T.O. Weekly 73: Kansas Victory – USMCA’s True Face – ICE Detainees’ Strike – Brazil Election
The ORGANIZER Weekly Newsletter
Issue No. 73 – August 11, 2022
Historic Victory for Abortion Rights in Kansas; Let the Fight Continue!
By Mya Shone
The fight for women’s rights and self-determination ratcheted up a gear on Tuesday, August 2, when a record-breaking turnout of Kansas voters defeated overwhelmingly — 59% to 41% — an amendment to that state’s constitution that would have empowered legislators to ban abortion.
“All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” states the first sentence of the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights, ratified in 1859. One hundred sixty years later, in August 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court referenced this fundamental concept when it struck down a legislative ban on dilation and evacuation abortions. “Is this declaration of rights more than an idealized aspiration? And, if so, do the substantive rights include a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, including the decision whether to continue her pregnancy? We answer these questions, ‘Yes.’”
The “rights of Kansas women in 2016,” the Kansas Appellate Court had written previously, “are not limited to those specifically intended by the men who drafted our state’s constitution in 1859.”
Thus, thwarted by the Court, legislators with plans to severely restrict or ban abortion set out to amend the state Constitution and were confident that it would be a shoo-in to do so. They thought they knew the Kansas electorate. After all, Republicans, who ran on anti-abortion platforms, held a supermajority in the state legislature. Donald Trump carried the state by nearly 15 points in the last election two years ago. Catholics are the largest religious denomination in Kansas — 27% of the population — and the Kansas church hierarchy, long active in the anti-abortion movement, not only provided the largest chunk of funding, it subjected parishioners to homilies on the necessity to vote for the constitutional change.
Most of all, legislators drafted abstruse ballot language and selected a date with a historically low turnout: the primary election when most voters stay home, particularly, Democrats in this predominantly Republican state and 30% of the electorate registered independent without any candidate on the ballot.
People of Kansas misjudged
The anti-abortion forces vastly misjudged the people of Kansas. The year-long campaign to defeat the constitutional amendment and preserve the right to choose was structured to reach a wide swath of voters – rural as well as urban. A large coalition of 40 organizations – Kansans for Constitutional Freedom – crafted a core message about personal choice without government intervention that resonated no matter one’s political affiliation.
“We actually did talk about abortion a lot,” stated Ashley All, a spokesperson for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, “but we talked about it in a different way. We talked about a much broader set of values,” she explained, “that a lot more Kansans shared.”
Both sides engaged in the high-intensity television and social media coverage. What made the difference in the Kansas outcome, however, was traditional organizing, one-on-one contacts with tens of thousands of house visits made by local volunteers. One volunteer reported that she alone had knocked on 1,600 doors in rural Crawford County. The personal phone calls and text messages, as well as many rallies, culminated in a massive get-out-the-vote effort on a sweltering 100-degree Kansas summer day.
A lot was at stake, not only for the people of Kansas. Kansas has become one of the few oases for abortion access in the U.S. since the neighboring states of Missouri and Oklahoma, as well as Texas and other nearby states, have banned or severely restricted abortion services. Trust Women, for example, reported a 60% increase in out-of-state patients at its Wichita clinic over the past year.
The resounding turnout and success in Kansas — a staunchly conservative state — demonstrates clearly where the people of the U.S. would stand with respect to a woman’s “right to personal autonomy” if given the opportunity to decide.
Major hurdles ahead
The fight for our rights must intensify. This was put into sharp focus only three days after the historic victory in Kansas when Indiana became the first state in the country to enact a near-total ban on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe. [“Trigger bans,” that is pre-existing laws – some dating back more than a century — went into effect immediately in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah. Similar statutes in Idaho and Tennessee took hold 30 days later. Texas and several other states have “trigger laws” on their books, too, which have yet to be activated.]
Let us not forget that it was only three days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe that an Indiana physician, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, had been able to save the future of a 10-year-old victim of incest. Denied access to an abortion in her home state of Ohio, which had imposed its “trigger ban” preventing all abortions after six weeks, even in cases of rape and incest, the fourth grader’s parents drove with her to neighboring Indiana. Now access to abortion procedures is cut off not only in Ohio but in Indiana, too.
