Monday, May 31, 2010


Harry Targ

The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction-and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively (from The National Security Strategy of the United States, September 20, 2002).

…power, in an interconnected world, is no longer a zero sum game. …we will pursue engagement with hostile nations to test their intentions, give their governments the opportunity to change course, reach out to their people, and mobilize international coalitions….The belief that our own interests are bound to the interests of those beyond our borders will continue to guide our engagement with nations and peoples (from The National Security Strategy, May 2010).

The Globalist and Pragmatist Approaches to United States Foreign Policy

The United States emerged from World War II as the “hegemonic power” in the international system. This meant that international institutions and law, diplomatic practices, and the emergence of a global political economy were largely shaped by United States interests. Of particular relevance to global capitalism was the routinization of “free trade,” open doors to foreign investment, access to cheap labor, and the use of multi-billion dollar programs of economic and military assistance to further the penetration of friendly countries around the world. In our own day capitalist states including the United States have pursued the globalization of financial speculation.

The “golden age” of United States economic and military hegemony began to unravel with the quagmire of Vietnam, the oil shocks of the 1970s, and the rise of capitalist competitors to the United States. And, of course, throughout the period from the end of World War II to the present, popular resistance to capitalist hegemony spread from Southeast Asia, to the African continent, to Central America and the Caribbean, to the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf.

Each United States administration sought to maintain global hegemony in the face of growing challenges from the Global South, from Socialist states, and from capitalist competitors. But administrations adopted different strategies and tactics to achieve their hegemonic goals. No better comparison of the two primary programs of foreign policy action can be identified then examining the key foreign policy statements of the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

The former represents the “globalist” tradition in United States foreign policy. Globalists, alternatively referred to as “neoconservatives,” believe that the United States, based on its military superiority, can and must impose its institutions and policies on the world. This means acting unilaterally to maintain United States hegemony, whatever the reactions from friend and foe alike. This is no better illustrated than the Bush “doctrine of preemption.” The United States reserves the right to act unilaterally when it believes that an enemy, a nation or a people, may in some undetermined future time, threaten the United States.

Also, the globalist agenda assumes that unilateral military action replaces diplomacy as the primary tool of international relations. This rejection of diplomacy challenges the four hundred year tradition of international relations.

Therefore, globalists declare their hostility to alliances, international institutions and norms, and hundreds of years of international law. In other words, the globalist approach to foreign policy, much like the metaphor of the lone gunslinger of the Wild West, emphasizes unilateral action, force, insistence that others accept U.S. domination, and the “zero-sum” view of the world; that is nations and peoples are with the United States or they are with the enemy. Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy statement is a powerful reflection of this globalist stance.

In general the pragmatist approach to U.S. foreign policy regards diplomacy as an essential tool of a nation’s foreign policy. In fact, military means are used to achieve goals only when diplomacy fails. Diplomatic tools, dialogue and negotiation, may be effective devices in dealing with enemies as well as friends.

Pragmatists see alliances, international institutions and norms, and the selective obedience to international law as central to the pursuit of national interests.

Finally, the pragmatists are more likely to see international relations as a “non-zero sum” game; that is, through negotiations with adversaries both the United States and the other party or parties may be beneficiaries of negotiation.

National Security Strategy Documents: 2002 and 2010

The 2002 NSS document submitted as required to Congress generated enormous attention. Buried in the familiar language of promoting freedom, markets, and other “universal values,” the Bush administration announced that it reserved the right to attack targets, nations or groups, which were perceived to be possible threats to the United States. The NSS declared that this had always been United States policy; the unilateral declaration of the right to peremptorily attack any target. In other words, Bush declared, foreign policy in his administration had not changed from prior ones.

Progressive analysts agree that the United States has acted peremptorily many times. But they say that for the most part official declarations throughout the period since World War II claim that U.S. policy has been to deter possible aggression rather than to unilaterally launch military strikes on perceived threats (the Reagan administration being the exception rather than the rule). Therefore to the extent that the former policy of deterrence had been replaced by preemption, United States policy had changed significantly. In combination with other elements of strategy, using force not diplomacy, ignoring allies and international institutions, and seeing the world in terms of winning or losing, the 2002 NSS statement seemed dangerously militaristic.

The 2010 NSS document pays homage to freedom, markets, democracy, and American virtue, and identifies terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction as enduring problems. But much of the document suggests a foreign policy shift from the globalist lens on the world to the pragmatist one. The NSS 2010 document opens with a clear commitment to deterring aggression, not initiating it. It states that no single nation, no matter how powerful, can determine the destiny of the world alone. And it proclaims that “America must prepare for the future, while forging cooperative approaches among nations that can yield results.”

The document declares that the United States must work with others to achieve a world free of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and repression. As to the latter, NSS 2010 even asserts that part of the path to a more secure world involves the United States living up to its own values at home. While tinged with Reagan’s view of the United States as the “city on the hill” the document significantly declares that:

"…the most effective way for the United States of America to
promote our values is to live them. America’s commitment to
democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are essential
sources of our strength and influence in the world. They too
must be cultivated by our rejection of actions like torture
that are not in line with ourvalues, by our commitment to
pursue justice consistent with our Constitution, and by our
steady determination to extend the promise of America to all
of our citizens. America has always been a beacon to the
peoples of the world when we ensure that the light of America’s
example burns bright."

As to relations with the rest of the world, the document declares firmly that it would be a mistake “to walk away” from the international system. It promises to work to strengthen international institutions and to galvanize collective action. “The starting point for that collective action will be our engagement with other countries.” Importantly, NSS 2010 adds that “power, in an interconnected world, is no longer a zero sum game.” And to promote engagement the United States will pursue it “…with hostile nations to test their intentions, give their governments the opportunity to change course, reach out to their people, and mobilize international coalitions.”

Do Words Matter?

