Critical reading

A blog
  • Wall Street is Stealing Public Pensions

    More here and here. --PG

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    Looting the Pension Funds

    Source: Rolling Stone

    All across America, Wall Street is grabbing money meant for public workers

    By Matt Taibbi
    September 26, 2013 7:00 AM ET

    In the final months of 2011, almost two years before the city of Detroit would shock America by declaring bankruptcy in the face of what it claimed were insurmountable pension costs, the state of Rhode Island took bold action to avert what it called its own looming pension crisis. Led by its newly elected treasurer, Gina Raimondo – an ostentatiously ambitious 42-year-old Rhodes scholar and former venture capitalist – the state declared war on public pensions, ramming through an ingenious new law slashing benefits of state employees with a speed and ferocity seldom before seen by any local government.

  • What way forward for environmentalists?

    Important article on political perspectives for the environmental movement by leading ecosocialist Chris Williams. --PG

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    Strategy and tactics in the environmental movement

    Source: Climate & Capitalism

    by Chris Williams

    Posted on September 20, 2013

    Tactics: the science and art of using a fighting force to the best advantage having regard to the immediate situation of combat.
    Strategy: the science and art of conducting a military campaign in its large-scale and long-term aspects.
    The New Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language

    Naomi Klein, in a recent interview, Green Group’s May be More Damaging than Climate Change Deniers, has sparked a furious debate amongst activists on the right and left of the North American environmental movement. Thanks to Klein’s article, the flames of controversy have been fanned and brought forth some fiery rhetoric around a dispute which has smoldered since the emergence of a more combative and distinctive left current within the environmental movement. A current associated with the concept of climate justice, and one that has further expanded since Occupy burst onto the political scene in the fall of 2011.

  • U.S. imperialism in Latin America continues

    Forty years after the U.S. backed the brutal military coup in Chile, Washington is still supporting military repression in Latin America. --PG

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    Is the U.S. Enabling the Humanitarian Crisis in Colombia?

    Source: In These Times

    Web Only// Features » September 11, 2013

    Terror attacks are on the rise and millions remain displaced, but U.S. military aid keeps flowing.

    By Jeremy Kryt

    It’s a cruelly hot day in rebel-held territory. On a crumbling and abandoned plantation, in the insurgency riddled Cauca region of southwestern Colombia, more than three dozen indigenous leaders have gathered in the shade for a tribal meeting. Children’s murals and peace-themed banners cover the white-washed adobe walls. Outside, in the mortar-cratered fields that once grew sugar cane for the California market, shirtless men labor in the noon heat to plant beans and squash.

    “We’re in a hard place,” says Ernesto Conda, a ruling council member of the Nasa tribe, one of several indigenous groups native to Cauca. Conda is 44 and wears his hair in a sleek black queue streaked with gray.

  • Exploiting dead kids to justify war is repugnant

    We might add that US military interventions have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands children over the past decade. --PG

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    Remembering All the Children

    Source: New York Times

    September 6, 2013


    One of the most gut-wrenching scenes from Syria is captured in the images of row upon row of dead civilians. The dead include many children, swaddled in white cloths, angels laid down never to rise again.

    According to the United States, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria used chemical weapons on Aug. 21 to kill 1,429 of his own citizens, 426 of them children.

    No fully functional heart can see these images and not break, the horror and grotesqueness of the slaughter of innocents being so abhorrent.

    These dead children have become linchpins of the Obama administration’s argument to sell Congress and the American people on the need to strike Syria.

    Last Saturday, when President Obama announced that he had made the decision that the United States should take military action against Syria, he challenged Congress:

  • Free labor lawyer arrested by Egyptian military

    Please circulate widely. --PG

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    Egypt: labour lawyer Haitham Mohamedain arrested by army

    Source: MENA Solidarity Network

    Posted on September 5, 2013

    Haitham Mohamedain, one of Egypt’s leading labour lawyers and an activist with the Revolutionary Socialists, was arrested on his way to meet clients in Suez. He was detained by the Army near Suez and has been transferred to a police station in the city. According to the latest information from Egypt, he has been charged with assaulting an army officer.

    Haitham has played a leading role for years in defending workers in struggle, both in the police station and in the streets as a revolutionary activist. He was at the forefront of the massive protests against Mohamed Morsi on 30 June, but has also been one of the few voices condemning the military’s crackdown and the killing of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters since the Army takeover.

