Today it is one of the major banks in Spain, with assets of 21 billion euros and 1.5 billion in equity. It has 18.6 billion in customer deposits, outset by 16.4 billion in credit loans. It has 1,2 million clients, only 120 of which are the MCC coops. It has 2000 people working for it, who are worker-owners. Actually, the bank is owned 55% by the MCC coops and 45% by the staff workers. But the rule they have adopted is that the factory coops pick eight of the board member, while the staff worker elect four. Since Caja Laboral, is a coop of coops, it is what MCC calls a 'second degree' coop. Other second degree coops are their schools, medical clinics and insurance agencies.

“We are rated the best bank in Spain in customer satisfaction,” says our presenter. “One reason is that we are worker-owners ourselves, and not socially distance from them. We work closely with our clients. We are prudent and conservative.

Mikel give a wry laugh from the back of the room, and interjects: “Except for the Lehman Brothers fiasco....” It turns out Caja Laboral had taken a hit of 160 million euros it had tied up in Lehman Brothers securities when the Wall Street investment bank collapsed at the beginning of the financial crisis two years back. Not only had MCC's bank had been hurt, every bank and government in Europe felt the pain, and some were still struggling.

“Yes,” said our presenter. “But we followed our rule of transparency. You and everyone else knew it the same day, and we announced it to the press the next morning.”

This opened up a discussion among all of us on the proper role of banking and credit unions, including cooperative ones. It's not a subject progressive activists are all that familiar with, but we had it anyway. First it was clear that Caja Laboral's big sin in the Lehman Brothers case was believing in the validity of the AAA ratings of its securities, set by U.S. Government agencies, which turned out to be a sham. Second, it was also clear from the numbers presented that Caja Laboral was really something on the order of a strong and relatively cash-rich savings and loan operation and consumer services bank. Its managers didn't get rich, but had incomes within the same narrow and modest salary spread as all MCC coop members. Its profits were plowed back in to building new coops. It was not in the same league as the giant Wall Street speculators in derivatives, with their billion dollar bonuses, who were trying to gain wealth not by creating new wealth, but by pure gambling with other people's money.

Most of us concluded that Caja Laboral was a sound and necessary part of MCC and its growth, but the arguments continued out the door and on the bus ride further up the mountainside to our next talk at the Otalora conference center.

Here we had a new topic, the training of governing boards of the coops. It did no good to elect workers to coop governing boards, and then just let them sink or swim. A skills transfer and training pro gram was in order.

Our presenter was Juan Ignacio Aitpunea. He was a well-seasoned and tough-minded older Basque worker with strong cooperative values in his heart.

“We use a Basque word, ORDEZKARI, for our program,” he started off. “It means 'representative,' because that's the task of the boards, to represent the workers. Our boards are elected to four-year terms, but we stagger them. Every two years, only 50% change, but with 120 coops, that means we have about 1000 new board members to train every two years.

“We do it in steps. In the first six months, we get the new people to do self-evaluations, to find out their competencies, or the lack of them, so we know what to stress over the next year or so.

What were the skills needed? “First,” Juan continued, “you have to konw the basics, the laws on cooperatives and the functions of coop leaders. Second, you need common skills—teamwork, how to communicate, how to lead, how to make timely decisions. Third, you have to know how to design and work through a followup plan.

Juan went into more detail on this, but our crew had other questions: how were people nominated, and what was involved in running?

First, if there are two vacancies, there must be at least three candidate, he explained. Any worker could volunteer to run, but he or she had to get signatures of 10% of the workforce. Next, the workplace's social council, which serves some of the functions of a trade union, could suggest a candidate. Finally the old board could name one new candidate itself. But an initial vote was taken for each of the final minimum three candidates to get a 50% minimum, then the vote was held to determine the final two.

“We need this to make sure board members have a wide respect throughout the workplace,” Juan added. “This is especially important in hard times, like now, when hard decisions often have to made. Leading is not just about friendship, or making friends. This is not mainly a place for that. But it is a great school where you can learn what it means to be responsible. You may also make a few new friends. In fact, in tough times, that's when you can make the best and truest friends .”

Juan also stressed the need for diversity and the need to bring forward younger leaders. “When you get old like me, you get too used to having your own way. A time comes when you need to let new people in, but still find other ways to make a contribution.”

Our last stop of the day was Mondragon University. It was formed as a second degree coop by joining the engineering school, the business studies program, and the humanities and pedagogy teaching coop. It currently has about 3600 full time students. Tuition is about five thousand euros a year, considered moderate for a European university. Most of the students are from middle-income families in the area or from the workers in the coops.

Fred Freundlich was our presenter, an American who had been in the coop movement in the U.S. In the 1980s, but had lived in the Basque County for a good number of years. He gave frank and critical answers to our questions.

I raised my hand, and asked: “Suppose I'm a young worker in one of the local industrial coops, and I decide I want to become part of the management. How does MU help me? Do they?”

The short answer was 'Yes.' But Fred added that management usually required a college degree, and you didn't necessarily need to get it from MU. If you had a good resume and vita from elesewhere, You'd still be considered. On the other hand, if your coop saw that you were eager to gain new skills, they would give you a good deal of support, including financial, and going through MU for your degree would be a plus.”

Others raised the general question of activism among youth. “Frankly, Basque youth aren't all that active inside the coops. They're into third world global justice issues, environmentalism in general, and Basque nationalism. About the coop managers, I'd say a strong minority have solid cooperative values at heart, another minority pays lip service to them, and the rest are somewhere in between. We clearly need a new surge of activism to spread cooperativism beyond the factories, but my guess is only about 30 percent of the workers are activists on the matter. You really need to talk more with Mikel, who's really a leader on this topic”

Mikel went up front and drew us a wave-like graph, showing an initial surge in the early MCC decades, then a leveling off, then a dip at the beginning of the crisis, and now a small upward turn.

“This is the beginning of a rich discussion, how we need to redefine and reinvent ourselves for the 21st century. But the bus is waiting to take us to dinner in San Sebastian. We can return to it tomorrow.”

[Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a national board member of Solidarity Economy Network, and a local Beaver County, PA member of Steelworkers Associates. If you like this article, make use of the PayPal button above. For more info on these tours, go to]

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tools for Shaping the Organizations of the Future

Mondragon Diaries: Day Three

Visions of the Future, Ties to the Past

By Carl Davidson

Keep On Keepin' On

This morning our bus again takes us far up the winding mountain road to the 15th Century blockhouse fortress now transformed into a conference center. I've since found out it's called Otalora, after an old noble family who owned the whole area reaching back 600 years. In those days, in was an armed way station on a trade route between the center of Spain and the sea, and the Otalora family extracted heavy taxes on the traffic going both ways.

This led to wars among the noble families over these spoils, and at one point the tall armed tower on one end of the building was destroyed by a rival. In the years that followed, to bring a degree of stability, all the the armed towers are lopped off on other castles in the area. This imagery brought smiles to the faces of the women in our group, who caught the symbolic significance immediately, even if the men took a moment or two to catch on with the laughter.