NSS 2002 and 2010 reflect the similarities and differences of outlook, strategy, and tactics characteristic of United States foreign policy. For sure, the goals of United States have been in keeping with the needs of capitalism to expand. But different administrations have articulated what U.S. policy would be in different ways and to some degree would act in conformance with their descriptions. Also, some presidents would talk and act like both globalists and pragmatists, as circumstances dictated. For example, President Eisenhower made a powerful speech calling for the diminution of the Cold War with the Soviet Union in 1953. He followed it up with negotiations with the Soviet leadership later in the 1950s and warned before he left office of a rising military/industrial complex. At the same time his administration called for the “liberation’ of Eastern Europe and China from the yoke of Communism, overthrew freely elected governments in Iran and Guatemala, and began the long march toward disaster in Vietnam.

Candidate Obama excited Europeans, citizens of the Middle East, and even radicals in Latin America with his dramatic speeches calling for a new day in United States global relations. At the same time, the United States over the last 16 months has expanded its commitment to Afghanistan, launched a brutal drone war campaign against targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and backed away from the condemnation of the coup in Honduras and hoped for improved U.S. relations with Cuba and Honduras.

But the documents do reflect differences in tone and emphasis in United States foreign policy. After eight long years of globalist policy, elements of the NSS 2010 document seem refreshingly different. And while the new document does not and can not, renounce imperialism, it does offer guidelines for those who are working for a progressive foreign policy.

In the end when we march and lobby against wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, demand the end to high-technology drone murder, insist on an end to the blockade of Cuba, and cry out for an end to military and diplomatic support of Israeli brutality against the Palestinian people, we can use the words of NSS 2010 to defend our point of view.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Harry Targ

Racism and the Labor Movement

Historic connections between organized labor and African Americans have been problematic. During the period of modern labor history, that is, from the formation of the CIO in the 1930s, to its merger with the AFL in 1955, and into the present, labor's struggle against racism has been mixed. On the one hand, as Philip S. Foner describes it, the American labor movement throughout much of its history has practiced racism in its internal organizational policies, in its efforts to organize new workers under the banner of labor, and in regard to its advocacy of political positions. Writes Foner, “from the formation of the first trade unions in the 1790s to the mid-1930s, the policy and practice of organized labor so far as Black workers were concerned were largely those of outright exclusion or segregation.”[1]

As a prominent institution in American life, perhaps it is no surprise that organized labor has reflected the currents of racism that run deep throughout American history. However, a close reading of labor history will also uncover significant exceptions to the rule. That is, various trade union confederations, such as the Knights of Labor in the 1880s, and the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) of the 1930s and 40s, reflected through words, and sometimes in deeds, the position articulated by Robert Baker in 1902, that the organization of workers should encompass “the cause of all humanity, regardless of race, color, or sex.” Said Baker: "The more organized labor champions the cause of all labor, unorganized as well as organized, Black as well as White, the greater will be the victories; the more lasting, the more permanent, the more beneficial and the more far-reaching will be its successes.”[2]

One of the most striking successes in the struggle against racism in the modern labor movement is a little studied labor union, the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), which formed as an organizing committee in 1937 and continued to represent packinghouse workers until its merger with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in 1968. During its 30-years' existence UPWA struggled to organize and fairly represent workers in meat packing plants and collateral industries, fought to overcome racism within the union, and played a major role in building and supporting a burgeoning civil rights movement during the 1950s. In the words of Michael Goldfield: "The racial practices of the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) are especially inspiring."[3]

The UPWA story below is constructed largely from a set of 128 interviews with former members of the union, both from the rank and file and leadership, conducted by Halpern and Horwitz.[4] Three published books add to the literature on this progressive union, helping to create a history of a trade union led by a coalition of political leftists (many members of the Communist Party USA), liberals, and militant Black workers who stood for peace and social justice during difficult times in the United States, particularly after World War II.[5] In addition to the three new books and selections from the Halpern and Horwitz interviews, I will add a few insights gathered by my own interviews of three leaders of the UPWA.[6]

On Labor History

The industrial revolution in the period following the Civil War planted the seeds for a transformation of the workforce in the USA, shifting workers from farm to factory. With the emergence of modern manufacturing came increasing patterns of control and exploitation of workers. While many workers were initially skilled craftspersons who enjoyed autonomy and expertise, owners and managers of capital sought to increase control over the processes of work, especially in an effort to speed up production. Profits could be enhanced further by extending the length of work days as much as physical survival would allow. Of course, as capitalism grew and grew, profits also would be increased if wages were reduced as much as possible. Increasing managerial control of the work process, speeding up the pace of work, extending the work day, and cutting wages all stimulated the creation of labor movements to challenge capital's prerogatives.

In the 1880s a confederation of unions that embraced the skilled and unskilled, men and women, Black and White, organized as the Knights of Labor. While its history was short–lived, it fought for the eight-hour day and introduced into USA labor history a principle of inclusiveness that would flower and grow in the 1930s and beyond. Also in the 1880s, a trade union confederation called the American Federation of Labor formed, bringing together unions representing primarily skilled workers. Under the leadership of its first president, Samuel Gompers, the AFL built an organization that, despite ups and downs, survives to this day. Whereas the Knights practiced inclusiveness, the AFL as it unfolded gave primary support to the organization of skilled workers, and over time tilted toward segregation among affiliated unions, so that Black workers would be represented in totally Black unions. The AFL also accepted unions into the federation that constitutionally prohibited Black workers from membership.

From 1905 until World War I, a militant union, the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies, organized hard rock miners, textile workers, and others. The IWW rejected political action, championing a syndicalist vision of a new world order, organized around worker control of the economic life of the country. Since the IWW rejected electoral and other more conventional politics, it was not involved in struggles around de-segregation and voting rights. However, the IWW championed the inclusiveness of all workers and rejected racism. Given their brand of revolutionary activity, Wobblies were hounded by the state and by vigilantes until, by the 1920s, they were virtually crushed.

