Showing posts with label Indiana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indiana. Show all posts

07 August 2013

Harry Targ : Academic Freedom and the Mitch Daniels/Howard Zinn Kerfuffle

Political cartoon by Gary Varvel / Indianapolis Star
Academic freedom under fire:
The Mitch Daniels/Howard Zinn kerfuffle
If education at any level is to be shaped by the principle of academic freedom it must encourage student exposure to varieties of theories, perspectives, and points of view.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / August 7, 2013

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana -- On July 17, 2013, an Associated Press story was published in several newspapers quoting from 2010 e-mails Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, now the president of Purdue University, wrote to “top state educational officials.” The e-mails encouraged the suppression of popular historian Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States in Indiana public education, including university level teacher training courses.

Upon the death of popular historian Howard Zinn, Daniels e-mailed that “this terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away.”

When challenged on the seeming threats to academic freedom, Daniels claimed that his directives “only” referred to K through 12 instruction despite the fact that his e-mails made it clear he opposed instruction that used Zinn’s writings as tools for in-service training for teachers.

Ninety Purdue University faculty (including this author) signed a letter to President Daniels objecting to his implied threat to academic freedom. In addition to defending the university as a place for debate among competing ideas, the faculty objected to the negative characterization of Zinn’s scholarship as an historian.

They also objected to Daniels’ claim that although he was not interested in censoring scholarship and teaching at the university, when he was governor he had the responsibility to oversee school curricula from kindergarten through high school.

Faculty pointed out that restricting what was being taught to teachers pursuing advanced credits and restricting the right of teachers to use Zinn’s work in pre-college curricula violated academic freedom. Many Purdue faculty believed that extreme statements damning the substance of Zinn’s work cast a pall on the university and made serious reflection on American history in elementary and high schools more difficult for young people and their teachers.

It is important to note that the Daniels e-mails, and their threat to free discussion and debate in educational institutions in Indiana, reflect the deep struggles being waged in the American political system. Rush Limbaugh once remarked on his radio show to the effect that “we” have captured most institutions in the society with the exception of the university.

Since politics is usually about the contestation of ideas and the development of ideas comes from an understanding of the past and its connection to the present and the future, schools and universities can aptly be seen as “contested terrain.” That is teachers and students learn about their world through reading, writing, debating, and advocating policies, ideas, and values in educational settings.

Consequently, if one sector of society wishes to gain and maintain political and economic power they might see particular value in controlling the ideas that are disseminated in educational institutions. During the dark days of the Cold War professors who had the “wrong” ideas were fired. Professional associations in many disciplines rewarded scholars who worked within accepted perspectives on history, or political science, or literature, or sociology and denied recognition to others.

The preferred ideas trickled down to primary and secondary education. In most instances, professors and teachers who suffered as a result of their teaching were merely presenting competing views so that their students would have more informed reasons for deciding on their own what interpretations of subject matter made the most sense.

American history was a prime example of how controversial teaching would become. Most historians after World War II wrote and taught about the American experience emphasizing that elites made history, men made history more than women, social movements were absent from historical change, history moved in the direction of consensus rather than conflict, and the United States always played a positive role in world history. European occupation of North America, the elimination of Native Peoples, building a powerful economy on the backs of a slave system, and a U.S. pattern of involvement in foreign wars were all ignored or slighted.

Howard Zinn, a creator and product of the intellectual turmoil of the 60s presented us with a new paradigm for examining U.S. history, indeed all history. His classic text, A People’s History of the United States, which has been read by millions, compellingly presented a view of history that highlighted the roles of indigenous people, workers, women, people of color, people of various ethnicities, and all others who were not situated at the apex of economic, political, or educational institutions.

He taught us that we needed to be engaged in the struggles that shaped people’s lives to learn what needs to be changed, how their conditions got to be what they were, and how scholar/activists might help to change the world.

Perhaps most importantly, Zinn demonstrated that participants in people’s struggles were part of a “people’s chain,” that is the long history of movements and campaigns throughout history that have sought to bring about change. As he wrote in his autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times:
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
In the 1970s the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was formed by wealthy conservatives and corporations such as Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, and AT&T which invested millions of dollars to organize lobby groups, support selected politicians in all 50 states, create “think tanks,” and in other ways strategize about how to transform American society to increase the wealth and power of the few.