In any case, Otalora is now owned by Caja Laboral, the worker-owned credit union of the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, which operates on the scale of a major bank with outlets across the country, in addition to serving as a source of finance to all the MCC coops, who dominate its governing council. The other voice is a bloc of representatives from the Caja Laboral staff workers themselves. A few farmers use the land for dairy cows and sheep, but otherwise, the whole area looks like a well-tended national park.

After the Otalora story, our more serious topic this morning is the wider range of the cooperative movement, both in the Basque Country and Spain. Mikel introduces Lorea Soldevilla, a young worker-owner from KONFEKOOP, the Basque Cooperative Confederation. MCC is part of this, but it turns out that there are many more cooperatives in the region that are not. From the group's acronym, I also learn that the Basque language does not use the letter 'C.'

There are currently 755 cooperatives in the Basque Country, she explains, and only 80 of them are the worker-owned MCC coops. There are a total of 537,000 members of all the coops, but only 54,919 are worker members, and 37,860 of these are the MCC worker-owners.

Where did these other nearly 500,000 come from? Lorea brings up a spreadsheet on a screen to show us that there all all kinds of cooperatives and members. Eroski, the supermarket chain, for instance, has consumer members as well as worker members, and there are other consumer coops. There are also producer coops, such a diary farmers, where the farm owners are member, but not necessarily the farm workers. There are also marketing coops, transport coops of independent truckers, cooperative schools, food coops and housing coops.

At the center of Konfekoop's work as a confederation is the concept of 'inter-cooperation,' the idea that coops should help each other. 'Inter-Coop', as it's called, has several organized components. ELKAR-LAN helps people with the legal and organizational consulting to form new coops. Elkar-Ikertigia is a volunteer policy and research center. PromoKoop helps find new markets and helps coops enter new markets. Oinarri helps to link coops to the wider social economy.

But there is another vital function as well. MCC is nonpartisan, ie, not tied to any political party, and the same is true of many of the others. Still, they need to influence and work with the Basque and Spanish governments, especially on matters of law and regulations that can help or hinder them. Konfekoop enables them to do this, both as a lobbying arm and by directly having its people serve on government bodies and study groups. It's a way of working with favorable politicians of all parties without directly being members of any of them. The Basque government, for its part, is largely favorable to MCC and the other coops, since they have helped to bring a higher-than-average degree of prosperity to the region.

We all gave Lorea a round of applause for expanding our horizons. It was now time for our caffeine break, and we all headed downstairs to a room in the old castle that was now a coffee bar. There were three workers getting us expressos and cafe con leches, so I asked, 'Are you guys worker-owners of this fancy Caja Cabral enterprise too? I asked. “Of course,” was the answer, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

As we returned for the next round, I heard a few groans about the title: 'The Corporate Management Model.' Some gritted their teeth for a technical lecture; a few said, “can't they find a better word than 'corporate'?” “Give it a chance,” I replied. “'Corporation' doesn't translate with the same meaning we put on it.”

Mikel introduced Jose Luis Lafuente, whose title, accordingly, was 'Director of Corporate Management Model.' Jose started of by explaining that their model was developed over decades, going back to Father Arizmendi's Ten Principles, but in the 1990s, was also deeply rooted in TQM outlook, or Total Quality Management. Again a few eyes were rolled, because a version of TQM was used against U.S trade unions back in those days, and a few around the table remembered it.

But as Jose continued expanding of MCC's approach, which put the core values of worker ownership and democracy at the center of an ever-widening set of values and organizational principles, the mood in the room began to change. He then took each component, and in a wonderful set of inter-linked graphic images, he unfolded a number of powerful tools that could be adapted to any progressive organization to build its strength, grow its size and achieve its goals.

He posted 'people in cooperation' as the first starting circle, then went on to connect that concept to the necessity of participatory organization, wage solidarity, social transformation and many others. By the time he was done, everyone was wide-eyed. “So what do you think?” he asked. “I love it,” I blurted out. “But I'm going to adapt it to building my socialist and other political organizations.” He laughed, but in the front of my mind was the conclusion that I had a powerful, modernized framework to update and supplement Lenin's 'What Is To Be Done' and an number of other classics on organization.

It was time for lunch, and all the tables were buzzing with excitement over the presentation. Jose set across from me, but he immediately asked about other matters. “We made an agreement with the US Steelworkers about a year ago to form some worker coops in the U.S. How's it going?” “From what I know,” I replied, “they want to proceed with caution, finding a few profitable firms to buy up and create. Plus a lot of their members had bad experiences in the past with Employee Stock Ownership Plans or ESOPs, and they have an educational task show how the MCC model is not at all the same as ESOPs. He countered than it was often easier to form a worker coop as a new startup, but he understood my points. He went on to speak highly of GAMESA, the Spanish wind turbine outfit that had opened up three new plants in Pennsylvania in cooperation with the USW. GAMESA got along fairly well with MCC, even though it wasn't a coop, but simply a high-road green capitalist


After lunch, we boarded our bus and headed back down the mountainside to the town of Assarte-Mondragon. We were visiting IKERLAN, on of MCC's thirteen Research and Development cooperatives. It was the first and the largest, and had a number of research lines. It included 209 full-time research scientists as worker-owners, and another 54 trainees. “Effective Innovation at the service of our company clients” was how Maria, our presenter, summed up their mission. She went on to describe energy saving power stations, micro-needles for bio-tech medicine, new computer components for smart electrical grids, touch screen control panels for the home automation, and so on. “Less energy, with lighter materials at lower costs” is a common thread, she added.

Again I was impressed by seeing the advanced productive forces, created by high design, that would be critical to solving problems like the climate change crisis. One of our team, however, asked an interesting question: “Does serving your clients mean working on nuclear weapons or other military instruments?” No, she said firmly, we turn these down. “Is that written down somewhere?” She wasn't sure, but added that with their values, “We would simply not think of doing things like that.”

The comment served as a transition to the last part of our day, a 40-minute bus ride even higher into the mountains. We were headed to a Franciscan monastery with a new secular institution, BAKETIK, the Basque Peace Center of Aranzazu, far above the town of Onati. The ride itself was a joy, with forest broken up by high mountain meadows with dairy cattle and, once you got higher, the sheep the Basques are known for raising. The cathedral at the top was a power piece of architectural, one you had to walk down through cut stone to enter.

The peace center itself had taken on a tough task. There were hundreds of undocumented refugee children, mainly from bloody civil conflicts in Africa, who had would up on the streets of Spain, homeless. Many were brought here, and paired with volunteer 'big brothers' and 'big sisters' to help them regain trust and their own physical and mental health. It took patience, but it served the children well.

On the way back we stop in Onati, known for good chocolate stores. It was true, as I picked up a large bar of truffle-flavored 80% cacao dark for only 2 Euros. But as I strolled through the town square at evening, I noticed something of even greater value. The town's working-class families were sitting in the town square, drinking beer and coffee, engaged in conversation. Children had the run of the streets, playing games and riding bikes—and there wasn't a bevy of police cars to be seen. It was a place of community and solidarity, where people still enjoyed the simple company of one another and the smaller pleasures of life.

[Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a national board member of Solidarity Economy Network, and a local Beaver County, PA member of Steelworkers Associates. If you like this article, make use of the PayPal button above. For more info on these tours, contact the Praxis Peace Institute at ]

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Knowledge and the Path to Workers Power

Mondragon Diaries: Day Two

It Starts with a School…


By Carl Davidson

Keep On Keepin' On

This bright and sunny morning in the Basque Country mountain air again begins with our bus slowly winding up the mountain slopes, but this time its a short ride. We stop at ALECOP, a unique worker-student cooperative that is at once part of Mondragon's production units and its educational system. Think of it as a small worker-owned community college, but with technology shops that actually produce items for sale in industrial markets, and you won't be far off.

Once we get settled in a classroom, our MCC mentor, Mikel Lezamiz, introduces us to a young 30-something worker-technician who is going to explain ALECOP to us, and a good deal more.

“First of all, we are a mixed cooperative,” he states. “This means we are made up of both worker-owners and students. There are 59 worker members and about 300 student members. Some of our students also work in other coops part-time, but our students are mainly working as part of their studies, and to earn a little money to support themselves as students.”

He goes into some history, reminding us that MCC started back in the 1940s, with the polytechnical school started by Father Arizmendi, the innovative priest who envisioned MCC, as his very first effort to help the war-torn Basque workers find a path out of the devastation of World War 2. The first school's students helped form the first factory, but the school also continued, and over the decades, it evolved into what is now ALECOP, several more coop high schools, and what is now Mondragon University.

“To democratize the power, we have to share the knowledge,” interjects Mikal, summarizing Arimendi's theories. “Thus continual study throughout life must not only be for the rich, but also for the workers.”

What kind of jobs do the ALECOP students have? Our young guide shows us a list: R & D assistant, storekeeper, publisher, process technician, electronic assembler and several others

What kind of products do they make? “Most important, we design educational tools, to help in teaching electricity, electronics, automation, telecommunications and other subjects needed in high schools and in factory training. But we are also a nonprofit. We make money, but our hope is mainly to cover our expenses. He goes on to describe a list of 'competencies' that they hope to instill in the students, so they can go to work in FAGOR or other MCC factories with a good degree of skill.

It all becomes much clearer once he takes the 25 of us out into the shop area. As someone who taught computer repair to inner city youth and ex-offenders by recycling old computers, I step away from the group and examine some of the teaching stations. They are large panels with, for example, critical automotive parts on one side, connected with various testers and gauges. I examine the back side and find the motherboards and circuitry connecting them all. A student who wanted to become an auto mechanic, for example, could test and work through the key components of dozens of vehicles on the front side, while the programming embedded in the back side would give him or her the proper positive or negative training responses. Very cool, I thought. Even cooler was the fact that the students not only used these machines for their own learning, they also made the circuit boards and wrote the software to make these instructional learning tools in quantity, ready to be sold and used anywhere.

After ALECOOP, our bus makes a quick stop at Mondragon University's top-line coffee bar. We're in a hurry, so Mikel gets busy: How many with milk? How many black espresso? He turns in the bulk order, and with our caffeine fixes, we're back on the road in 20 minutes.

The late morning session is at Mondragon Assembly, a mind blowing and thought bending state-of-the art high-tech and high-design worker cooperative competing on a world scale. Its products are the software and hardware of room-sized automatic assembly machines making solar photovoltaics and many varieties of electronic components for robotics.

“It's rather easy to design a machine that can make a switch or solar cell every 1.8 seconds,” explains a young coop member. “But it's very hard to make the same switch or cell in 1.2 seconds. Yet that is what our clients are demanding of us, and it changes every six months, with higher and faster standards. We either do very well, and make lots of money for the cooperative, or we fail and we lose a lot.

“But this is what we want to be doing,” he adds. “We don't have too many workers in this coop in the 40 to 55 age range. We're all younger. Some say we try to make up in attitude and spirit what we lack in experience!” This brings a round of laughter, but we all know exactly what he means. He goes on to describe the global market for these advanced means of production, with China leading the way in many of them.

“We can't just produce for the Basque Country, or even Spain and Europe. We have clients everywhere, and we are setting up factories everywhere—Germany, Mexico and China, too.” While own by MCC, none of these are yet worker-owned coops. But neither are they sweatshops; they are very advanced production units with skilled workers. Still, it is a contradiction, and MCC's aim is to eventually convert them all to cooperatives, but they have to move in accordance with the host country's laws and customs on the matter. Or simply make the decision to abandon proposed startup projects in that region to others.

How are his clients spread around? “Right now, we have 85 here in Spain, 30 in Mexico, 25 in France, 6 in China and 20 in Germany. For this kind of equipment, you don't get a large number of orders. Maybe ten a year. But each one is worth millions, but only if if we are successful! But keep in mind that for every two jobs we create globally on the outside, we also create one new job here inside MCC.”

As we left, many in our group were debating the pros and cons of global economic justice. I shared their concerns, but I also saw something else. Here was the beginnings of some of the most advanced productive forces in the world, the means of both economies of abundance and the means of clean and safe renewable energies and far lighter ecological footprints. In any dynamic socialism of the 21st century, these young people and their creative efforts would be invaluable. I would want to shape their boundaries, but I would not want to stifle them or just send them off to work for the neoliberal globalists. We needed them with us.

As is the custom in this part of the world, our main meal was a long mid-day 'lunch', really a dinner. We were driven higher up into the mountains on a winding road to an immense building that looked like a blockhouse or small fortress on stone. When was it built?, someone asked. We checked the carvings, and translated. Around 1500, the time of Columbus. But now it was updated into long stone-walled dining rooms, with a conference center on the upper floors. Needless to say, lunch was exquisite and Basque cuisine deserves its reputation.

In our last session for the afternoon, Mikel gives us all a detailed technical talk about cooperative structures, how they can vary, and especially, how they are financed and governed.

“People are the core, not the capital. This is the main point,” he starts off. “If capital has the power, then labor is simply its tool. But if labor has the power, then capital is subordinate. It becomes our tool.”

This is part of Father Arizmendi's ten principles, which he presented yesterday. “Labor is sovereign' is one of them. “This means one worker, one vote—whether you have more money or less or anything else, it doesn't matter. You have an equal voice and the access to knowledge and transparent information.

“One journalist once said back in the 1970s that Father Arizmendi had created a progressive economic movement that was anchored in an educational institution. When Arizmendi heard it,

he said, 'No, its just the reverse. We are creating an educational movement for social change, but with anchors in economic institutions.” It's the whole of humanity that matters most.

[Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a national board member of Solidarity Economy Network, and a local Beaver County, PA member of Steelworkers Associates. If you like this article, make use of the PayPal button above.]

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Learning About Bridges to 21st Century Socialism

Mondragon Diaries: Day One

Why Humanity Comes First at Work


  By Carl Davidson

Keep On Keepin' On

“This is not paradise and we are not angels.”

--Mikal Lezamiz, Director of Cooperative Dissemination, MCC

After a short bus ride through the stone cobbled streets of Arrasate-Mondragon and up the winding roads of this humanly-scaled industrial town of Spain's Basque country in a sunny fall morning, taking in the birch and pine covered mountains, and the higher ones with magnificent stony peaks, I raised an eyebrow at the first part of Mikel's statement. The area was breath-takingly beautiful, and if it wasn't paradise, it came close enough.