After an interregnum of state repression, company unions, and company welfare schemes to keep workers from organizing, the 1930s saw a huge wave of political mobilization and labor organizing that led to the formation of the CIO. Some union leaders, led by John L. Lewis of the miners, withdrew from the AFL to form the CIO, because the former group refused to organize industrial, or so-called non-skilled, workers. Between 1935, at its founding, until 1940, the CIO unionized four million workers. Unions emerged in such industries as automobile manufacturing, electronics, steel, rubber, and meat packing. The great flurry of working-class mobilization was stimulated by the exigencies of the Great Depression, the exclusiveness of the AFL, and the groundbreaking work of communists and other leftists on the shop floors, who had worked for years to plant the seeds of the idea of industrial unionization. By 1955, over thirty percent of the American workforce was in unions. The AFL and CIO, the two major trade-union confederations, had over 100 member unions in them. Then the two confederations united, the legacy of which survives today as the AFL-CIO. This constituted the melding of the old craft unions founded before the 20th century with the newer industrial unions of the 1930s.

Meat Packing

The processing of meat was one of the earliest mass-production industries, developing a detailed division of labor that became a model for most subsequent manufacturing. The corralling, slaughtering, and dressing of meat products for shipment around the country became possible when the refrigerated railroad car was developed. By the turn of the century, meat was processed in huge centers in Chicago, Omaha, and Fort Worth, with smaller operations around Iowa and Minnesota. Meat packing plants were scattered throughout the South and Northeast as well. The meat processing center from the 1880s to the late 1950s was in Chicago. The stockyards, housing the ‘Big Four’ packers (Armour, Cudahy, Swift, and Wilson), employed thousands of workers. Because the work was so dangerous and unpleasant, it was largely carried out by the most marginalized sectors of the working class. First, this included primarily immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. During the great migrations from the South, both before and after World War I, Black workers gravitated to the packing plants, leaving behind their lives as sharecroppers.

Packinghouse workers, experiencing horrible working conditions and insufficient wages, sought to secure union recognition as the Amalgamated Meat Cutters. Two long and bloody strikes (1904 and 1921) were defeated by the companies. During both strikes, many African-American workers were temporarily employed to break the strikes. Since Black workers suffered from economic circumstances as desperate as those faced by the striking White workers, and since they were excluded generally from unions and consequently the benefits they would gain from unionization, these so-called ‘scab’ workers felt no loyalty to the strikers or the union. In the aftermath of the two defeats, hostility towards Black workers rose, and Black resentment of Whites increased as well. For years, remembrances of racism and scabbing impaired any effort to create a common front against the packers.


The atmosphere and historical circumstances changed in the 1930s. First, the depression hit working people very hard. Twenty-five percent of the work force was unemployed by 1933. Industries were working at 40 percent of capacity. In big cities, vibrant radical movements began to surface. Communists organized Unemployment Councils whose task it was to protect debtors from being evicted from their apartments. Also the Councils organized mass rallies and marches against unemployment and poverty and, on occasion, marched with throngs to city welfare departments demanding relief. Communists and other radicals were particularly active in Black communities. Also, the Communist Party mobilized mass campaigns to save the Scottsboro Boys who had been charged with raping two White women in Alabama, a charge that was clearly untrue. The mood of despair turned to militancy in cities and towns around the United States. Many Black citizens began to participate in the street militancy. These militants included those who were to work in the packinghouses. Inside the packing plants, Black workers had the most difficult and demeaning jobs and worked for lower wages. However, in terms of meat processing, Black workers were situated in strategic locations such as the killing floor. If they chose to stop working, the whole process of slaughtering and dressing meat would grind to a halt. Also in the major packing center, Chicago, the percentage of the work force that was Black was as much as 30 percent by the 1930s.

Both Black and White workers had come to the view that wages and working conditions would only improve when the work force became unionized. Also, Black and White workers both realized that successful unionization would not occur until and unless they combined to support unionization. This recognition, combined with the experience of working with radicals on community action, the clear role of communists in the effort to organize a packinghouse workers union, and the demonstrated work of the left in anti-racism campaigns nationally, all influenced the militant African Americans who assumed significant roles in organizing the union. White workers, often former union members from the days before World War I, and cognizant of the pragmatic necessity for solidarity, joined the struggle as well.

The first independent local of packinghouse workers was formed in Austin, Minnesota, by some old Wobblies in 1933. In 1934 there were general strikes of workers in various industries in San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Toledo, Ohio. In 1935, John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers, walked out of the national convention of the AFL to form the CIO. Thus was launched the effort to organize unskilled industrial workers all across the industrial landscape. Also, in 1935, Congress passed the Wagner Act, which legalized the effort of workers to form unions. In this multidimensional context, Herb March, a communist organizer who had been working in Kansas City, arrived in Chicago to initiate the drive to organize the packing houses. In 1937, Black and White packinghouse workers with CIO approval formed the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) to begin the union building process.

The ‘Big Four’ meat-packing companies resisted the initial organizing efforts. Armour, the first target of the PWOC, resisted efforts to get a master agreement that would apply to all plants. Such a master agreement would institutionalize the union in the industry, an outcome that all the packing companies opposed. However, despite efforts of a discredited AFL union (the Amalgamated Meat Cutters) to counter PWOC presence in the Chicago Armour plant, and despite a pre-election visit to Chicago unions by the newly formed House Committee on Un-American Activities, the PWOC won majority support from workers for the new CIO union in 1939. Shortly thereafter, PWOC signed separate agreements for all Armour plants, a clear prelude to the master agreements the union sought. The initial accords, while not involving wage issues, did increase vacations, guaranteed at least 32 hours of work, and improved grievance procedures. Almost two years later, contract negotiations between Armour and the PWOC led to the signing of the industry's first master agreement in September, 1941. The accords included a ten-cent-an-hour wage increase. This was followed by agreements with Cudahy in November and Swift in April 1942. Finally, Wilson was forced to sign an agreement in March, 1943 by the National War Labor Board. Also in 1943, PWOC became the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA). CIO militancy, the tidal wave of organizing throughout American industry, the particular role of White left activists and Black militants, and the emerging production needs brought by the onset of World War II all together stimulated the successes of unionization efforts in the meat packing industry.