ALEC lobbyists and scholars developed programs and legislation around labor, healthcare, women’s issues, the environment, and education that were designed to reverse the progressive development of government and policy that social movements had long advocated.

Speakers at ALEC events have included Governors Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Jan Brewer, John Kasich, and Mitch Daniels. ALEC legislative programs include lobbying for charter schools, challenging teachers unions, revisiting school curricula to include materials that deny climate change, and more effectively celebrate the successes of the Bill of Rights in U.S. history.

The conservative Bradley Foundation, has awarded $400 million over the last decade to organizations supporting school vouchers, right-to-work laws, traditional marriage laws, and global warming deniers. Two of the four recipients of the organization's 2013 award for support of “American democratic capitalism” were Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News, and Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

Associations which lobby for restricting academic freedom in higher education include David Horowitz’s Freedom Center and the National Association of Scholars, funded by the conservative Sarah Scaife, Bradley, and Olin Foundations among others. NAS seeks to bring together scholars whose work opposes multiculturalism, affirmative action, concerns about climate change, and the “liberal” bias in academia.

NAS current president Peter Wood contributed a blog article in the Chronicle on Higher Education on July 18, 2013, entitled “Why Mitch Daniels Was Right About Howard Zinn.” Wood wrote that “a governor worth his educational salt should be calling out faculty members who cannot or will not distinguish scholarship from propaganda, or who prefer to substitute simplistic storytelling for the complexities of history.”

Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States is a history of how social movements of workers, women, people of color, native peoples, and others often left out of conventional accounts have made and can make history. This is a part of history that political and economic elites, influential organizations such as ALEC, the Bradley Foundation, and education-oriented groups like NAS do not want included in course curricula; in middle school, high school, or the university.

If education at any level is to be shaped by the principle of academic freedom it must encourage student exposure to varieties of theories, perspectives, and points of view. It is in an environment of discussion and debate that rigorous and critical thought emerges. Efforts to expunge certain scholars such as Howard Zinn from educational curricula contradict the spirit of free and rigorous thought.

A version of this essay appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, August 5, 2013.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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05 December 2012

Harry Targ : The Two Faces of the 2012 Elections

Tea Party favorite Mike Pence is the new governor of Indiana. Photo by Darron Cummings / AP.

Electoral contradictions:
The progressive majority and
the reactionary state governments
Challenges to a progressive future do not come just from Washington, Wall Street, or the Pentagon. In 2012, state election results led to single-party control of 37 state governments: 24 Republican and 13 Democratic.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / December 5, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana -- By many measures progressive forces seeking to defend the rights of women, workers, Latinos, African-Americans, youth, and the elderly won major victories in the 2012 election. President Obama was reelected with strong support from those to his political left.

Democrats, some identifying with populist policies such as Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin, increased their control of the Senate. And in the House of Representatives, Democrats gained a few seats including those for progressives such as Alan Grayson. The House remained in Republican control despite the fact that Democratic candidates out-polled Republicans nationwide by about 200,000 votes.

Most important, the coalition of progressives who increasingly see connections between the interests of workers, women, people of color, and those passionate about the environment, immigration reform, and peace have vowed to stay mobilized. They see the danger of  “grand bargains” which might make Beltway politicians weaken Medicare, Medicaid, and/or Social Security.

Progressives also are wary of deals that could sacrifice the environment to big oil, maintain the grotesque economic inequalities through tax breaks for the rich, and continue budget-busting military expenditures.

However, challenges to a progressive future do not come just from Washington, Wall Street, or the Pentagon. In 2012, state election results led to single-party control of 37 state governments: 24 Republican and 13 Democratic. Think Progress reported that only 12 states will have evenly contested, two-party government as the 2013 legislative sessions open. This much one-party dominance at the state level has not been seen since 1952.

In many of the Republican-controlled states, legislatures and governors are controlled by Tea Party advocates seeking to privatize public education, reject key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, install or expand Right-to-Work and anti-collective bargaining legislation, end support for Planned Parenthood, put creationism in science classes, and cut college programs not tied to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curricula.

The states where Republicans dominate governorships and state legislatures are for the most part states in the South and across the Plains.