I'm with a group of 25 social activists on a study tour organized by the Praxis Project. Our focus the the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, a 50-year-old network of nearly 120 factories and agencies, involving nearly 100,000 workers in one way or another, and centered in the the Basque Country but now spanning the global. We here to study the history of these unique worker-owned factories, how they work, why they have been successful, and how they might be expanded in various ways as instruments of social change. Georgia Kelly of the Praxis Project is our cheerful and helpful tour leader, but Mikel is in charge of teaching us what he knows.

The MCC reception center is part way up on a slope of a much larger mountain, but it offers a magnificent view of the town and the dozens of industrial and commercial cooperatives in and around it in the valley After watching a short film on the current scope of MCC, we move to a lecture room for Mikal's talk. The signs on the wall say 'Mondragon: Humanity at Work: Finance-Industry-Retail-Knowledge', in Basque, Spanish and English.

“Humanity at Work,” Mikal starts off, reading the slogan. “This means we are the owners of our enterprises, and we are the participants in their management. Our humanity comes first. We want to have successful and profitable businesses and see them grow, but they are subordinate to us, not the other way around.”

The other part of the slogan refers to the scope of the cooperatives. Of the 120 workplaces, 87 are industrial factories, making everything from kitchen appliances and housewares, to motor buses, auto parts, computers, and machine tools. One of the coops is a large bank, Caja Laboral. One is a Mondragon University, with some 4000 student; seven others are research and development centers. One is retail the huge network of hundreds of Eroski supermarkets and convenience stores, four are agricultural, and six are social service agencies managing health care, pensions, and other insurance matters. All are worker owned. All have the management selected by the works and the coops. All have yearly assemblies were the workers set strategies and make or change policies.

Mikal also introduces all this by telling us a little about where we are. The Basques are among the oldest people in Europe, with a unique language, unrelated to any others. They have a strong sense of culture and solidarity, and an ongoing quest for autonomy, even independence. The region is made up of four political divisions in Spain and two just across the Pyrenees in France, with three million Basque inhabitants three and another three million living abroad. They were a center of resistance to Franco's fascist regime, and have won a good deal of autonomy today is some of the districts.

After World War 2, the area was devastated, and the Franco regime was in no mood to give it much help. But one who did rise to the challenge as Father Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, a priest who had fought Franco, ended up in prison, but got released instead of executed. Father Arizmendi, as he is popularly called, was assigned to the valley containing the small town of Arrasete-Mondragon and set to work trying to solve the massive war-created problems at hand. He began building a small technical school, and then a credit union where the region's peasants and workers pooled meager funds. With just five of the best students of the school, he started a small factory making one product: a small paraffin-burning stove so people could cook and heat water. Most important, he gave the project a set of ten principles to serve as guidelines for the current and any future endeavors:

  1. Open Admission, meaning no worker is to discriminated against because of nationality, gender, political party or religion and such.

  2. Democratic organization, meaning one worker, one vote.

  3. Sovereignty of labor

  4. Instrumental and subordinate nature of capital

  5. Participatory Management

  6. Wage Solidarity

  7. Cooperation between Coops

  8. Social Transformation

  9. Universality

  10. Education

How each of these are implemented, and with what success, will be spelled out in this series of diaries-- at least I'll give it a good shot. But following this introduction and a barrage of questions, Mikal answered a good many, but soon had us all get back on the bus. The best way to learn was to see for ourselves, so he took us off to FAGOR, the relatively large industrial coop that had grown for the first tiny shop that build that first small paraffin stove.

FAGOR is several connected coops with about 6000 workers overall, both here in Assante and in China. All the employees in the Basque areas are worker-owners; those elsewhere are in varying stages of becoming so.

As we got off the bus, we are at a large modern structure that could easily enclose several football fields. We were given headsets so we could hear our young woman guide over the din of the assembly lines. Once inside, we saw a very modern and computer-assisted assembly line that was putting together household washing machines, from beginning to end. It wasn't completely automated; workers were required at many points, especially at those checking quality. This was a hallmark of MCC products generally. They compete by selling very high quality goods at reasonable prices and good service. They very few supervisors. I didn't see a single one covering the whole process of making the washing machines, and later some ovens, from one end to the other. Self-supervision was thus a competitive advantage. Not having a lot of supervisors to pay meant lower prices.

Before the crisis hit two years ago, 15 percent of FAGOR's workers were temporary new hires, meaning they couldn't become worker-owners for six moths to a year. All these were laid off due to the fall in demand, but all the worker-owners remained on the job or were shifted to other related coops.

Now the workers were on two shifts. 'One group starts at 6am and ends at 2pm,” our guide explained. “The other goes from 2pm until 10pm. There are breaks every two hours, after which each worker can take a different position on their section of the line, The workers decide this rotation among themselves. It helps with safety and spreads skill sets around.”

We noticed that some of the components were in boxes shipped from other countries, and asked Mikal about it. “Our policy for purchasing is set by three things—quality, price and service. If an outside firm does better, we use them.” He picked up a wiring harness from a box. “Here is a good example. We used to have this made by one of our student-run coops that made this wiring set and another computer component. The quality and service was good, but the price was poor. This piece, made in Turkey was just as good, the firm had good service, but at a much lower price. Our students only worked a four hour day, and paid themselves 550 Euros a week, but the Turkish workers put in 60 hours at 200 Euros. In that situation, we encouraged the students to shift to improving the product where they were better, and to design new products.

Some in our group groaned at the concept, but others felt that, give a market economy, it was the best way to handle the problem—although raising the conditions of the Turkish workers would be a good idea, even if beyond the reach of MCC at the moment.

One thing that stood out of the Fagor line was a concern for both safety and quality. 100 percent of the machines were tested on the line for safe operation, and another 3% tested again at random just before final packaging. There were numerous station stops where workers kept daily records of any accidents—a green smiley face sticker was a good day, a red frowny face was a problem day. I only saw one red face on a chart on the entire line.l

FAGOR is producing 850,000 units a year, shipped mainly throughout Europe. Their pressure cookers are very popular in U.S. department stores.

After a delicious and leisurely lunch, Mikal gave us another talk, stressing two topics—the spread of MCC to other countries, and its ongoing and often difficult efforts to make factories in areas outside of the Basque country into full worker-owned cooperatives.

Of the 100,000 people who work for MCC, of the 39,000 in the Basque Country, some 99 percent are worker-owners. Of the 40,00-to50,000 recently broke into MCC in the rest of Spain, Portugal and parts of France, many are in various stages of becoming worker-owners, although some are discouraged by the low or negative earnings in the last two crisis years. The remaining 17 percent in countries like China and Brazil still remain wage labor in firms owned by MCC. MCC, however, is still trying to find ways to deal with local laws and customs in these countries to make a full transformation.

This discussion ran into overtime, so the last part of day one, a visit to an Eroski supermarket, was limited to 30 minutes. But this one was an excellent facility, owned both by all the workers and many consumers as well. Think of a high quality worker-owned Walmart combined with a Whole foods with much lower prices, and you'll get a reasonably good idea on what one is like. But all I can vouch for at this point is that the fair trade 70 percent chocolate bars come very close to being a small piece of paradise.

[Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a national board member of Solidarity Economy Network, and a local Beaver County, PA member of Steelworkers Associates. If you like this article, make use of the PayPal button above.]

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Beaver County's Big Knob Fair Meets the Peace and Jobs Movement

Lessons Learned at the

Big Knob Grange Fair

By Carl Davidson and Randy Shannon

Beaver County Blue

The Big Knob Grange Fair, held Aug. 30 through Sept. 4 up in the lovely rolling hills above Rochester, PA, a distressed mill town at the confluence of the Beaver and Ohio rivers, is a “big doin’s’ in Beaver County, and has been for 70 years or so.

It features blue grass and country rock bands, tractor and truck ‘pulls,’ a demolition derby, dozens of rides for kids, booths for local politicians, hunting clubs, garden clubs, home improvement vendors, and local artisans. The Grange members serve delicious home-cooked food, display prize-winning livestock, fowl, and garden produce. The oldest and the latest in farm equipment are also on display. In recent years, the Fair draws from 30,000 to 40,000 semi-rural farmers and blue-collar workers with their families, and a horde of young people, and this year, with glorious weather, was no different.

This year the Fair had a new feature co-sponsored by Beaver County Peace Links and the 4th CD Chapter of Progressive Democrats of America. Near the middle of the big striped circus tent was a table with a large banner hanging behind it: ‘War Is Making You Poor!’ Many of the hundreds of passersby on any one of the five days stopped and did a double take. Some ambled on, but a good number stopped to chat and see what it was all about.

“We were there every day from 4pm until 10pm,” said Randy Shannon, treasurer of the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America. “People start flowing in after work. In addition to our banner, there was a giant 4ft x 5ft poster showing that Beaver County taxpayers have shelled out $54 million per year for the last ten years for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is almost the same amount as the county’s annual general fund tax collections.”

Carl Davidson explained his contribution: “We set up an internet connection with a cell phone. With a monitor and a laptop I showed some antiwar videos picked by Beaver County Peace Links, including a looping video of an apple pie being divided like the US budget. The military got half the pie.”

Todd and Emily Davis made a unique contribution to the table. Todd, a Methodist pastor, is the chairperson of Peace Links. They labeled 10 jars with the main categories of the federal budget. They were arrayed in front of a small backdrop that read: 'Take the penny poll: how would YOU spend your tax dollars.’

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

One Picture, One Thousand Words: Anyone Think We Can Ignore the Far Right?

Glen Beck's 'Restore Honor' Rally in DC, Aug. 28, 2010. Still think we can aim the main blow at Obama and the Democrats, and not worry about the fallout? Or just tail behind liberals and Blue Dogs conciliating with this? Time for some serious left and progressive thinking that won't fit on a bumper sticker...

...time to join with us.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What To Do About Blue Dogs? Report from Beaver County PDA

How to Deal with the Blue Dog

and Still Defeat the Republicans—

PDA Breakfast Meeting Discusses the 2010 Election


by Carl Davidson

Beaver County Blue

About 40 seasoned Progressive Democrat activists from the 4th CD gathered on Aug. 7 at the Candlelight Lounge in Economy, PA for a two-hour breakfast discussion. The hot topic of the day was the District’s Blue Dog Congressman, Jason Altmire, and what to do about him in the upcoming election and beyond.

It was not an easy question. The people in the buffet line putting tasty scrambled eggs, sausage and home fries on their plates were a cross section of Beaver County’s best political fighters—steelworkers, trade union organizers, African-American community leaders, retirees, postal and construction workers, teachers, social workers and day care workers, and a few candidates and local elected officials. Almost all of them had worked very hard four years ago to replace the GOP’s right-winger, Melissa Hart with Jason Altmire in Congress. While there was little naiveté about politicians in this dining room, they had still expected more from Altmire, especially given the distressed condition of the working class and small business in the area.

“We all know what we’re here for,” said Tina Shannon, the President of the 4th CD’s Progressive Democrats of America, as she opened the meeting. “Most important is we want everyone to speak their minds so we can figure out how to work together on this. The floor is open.”

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Envisioning the Future, Fanning the Flames

15,000 Attend Detroit Social Forum:

High-Energy Gathering Fires Up

A New Generation of Activists in

U.S. Left and Social Movements

By Carl Davidson

Keep On Keepin' On!

When 15,000 vibrant and politically engaged people gather in one spot for five days and organize themselves into more than 1000 workshops, dozens of major plenaries and late night parties across five major cultural hot spots, no one article can claim to give a full account and get away with it.

But an event on that scale livened up Detroit, Michigan during the week of June 22-26 at the US Social Forum, when Cobo Hall and several nearby universities were buzzing with thousands of people trying to shape a new world.

I won’t even try to capture it all. I’ll just affirm the common conviction that it was a major happening on the left and a huge success, an inspiration and an affirmation of hope that progress is being made towards a better future. Then I’ll humbly offer my take on it. We’ll start with some highlights and, for those who aren’t familiar with the Social Forum movement, offer a few explanations.

The Forum started on June 22 with a massive march of thousands through the streets of a devastated and de-industrialized Detroit. “I’ve never seen anything like this, in Detroit or anywhere,” said Forum participant and Detroit resident Charnika Jett. “The sense of joy, support, and determination on the part of the people here, both Detroiters and visitors, is just incredible.”

What an amazing day!” said Allison Flether Acosta of Jobs with Justice. “We held an orientation session for local coalition folks early in the day, then joined the march with the other members of the Inter-Alliance Dialogue and more than 10,000 people for a lively march through downtown! We ended at Cobo Hall, and then convened for the opening ceremonies.”

New entry of the Trade Unions

One important new addition to the young crowd in the streets was the participation of organized labor. According to the AFL-CIO News Blog, “Newly elected UAW President Bob King joined Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams; Al Garrett, president of AFSCME District Council 25; and Armando Robles, UE Local 1110 president, in leading a march and rally through the streets of Detroit. Chanting ‘Full and Fair Employment Now!’ and ‘Money for Jobs, Not for Banks!’ Participants demanded Congress address the pressing jobs emergency.”

The opening events, unfortunately, were either ignored or strangely spun by the mass media. “This ain’t no Tea Party,’ said Noel Finley, in a scarce account in the Detroit News, somewhat awed by the sight of it all. “The forum is a hootenanny of pinkos, environuts, peaceniks, Luddites, old hippies, Robin Hoods and urban hunters and gatherers.” Indeed it was, with even more variety. And the diverse crowds and meetings grew stronger as the week unfolded. To make sense of it all, some history and background is in order:

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What Every Political Organizer Knows

Carl Davidson: May Day Summit 2010 from Artemis on Vimeo.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Paris Interview: Obama, BP and Energy

Entretien avec Carl Davidson, économiste “vert“


Carl Davidson à Paris, le 16 juin 2010

“La marée noire peut aider à faire passer la loi sur les énergies renouvelables“

Quelles sont pour vous les mesures les plus urgentes à prendre après cette catastrophe ?
Le principal problème est d’arrêter la fuite d’hydrocarbure. C’est un problème technique qu’Obama ne sait pas régler plus que moi, il est donc en train de rassembler les meilleurs scientifiques et techniciens pour y réfléchir.
Dans un second temps, il faut s’assurer que BP paiera pour le nettoyage et je pense qu’il y arrivera sans trop de problème (BP a accepté de payer le 17 juin NDLR). ....