While a wage-freeze agreement in support of the war effort was accepted by government, the corporate sector, and the leadership of the labor movement, PWOC was able to secure a variety of improvements in fringe benefits and working conditions during the war years. While labor, capital, and government all endorsed wage and price controls over the course of the war, government and capital did agree to not challenge the presence of unions in plants across the country (so-called ‘maintenance of membership’ agreements). However, as the war drew to a close, many unions in the CIO made demands for increases in wages. They claimed that prices in fact had increased by 45 percent during the war, while real wage increases were capped at 15 percent. While workers at the home front saved money, both because of much overtime and limits on commodities to purchase, their wages fell further and further behind prices and company profits. When corporations resisted pay hikes right after the war, unions in auto, steel, electronics, railroads, and meatpacking went on strike. The 1946 strike wave was the largest in U.S. history, affecting 4.6 million workers or 14.5 percent of the work force.

The strike in packing began on January 16, 1946. The next day, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters offered to settle in those plants in which they had locals with a 15-cents-an-hour raise. The packers refused, but a government fact-finding board was established to investigate the claims of the competing sides. Further, the Secretary of Labor ordered the meat-packing plants seized under provisions of the War Labor Disputes Act. After UPWA threatened not to return to work under the order, Secretary of Agriculture Clinton Anderson assured the union that he would urge adoption of any recommendations of the fact-finding board that were accepted by the packing companies’ unions. By March, a 16-cent hourly wage increase was recommended by the board and accepted by the packers and the unions. The Office of Price Administration granted the packers a raise in meat prices to compensate for the wage increases. Later in 1946, at its national convention, the UPWA elected Ralph Helstein as its new union president with the broad support of a ‘left-center’ coalition in the union. Over the course of the next several years, the UPWA leadership would tolerate Communist Party members and other radicals in the leadership and rank and file of the union, while walking a careful, straight line in support of mainstream CIO policies that became increasingly anti-communist.

The political stances of each of the ten UPWA districts varied, with radicals particularly popular in Chicago’s District One; District Three covering Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado; and District Six in the Northeast. As the cold war and anti-communism heightened, some districts would pass resolutions supporting Henry Wallace or opposing USA foreign policy, while other districts would refrain from such positions or overtly oppose them. As packer-union struggles deepened in 1947 and 1948; as the coalition of manufacturers, Republicans, and Southern Democrats moved more actively against labor; and as the AMC sought to gain control of locals in packing plants, conflict between the left-center coalition and right-wingers known as the ‘CIO Caucus’ heated up dramatically in the UPWA. Many of the conflicts involved issues revolving around the cold war and anti-communism, and different conflicts emerged in the late 1940s around issues of racism in UPWA locals and how active UPWA should be in the struggle against racism in communities and the nation at large.

Anti-Communism and Racism

In 1948 UPWA again engaged in a general strike against the ‘Big Four’ resistance to wage increases. Because the USA cold war policy was developing, along with anti-communist zeal and the opposition to the campaign of progressive presidential candidate Henry Wallace, the level of support to strikers was not as strong. After nine weeks in which the meat packers held firm, injunctions were issued, police hounded strikers in various locales, and nonunion labor replaced striking workers, the UPWA called off the strike and returned to work. Six weeks after the strike, the UPWA met for the most contentious convention during the entire life of the organization.

In an intensely fought election for union leadership, president Helstein was reelected after a challenge from the CIO Caucus. The Caucus warmly endorsed the Truman presidential candidacy and his cold war foreign policy, favored purging the left from the union leadership, and generally took an anti-communist stance. Helstein's reelection allowed for the continuation of a left-center coalition that would more or less remain intact until the union merged with the AMC in 1968. This left-center leadership would remain critical of USA foreign policy, would endorse trade union militancy, would encourage rank-and-file political activity in communities, and would take a pro-active stance against racism in the union and the nation. Subsequent to the 1948 convention, and throughout the 1950s, UPWA would investigate racism in the union, establish Anti-Discrimination Committees at the national level of the union and in each local, would run workshops on racism in American life, and would fund and actively work for the burgeoning civil rights movement. UPWA would become a significant political force in those communities where it was strong (such as Chicago) and nationally.

To a considerable degree the transformation of the USA political economy was shaped by technological change. In the meatpacking industry, automation decreased the number of workers needed to produce the meat product and increased the possibility that production could be decentralized in hundreds of small-sized processing plants (where work forces are smaller, less organized, and more vulnerable). While UPWA was growing as a progressive political force in the USA in the 1950s, technological change was destroying the material base of the work force in the industry itself. Ultimately, with declining workers in the industry, declining UPWA membership, and continuing competition between UPWA and the old AMC, the leadership realized that it must consolidate to maintain any presence in the meatpacking industry. Consequently, in 1968 AMC and UPWA agreed to a merger. In 1978, the enlarged AMC merged with retail clerks into the current United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), a much larger union with a meat packing division.

Why Study the UPWA?

Even though the old UPWA no longer exists, its story is one of class struggle and a sustained struggle against racism. It is important to revisit this history to better understand the positive role of the labor movement in these struggles as well as the negatives and, perhaps, to learn lessons that might still have value to the role of a revitalized labor movement today.

Roger Horowitz writes that the UPWA was a union engaged in ‘social unionism’. By this he means a union engaged in activities addressing the needs of members as workers, as citizens of local communities, and finally as part of the working class in general. Most trade unions in the 20th century have practiced ‘business unionism’—engaging in bargaining and negotiation on behalf of workers' shop floor interests, but not engaging in broader political struggles. Concretely, this has meant that many trade unions have not engaged in the struggle against racism in their unions, communities, or society at large. As has been suggested above, the history of efforts to organize in meatpacking plants was fraught with defeat and bitter conflicts between White and Black workers. Strikes in 1904 and 1921 were lost because the ‘Big Four’ packers were able to use racism to divide packinghouse workers. Armed with this knowledge, Black and White militants struggled to overcome racism as they built the PWOC and later the UPWA. The 1943 constitution of the new union forbade racism in the union. Generally, from the outset of the CIO mass movement, the UPWA stood for racial equality in the union, but, as with many other unions, the UPWA did not actively engage in the fight against racism.