Thirty-five million women and girls of reproductive age, as well as others capable of pregnancy, live in nearly every Southern state and throughout the Midwest. As we witness every day, they are now unable or soon will be unable to access essential abortion services.
We cannot stand idly by. Mobilizing for changes to individual state constitutions in order to preserve reproductive rights and organizing for the mass march on October 7 in Washington, D.C. to push for federal legislation are on the agenda. In the end, however, our power will coalesce only when we build the labor-community coalitions that can be transformed into a mass working class party to represent all our interests.
August Bebel expressed our aspirations succinctly in 1879, when he wrote in the seminal work Women and Socialism, “The woman of the future society is socially and economically independent. She is no longer subjected to even a vestige of domination or exploitation, she is free and on a par with man and mistress of her destiny.”
August Bebel, Alexandra Kollontai, Emma Goldman, among so many, never gave up that struggle. As the mobilization in Kansas for fundamental reproductive rights demonstrates, nor do we.
[Note: On October 29, the International Working Women’s Conference (IWWC) will be held in Paris with delegations from more than 40 countries in attendance. A 10-person U.S. delegation, composed mostly of women unionists and political activists from different political backgrounds, will be traveling to Paris. The Organizer Newspaper, which is organizing the U.S. delegation, launched a $15,000 fund drive to help cover the travel and registration expenses of the U.S. delegation and to support the travel fund of delegates from Mexico and Haiti. To date we have raised $9,215 – leaving us with $5,785 still to be raised. We need your support. To make a contribution, please go to: https://gofund.me/e301f630. As the increased attacks on reproductive rights in the United States threaten women’s self-determination, there is no time to lose to galvanize our struggle and to link it internationally.]
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The True Face of the USMCA “Free Trade” Agreement
By Alan Benjamin
On July 20, The New York Times ran a story titled, “The Biden administration will challenge Mexico’s state control of its energy industry.” A sub-head explained: “The move stems from concerns that Mexico is violating the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which seeks to level the playing field for industries across the continent.”
The Biden administration, on behalf of U.S. energy corporations, is threatening to impose punitive tariffs on Mexico if Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador does not reverse recent policies aimed at “strengthening the dominance of Mexico’s two main state-owned energy companies — the Federal Electricity Commission, or CFE, and the oil and gas company Pemex — in an effort to make the country more self-sufficient.”
U.S. energy companies say that these steps “have made it difficult for them to do business in Mexico, which they say gives its own giants favorable treatment, including on pricing, emissions standards, and contract terms.”
Biden administration officials have chimed in, criticizing the Mexican government for “limiting competition and undermining U.S. companies and U.S.-produced energy.”
Officials at the Office of the United States Trade Representative told New York Times reporters that Mexico’s actions appeared to violate the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). “That free-trade deal,” writes the Times, “which went into effect two years ago, bars the countries from adopting policies that discriminate against the others and requires them to curtail their use of state-owned enterprises.” [our emphasis]
Nancy Pelosi and the top officials of the AFL-CIO argued that expanded labor rights in the USMCA were sufficient to transform the original NAFTA “free trade” agreement into something that working people could and should support. But the simple truth is that the main purpose of these labor rights clauses, most of them unenforceable, was to get working people to swallow the poison pill of USMCA — a corporate “free trade” agreement aimed primarily at boosting the profits of the U.S. transnational corporations.
Working people, on the whole, don’t read the business section of The New York Times. But we socialists do, precisely so that we can learn about the day-to-day corporate shenanigans.
That is why we warned against the USMCA, calling it by its rightful name: NAFTA 2.0. We warned that the USMCA agreement violated Mexico’s sovereignty and would be wielded to oppose each and every measure that reversed aspects, however small, of the neo-liberal agenda enacted (under U.S. pressure) by previous Mexican presidents, most notably by Enrique Peña Nieto. We warned that this was simply one more privatization scheme aimed at rolling back the gains made by working people both in Mexico and the United States.
It does not make us happy to say this, but our warnings were on the mark. Corporate “free trade” agreements are not amendable; they cannot be rendered acceptable with “social clauses” (as is taking place across Europe) or by largely unenforceable labor rights.
We cannot say this enough: The labor movement, the only organized expression of the working class, must break with the Democratic Party and develop its own independent foreign policy, beginning with its own independent trade policy.