One of the few Midwest states where one-party rule will prevail in 2013 is the state of Indiana. Despite public perception, Indiana has a history of competitive government. Democrats have controlled bigger cities and industrial areas whereas Republicans dominated in rural and small towns of Central and Eastern Indiana.

Democrats held the governorship from 1989 to 2005, and elected former governor Evan Bayh as senator in 1998. He retired from that post in 2010. Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly, with strong labor support, won the 2012 Senatorial race over Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock.

In Indiana legislative politics, the Republicans and Democrats each controlled one legislative body from the outset of the new century until the 2010 elections. Then Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives (60-40) and in 2012 won “supermajorities” in the House (69-31) and the Senate (37-13). Meanwhile Indiana elected Tea Party Congressman Mike Pence to serve as Governor. Pence will replace two-term Tea Party “light” Governor Mitch Daniels who was selected the new president of Purdue University by a Board of Trustees mostly appointed by him.

In total, Indiana politics which had been shifting to the right over the last decade, will become a “blood red” state in 2013. Republican spokespersons promise to complete the economic and political agenda they began to institute in the early years of the new century.

Paradoxically, Indiana voters solidly rejected the reelection bid of Superintendent of Public Education, Tony Bennett, who has radically transformed education from a public to a private institution. He has opened the door for taxpayer support for private religious schools. And he has introduced ill-advised “performance” standards to determine financial support for public schools.

To increase the possibility of incorporating markets and religion into what used to be a public education system, he and his colleagues have worked vigorously to destroy teachers unions.

Glenda Ritz, an award winning teacher and media specialist, defeated Bennett by a 52-48 percent margin. Tea Party legislators have indicated that they will move to make the Superintendent’s position an appointed one in the future.

Outgoing Governor Daniels, a key advocate of educational privatization, proclaimed that teachers used improper means to campaign for Ritz, as if the 1 million voters for Ritz who were not teachers were not relevant to the outcome (in Indiana there are 40,000 public school teachers). So if the people make the wrong choices, the Tea Party legislators imply, their right to make those choices must be restricted.

In 2011 the Indiana Institute for Working Families issued a report on the status of working families in Indiana. The report presented economic data on the condition of Indiana’s working families suggesting that workers in the state have suffered above and beyond the level of the national recession of 2007 to 2009. They suggest that, contrary to the public image promoted by outgoing Governor Daniels and his Tea Party legislative colleagues, the conditions of Hoosier working families have worsened as a result of their legislative agenda:
In fact, the data shows a recovery in Indiana marked by a weakened labor market, an unprecedented decline in wages, and dramatic increases in poverty. Due to across-the-board state budget cuts, a significant loss of public-sector jobs, and low uptake rates in work-support programs due to a public policy environment that’s not been conducive to working families, tens of thousands of Hoosiers are unnecessarily experiencing the human toll of this recession. (“Status of Working Families in Indiana, 2011," Indiana Institute for Working Families)
Indiana progressives have a difficult task ahead. They must reverse the rightward drift of Hoosier politics and public policy and in the long run build a progressive political movement that can fight for and win a new People’s Agenda based on justice, prosperity, and peace.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his book from Changemaker Press which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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26 June 2012

Harry Targ : Mitch Daniels, Educator!

All decked out: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels models his new Purdue leather jacket after being named the school's next president in West Lafayette, Indiana., Thursday, June 21, 2012. Photo by Michael Conroy / AP.

Purdue names Mitch Daniels president:
The crisis in higher education continues
Daniels has no administrative experience in higher education except appointing the Trustees who in secret carried out a presidential search that led to his appointment.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / June 26, 2012

Big banks, multinational corporations, political parties, and upcoming elections dominate our public discourse as they should. But there is a danger that the fabric of social institutions is being transformed before our eyes but yet beyond our consciousness. Such is the case of the radical changes occurring in education, from kindergarten through college.

Calls for free, open, accessible, and transparent education have been a tradition almost as long as the rhetorical commitment to democracy itself. In fact most people believe that education, democracy, and the economy are inextricably connected. However, the education/democracy connection has been weakening ever since the 1960s.

