December 2018: Climate Meltdown and Yellow Vests

As 2018 winds to a close, we at The Call closed out our election coverage with a review of the midterm results. We argued that the elections showed the extent to which Democrats have turned to suburban voters and professionals as the core of their social base.

Fortunately, the full popular vote and turnout statistics that have come out in the last few weeks suggest that the Democrats’ midterm victories were larger than we initially thought — perhaps not a “blue wave”, but definitely more than a trickle. Though that doesn’t change the core of our analysis that Democrats still don’t have a full strategy to defeat “Trumpism”, it does suggest that the extent of raw anti-Trump sentiment in the country is thankfully larger than initial results suggested.

The election results were also a reminder of the deeply anti-majoritarian nature of the US political system — a point we took up in our case for why DSA should make democratic demands a key part of any future national platform.

In this final bulletin for the year, we turn our attention to climate, labor, and international news. As always, we hope you’ll let us know what you think — and keep us updated on events in your DSA chapter — by emailing us at editor [at] socialistcall [dot] com and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And please subscribe if you haven’t already so you never miss a bulletin.

In solidarity,
The Call editorial team

Wildfires and Climate Change

Wildfires plague California, 2018 sets a record for heatwaves, and the Arctic is turning brown as snow gives way to dead vegetation. Extreme weather in the last month is just another reminder of the growing danger of climate change, and a major report from thirteen federal agencies issued yet another dire warning: stop climate change now, or face irreversible environmental damage and a shrinking economy. At the same time, before Thanksgiving, brave students organizing with the environmental group Sunrise occupied incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office and demanded immediate action on the climate.

It is difficult not to despair, as a new climate conference opens; report after report along these lines in the last few decades have led to no significant action to mitigate the threat.

But while liberals blame democracy for our inability to confront climate change, the real problem is the capitalist profit motive and capitalists’ refusal to take the steps necessary to build a sustainable economy. A drastic response is needed and socialists must lead the way.

In the wake of the wildfires in California, DSA chapters across the state have done just that by beginning to organize for public ownership of utilities. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have correctly begun to demand a Green New Deal as part of a comprehensive transformation of the American economy. And in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have put forward one of the most ambitious programs to nationalize major industries as part of a strategy to fight climate change. Their goal is to take control of the energy sector and transition to a fossil fuel free economy.

Climate change can be fought, but it will require mass movements demanding and winning anti-capitalist reforms to make the necessary changes.

Labor’s Next Steps

In a rare and encouraging development, teachers in Baton Rouge stopped the local government from extending a $6 million property tax exemption to Exxon with a credible strike threat. Political strikes (strikes not directly related to workplace issues) are incredibly rare in the United States, but they are an extremely powerful tool. Baton Rouge’s educators provide a rare lesson on how labor can simultaneously fight against handouts for corporations and the rich and deteriorating conditions for workers. Workers in Baton Rouge have set an excellent example for teachers in California, as major strikes are on the horizon next month in Los Angeles and Oakland. DSA activists in East Bay are launching an important solidarity campaign with Oakland teachers.

In other news, business unionists at the top of the UAW bureaucracy are under more fire for a massive corruption scandal that involved taking bribes from Chrysler executives to secure favorable contracts, just at the moment that GM announced layoffs of thousands of workers, including at the historic Lordstown plant. The national strike wave of workers at Marriott hotels is coming to an end, as workers have settled contracts in every city. Riding a wave of dissatisfaction with the national contract, anti-Hoffa slates won recent elections at Teamsters locals in Dallas, Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois. Finally, after years of stonewalling, Columbia University agreed to bargain with its graduate student workers, albeit under a controversial bargaining framework.

DSA in the News

Following the midterms, DSA’s National Political Committee released a full tally of DSA’s election victories. The NPC also released a statement in support of a bill Bernie Sanders introduced in the Senate to end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. The bill cleared its first procedural hurdle last week with considerable support.

The national Medicare for All Campaign started a newsletter to highlight organizing around the country. The latest issue of DSA’s political education newsletter, The Stacks, came out last week. Chicago DSA has endorsed a slate of aldermanic candidates, including incumbent Carlos Rosa. And Philly DSA’s Dustin Guastella gave an impassioned defense of a fair workweek during debate on a city ordinance regulating the manner in which employers may adjust workers’ schedules. Despite opposition from businesses, the measure appears likely to pass.

In internal organizational news, DSA’s Refoundation Caucus announced its dissolution after slightly over a year in existence. The North Star Caucus wrote a convincing defense of the need for organized political groupings in DSA.

Socialism Around the World

Leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was inaugurated as Mexico’s 58th president on December 1st, and his party Morena along with coalition partners also now has majorities in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate — representing the first time in a long time that Mexico has a unified, progressive government. Lopez Obrador and Morena will be fighting a difficult battle, as rising debt, a struggling economy, and a deadly and monstrous drug war have taken a huge toll on Mexico. It remains to be seen however if they have a plan or the will to challenge the oligarchs who rule the country and find a way to reverse the decades of privatization and increasing inequality. Their program so far has been mostly limited to fighting public corruption. That’s given some in the international capitalist class hope that AMLO is a “pragmatist,” while other outlets remain wary that a more ambitious agenda could be coming.

In France the “yellow vest” protests initially sparked by a new carbon tax continue unabated, reflecting popular dissatisfaction with the current French political regime. Protestors main target is the tax policies of Emmanuel Macron (who has condemned the protests) that have shifted the tax burden in the country from corporations and the rich to middle and working-class people. Although not initiated by groups on the Left, the protests seem to be headed in a progressive direction and have adopted more than forty demands, many of which are redistributive and aimed at reversing inequality. In the last week, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, left-wing parties, and major French labor unions have also joined protests, while leftists have also called for a more vigorous struggle against right-wing elements — especially from Marine Le Pen’s new far-right party, Rassemblement National — which may be trying to infiltrate the movement.

As Labour inches closer to victory in Britain, shadow finance minister and the party’s second in command John McDonnell has refused to apologize for calling for the “overthrow of capitalism,” and is exploring the possibility of introducing a four day workweek. Labour continues to struggle with figuring out the right position on the developing Brexit negotiations, however, primarily because while Brexit represented a victory for nativist elements, continued membership in the European Union would stymie Labour’s ambitions to transform the economy.

Meanwhile, authorities in China continue to escalate their attacks on Marxist students. Podemos is in trouble in Spain, where its support for the new center-left government has undercut people’s confidence that it represents a real break with the existing order, and it has struggled to combine parliamentary strategy with popular mobilizations. And the most recent caravan of Central American refugees seeking asylum in the US remains halted near the US-Mexico border. The convoy of thousands of Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorians seeking refuge from gang violence, dire economic conditions, and political instability marched thousands of miles to the US border on foot — fleeing conditions that are the direct result of decades of US interference in Latin America.