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Immigrant Detainees Strike Over $1 a Day Pay, Working Conditions
[Note: The following article is reprinted from Labor Notes. The author, Alejandra Quintero, is a summer intern at Labor Notes. She can be reached at email@example.com. To learn more about Labor Notes, go to www.labornotes.org.]
By Alejandra Quintero
August 09, 2022
At two federal detention centers in California, more than 50 immigrant workers are on strike over unsafe working conditions and low wages.
“We are being exploited for our labor and are being paid $1 per day to clean the dormitories,” said strikers at a central California detention center in a June statement received by public radio station KQED.
Detained workers, known as “housing porters,” participate in a supposedly volunteer working program while locked up. They use their earnings to pay for the exorbitant cost of phone calls and commissary items like dental floss and tortillas.
“They are compelled to do this,” says Alan Benjamin, a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council who heard directly from striking workers during a call with the labor council. “It’s not voluntary; it’s compulsory work, without proper sanitation and equipment.”
“The mold is terrible,” adds Benjamin. “People are getting sick, one after the other.”
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, is currently investigating working conditions at the Golden State Annex U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, near Bakersfield, where workers have been on strike since June 6.
The California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice along with other organizations filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA back in May on behalf of seven detainees. The complaint charges that detained workers live in unsafe conditions, with black mold patches crawling up shower walls and black fibrous dust particles emitted into the dormitories through HVAC vents. Last year California enacted a bill, SB 334, requiring private operators of immigrant detention facilities to follow all state occupation and health and safety regulations.
Mold spores can lead to asthma, respiratory infections, and more. “I’m afraid because my lung has been impacted,” a father of four held in detention at Golden State Annex told KQED. “The dust and mold are bad for our health and unfortunately, we are in a place where it feels that they don’t care about our health.”
Detainees at a second ICE facility, Mesa Verde, have been on strike since April 28. The facilities are operated by the GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S. GEO also operates facilities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa. The company brought in $2.26 billion in revenue last year.
A DOLLAR A DAY
Raul is in his late 20s and has been detained at Golden State Annex since December 2021. [Raul is a pseudonym, which Labor Notes has used to protect the identity of a worker who may face retaliation while in detention for speaking with the press. —Editors] He came to the United States from Mexico at the age of five along with his parents and siblings. He told Labor Notes from behind bars that he’s striking over the paltry pay of $1 a day for eight-hour shifts and hazardous working conditions.
“The $1-a-day pay isn’t enough to eat,” he said, adding his earnings total $5 a week, which are used for commissary items and phone calls. “A video call costs about $2.50 for 15 minutes and a bag of beans is about $2.”
A 149-page research report published by the ACLU last month states that inmates are paid an average minimum of 13 cents an hour and average maximum of 52 cents an hour for jobs like laundry or cleaning bathrooms. Jobs in California’s state-owned correctional facilities pay between 35 cents an hour to $1 an hour, according to the report.
Raul said the prices in immigration facilities are higher—and wages lower—than those of federally run prisons too.
At an ICE detention center, Raul said, they’re getting paid $20 a month while at a federally run prison they could get paid about $200 a month for their labor. “They have the same vendor for the commissary for prison and ICE, but food is cheaper in prison,” he says. “A pack of beef is $4.50, and here it’s almost $6. We want them to drop the commissary prices.”
When detainee workers asked the GEO Group to drop prices, Raul said they began pointing fingers and putting responsibility on the unit supply vendor. “They both keep blaming each other,” said Raul. “They don’t give us a direct answer.”
BOSS SAYS NO STRIKE
A GEO Group spokesperson denies the workers are on strike. “Our ICE Processing Centers, including the Golden State Annex, are maintained in accordance with all applicable federal sanitation standards, with or without the contributions of Voluntary Work Program participants. Choosing not to participate in a voluntary program cannot constitute a labor strike.”
Raul said there are three dorms that are participating in the strike with about 27 workers involved and about 50 to 60 detainees who are standing in solidarity. “We all got together because this ain’t right.” He said they took their complaints to the warden and assistant warden. “Right now, this is only affecting 27 workers, but it’s going to be more than 27 because people are coming through here. In a period of a year, hundreds or even thousands are detained.”