After World War II, the GI Bill began providing educational opportunities for returning veterans. They were to become the trained work force and expanding consumers for a booming economy. However, the expansion of higher education was coupled with a campaign to purge dangerous and subversive professors and curricula from the university. Access to higher education spread while the range of ideas studied narrowed.

In the 1960s, student activists, now enrolled in thousands of small and large colleges and universities, rebelled against the narrowing focus of knowledge. The university as the site for training to advance capitalism and technical skills, what Clark Kerr, former president of the University of California, called “the multiversity,” was challenged; for a time successfully. Academic programs that did not fit traditional classical studies or new scientific/technical fields were allowed to flower and grow.

The so-called Reagan revolution brought a shift in economic policy downsizing the growth in the welfare state, government spending for social safety nets, and support for public institutions such as education. In addition, the new ideology preached privatization, shifting public sector spending for the provision of services to the marketplace.

By the 1990s, both political parties endorsed public policies that decreased support for the many to further economic rewards for the few. Tax breaks for the rich, cuts in welfare protections, declining support for public education, public libraries, transportation, and housing continued the shift in wealth from the working class to the economic ruling class.

Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh once remarked that the economic and political transformation of U.S. society was near complete. The only institution which the right-wing did not control was the university. By the 1990s powerful groups began to remake the university too.

Since the dawn of the new century higher education budgets have been slashed. College tuitions are skyrocketing, class size is increasing, and many of the programs designed to develop new ways of thinking about the world (particularly in the social sciences and humanities) are being cut.

State universities originally created to educate small farmers and workers in order to advance their economic status have become low-cost research arms of huge corporations such as Eli Lilly in pharmaceuticals and Monsanto in the agricultural sector (both are huge worldwide corporations). In the 21st century universities have not shrunk. More and more top heavy administrations and human relations departments control the main activities that used to be determined by faculty.

The process of selecting university presidents reflects the qualitative changes occurring in higher education. At the University of Virginia, President Teresa Sullivan was ousted recently in a secret coup engineered by the “Board of Visitors,” a 17-person body that controls major policy decisions at that university.

Of the 17, only four members had any higher education experience, but the body in total contributed over $800,000 to candidates for state office; $680,000 to Republicans and $150,000 to Democrats. The governor appoints this body. And in the case of ousted President Sullivan, it objected to her consultation with deans and faculty before making decisions about shifting budgets. Unusual in this day and age, 2,000 students and faculty recently rallied on campus to demand her reinstatement.

In Indiana the Purdue University Board of Trustees (10 of 12 selected by sitting Governor Mitch Daniels) announced that it was appointing Daniels to be Purdue University’s twelfth president. Daniels will be completing his second term as governor and will take office as Purdue’s president in January, 2013.

Daniels has been a visible politician over the last decade in several arenas. These include a stint as President Bush’s Budget Director from 2001 to 2004 when taxes were lowered, two wars were launched, and the seeds were planted for the current economic crisis. Daniels was elected Indiana’s governor in 2004. In his first day in office he eliminated the prior governor’s order that allowed public sector workers to unionize.

Subsequently, he led Hoosier right-wing politicians in supporting charter schools with public money, cutting education spending at all levels by $150 million (including a $30 million cut in higher education), sold off some of Indiana’s highway system to European investors, shifted family services to an ill-equipped private corporation, and cut funding for reproductive health services. He worked to pass a so-called Right-to-Work bill after telling union supporters that he would never do that.

In addition, Daniels served as an executive at Eli Lilly, and CEO at the conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute, and was affiliated with an online university, Western Governors University, that could potentially compete with state colleges and universities. Most important Daniels has no administrative experience in higher education except appointing the Board of Trustees members who in secret carried out a presidential search that led to his appointment.

The political corruption and dubious merit of the selection of Daniels as Purdue president are obvious. What is less obvious is that this appointment like the appointment of many other university presidents and the firing of Virginia President Theresa Sullivan, is part of the shift in higher education from a model of the university as a site for research and teaching about ideas and as an institution that serves the needs of the society at large to a corporate model.

The GI Bill educated a whole generation of veterans to lift themselves and society. The expansion of the meaning of the university as a result of student protest and the civil rights movements of the 1960s brought new ideas to a larger number of young people.