[Full English translation follows]

What do you see as the most urgent measures to be taken by President Obama after this ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? Will the oil spill lead to better laws on renewable energy?

The main immediate problem is to stop the leakage of oil. It is a severe technical problem that Obama does not know any more than I do about how to stop it. So at this point it’s first a matter is putting together the best scientists and engineers engaged in this kind of production to think through a solution. Obama knows that will include BP employees, and others as well.

In a second step, Obama must ensure that BP will pay for the cleanup. I think he will get it verbally without too much problem (BP agreed to pay Ed June 17). Following through is another matter.


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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tough Battle Ahead on Green Jobs and Climate Crisis

Good Jobs, Green Jobs 2010:

Using Green Energy Manufacturing

To Solve the Jobs Crisis Is Shaping Up

To Be a Very Tough Battle

By Carl Davidson

Washington DC's DuPont Circle area is best known for foreign embassies and sidewalk cafes and a lively night life. But for three mild and sunny spring days this May 4-6, nearly 3500 people stayed inside the Hilton Hotel for the 2010 'Good Jobs, Green Jobs' conference, trying to solve the country's economic problems and the world's climate change crisis.

This was the third and largest gathering to date on the green jobs theme organized by the Blue-Green Alliance, a coalition of several hundred environmental, community and trade union groups pulled together primarily by the United Steel Workers and the Sierra Club. Last year's gathering of 3000, fresh from Obama's victory and several new recession-fighting initiatives, was highly spirited and visionary.

Now a tough year had passed and the mood had shifted. There was still plenty of idealism and optimism, especially among the younger activists, but many were sobered by the fierce resistance of the GOP and finance capital to any timely or significantly large reforms. Climate change was being denied, clean energy legislation was stalled, stimulus spending for jobs was too small, health insurance reform was barely acceptable, and the wars were dragging on.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward: SNCC's 50th and the Ongoing Battle for Democracy


We’ll Never Turn Back:

SNCC 50th Anniversary

Celebrates Vanguard Role

In Battles for Democracy

By CCDS Participants

More than 1100 people gathered at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina over the April 15-18 weekend for a 50th Anniversary gathering of the veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and its close allies. SNCC was an early vanguard force in the Southern Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, as well as the Black Revolt that spread nationwide in its wake.

The reunion was an outpouring of powerful emotions, living history and inspiring visions of radical democratic change still needed in the politics of today. These were the people, now graying, who had put their bodies and their lives on the line to bring down Jim Crow segregation, gain Black political power and help end an unjust war in Vietnam. In the process, they had won major victories but were also well aware of work still to be done.

People travelled from every corner of the country to attend. They were Black and white, Asian and Chicano, and they came from all walks of life--some arrived in the bib blue jean overalls of the sharecroppers in the Deep South, while others wore dark business suits, colorful dashikis and everything in between. Most of all, their faces beamed with smiles. There were joyful and tearful embraces, many rooted in the pent-up sufferings and memories of those who had fallen, both at the time and over the years since.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

'States Rights' Invoked vs. Pollution Danger

Photo: Gas Drilling Rig with Sludge Holding Bin

GOP Whitewashes

Marcellus Shale Dangers

In Western Pennsylvania


By Carl Davidson

Beaver County Blue

If you're looking for a full-throttled booster of the natural gas industry to be your representative in the Pennsylvania legislature, then Jim Christiana's clearly your man.

But if you're looking for a representative that puts the general public of Beaver County's largely working-class 15th District in first place, and then brings local business into line with their common interests, you'll be happy there's an election this year.

That's the main conclusion I drew from Christiana's 'Informational Event' on the Marcellus Shale and the natural gas industry held at the Shadow Lakes County Club in Aliquippa, PA, at 8am in the morning, Friday, March 5, 2010.

I was surprised at the rather large turnout, around 200, especially at a time of day when most working people couldn't make it. About half the room was filled with men and women in business attire; the other half more typical of the area, retired folks in casual dress, ball caps and leather jackets.

The Marcellus Shale is clearly a hot topic for those who know about it. For those who don't, it's a geological formation, a layer of porous rock, about two miles beneath the surface of most of Pennsylvania's rolling hills and hollows, and that stretches into several surrounding states as well. 

Heat and pressure over millions of years have turned the hydrocarbons within the shale into both oil and natural gas. It's one of the reasons Pennsylvania was the country's first major producer of petroleum, before the Texas oil fields were discovered. Every schoolchild learns about the first oil well in Titusville, PA. Most of the 'easy oil' has long since been pumped out, but thanks to new processes known as 'hydraulic fracturing' and horizontal drilling, there's still abundant quantities of natural gas to be had--and thus new fortunes to be made.

That last notion gets us back to the reason for Christiana's meeting. Along the long row of front tables for speakers were reps from the full range of industry-related groups-Chesapeake Energy, Range Resources, EQT Drilling Technologies, National Association of Royalty Owners and, last but not least, the Marcellus Shale Coalition that brings them all together. Notably absent up front, of course, were any local environmental groups, hunting and fishing clubs, trade unions or any others with critical questions or opposition. But then, this was Christiana's show.

"Natural gas," said Christiana, "is used not only for heating and cooking, but in the manufacturing of a wide range of products-plastics, petrochemicals, feeds and fertilizers. Greater quantities here mean prices that are more stable and less money going to empower our enemies overseas." He and others went on with visions of lower heating bills and a new surge in industry-related employment. Natural gas, it seemed, had more uses than aspirin-and all beneficial. 

So what's the problem with exploiting the Marcellus Shale? There are at least two of them, one immediate and another more strategic, although all were denied any significance by Christiana and his 'informational' panel.

The more immediate problem is producing natural gas at the threat of a danger to ground water. 'Hydraulic fracturing' is a process whereby large quantities of fresh water is mixed with sand and a cocktail of chemicals, including diesel fuel and other toxics, and then pumping it through miles of underground pipe in the shale. There it is blown into the shale using a powerful explosive charge, fracturing it and releasing the gas. About 25 percent of the liquid brine and toxics returns to the surface with the gas. But most of it remains underground, below the existing water tables.

Industry speakers on the panel claimed there was no threat to the underground water that fed creeks, streams and rivers. The recovered brine was safely stored and reused, thus even making it possible to use less fresh water to make brine in future wells.  Christiana then took the occasion to criticize PA's Democratic Senator Bob Casey for trying to change the clean water act to cover fracturing, since Christiana had introduced a resolution in Harrisburg urging Congress to stop Casey's proposal. 