    What you can do:

    • Sign the statement below calling for Haitham’s release and the dropping of all charges. Add you name here
  • Systemic corruption in Washington, D.C.

    This is written in a rather tortuous style, but it's a pretty good guide to the way that big money, corporate interests and Wall Street run the US political system, with the Democratic Party at the center of it all. --PG

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    The Stench of the Potomac

    Source: New York Magazine

    Washington may be a dysfunctional place to govern, but it’s working better than ever as a marketplace for cashing in. And that’s thanks, more than anything, to the Democratic Establishment.

    By Frank Rich
    Published Aug 4, 2013

  • Obama defends the New Jim Crow

    Obama claims to feel the pain of the victims of racial profiling while he fights tooth and nail to maintain racially discriminatory prison sentences. --PG

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    Why US v Blewett is the Obama Justice Department's greatest shame

    Source: The Guardian

    Explain the paradox that the US still jails thousands of African Americans on sentences it admits were unfair? It can't be done

    Alec Karakatsanis
    Tuesday 23 July 2013 11.44 EDT

    The differential treatment of crack cocaine and powder cocaine by America's criminal "justice" system has been exposed as discriminatory and admitted to be unfair. Yet, the secret nightmare continues for thousands of African Americans still in prison for crack cocaine offenses, while people convicted of powder cocaine offenses – the majority of whom are white or Hispanic – have served far shorter sentences. Even as the US government has reformed the injustice of punitive sentencing for crack, it has doubled down on the injustice for those imprisoned before the reforms.

    I'll never forget the first time I had to explain federal crack cocaine laws to a client. I was 25 years old, fresh out of law school, and working as a public defender in Alabama. I had come to the local jail, where my client was being held in a 6ft x 8ft cell with three other men and no access to fresh air or to a single window.

  • Study: War not due to human nature

    The new study complements the earlier research of anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson. More on the new study here, here and here. For discussion of the broader issues of socialism and human nature see this, this, this and this. --PG

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    Human Nature May Not Be So Warlike After All

    Source: Wired

    By Brandon Keim
    07.18.13 3:32 PM

    Given the long, awful history of violence between groups of people, it’s easy to think that humans are predisposed to war. But a new study of violence in modern hunter-gatherer societies, which may hold clues to prehistoric human life, suggests that warlike behavior is a relatively recent phenomenon.

    Sure, humans are violent, the researchers say — but most hunter-gatherer killing results from flared tempers and personal feuds rather than group conflicts.

    The findings contradict the notion “that humans have an evolved tendency to form coalitions to kill members of neighboring groups,” wrote anthropologists Douglas Fry and Patrik Soderberg in their July 18 Science paper.

    “The vast majority of us assume that war is ancient, that it’s part and parcel of human nature,” said Fry. “These types of perceptions have very strong influences on what goes on in current-day society.”

  • Detroit's decline and the coming U.S. dystopia

    A sober and sobering analysis of the long-term trends behind Detroit's bankruptcy. Yes, we need new rules. --PG

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    Detroit’s Bankruptcy and America’s Future

    Source: Informed Comment

    Robots, Race, Globalization and the 1%

    Posted on 07/19/2013 by Juan Cole

    The big question is whether Detroit’s bankruptcy and likely further decline is a fluke or whether it tells us something about the dystopia that the United States is becoming. It seems to me that the city’s problems are the difficulties of the country as a whole, especially the issues of deindustrialization, robotification, structural unemployment, the rise of the 1% in gated communities, and the racial divide. The mayor has called on families living in the largely depopulated west of the city to come in toward the center, so that they can be taken care of. It struck me as post-apocalyptic. Sometimes the abandoned neighborhoods accidentally catch fire, and 30 buildings will abruptly go up in smoke.

  • George Zimmerman and the New Jim Crow

    More from Michelle Alexander here. --PG

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    The Zimmerman Mind-Set

    Source: Time

    Monday, Jul. 29, 2013

    By Michelle Alexander

    Back in 1903, in his groundbreaking book The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois argued that the defining element of African-American life was being viewed as a perpetual problem--one's very existence as a problem to be dealt with, managed and controlled but never solved. More than 100 years later, DuBois' rhetorical question seems as relevant as ever: How does it feel to be a problem?

