The following interview is a follow-up to an earlier one conducted this month with American writer and veteran labor rights activist Bruce Gagnon. He explains the current U.S.-led NATO conflict against Russia in a historical context. U.S.-dominated Western capitalism is addicted to war as a modus operandi going back to its original genocidal conquest and foundations in slavery through its colonial wars and other wars of aggression over the past century and more.
The current conflict playing out in Ukraine is but a continuum of class war against the workers of the United States and other Western states.
American workers, however, are fighting back in the form of a resurgence in unionizing and strike actions. The crisis in capitalism is driving the U.S. ruling class and its European NATO associates to war against Russia, and ultimately a Third World War. The struggle for real democracy in the U.S. (and Europe) is part of the same challenge to defeat American-led Western imperialism. What’s at stake is the very future of the planet.
Bruce Gagnon coordinates the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He began his political career in 1978 organizing Florida fruit pickers for the United Farm Workers Union (UFW). While working for the UFW, he served on the union team negotiating contracts between the Coca-Cola Corporation (Minute Maid orange juice) and the UFW. He writes a daily blog called Organizing Notes.
Question: How do you explain the novel trend of U.S. workers joining trade unions, reversing decades of diminishing organizational membership? We have seen significant achievements by workers forming unions at Apple, Google, Amazon, and Starbucks, for example. The mainstream news media have given little coverage to explain this development. Can you put the trend in historical context? What is driving it?
Bruce Gagnon: The driver of these unionization campaigns is two basic factors. First, is the unbridled greed of the big-box-tech corporations who mistreat their workers and pay them as little as possible. The second factor is the declining economy across the U.S. where workers can’t live on low-wage jobs – they can’t afford rent, food, and healthcare. It’s great to see workers standing up to Mr Big, that is, corporate capitalist power and the ruling class. It’s long in the coming. Mr Big will make some transitory concessions but in the long run, will find ways to take back the gains made by workers. It’s another “period of capital re-accumulation”. It is the history of the labor movement in the United States.
For example, take the story of Gary, Indiana. The city is located along the southern shore of Lake Michigan about 25 miles (40 km) from downtown Chicago, Illinois. Gary was founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation as the home for its new plant, Gary Works. The city was named after lawyer Elbert Henry Gary, who was the founding chairman of the United States Steel Corporation.
What is most interesting is the answer to this question – why was Gary actually created? The labor movement in the U.S. was very strong in the late 1800s. They had fought hard, bloody battles to earn the right to be unionized. This power meant union halls were created. Local bars, stores, parks, and such like, became a growing inter-weaving of worker community power that were threats to Mr Big. Workers can’t be allowed multi-generational stability – they must be kept on a constant treadmill of moving and rebuilding union and community strength.
So many steel mills, and other such industries, moved to new communities – in fact, Gary was created on empty scrub fields. Most importantly, the thriving worker culture in places like Chicago had to be destroyed. Similarly today in the U.S., major industries moved South and overseas to secure cheaper labor. American workers are not needed anymore. Thus, we see working-class whites turned against people of color – divide and conquer. Keep the pressure off Mr Big at all costs! Washington learned this modus operandi (MO) expertly from the Bank of England.
Question: Over the past year, we have also seen a record number of labor strikes in U.S. industries. Would you say that the industrial disputes, like the surge in unionization, are reflective of intensifying class war in the U.S. causing more poverty and stress, but also more unionization and strike actions?
Bruce Gagnon: Younger workers appear to be very clear about the class war being imposed on them by Wall Street and corporate interests. I’d say this has been surging since Occupy Wall Street began some years ago and the slogan ‘We are the 99%’ became part of the public lexicon. I think the impact of the Occupy movement (shut down under orders of Barack Obama) is highly under-rated. When you factor in massive student debt, low wages, often bad working conditions, and the general disrespect for the workers and poor people by corporate America, it is no surprise that this union movement is growing.
I recently read the autobiography of Mother Jones and there are so many similarities between corporate domination of the labor force today and the coal and textile industries’ horrible exploitative treatment of workers in years past. One other key thing stands out that links the past and today’s unionization efforts – the subservience of the political class and the media to corporate interests.
Question: At this time of pressing social hardship in the United States and also in Europe when workers are told there is “no money” for improving public services and pay conditions, it seems particularly incongruous that the Western governments are able to find extra billions and billions of dollars and euros to flood Ukraine with military aid. Do you agree that there seems to be a confluence of war, one being waged at home against workers and one abroad de facto against Russia? Are American workers seeing it like that from their own experience or are they susceptible to the mainstream media blandishments about America and NATO “defending Ukraine”?
Bruce Gagnon: Just look at the strong national campaign demanding ‘Medicare for All’ here in the United States. During the last national election, the Democrats refused to embrace and push that legislative agenda. Obviously, the insurance industry was opposed to it. In fact, the Democrat’s talking point on healthcare was “everyone should have the right to access to healthcare”. That actually meant everyone should be able to buy a health insurance policy from the industry.
Covid hit many workers, and the poor not only lost their jobs and their housing but also what little access to the healthcare they may have had. Homelessness grew dramatically.
At the very same time, we witnessed major funding increases for the Pentagon, including for the recently created Space Force. The U.S.-NATO were flooding their military agents in Ukraine with millions (and now billions) of dollars in military hardware. So somehow the Western nations could come up with all this money for another war but not for the most needy in our societies. This was not a mistake on their part – it was a clearly thought-out strategy.
Due to robotics, computerization, agribusiness mechanization, and such, we now have massive numbers of “superfluous” people around the globe. The ruling elites don’t want to encourage the unwanted by treating them with dignity and ensuring they can survive with good jobs, food, housing, healthcare, and the like. It reminds me of Hitler’s Warsaw, Poland’s Jewish ghetto where the Nazis had a “Caloric Reduction Intake Schedule” which was a calculated form of genocide. The Nazis understood that by reducing access to food and some level of healthcare it would mean earlier deaths. The Israelis are today using a similar program to genocide the Palestinian people; Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, etc., all the same.