When Christiania called for questions, Bob Schmetzer, a retired IBEW staffer and South Heights, PA councilman, told another story:

"Out in Colorado, He explained, "a drilling rig worker was taken to an emergency room in Denver from a spill of the fracturing brine. The nurse caring for him also fell ill from the chemicals and went into heart, liver, and lung failure and was taken to the critical care unit. The Hospital went into CODE Orange, closing down the hospital until the source was found. The driller refused to give the emergency room doctor the names of the chemicals that would have helped treatment. The privacy rules prevent the nurse from saying which chemicals made her or the worker sick. They also prevent the hospital from revealing the employer. This is why Senator Casey is right. Protecting our first responders and hospitals is the right thing to do."

Schmetzer went on to mention more instances elsewhere, calling on Christiana and others on the panel. The PA DEP, he explained, is only reactive to spills and other accidents, when more pro-active protections are called for.

Christiana was quick to reply but avoided the main points. "All this proves it that there's a problem in Colorado," he asserted, "and the people there can fix the Colorado Department of Environmental Protection. As for the Marcellus Shale, there's zero evidence of any problems, and we can handle everything in Harrisburg with our own DEP. Federal involvement is a waste of time and dollars."

Of course there's lots of evidence of Pennsylvania problems, Christiana notwithstanding. Multiple local newspapers have reported spills, dead fish, dead farm animals and other pollution consequences related to natural gas drilling. Even the PA DEP has noted some of them, and issued fines. The DEP, moreover, is undermanned and facing staff cutbacks. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer lest year, "Administration Secretary Naomi Wyatt said the Department of Environmental Protection will see the greatest reductions, losing 138 positions, or about 5 percent of its workforce."

Toward the end, I managed to get the floor: "With all due respect, Rep. Christiana, assertions are not arguments. You've made the case that this is a national industry, and shown us maps of how the Marcellus shale lies under several states. If I were the natural gas industry, I could understand why it would be nice not to have the feds looking over my shoulder, and deal with a dozen small factionalized state agencies instead. But I'm not an industry; I'm a citizen concerned about jobs and clean water and clean air. You've asserted the feds can't do anything right about anything, but that doesn't make it so. Casey's measures are protecting all of us, here and elsewhere, and you need to stop trying to block it."

Christina again was quick to reply. His claims: The PA DEP was all we needed. Harrisburg was doing fine, not like New York state were environmentalists were causing delays that meant delays in jobs. Federal government could do little right, and we had to assert our 'states rights' to protect us from Washington, DC not oil and gas industries, and so on-all the rhetoric straight from the GOP's Tea Party faction.  There was terrific applause for him, little for me.

One other questioner at the end raised the more strategic question, about the overall wisdom of taking carbon from under the ground and making energy by putting it into the air. Weren't there more sustainable options? Unfortunately, he was cut off, and the ovations clearly went for Christiana.

The one sided response had a lot to do with the self-selection of the audience. As mentioned, good number worked for the industry in one way or another. But also a good number of the local citizenry, apart from Christiana's GOP supporters, were owners of small pieces of rural or semi-rural land in the county where they still had mineral rights. The deeds of many local homeowners, however, say very clearly that they own nothing of the mineral right beneath their property. Those rights were snookered away long ago. Still, enough folks still had some rights, and they had turned out in good numbers, trying to find out how not to get cheated and still make some good money in hard times. No one could blame them.

My main conclusion of the day? Beaver County residents are still in need of deeper education around the Marcellus Shale issues. It should be a public hearing or conference were all sides are on the platform-the promoters, the alternative critics and those in between. Wider connections need to be made, such as how to shrink carbon-burning energy while growing green energy, and how to grow the jobs for green manufacturing as well. That kind of public democracy would serve all of us well.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Western PA Needs Protection from 'Unnatural' Gas Drillers

One of 17 Dead Cattle near gas well spill in LA


Shale Gas Drillers

Open Political Offensive

in Beaver County


by Randy Shannon

Beaver County Blue

February 26, 2010

Wall Street bankers are investing big bucks in gas drillers as they spread across the state buying up mineral rights and drawing up leases to establish drilling operations. Stock prices of Atlas Energy, Range Resources, and Cabot Oil and Gas are soaring as they race to accumulate ownership of the enormous shale gas deposit in Western Pennsylvania.

There are two big issues arising from the exploitation of the state’s shale gas resource. One issue is fair taxation that remunerates the people of the state for the loss of a resource that cannot be replaced. This is the gas severance tax that drillers pay to all states with substantial gas drilling. The other is protection of our water supply without which our property is worthless and our lives are at risk.

Pennsylvania does not have a gas severance tax. The Republican Party in Pennsylvania used the 2009 budget crisis as leverage to stop the imposition of the severance tax. This cost the state up to $100 million in lost revenue this year, at an equal savings to the gas drillers who can raise their campaign contributions to the Republicans.

The public awareness of this rip-off has grown to such an extent that Governor Rendell has proposed a severance tax for the 2010 budget equal to West Virginia’s. The Democrats running for State Senate and State Legislature are supporting this position. Even Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner, who are taking $thousands from the drillers in campaign contributions, are saying they support a “reasonable” gas severance tax.

The gas drillers have taken a fall back position: if they are going to have to pay a tax, then they want more concessions from the state to give them a free hand in conducting their operations on the ground. In this Beaver County Times article from Feb. 12th ( ) the spokeswoman from the Marcellus Shale Coalition threatens to “move resources to shale formations in other states” if Pennsylvania does not make concessions.

This is a tired and overused empty threat. Pennsylvania has the greatest gas deposit in the United States that will last for decades. Drillers are rushing in, not hesitating in case they might have to pay a severance tax like in other states. Most importantly, gas prices are now relatively low, so that the longer it takes to drill, the more we delay, the more Pennsylvania will profit from higher future gas prices.

The shale fracturing or ‘fracking’ process as it is now practiced creates life-threatening environmental issues. To frack one well the driller takes around 6 million gallons of water from local creeks and rivers. They mix in a half dozen volatile hydrocarbons, such as benzene that cause respiratory failure and death in all mammals. They also mix in heavy metals, cyanide, and other chemicals that cause cancer. These chemicals are being released into the water table, on the surface, and in our waterways.

They are also buying up legislators in order to guarantee that their profits are maximized. State Legislator Jim Christiana, whose campaign was funded by the House Republican Campaign Committee, is working overtime for the drillers.

The drillers are unfolding a political offensive to ease their entry into Beaver County. Following their article of complaint in the Times, the drillers are holding a public meeting hosted by Representative Christiana. This “Marcellus Shale Informational Event” will be on Friday, March 5, from 8:00am to 10:00am at the Club at Shadow Lakes, 2000 Beaver Lakes Blvd., Aliquippa. Those planning to attend must call 724-728-7655 to RSVP. This will be a typical sales meeting with hand waving and big numbers thrown out to dazzle the audience into thinking that they, not the drillers, will be the beneficiaries of this wealth.

Based on experiences in central and southwestern Pennsylvania, folks have found that once the drillers gain access to their land, the owners have no say in what is done. People have experienced cancer, blown water wells, dead vegetation, poisoned animals, and polluted water.

The reason for this is that under the Bush administration, the EPA was called off the job of monitoring gas well fracking. The 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted the 247 chemicals and the practice of “fracking” from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Without this “Halliburton Loophole,” the process would be less profitable due to the extensive testing, protective measures, and clean-up that would be necessary to safely frack shale deposits.