The detainees are fighting to stay in the U.S. by seeking asylum or visas for victims of certain crimes (U visa). Some are also seeking relief through family-based petitions, said Lisa Knox, legal director at the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice.
The detainees come from Central American, African, and Asian countries. Many of them are long-time residents of Los Angeles and Kern County, according to Benjamin.
The pitifully low pay in the detention centers “depresses everybody’s wages,” said Benjamin. “In the case of these two facilities, it’s just outrageous because they’ve eliminated jobs of cleaning personnel, and said, ‘well, we have free labor from these people. Let them do it. And [the detainees] said, no, we’re not a free labor pool.”
Last year, a jury in a U.S District Court in Washington unanimously found GEO Group responsible for violating the state’s minimum wage laws; the judge ordered back pay to 100,000 detainees. Last month, a complaint was filed against GEO Group in a federal court in California stating the for-profit company fails to maintain a minimum standards of sanitation and that detainees are forced to work or be subjected to discipline.
‘WE ALL SPEAK UP’
As the strike continues, GEO is retaliating against the detained workers. Two strikers have been placed in solitary confinement for engaging in a group demonstration, according to Knox.
The prison is also limiting the days the commissary delivers purchased food to the detained workers. “You used to purchase your food and the vendor would come on Wednesdays and Fridays,” says Raul. “Now, they only come on Fridays and tell us they do not know the schedule.”
Another common scare tactic is threatening detained workers about how their behavior while in lock up will look before a judge ruling on their pending immigration cases. “The judge will find out you aren’t obeying rules and if you’re not obeying rules in here what will make them think you’ll obey rules out there?” said Raul, recounting a common fear-mongering tactic used by prison guards. To combat these tactics, he and the other detainees do everything as a group to ensure no one is singled out as a ring-leader. “We all speak up and when we speak to the officers we go as a group.”
A fundraiser has been launched to support the labor strikers’ efforts as well as an open-letter to Governor Newsom to pass the California Mandela Act, a bill that “defines solitary confinement as any period of confinement that exceeds 17 hours a day in a cell.”
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Immigrant Families, Legal Services and Community Organizations Hold Emergency Press Conference Announcing Mass Unity Rally Supporting Striking Immigrants Detained in California Prisons
San Francisco, CA – August 10 marks 106 days since migrant workers detained at Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield went on a labor strike and 65 days since fellow migrant workers at Golden State Annex joined them. The multibillion-dollar corporation GEO Group runs both facilities. Migrant workers started these labor strikes to protest the living and working conditions, exorbitant commissary and tax prices, and exploitative wages for doing custodial work at both detention centers.
“It’s really degrading how little they value our work. Would you clean 5 toilets, 5 shower stalls, scrub the floors, and mop them for $1 a day? Besides that, commissary rates are so high, we aren’t able to afford most products. I’ve been a hard-working man all my life and I know where to value myself as a worker. This is why I’m part of the strike,” said Jose Ruben Hernandez Gomez, a worker detained at Mesa Verde.
When: Friday, August 12, at 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Where: Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, 630 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94111
What: Press conference and rally to demand humane treatment of migrants detained in GEO Group facilities in Bakersfield and McFarland, CA
Who: Advocates and organizers for immigrant rights, the Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex Strikers Support Committee, including the Citizenship for All Movement (Movimiento Papeles Para Todos), Workers’ Voice, SEIU Local 87, Latinos Unidos for a New America (LUNA), Pangea Legal Services, Socialist Organizer, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice
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BRAZIL: Workers Must Reject Being Manipulated by the Bosses’ Federations
Lula leading in the polls with 60% over Bolsonaro
By Anizio Garcez Homem
On August 5, the building of the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (FIESP) was all lit up to promote the campaign it had just launched in “defense of democracy and justice.” This is the same building where the campaign was hatched to impeach then-President Dilma Roussef in 2016 and that warmly welcomed the protesters who called for Lula’s imprisonment in 2018 … which resulted in Bolsonaro’s victory.
Democracy and justice? Who are they trying to fool? In June 2018, the FIESP and the FEBRABAN bankers’ federation met with the organizers of the coup that overthrew Dilma to address the common goal of ensuring Lula’s arrest and his ban from running for office at that time.