  • The state of the struggle in Syria

    Useful overview of the current situation and why the left should oppose both Assad and outside intervention by the US or NATO. --PG

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    Issues in the current stage of Syrian revolution

    Source: Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal

    By Michael Karadjis

    July 9, 2013 – Recent weeks saw seemingly contradictory developments regarding imperialist plans for Syria. First, on June 14, the US government announced it had finally agreed to provide some small arms directly to “vetted” sections of the Syrian armed opposition, following alleged US “confirmation” that Syria’s Assad regime had used chemical weapons. Then on June 18, the G8 meeting between the US, Russia and six other major imperialist powers issued a joint declaration calling for all parties to the Syrian conflict to attend the Geneva peace summit, declaring the need for a political solution.

    In reality, the combination of these two developments was almost identical to what likewise occurred in the same week in early May: lots of hard talk about the possible provision of arms to the rebels due to the possible use of chemicals by the Syrian regime of Bashir Assad, and the initial US-Russian meeting to discuss Geneva and lots of talk about how both sides agree only a political solution is possible.

    It may take some time to be able to properly assess the full implications of these moves. At the outset, however, two points can be stressed.

  • Corporate interests behind US-EU trade deal

    Obama's latest con job on behalf of corporate America. --PG

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    The US-EU trade deal: don't buy the hype

    Source: The Guardian

    In reality, this trade agreement is not about promoting prosperity for all, but powerful industry lobbies trying to dodge regulation

    Dean Baker
    Monday 15 July 2013 12.00 EDT

    There has been a big push out of Washington to convince the public that an economic bonanza awaits us if we can just complete a trade deal with the European Union. This is complete nonsense, unless we define down bonanza to mean finding a quarter on the street.

    The first point to recognize is that the promised pot of gold from this trade deal is illusory. Last week, the media held out the promise of an increase in US GDP of $122bn from the trade agreement. The facts that this referred to GDP in 2027, and that the $122bn would be in 2027 dollars, were absent from the discussion.

  • Gary Younge on Zimmerman's aquittal

    What a racist country. --PG

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    Open season on black boys after a verdict like this

    Source: The Guardian

    Calls for calm after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin are empty words for black families

    Gary Younge in Chicago
    Sunday 14 July 2013 09.28 EDT

    Let it be noted that on this day, Saturday 13 July 2013, it was still deemed legal in the US to chase and then shoot dead an unarmed young black man on his way home from the store because you didn't like the look of him.

    The killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year was tragic. But in the age of Obama the acquittal of George Zimmerman offers at least that clarity. For the salient facts in this case were not in dispute. On 26 February 2012 Martin was on his way home, minding his own business armed only with a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman pursued him, armed with a 9mm handgun, believing him to be a criminal. Martin resisted. They fought. Zimmerman shot him dead.

  • Support Jacobin magazine, oppose transphobia

    The original article is here. --PG

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    Help Defend Jacobin

    Source: Jacobin


    by Bhaskar Sunkara

    Dear readers,

    This week we were pleased to publish a wonderful essay by Samantha Allen on “CounterPunch and the War on Transgender People.” It’s a moving piece that brings to life the type of discrimination that trans* people experience on a daily basis.

    In the piece, Allen laments the fact that portions of the Left, including some self-described feminists, are still bullying this vulnerable population. What’s more, these reactionary voices are even finding outlets in some of our best publications, like CounterPunch. As Allen writes, “…pundits of both liberal and radical varieties can demonize us, ignore us, and question our legitimacy because they can get away with it.”

    As is the case with many other issues — and largely due to a lack of time and resources — Jacobin hasn’t provided a very good counterweight to these tendencies. That’s why we were so proud to publish Allen’s piece, and it’s one of the many reasons we stand behind it without reservation.

  • The real reason for domestic spying?

    The Obama administration claims that massive domestic surveillance is necessary to defeat threats from international terrorist groups. The truth is that spying programs like PRISM have played little or no role in preventing such plots, but they are being used to monitor and disrupt the political activism of social justice and environmental campaigners. With no end in sight to the current economic crisis and the disruptive effects of climate change becoming clearer all the time, intelligence organizations and the military are preparing to protect the interests of political and corporate elites. --PG

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    Pentagon bracing for public dissent over climate and energy shocks

    Source: The Guardian

    NSA Prism is motivated in part by fears that environmentally-linked disasters could spur anti-government activism

    Posted by Nafeez Ahmed
    Friday 14 June 2013 06.24 EDT

    Top secret US National Security Agency (NSA) documents disclosed by the Guardian have shocked the world with revelations of a comprehensive US-based surveillance system with direct access to Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants. New Zealand court records suggest that data harvested by the NSA's Prism system has been fed into the Five Eyes intelligence alliance whose members also include the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

