Against the Current, No. 137, November/December 2008

Against the Current, No. 137, November/December 2008

Whose Wipeout? Whose Bailout?

— The Editors

IS THIS WHAT 1931 looks like?

 Years ago, we recall, two themes for popular cinema were people trapped in burning skyscrapers ("Towering Inferno") and market sharks engaged in financial manipulations ("Wall Street").  After September 11, 2001 the former disaster movie genre suddenly seemed much less fun, and we suspect that after September 2008 the spectacle of stock market crashes on the big screen may not be so entertaining either....

The Financial Calamity, Blacks and Obama

— Malik Miah

AS WE GO to press prior to the November 4 presidential election, the deepening financial calamity exposes how the "fundamentals" of the economy impact working people, particularly African Americans. The so-called unfettered free market system has been a failure.

The "race factor," or racism to be more explicit, shows the contradictions of American society.

What's the Matter with the System?

— Suzi Weissman interviews Thomas Frank

Suzi Weissman: I'm really pleased to be speaking with Thomas Frank, the author of The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. (Metropolitan Books). He is also the author of What's the Matter with Kansas? and One Market under God, founding editor of the Baffler, and a contributing editor at Harpers. He writes a column for the Wall Street Journal Wednesdays. Check out his website:

The Presidential Candidates' Health Plans

— Milton Fisk

SHORTLY AFTER THIS article goes to press, we'll know who the next U.S. president will be. Whatever the outcome, health care will remain one of our society's fundamental unresolved crises.

The Frontline TV film, "Sick around the World," showed Americans how far we are from having a sensible healthcare system. The film first appeared during the presidential primary campaign in which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were debating whether individuals should have to buy health insurance....

The Crisis Beneath the Bailout

— Jack Rasmus

IN EARLY SEPTEMBER, 2008 the Department of Labor reported that the U.S. economy in August had lost another 84,000 jobs. This was followed on October 2 with an announcement that officially recorded September job losses accelerated to 159,000. That made nine consecutive months of increasing unemployment, adding up to well over one million jobs lost over the past year....

Labor's Disaster at American Axle

— Dianne Feeley

THE 87-DAY STRIKE earlier this year at American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM) ended in a rout that has devastating implications for the organized U.S. labor movement. Begun on a snowy morning early February 26, the strike ended on May 22, a late spring day just before the Memorial Day weekend.

The 3,650 AAM workers at the six plants in Michigan (Detroit and Three Rivers) and in the Buffalo, New York area prepared themselves for the strike: most saved up for months, showed up for picket duty dressed for the freezing winter weather, were articulate on the picket lines about their demands and turned the union halls into community centers....

France: A Sea Change on the Left

— Yann Remy

IN CONTRAST WITH the United States, where the political arena has been dominated by two entrenched parties for a century, France has gone through major changes since the end of World War II. Back then, workers' demands were mostly put forward by the French Communist Party (PCF) which had over 30% of the vote, and the fear of a revolution forced the ruling class to concede to demands such as universal healthcare (called Sécurité sociale)....

Mexico at War

— Dan La Botz

MEXICO IS AT war. The drug war has become all the news this fall: Real war. Bloody war. With bombings, massacres and body counts.

Other important things are taking place, of course. The Mexican Supreme Court has just upheld the right of the Federal District to legalize abortion, a significant victory for women. The left is fighting against the privatization of the petroleum industry. Teachers are marching and striking against the government's new Alliance for Quality Education which they call a sham. The miners fight on heroically with strikes and work stoppages against the attempts of Grupo Mexico and the government to destroy their union.

Patricia Isasa's Quest for Justice

— David Finkel

PATRICIA ISASA TURNED 16 on April 24, 1976 in her home town of Santa Fe, Argentina. She was an honor student, a delegate of her school and a member of a Catholic group in support of the poor - all completely open and legal activities.

Three months later, Patricia was kidnapped by the forces of the military dictatorship. She was among tens of thousands of "disappeared" in the Argentine dirty war; unlike most, Isasa survived, released after two and a half years without charge or trial....