The failed 1948 strike against the ‘Big Four’ packers threatened to destroy the union. Large numbers of members were forced out, because they were fired by the packers. Factionalism surfaced, and during the 1948 convention an anti-communist slate of candidates ran for the various union offices. While the challenge to the incumbent leadership was defeated, president Helstein used the weakened condition of the union to launch an active anti-discrimination program that included efforts to purge union locals of racism and to commit each and every packinghouse local to the struggle for racial justice. From the late 1940s to the 1968 merger with the AMC, the UPWA distinguished itself in the struggle against racism and engaged in civil rights mass actions, even before the rise of the movement against segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. The movement in support of civil rights was driven by rank-and-file initiatives from militant Black and White workers in various locals of UPWA, and by the leadership of the international union itself. Not all members of the 100,000-member union embraced the civil rights agenda and, in fact, some workers from the South and Southwest particularly opposed the unions’ commitment to racial justice and integration of union and society. Over time, these elements were forced out of leadership positions in the union, leaving union members either civil rights activists or passive supporters of union efforts.

An early spark to the building of a commitment to the struggle against racism occurred when president Helstein hired sociologist John Hope to study race relations in the union. Hope found high levels of Black participation in union locals (for example Blacks were stewards in 83 percent of UPWA locals and 73 percent of locals had Blacks on executive boards). However, there were significant reflections of racism among UPWA members (30 percent objected to working with Blacks and 90 percent of southern Whites favored segregated eating facilities). Also, Blacks had a presence in significantly fewer job categories than Whites. As a result of Hope's findings, the UPWA at its 1950 convention initiated a broad-based program to expunge racism from union locals. An anti-discrimination department was established in the union at large, and anti-discrimination committees were established in every union local in the organization. These were not just symbolic gestures, but rather structures by which racism would be eliminated from the life of the union.

Union contracts were to prohibit any discrimination by companies, not only for employees, but for job applicants as well. Anti-discrimination conferences were held in the union on a periodic basis, and networking also occurred through national conventions and conferences of union members working for the same employers. Then UPWA strongly encouraged members to be active in the struggle against racism in their communities. Horowitz summarizes the full range of UPWA activities, from shop floor to political arena. In addition to integrating ‘lily-White departments’ on the shop floor and prohibiting discriminatory hiring practices, especially against Black women, “locals attacked discriminatory practices in their communities, primarily restrictions on Black access to bars, restaurants, and public facilities, as well as employment restrictions by local businesses. Finally, packinghouse workers consciously worked with and influenced community-based organizations, especially the NAACP."[7]

Black, White Unite and Fight

Several points can be made about the UPWA commitment to civil rights. First, as suggested above, the struggle to overcome the long history of racial strife in packinghouses was central to the organizing of the PWOC and UPWA since the 1930s. Second, Black militants and White radicals played a fundamental role in the creation of an integrated union. Third, a high percentage of the workforces in packing centers were Black workers, particularly in the industry's central facility in Chicago, where some 10,000 workers were employed. Fourth, UPWA constructed a union structure that gave real power to rank-and-file workers. Each department had at least one shop steward to represent the workers; and stewards, by virtue of their presence in the various job sites, were accountable to members. Also, many locals engaged in militant job actions when foremen tried to speedup production beyond what was called for in the contract, when particular workers experienced discrimination, or when other actions by management were seen as oppressive and discriminatory. Some locals were more militant than others, but the bottom-up structure of the union encouraged participation.

Fifth, president Helstein was fully committed to civil rights, as were most of the district directors representing regions around the country. Also, since the national leadership of the union refused to purge radicals from its ranks, UPWA had in its employ and as officers in union locals many radicals, including members of the Communist Party of the USA. Since they were among the strongest supporters of rank-and-file union militancy and civil rights, their presence reinforced other factors that stimulated UPWA's activism. Sixth, the most militant members of UPWA worked in plants in Chicago. Since Chicago alone had 10,000 UPWA members, and since a higher percentage of Blacks and leftists were in Chicago locals, that city's packinghouse workers set the tone for the organization.

As a result of these factors, therefore, the UPWA, or at least many locals, participated in active campaigns against racism in plants. They also fought for integrated neighborhoods. When Blacks moved into a public housing development in Trumball Park in the early 1950s, race riots occurred. UPWA members organized campaigns to force the city housing authority to open up public housing to Blacks and to protect them from racist responses. When hotels where UPWA meetings were to occur barred Blacks from housing, the union pulled out of the hotels in protest. When the Swift plant discriminated against hiring Black women, the Swift local and the Chicago district launched a public campaign and pressured government to end such practices.

Perhaps most importantly, UPWA was the first union to support the efforts of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. UPWA sent a check for $11,000 to SCLC during the Montgomery bus boycott, and leaders of the union marched with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery; in Jackson, Mississippi; and participated in other mass actions. When Dr. King brought SCLC to Chicago to campaign for fair housing, the leadership of UPWA joined in. Horowitz argues that “UPWA's antidiscrimination program represented a significant expansion of social unionism” or activism beyond the shop floor. “Its aggressive policies contrasted starkly with the laxity of mainstream CIO organizations and represented an ‘opportunity found and kept’ by its Black members in a manner paralleled, to a far lesser extent, only by industrial unions expelled from the CIO."[8]


A reading of the volumes by Halpern and Horowitz, and the numerous interviews with former packinghouse workers that provide the data for their work, suggests that there is much of historic and contemporary significance in the UPWA.