Whose interests are the FIESO and FEBRABAN promoting? According to the website Auditoria da Dívida (Debt Audit), last year the banks and financial speculators swallowed 1.9 trillion Reais [US$370 billion] of the national budget with interest and amortization of the public debt, bleeding the public services and the urgent social investments through the recurring schemes of endless debt and high interest rates.
The current president of FIESP, Josué Gomes, declared to the press what the parameters of the so-called democracy should be:
“It is natural that FIESP should sign a Manifesto in defense of democracy, since in Brazil there is no liberalism, no market economy, no private property — all values so dear to the FIESP and the industrial sector — all requiring legal security, whose essential pillar is democracy and the rule of law.”
It is impossible to be clearer. Democracy for FIESP is the defense of private property and the market economy, that is, the profits of a minority of large national and international capitalists.
Some seem to forget that on August 16, 2016, threatened with impeachment, President Dilma Roussef made the following proposal to the Senate of the Republic:
“I am convinced of the need and will give my unrestricted support to the convening of a Plebiscite, in order to consult the population on the holding of early elections, as well as on political and electoral reform.”
To this democratic proposal to consult the people, the response of the economic elite was a resounding NO and the imposition by the National Congress of Michel Temer, a lackey of the U.S. Embassy, a man tailor-made to promote the huge assault on the labor rights of the working class.
Today, these are the very same right-wing people and institutions, which, in the name of promoting democracy and justice, are forging political alliances with the traditional organizations of the Brazilian working class. The August 6 editorial of Estado de Sao Paulo celebrates this new cross-class alliance:
“Yesterday’s historical enemies who always had and continue to have opposing ideological positions joined forces to sign a new Manifesto in defense of elections and the judiciary. Alongside the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (FIESP) and the Brazilian Federation of Banks (FEBRABAN) one can find entities such as the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT/United Trade Union Central), União Nacional dos Estudantes (UNE/National Student Union), União Geral dos Trabalhadores (UGT/ General Union of Brazilian Workers), and the Central Geral dos Trabalhadores (CGT/General Central of Brazilian Workers).”
At this moment, there are two strategies being explored in the summits of the ruling class of Brazil on how to address Lula’s more than likely victory in October’s presidential election.
One strategy, from a minority group of the ruling class, involves joining Bolsonaro in rejecting the likely victory of Lula. This group feels that, notwithstanding Lula’s pledge to promote the market economy and its agenda, popular pressure from below could compel Lula to promote profound social change. They prefer to abort the election altogether, if necessary with a military coup.
Another strategy, from a more financially robust sector of the ruling class, prefers prudence. They feel that stealing Lula’s vote, especially by military force, would be tantamount to calling the working class and the majority of the people into a class versus class confrontation. They worry about the world political situation, such as the recent uprising in Sri Lanka that brought down the government and put the institutions of political domination in check.
The latter group prefers to confiscate the victory of the workers, blurring the class content of this victory, mixing their interests for profit and the continuity of their agenda as part of a generic democracy, anchored in the undemocratic institutions inherited from the military in the 1960s and ’70s. These are the same people who have not stopped attacking workers’ and people’s rights in recent times and who turned their backs on the results of the 2014 elections, when they ousted Dilma, or rejected a democratic solution to the crisis proposed by Dilma in 2016.
Regrettably, the leaderships of the workers’ organizations, by signing the FIESP Manifesto, are accepting to play the role of accomplices of this second strategy of the corporate CEOs and bankers, all supported by the Brazil-US Trade Association.
The workers and Lula’s voters must seek the path of their own mobilization. They must demand that their choice to vote for Lula be respected. They must free themselves from the traps of the two political wings of the corporate elite, both of which, in one form or another, want to CONFISCATE the people’s vote for real changes in economic policy, such as the repeal of the labor and social security reforms; the repeal of privatizations; and funding for jobs, wages, and food on the table.
Workers must demand from the leaders of their political, trade union and popular organizations that they organize their rank and file to go out into the streets — and if needed to strike massively — to defeat any coup attempt by Bolsonaro and at the same time to reject becoming accomplices of the FIESP and their phony call for democracy and justice.
August 7, 2022