Raymond Williams, and Why Culture Matters

— Terry Eagleton

THIS YEAR SEES the 20th anniversary of the death of Raymond Williams, one of the towering socialist thinkers of the 20th century. A superb biography of him, Raymond Williams: A Warrior's Life, has just been published by Dai Smith, who ranks among the finest scholars of Welsh culture and history of our time. Smith charts Williams's passage from the Welsh border country, where his father was a railway signalman, to Cambridge and then into adult education, a vocation he chose for political motives along with his New Left colleagues Richard Hoggart and E.P. Thompson.

The Realities of China Today

— Martin Hart-Landsberg

INTEREST IN THE post-1978 Chinese market reform experience remains high and for an obvious reason: China is widely considered to be one of the most successful developing countries in modern times. The Chinese economy has recorded record rates of growth over an extended time period, in concert with a massive industrial transformation. Adding to the interest is the Chinese government's claim that this success demonstrates both the workability and superiority of "market socialism."...

Bolivia After the Referendum

— Jeffery R. Webber

THE MONTH FOLLOWING Bolivia's recall referendum on August 10, 2008 tragically confirmed the class polarization of that country. The right-wing autonomists of the Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, Tarija and Sucre departments (states or provinces) escalated their destabilization campaign against the Morales government, while the latter singularly failed to assert its rightful democratic control over all Bolivian territory. A small, racist and virulently right-wing minority has been able to shut down large parts of the country and spill indigenous peasant blood with impunity....


Visualizing Justice for Labor

— Dan Clawson

Solidarity Divided:
The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
Toward Social Justice
by Bill Fletcher, Jr., and Fernando Gapasin
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press
2008, 324 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

WHEN I HAVE high hopes - for a movie, a novel, a restaurant, a job action - I'm often disappointed even if it is pretty darn good, since the reality can't live up to my inflated expectations.  That's true here, and I think not only for me, but for much of the labor left....

Agrarian-Industrial Revolt

— Jim Toweill

Greenbackers, Knights of Labor and Populists: Farmer-Labor Insurgency in the Late-Nineteenth-Century South
by Matthew Hild
University of Georgia Press, 2007 344 pages, $42.50 hardcover.

REFORMERS AND RADICALS in the post-reconstruction South faced a daunting set of circumstances. Many of these are well known: In the former confederacy, Black laborers were eventually shut out of the electoral process via disfranchisement, terrorized by legislation, a lien system not dissimilar to slavery, and rampant violence....

Arab Sexualities

— Peter Drucker

Desiring Arabs
by Joseph A. Massad
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007
444 pages, $35 hardcover.

THE ISSUE OF same-sex sexualities in the Arab world is a political and intellectual minefield, and more so since 9/11 than before. In a bizarre twist, neoconservatives and other rightists who were hostile for decades to the lesbian/gay movement(1) have repackaged themselves as defenders of oppressed Arab women and gays. Responses from the left have been divided....

In Memoriam

Honoring Mahmoud Darwish

— Hasan Newash

MAHMOUD DARWISH LIVED through every major event in recent Palestinian history, and his experiences and his art made him a hero to his people and a companion of every Palestinian.  Beloved and revered, he will continue to move every generation of Palestinians.  As Nathalie Handal put it, "no other poet captures the Palestinian consciousness and collective memory the way he does… His work speaks of his internal exile and uprootedness, his meditations on his historical, collective, and personal past."

B.J. Widick and the UAW

— Nelson Lichtenstein

"B.J. WIDICK, 1910-2008," Alan Wald's account of the life and political journey of the veteran socialist and labor figure, appeared in our previous issue, ATC 136. We also asked historian Nelson Lichtenstein to discuss Widick's career in the United Auto Workers and as a writer on the labor movement - the editors.

B.J. WIDICK WAS among those men of the left, including the influential group who came out of the "Shachtmanite" Workers Party, for whom the post-World War II United Auto Workers became the institution into which they poured their passion, intellect and organizational energies....

Bill Banta, 1941-2008

— Patrick M. Quinn

BILL BANTA, A member of the Chicago branch and founding member of Solidarity, died of pancreatic cancer in a Chicago hospice on August 20th.  He was 67.  Bill was a revolutionary socialist his entire adult life.

Born on February 6, 1941 in Portland, Indiana, he joined the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL) as an undergraduate at Indiana University. Upon graduation in 1963 he moved to Chicago, where, as a social worker, he became involved in the civil rights movement and was an active trade unionist....