First, the UPWA, to a degree not achieved by many other unions in the CIO and AFL-CIO, created an integrated union in terms of leadership, policymaking, shopfloor protection of workers, and political program.

Second, political radicals and Black militants provided impetus for the construction of an integrated, class-conscious trade union in the 1930s and 1940s.

Third, the UPWA engaged in civil rights activities in various communities in the North and South, several years before the formation of the SCLC. Taken in conjunction with the efforts of other leftwing unions, it is fair to say that progressive sectors of the labor movement served as a major stimulus, inspiration, and resource for the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. While some sectors of the labor movement historically have impeded the path to racial justice, it is also important to point out that other sectors of the labor movement have played a critical role in whatever advances toward racial justice have been achieved.

Fourth, the history of class struggle and the struggle for racial justice in fact go hand in hand. The working class, by virtue of its role in providing labor power for the construction of society, and as the class that experiences the expropriation of the value that it produces, is a leading force in movements of social change. African-American or woman workers, who often belong to super exploited classes within the working class, constitute sectors that have the possibility of seeing most clearly the exploitative nature of society.

Fifth, UPWA was to a considerable degree a rank-and-file trade union. It practiced union democracy. Shop stewards, committees, job actions in the production process, and picketing for civil rights all are expressions of the will of the membership. All of these activities were institutionalized and encouraged in the life of the union.

Finally, the UPWA story is the story of the success of the old leftwing slogan that still is relevant today: "Black, White, Unite and Fight!"

[1] Philip S. Foner, Organized Labor and the Black Worker, 1619-1973 (International Publishers, 1976).
[2] Speech by Robert Baker, presented to the Central Labor Union of Brooklyn, January 1902.
[3] Michael Goldfield, The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics (Ann Arbor; University of Michigan Press, 1997).
[4] Rick Halpern and Roger Horowitz, Meatpackers: An Oral History of Black Packinghouse Workers and Their Struggle for Race and Economic Equality (NY: Twayne Publishers, 1996).
[5] See Rick Halpern, Down on the Killing Floor: Black and White Workers in Chicago's Packinghouses, 1904-54, (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1997); Roger Horowitz, `Negro and White, Unite and Fight!':A Social History of Industrial Unionism in Meatpacking, 1930-90 (Champaign: University of Illinois, 1997); and Michael Goldfield, The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997).
[6] Harry Targ, Interviews with Charles Hayes, Ralph Helstein, and Les Orear (Chicago, December 1982).
[7] Horowitz, Negro and White, Unite and Fight!, p. 104.
[8] Ibid., p. 108.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Harry Targ

As has been expressed in a variety of ways over the years, the specter of Vietnam weighs as an albatross on the American body politic. President Truman began supporting French colonialism in Indochina in 1950, funding eighty percent of the French war effort as part of the globalization of Cold War policy. After the French were defeated, the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s created a dictatorial, unpopular, and corrupt South Vietnamese government which was aided by military advisers and massive U.S. financial support. President Kennedy pursued a policy of building a “non-communist road to economic development,” with the addition of thousands more troops. Lyndon Johnson launched a massive air war and counterinsurgency campaign leading to 540,000 troops in country by 1968. And the Nixon administration engaged in a brutal bombing campaign hitting targets throughout North and South Vietnam. Each strategy was to be the last. Victory was near. In the end, millions of Vietnamese people died and thousands of Americans.

And all indicators are that the United States is doing it again in Afghanistan. In the 1980s the U.S. committed more than a billion dollars to support religious fundamentalists fighting to overthrow secular Kabul governments it opposed. In the 1990s, the U.S. briefly negotiated with a Taliban government it found abhorrent, but which it felt might become a potential economic ally in the production of oil pipelines running through Afghanistan. Finally the George W. Bush administration made war on dubious grounds on the Taliban government in the twenty-first century. The immediate enemy, Al Qaeda, the alleged perpetrator of the crimes of 9/11, was not delivered to the U.S. by the Afghanistan government as “ordered” by the Bush administration.

Since 9/11 we have been engaged in a nine year quagmire in Afghanistan fighting what is left of a dwindling Al Qaeda and a vast population of people who resent being bombed and occupied by a foreign power. The White House last week hosted Afghan president Hamid Karzai, by numerous accounts corrupt and unpopular. The most troubling information about the encounter between Obama and Karzai was reported by Helene Cooper in The New York Times. According to her, President Obama promised to Karzai that “…the United States would remain in Afghanistan for the long haul, even as he vowed to stick to his timetable to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011.” Cooper surmised that the weeklong visit constituted an effort “… to reassure Mr. Karzai and his government that the United States will not abandon Afghanistan…”

In another New York Times story by Alissa Rubin, the author warns that the hardest fighting is still ahead even though “the biggest challenge lies not on the battlefield but in the governing of Afghanistan itself.” A near future expansion of the counter-insurgency campaign will confront, the “corrosive distrust” of the Karzai government. In areas such as Marja, the population resents influential power brokers such as Karzai’s brother, local police, and other government officials. Rubin quotes an aid to General Stanley McChrystal, architect of the new counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan: “People are tired of the Taliban, but they also don’t want cops to shake them down, they don’t want power brokers who are so corrupt they impact their lives and livelihood.”

Gareth Porter in an Inter Press Service article points out that the Obama administration has balked at the Karzai effort to dialogue with sectors of the Taliban despite the obvious possibility that negotiations could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops which would advantage the United States and at the same time bring peace to the Pashtun population of Southern Afghanistan. Porter quotes an administrative official: “Obama’s forceful opposition to any political approach to any Taliban leadership until after the counter-insurgency strategy has been tried appears to represent a policy that has been hammered out within the administration at the insistence of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, Middle East expert Juan Cole writes that Obama’s master plan for Afghanistan has involved a “massive counter-insurgency effort,” involving tens of thousands of troops and massive combat. Cole estimates that the strategy has about a 10 percent possibility of success.