Drilling shale gas deposits under the Halliburton Loophole in the western states resulted in tragedy for scattered farm families, but not enough to cause a political backlash. Now that the “wild west” drilling practices that have been so profitable are practiced in Pennsylvania and New York, the impact even from one year of drilling has been measurable.

Judging from the impact of 700 wells on the water supply and the lives and property of the victims, we can project that drilling another 10,000 wells using current “wild west” practices will devastate Pennsylvania communities and possibly destroy potable water for millions of residents. In reaction to this looming disaster, Sen. Robert Casey has introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act), S 1215, that closes the Halliburton Loophole.

In a brazen act of servility to the greed of the drillers, PA Republican Legislator Jim Christiana has introduced a House Resolution 609 in the Pennsylvania Legislature to express the sentiment that Pennsylvania does not want the Federal Government to enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act in regards to shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania! The resolution cites the expected monetary returns from drilling, the drillers claim that no pollution occurs, and phony issue of states rights not have safe drinking water.

The shale gas drilling is also a big issue in the campaign for Governor. Governor Rendell has given the drillers vast acres of state lands to drill in order to make up the budget shortfall negotiated last year. He has also announced plan to lease tens of thousands of additional acres this year. While Rendell supports the gas severance tax, he has made no effort to counter the assault on the environment.

In reaction to criticism and concern across the state, Rendell announced that he will double the staff of the Department of Environmental Protection to monitor the drilling. However this doubling still leaves the staffing levels below those of two years ago when they were slashed at the demand of the Republican State Senate. Even if the DEP staff were doubled again, the problem is that the DEP has not been charged with protecting our water supplies.

The PA DEP is only “monitoring” activity. It is not enforcing any regulations concerning chemical contamination by the drilling activity. Even worse, the DEP is allowing the drillers to dump drilling water laden with heavy metals and carcinogens into the Monongahela River. The water is highly toxic when recovered from the fracking process and it is placed in tanks and treated to remove the volatile hydrocarbons to meet DEP regulations of volatile hydrocarbons. However, it is then diluted with other wastewater and dumped into the river without DEP testing for heavy metals such as arsenic, selenium, mercury, lead, and other carcinogens. This recently resulted in an official warning to communities using Mon River water for drinking water.

The DEP claims that they cannot test for chemicals in the poisoned water if they don’t know what the chemicals are. And there is presently no requirement for the drillers to reveal the contents of the fracking fluids. Hearings will soon start in Representative Waxman’s committee of the US Congress to look into the fracking chemicals. However, the DEP can act if the people of Pennsylvania demand it. Dumping of unknown chemicals in the river can be halted until their effect is determined. Democratic legislators in Pennsylvania have called for a suspension of drilling until this issue is resolved.

Democratic Party Gubernatorial Candidates Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner have accepted donations from the drilling companies. While they have position papers talking about severance taxes and safe drilling, both candidates have avoided addressing the urgent problem of contamination of our water supply and destruction of farmland and animals. Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Joe Hoeffel has accepted no money from the drillers and is calling for “strong swift action to ensure drilling is conducted safely and responsibly.”

Robert Schmetzer, vice-president of PA 4th CD Chapter of Progressive Democrats of America, and Democratic Party Chairman of South Heights Borough released the following statement:

“I have been told that Onorato, Wagner, and Corbett took money from the drillers. Please send Jacks position on drilling. The Repubs took a stand on drill baby drill !….. Dems want the gas without destroying Pennsylvania’s land, water, or air as guaranteed in our constitution.

Protection of our people ,their families, and health is the #1 issue….. Bush/Cheney stripped the federal Acts clean of protection. Bob Casey is trying to correct this. 2005 moratorium stripped the Clean water act; safe drinking water act; clean air act; superfund act; and NEPA – national environment policy act. Cheney wanted to pave the highway
for Halliburton energy.

There have been 247 chemicals from MSDS sheets recorded. They have caused air, water and land contamination in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming by using toxic, carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals. The companies don’t have to tell what they are pumping underground. The DEP and EPA don’t have any cases of well pollution as told by the drillers.

That is because they don’t have to report to any agency. Presently there is no Federal agency monitoring the frac chemicals because companies don’t have to tell. They also don’t have to tell of any accidents. This issue is explosive and will be a huge issue in this election. Shellshocked…!”

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Racism Is Anchored in More Than Bad Ideas

Note from CarlD: An old friend on mine, who blogs at, recently criticized me for being 'confused' about racism, not understanding that conditions had changed for Black Americans and that racism, primarily as attitudes held by whites, was receding, and that I was missing the importance of class. You can read his argument on his blog, but here is one of my replies:


George, I assure you, I don't find anything about a people of a society 'immutable.' Everything changes in time, including people, although as Mao Zedong once put it, rather than change, 'some people die first.'

And as someone who marched 250 miles through Mississippi in 1966, I'm quite aware of the changes that have been wrought even there, especially by harsh and bitter struggles.

But one thing still in need of change is that the 'equality' won in our society still has a white top and a Black bottom, and a white blindspot persists in a large majority of our population in their inability to see it, or if they do, commit themselves to do something about it. Visit any prison or jail, and it will hit you in the face.

I base my views not only on history books, but my social practice today. I live in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, in Western PA. In 1960, it was the most proletarian county in the whole country, and I grew up here, and know more than a little about class. Most of my relatives worked in the mills, and a few of them died there.

Raccoon is 99 percent white, and even the one percent isn't Black. It's more than 90 cent 'white' workers, and I worked this area in the election. When I set up a PDA voter registration table at the township fair, complete with Obama literature, the first message I got an elderly woman was that I was a disgrace, a 'traitor to my race'. Views were more mixed after that, especially among the young. In the end, we got a large minority of voters for Obama, 48 percent, mainly because of the newer and younger workers.

So yes, racism as personal 'attitude' can change. When we went door to door and confronted it, we took the union's line and told people if they had racist fears to 'sit on them, vote your interests, not your prejudices.' It worked fairly well, but not well enough with a good number.

They continue to cling to these 'attitudes' for a reason, namely because there is a social basis for them, which is a Marxist way to look at ideas and attitudes, and this is the heart of my argument with you. As low-income and distressed as workers are in my township, every one of them knows that if they go into Aliquippa, where only Blacks live now, the conditions are far worse. And the Blacks in Aliquippa know, even if they could afford the mortgage on a very modest old house in Raccoon, of which there are plenty of empty ones, and that housing discrimination is illegal, they would look elsewhere rather than put up with the grief they would suffer from those who want to cling to segregated conclaves, however modest they many be.

Is this special status or privilege or inequality or whatever you want to call it in the class interest of my working-class neighbors in Raccoon? No it is not. Not any more than a worm on a hook is in the interests of a fish.

But it is the anchor for their self-defeating 'attitudes' and the secret of the bourgeoisie's rule over them. White identity politics is what imprisons them from seeing their own class interests and the need for solidarity with all the exploited and oppressed. And challenging the structures and policies that identity or 'system of attitudes' rests upon, however difficult, is the key element of our eventual victory.

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