  • Saving us from the surveillance state

    Hats off to Edward Snowden for his courageous act of whistleblowing. It has now become abundantly clear that in terms of civil liberties, Obama is even worse than Bush and Cheney. Let's hope that Snowden's bravery will help initiate a movement that will roll back the national security state. --PG

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    Edward Snowden: saving us from the United Stasi of America

    Source: The Guardian

    Snowden's whistleblowing gives us a chance to roll back what is tantamount to an 'executive coup' against the US constitution

    Daniel Ellsberg
    Monday 10 June 2013 06.30 EDT

    In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden's whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an "executive coup" against the US constitution.

    Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.

  • Trans-Pacific Partnership Attacks Democracy

    The latest international trade agreement represents an attack on democracy in terms of both how it is being negotiated and what it contains. --PG

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    Obama’s Covert Trade Deal

    Source: New York Times

    June 2, 2013


    WASHINGTON — THE Obama administration has often stated its commitment to open government. So why is it keeping such tight wraps on the contents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most significant international commercial agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995?

    The agreement, under negotiation since 2008, would set new rules for everything from food safety and financial markets to medicine prices and Internet freedom. It would include at least 12 of the countries bordering the Pacific and be open for more to join. President Obama has said he wants to sign it by October.

    Although Congress has exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade, so far the executive branch has managed to resist repeated requests by members of Congress to see the text of the draft agreement and has denied requests from members to attend negotiations as observers — reversing past practice.

  • Birth of a Turkish Spring

    Very significant development. More here. Statement from the protesters here. --PG

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    Report from Turkey: A Taste of Tahrir at Taksim

    Source: The Bullet

    Sungur Savran

    Istanbul has become a battlefield covered by tear gas. The police, no doubt at the behest of the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government, have been attacking protestors in the centre of the city, near Taksim Square, for five consecutive days. This would have been no news at all: Turkish police are famous for their brutality in dealing with demonstrations unwelcome to the government. Only a month ago, on May Day, they had dispersed a gathering of thousands of workers and unionists using tear gas unsparingly. So nothing new on the police front. This time is different for another reason.

  • The American police state

    “The government has built a giant domestic surveillance apparatus in the name of homeland security that has been unleashed on ordinary Americans expressing concern about the undue influence of corporations on our democracy.” Details follow. --PG

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    Spying on Occupy Activists

    Source: The Progressive

    By Matthew Rothschild, June 2013 issue

    (Editor’s Note: This article is derived from research and writing conducted by Beau Hodai, published by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy in the report “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street.”)

    OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement officers have engaged in widespread domestic spying on Occupy Wall Street activists, among others, on the shaky premise that these activists pose a terrorist threat. Often, Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies have coordinated with the private sector, working on behalf of, or in cooperation with, Wall Street firms and other companies the protesters have criticized.

  • The terrible legacy of the BP Gulf oil disaster

    It is three years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the environmental and human costs are much worse than most people realize. BP still faces the possibility of billions of dollars in penalties, but the chances are that it will get off with a relative slap on the wrist. More here, here and here. Happy Earth Day. --PG

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    What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know About the 2010 Gulf Spill

    Source: Newsweek

    Mark Hertsgaard
    Apr 22, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

    The 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was even worse than BP wanted us to know.

    "It’s as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.” That’s what Jamie Griffin says the BP man told her about the smelly, rainbow-streaked gunk coating the floor of the “floating hotel” where Griffin was feeding hundreds of cleanup workers during the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, the workers were tracking the gunk inside on their boots. Griffin, as chief cook and maid, was trying to clean it. But even boiling water didn’t work.

    “The BP representative said, ‘Jamie, just mop it like you’d mop any other dirty floor,’” Griffin recalls in her Louisiana drawl.

  • How 'terrorism' is used to fit a racist agenda

    Excellent article by Ali Abunimah showing the underlying racist assumptions in the way the term 'terrorism' is used in the U.S. Sadly, even some on the left are making the same rush to judgment. --PG

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    Obama’s rush to judgment

    Source: Electronic Intifada

    Was the Boston bombing really a “terrorist” act?

    Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Sat, 04/20/2013 - 16:17

    President Obama has repeatedly claimed that the Boston Marathon bombing was an “act of terror” and that its alleged perpetrators are “terrorists.”