Forty-six years ago Lyndon Johnson won an enormous presidential electoral victory against conservative Republican Barry Goldwater. LBJ ran as the anti-war candidate. He embarked on a campaign to get Congress to support civil rights legislation that would at last end Jim Crow in the South. He constructed a variety of programs to address poverty in America, activate community participation in the political process, and launched a program to expand access to health care for the elderly. He promised the American people “A Great Society.”

Much of the Great Society agenda was destroyed as the Vietnam War escalated from 120,000 troops in 1965, to over 400,000 by 1967, and 540,000 in January, 1968. By 1967 the United States had dropped more bombs on Vietnamese targets than were dropped on enemy targets during World War II. And President Johnson was forced to withdraw from the 1968 campaign for the presidency.

The Obama/McChrystal counter-insurgency strategy may not yield the magnitude of escalation reached in Vietnam. However, the combination of support for a corrupt regime, placing foreign troops among a hostile population, indiscriminant killing of local civilians, and refusal to negotiate with adversaries, as Juan Cole suggests, surely will yield a Vietnam-style failure in Afghanistan.

Along with the pain and suffering of the Afghan people, the counter-insurgency strategy of this administration will dash the hopes and dreams of all the young people who worked so hard in 2008 to get the candidate committed to progressive social change, Barack Obama, elected president. The parallels with the young who worked to elect the “peace candidate” in 1964 are stark.

Sunday, May 9, 2010



Harry Targ

I was reading The New York Times accounts, Friday, May 7, of the ongoing investigation of the attempted Times Square bombing by suspect Faisal Shahzad. I was intrigued by a variety of stories that turned speculation by various anonymous informed sources into complex analyses of Shahzad’s international connections, the transformation of the Taliban from a political force in Afghanistan to one also in Pakistan, the emergence of a variety of other Islamic dissident groups in Pakistan and their connections with Taliban and perhaps Al Queda.

The lead in the front page story on May 7 headlined “Pakistani Taliban Are Said to Expand Alliances” stimulated my curiosity: “The Pakistani Taliban, which American investigators suspect were behind the attempt to bomb Times Square, have in recent years combined forces with Al Qaeda and other groups, threatening to extend their reach and ambitions, Western diplomats, intelligence officials and experts say.”

The story indicates that the Pakistani Taliban have reached out to other militant groups, “splinter cells” (which sounds really scary), “foot soldiers,” and guns-for-hire.” The article continues with elaborations of nefarious early connections between the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Qaeda, and increasing numbers of Pakistani Punjabi militants. Faisal Shahzad may have received bomb training from one of these groups, a claim reiterated in another article quoting a senior military official who was not authorized to speak in public. The article reported that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban said that “the group had suicide bombers in the United States, who, he said would carry out their mission at an opportune time” while denying complicity in the Times Square bombing attempt.

Reading these stories and viewing a variety of claims about the causes and connections of the failed bombing reminded me of a short essay I wrote for an interesting volume of writings and graphic design images edited by Rebecca Targ titled “Lying,” in Fold: the Reader ( ). I wrote:

Foreign Policy Lies Lead to War

On August 2, 1964, North Vietnamese armed motor boats attacked two U.S. naval vessels off the coast of North Vietnam. The administration of Lyndon Johnson defined the attacks as an unprovoked act of North Vietnamese aggression. Two days later it was announced that another attack on U.S. ships in international waters had occurred and the U.S. responded with air attacks on North Vietnamese targets. President Johnson then took a resolution he had already prepared to the Congress of the United States. The so-called Gulf of Tonkin resolution declared that the Congress authorizes the president to do what he deemed necessary to defend U.S. national security in Southeast Asia. Only two Senators voted “no.” Over the next three years the U.S. sent over 500,000 troops to Vietnam to carry out a massive air and ground war in both the South and North of the country.

Within a year of the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incidents, evidence began to appear indicating that the August 2 attack was provoked. The two U.S. naval vessels were in North Vietnamese coastal waters orchestrating acts of sabotage in the Northern part of Vietnam. More serious, evidence pointed to the inescapable conclusion that the second attack on August 4 never occurred.

President Johnson’s lies to the American people about the Gulf of Tonkin contributed to the devastating decisions to escalate a U.S. war in Vietnam that cost 57,000 U.S. troop deaths and upwards of three million Vietnamese deaths.

Forty years later, George W. Bush and his key aides put together a package of lies about Iraq imports of uranium from Niger, purchases of aluminum rods which supposedly could be used for constructing nuclear weapons, development of biological and chemical weapons, and connections between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.

As the Vietnamese and Iraqi cases show, foreign policies built on lies can lead to imperial wars, huge expenditures on the military, economic crises at home, and military casualties abroad.
Are there any lessons to learn from the Vietnam and Iraqi cases sited above? I think so.

Two of the most damaging, indeed murderous, foreign policies of the United States were built on lies.

The record indicates that key policy-makers in both the Vietnam and Iraq eras made decisions with almost no knowledge of the political cultures of the two countries. In the Vietnam era not more than a handful of Americans had knowledge of the Vietnamese language or history.

In both cases, foreign policy decisions were shaped by frames of reference, or ideologies, that bore little or no relationship to the political reality in the countries targeted for war. The frame shaping Vietnam was the war on international communism; for Iraq it was the war on terrorism.

In both cases, decisions were made based on recommendations of parties interested in war, from Pentagon officials, to military contractors and arms merchants, to academic and think tank “experts,” to media outlets with stories to create, to journalists seeking to establish their careers, to liberal and conservative politicians seeking issues to shape their own quests for power.

Returning to the Times Square incident, we may never learn the truth. But we can assume with confidence that military, economic, academic, and journalistic interests will promote a scenario of a Pakistani Taliban/Al Queda connection to the failed adventure in New York. And we can expect that all these interests will promote the idea that such attacks, perhaps successful next time, can occur anyplace in the United States. We must live in terror of the terrorists.