I’d say with confidence that Wall Street is running the same program across the entire Western nations. Workers basically understand their lives mean nothing to Mr Big, and they are beginning to fight back – as they well should.
Question: American President Joe Biden portrays himself as “the most pro-union president” in a long time. If Biden were really prioritizing the interests and rights of American workers, as he claims, then how do you explain his evident foreign policy of pursuing aggression towards Russia and China? Is he a witting fraud on workers?
Bruce Gagnon: Let’s not forget Biden was heavily involved in the creation and promotion of the 1994 federal crime bill. This new law extended the death penalty to 60 new crimes, stiffened sentences, offered states strong financial incentives for building new prisons, and helped lead to the wave of mass incarceration that’s resulted in the United States accounting for 25 percent of the world’s prison population. These are the working class and the poor people that have been locked up in major numbers due to this Biden-backed bill.
Biden’s electoral home state of Delaware is most known for being a tax haven. Delaware is the chosen home for large corporations and many financial services firms. Delaware has more businesses incorporated in the state (1.4 million) than there are residents (967,000 in 2018). Biden is an apparatchik for Mr Big.
Biden, with support from both Democrats and Republicans, has declared that Russia and China are “existential threats” to the U.S. The ever-expanding U.S. military and NATO have been encircling both those nations with more American bases and more frequent war games. All of this takes huge new Pentagon appropriations that of course benefit the military-industrial complex. Members of Congress are rewarded for higher loyalty to the war budget than to the suffering citizenry. Daddy Warbucks, that is the military-industrial complex, makes sure to drop some big coins into the campaign coffers of these “selected” officials.
As the economy worsens, working-class and poor kids, just out of high school (if they even graduated), find it nearly impossible to get jobs. Thus the “economic draft” pulls much youth into the military where they are trained and sent off to the more than 800 U.S. bases around the globe. It was during the George W. Bush administration that the Pentagon was repeatedly announcing that the U.S. role under corporate globalization was going to be “security export”. That is where we are today. Biden was one of the architects of this strategy. If Biden was a Republican the peace movement would be largely united today. It’s very sad. But that is the score.
Question: In a previous interview for Strategic Culture Foundation, you contended that the U.S.-led NATO confrontation with Russia and China – as currently playing out in Ukraine – is really about a bigger geopolitical struggle to stem the historic decline in Western corporate capitalism. Does that mean that the deteriorating social conditions in Western states are the other side of the coin of increasing belligerence in the foreign policy of the U.S. and its NATO partners?
Bruce Gagnon: Mr Big wants it all – all the gold. The war in Ukraine is about attempting to break Moscow’s back – regime change and the balkanization of Russia into smaller nations. This is what the U.S.-NATO did to former Communist Yugoslavia in 1999 during the Bill Clinton administration.
The West fears the multipolar world that Russia and China are helping to birth. The U.S.-EU intends to abort that birth even if it means inciting World War Three. Thus all available monies across the West must be hastily pumped into the U.S.-NATO war machine. Note that Germany recently announced it would increase its military spending by $112 billion. Out of whose hides will those funds come from?
Question: If the U.S. adopted a foreign policy of pursuing amicable, cooperative relations with other nations instead of constantly seeking enmity and adversity; and if the U.S. truly accepted multipolar, mutual relations of equals as opposed to unilateral dominance and hegemony, would you agree that such a United States of America would be much more substantially democratic and orientated towards the priority interests of workers who make up the majority of its 330 million population?
Bruce Gagnon: I often share the story about Lakota warrior Crazy Horse and the military-industrial complex that existed in the late 1800s. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were brought onto the reservation in South Dakota. They only surrendered to the U.S. Army because their people were starving. Washington had sent snipers on trains to ride across the western plains and shoot any buffalo they came in contact with. They decimated the herds. The hearts of the native people were broken – they saw the evil enemy they were facing in the flesh.
The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865 and the Indian Wars soon after. The military-industrial complex was worried about its future. They had artists make renderings of Crazy Horse supposedly back on the warpath.
Newspapers in the big cities across the U.S. printed stories about Crazy Horse raping white women and killing children. Soon the public was led to express their outrage and “the people demanded something be done”. Doesn’t that sound familiar? The Congress in Washington immediately swung into action and appropriated more funds for the Indian Wars – while Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were sitting on the reservation in South Dakota without a gun to their name.
This story has been repeated legions of times since – leading up to Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, Libya, Syria, and now Ukraine. And the public relations script coming from Washington is always so familiar.
The citizens of the U.S. could have full employment, a clean environment, Medicare for All, real social justice, and much more, except the U.S. has long been a fascist nation. Italy’s World War Two leader Benito Mussolini defined fascism as the “wedding of corporations and government”. That definition fits the United States of America.
Writer and humorist Mark Twain became an anti-imperialist during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines (1898-1946). Folks might check out his writings. America’s original sin was the genocide of the native people and the institution of slavery. The only way out is to confront this addiction. “Hello, my name is America and I am addicted to violence, greed, and endless war”. Where is the leadership to make this happen?
Question: Is the two-party system in the U.S. doomed to be a bipartisan War Party government?
Bruce Gagnon: As long as the United States has the winner-take-all electoral system there is slim chance of real democracy and justice. This nation is being driven off the cliff – intentionally – as capital has gone global. Neo-feudalism is what we are being offered in place of the “American dream”. This is why we are seeing growing efforts of workers to organize unions. There is no other way around it – we either organize to protect one another or we are condemned to barbarity.
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