    It may seem pointless to quibble with this description: after all what could be more “terroristic” than setting off bombs at a peaceful sporting event killing three persons, one a child, and injuring or horrifically maiming dozens more?

    But in fact how the act is described is very important in determining government, media and wider societal responses, including ramping up racism and bigotry against Muslims, Arabs or people of color.

    There can be no doubt that the Boston Marathon bombing was a murderous act, but does it –– based on what is known –– fit the US government’s own definitions of “terrorism”?

    It is important to recall that other, far more lethal recent events, including the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and the school massacre at Sandy Hook, Connecticut have not been termed “terrorism,” nor their perpetrators labeled “terrorist” by the government. Why?

  • What Next for Venezuela?

    Nicolás Maduro eked out a narrow victory in the Venezuelan presidential race at the beginning of the week. Even though the election was declared to be fair by international observers and most Latin American governments have acknowledged Maduro's win, his opponent, Henrique Capriles, with the support of Washgington, is still refusing to do so. An audit of the ballots is now underway, but while it looks unlikely that the result will change, it is also clear that the right in Venezuela is once again on the attack and that the country is likely to become more polarized in the weeks and months ahead. Whether Maduro will be capable of mobilizing popular support to defend the gains of the Chávez years, to tackle issues like corruption and crime, and to institute more radical changes remains to be seen, but on the basis of his poor performance in the election campaign there are reasons to be skeptical. More here. --PG

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    The Winner of Venezuela’s Election to Succeed Hugo Chávez Is Hugo Chávez

    Source: The Nation

    Greg Grandin
    April 16, 2013

    On April 14, Venezuelans went to the polls and elected Hugo Chávez’s former foreign minister and vice-president, Nicolás Maduro, president. It was a close race, closer than many thought it would be. The man he beat was Henrique Capriles Radonski, Chávez’s unsuccessful challenger in last October’s presidential election.

  • Human rights abuses at Guantánamo

    The barbaric face of the Obama administration. More background here and here. --PG

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    Gitmo Is Killing Me

    Source: New York Times

    April 14, 2013



    ONE man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.

    I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

    I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

    I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.

    When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.

  • Lenin and democratic centralism

    A very interesting historical examination of what they Bolsheviks meant by "democratic centralism." I think Lih goes too far in his claim that there was no connection between the way the term was used by Lenin in 1906-07 and in 1920-21, as well as in his claim (elaborated in much greater detail in his important book Lenin Rediscovered) that Lenin did not make a distinctive contribution to the theory and practice of political organization. But he is absolutely right that the Bolsheviks' internal political practices varied considerably from one period to another, depending on the external situation, and that when circumstances permitted, they implemented highly democratic procedures. For more on democratic centralism, see Paul Le Blanc's recent articles on this website (here, here and here) and my article "Rediscovering Lenin" in the March-April International Socialist Review. --PG

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    Democratic centralism: Fortunes of a formula

    Source: Weekly Worker

    Thursday April 11 2013

    How did 'democratic centralism' become 'democratic centralism'? Lars T Lih looks at the changing use of the phrase by the Bolsheviks

    Vladimir Nevsky (1876-1937) lived the life (in the words of an autobiographical sketch written in the 1920s) of an “ordinary party worker”, a professional, in the Bolshevik underground. Joining the party in 1897, he was a mid-level Bolshevik praktik who played a visible role in 1917 conducting party work in the army. Like so many others in his generation, he was arrested in the mid-30s and executed in 1937.

  • Fast-food workers strike in New York

    Excellent account of the background to Thursday's strike in New York City. --PG

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    NYC fast-food workers fight back against super-sized corporations

    Source: Waging Nonviolence

    Peter Rugh
    April 4, 2013

    Tianna Smalls had planned on working Thursday, but her colleagues convinced her otherwise. “‘You’re either with us, or you’re for Wendy’s,’” Smalls remembers her co-workers telling her. Her mother also weighed in Thursday morning as Smalls was heading to work at the franchise in downtown Brooklyn. “She said, ‘If one person stands up, nothing happens. You have to stand together.’”

    So Tina Smalls joined approximately 400 other fast food workers across New York City in Thursday’s day-long strike — the latest action in the ongoing campaign that is demanding a raise of $15 an hour and attempting to form a cross-franchise union. Twice as many workers participated in Thursday’s walkout than in the previous strike, which launched the union campaign in November.

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