Finally, we can be sure that “the cure” for perpetual terrorism will not include economic development, a just and humane U.S. foreign policy, ending drone attacks on Pakistani citizens, and stopping the demonization of peoples of color, in this case, those who embrace the Muslim religion.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Harry Targ

This was a week of worker militancy. Wednesday, April 28, in large cities and small towns, workers rallied in support of improved health and safety at the workplace. This was the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. In the minds and hearts of these workers were the recent deaths in mines in West Virginia and Kentucky and oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

On April 29 masses of workers assembled, thousands in Manhattan, to protest Wall Street’s robbery of the American people, particularly for its creation of an economic crisis that has cost workers all over the globe millions of jobs.

And finally on Saturday, May 1, the international day of workers’ solidarity, inspired by the protests in support of the eight-hour day movement in Chicago in 1886, millions of workers mobilized everywhere; from Hong Kong, Istanbul, Athens, Berlin, Hamburg, Manila, Moscow, Seoul, Tokyo Taiwan, Bangkok, to Havana. In the United States huge throngs marched in support of immigrant rights in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and many other cities.

I just finished teaching a course called “The Politics of Capital and Labor in the United States.” We read texts that analyzed the development of capitalism as the dominant mode of production. We discussed its various stages from competitive to monopoly capitalism to today’s era of finance capital. I highlighted the post-World War II period in U.S. and world history emphasizing the establishment of a permanent war economy, deindustrialization, financialization, and neo-liberal globalization.

We then concentrated on the changing nature of the circumstances of work and workers over the last 60 years drawing upon the collection from Dollars and Sense magazine called Real World Labor. By way of summary, I prepared a list of the impacts of systemic economic and political changes on workers derived from the various essays in the book. The list, in no particular order, suggests the ways in which the lives of workers have been transformed over the last sixty years and why the mass mobilizations of workers, such as those this week are so desperately needed.

The list only touches the surface. It includes dramatic increases in state and employer mechanisms to obstruct union organizing. Union density in the United States has declined from a peak of 33% in the early 1950s to 15% today (half in the public sector). Employers skillfully use workplace policies to destroy the potential for worker solidarity, from encouraging racism, and inter-ethnic hostilities, to creating two-tier salary schedules.

Work has been increasingly sub-contracted and outsourced shifting manufacturing and service employment from once higher paid industrial capitalist countries to poor countries whose traditional economies have been disrupted to accommodate new factories of outsourced work. Sweatshops, initiated in textile mills in Britain and the United States two hundred years ago, began to be transferred to countries of the Global South in the 1960s and now, with declining real wages in the United States, are returning to domestic venues.

Work has been casualized. Job creation is increasingly characterized by part-time, contingent, and seasonal work, with significant portions of the work force defined as “illegal.”

For those with jobs, whether in manufacturing or service, modern forms of Taylorism are imposed on work processes. Originally Taylorism inspired efforts to control all the physical movements of workers to maximize their productivity at all costs. Now such techniques are applied in the service sector as well, programming what workers say to customers and the appropriate physical space prescribed for interactions with them. Generally, techniques have been created to maximize the productivity (but not wages) with which all work is performed.

Workplace harassment has been rising in recent years, including demeaning treatment of workers, targeting workers with seniority so that they will be forced to retire, and encouraging racism and sexism on the job.

Similarly, the initiating of workplace regulations in the past has been reversed. Taking occupational health and safety as an example, systems of rules, regulations, and inspections led to a significant decline in workplace deaths and injuries during the 1970s. Those changes that benefited workers have been reversed since the 1980s. It is estimated that a shop floor or workplace can be expected to be inspected only once every 83 years. The tragedies in mines and on oil rigs this year remind workers that their jobs have become as dangerous again as they were fifty years ago.

And of course real wages, benefits, and jobs have all declined. Economists still debate what should be the “natural unemployment rate.” Everywhere, from U.S. cities, to most of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East life-sustaining remunerative activities involve creative street hustling, what economists call “the informal sector.” Good paying secure jobs as a percentage of all the work in the world is declining. In factories and service jobs “wage theft” has become common; that is employers find ways to avoid paying workers what they have earned.

State policies have enforced increasing exploitation of workers. Old fashioned repression, that is using the police and armies to crush union-organizing drives occur from time to time. In the United States, business lobbyists pressure state legislatures to pass “right to work” legislation limiting the ability of workers to form unions. Dilatory procedures for certifying union recognition, impediments to elections, prohibitions on strikes, and administrative decisions to prohibit categories of workers from unionizing have become instruments of state policy. Of course, in every country where organizing campaigns occur, leaders are targeted for dismissal and sometimes death squads.

In addition to this modest list, the transforming global economy has created millions of migrant workers who are forced out of their jobs and from their land to become a pool of reserve workers who desperately seek work in other countries. Masses of Latin Americans come to the United States to find low paying jobs while they are threatened by state repression, most immediately illustrated by the new draconian Arizona law. Mobility also occurs from and to countries of the Global South. A million Bolivians have migrated since 1999 to work in sweatshops in neighborhoods of Buenos Aries, thousands of Nicaraguans pick pineapples in neighboring Costa Rica, and Central Americans work in Mexican factories.

So this week workers everywhere were on the move. Their campaigns and rallies are about worker rights, jobs, benefits, and the capacity to be treated, wherever they live, with human dignity. The annual May Day events suggest that workers’ struggles are truly global. Capitalism in the era of neo-liberal globalization is truly global and in the end organization and resistance must be global.

In one of the essays in the Real World Labor reader Bill Fletcher suggests what is necessary for the U.S. labor movement to participate in the struggle for global justice. The labor movement must “…understand the problem of empire, or if one prefers, imperial ambitions.…the American working class resides in a world where corporate/government connections are strengthening, and with them increased repression of progressive and democratic forces in the face of unfolding globalization.”

Those who proclaimed May Day as the workers’ day over a hundred years ago understood the need for global solidarity to achieve justice. Workers need to build off this week’s dynamism to create a movement of global solidarity.