Educator Henry Giroux put it well: “Knowledge has become capital to invest in the market but has little to do with the power of self-definition, civic commitments, or ethical responsibilities... and with questions of justice.”

In the end, this is the most troubling aspect of the transformation of the modern university which the appointment of presidents like Governor Daniels signifies.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his new book which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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22 February 2012

Harry Targ : Hoosier Teach-In and the Question of Historical Narratives

Members of Occupy Purdue demonstrate on Dec. 11, 2011. Photo by Steven Yang / The Exponent.

Hoosier teach-in:
Narratives of labor and elections pose
big questions for Occupy movement


By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / February 22, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana -- Last week a group of Hoosier Occupiers met in a “teach-in” format to discuss how movements for change can and should relate to the labor movement and the working class at large.

The event, hosted by Occupy Purdue, was held in a community center in West Lafayette, Indiana. An extended panel included a faculty member from African American Studies on campus, a Unite-Here organizer, an activist from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and representatives from the International Socialist Organization and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

The panel moderator skillfully questioned panelists and encouraged what became rich and thorough discussion and debate with attendees who were not designated panel speakers but shared the interest and much of the experience of those who were the panelists.

Virtually everyone recognized the problems and strengths of the movements that sprung up last summer, saw the necessity to move ahead with new ideas about organizing and educating many publics, and believed in the necessity of building a broad working class movement. Most felt that the working class constitutes the vast majority of people, whether they are in unions or not.

The knowledge, experience, and passion of all who attended this event were palpable and gave reason to be hopeful about the possibilities for progressive change in the months and years ahead. While teach-in participants agreed on most things, tensions were noted in at least three areas that so often surface as progressive movements are launched. While these tensions may not be easily resolvable, they need to be part of the consciousness of participants as they develop their day-to-day programs.

The first issue has to do with historical narratives. Many participants told historical stories that justified advocacy for particular strategies for building a mass movement. These narratives were stories about the origins of political movements, their participants, the issues they engaged in, the outcomes of their activities, and their connection to the projects that contemporary activists are pursuing.

Teach-in narratives addressed class, race, and gender. Some emphasized workers and class struggle, others talked about labor militancy and the construction of labor unions, and still others emphasized the deleterious consequences of racism and sexism in the labor movement.

There was also a current among the story-tellers about how organized labor had betrayed the working class with the implication that the movements of the 21st century must distinguish between workers in general and workers in unions.

One narrative addressed the issue of race and the organized labor movement in the United States. Historical examples of organized labor’s racist practices included reference to exclusionary clauses requiring that Black and white union locals be segregated or that only limited numbers of African-Americans ever became labor movement leaders.

Beginning a narrative of class and race by identifying certain key dates, for example, the founding of the American Federation of Labor, the rejection by white workers of integrated unions in the packinghouses of Chicago in 1919, or the racism that impaired the campaign to organize the South in “Operation Dixie,” can make this point.

On the other hand, if the class and race narrative begins with the anti-racism of the Knights of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World in the 1880s, or the struggles around slogans of “Black-White Unite and Fight” in CIO organizing drives of industrial workers in the 1930s, or left unions going South after World War II to organize integrated unions, or the significant support given the foundation of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) by the United Auto Workers and the United Packinghouse Workers of America (both affiliated with the new AFL-CIO), then the story is different.

The point here is that the adoption of one or another narrative of the past has consequences for political activism today and tomorrow. Activists today do not need to accept one narrative over another. They just must recognize that each narrative tells part of the story that is critical for today’s work.

To some degree the discussion on race and class at the teach-in reflected the recognition that in this case, there are different narratives about class, race, and labor. Maybe in the end activists are best served by learning the lessons from very different narratives.

A second issue that inevitably comes up at every movement-building discussion has to do with relations between the left and elections. On the one hand, electoral work is taxing, absorbing time and money. Passions are energized by electoral work and oftentimes the candidates selected only minimally satisfy the goals electoral activists are seeking. Sometimes compromises are carried out by candidates progressives support that are on balance net losses for the people.

In the history of the two-party system of the United States, there usually has been limited ability for progressive voices to be heard. Progressives are mired in the classic “lesser of two evils,” conundrum. This problem is exacerbated by the transformation of the electoral system into a sports contest. The media identifies certain “stars” who become the subject of 24/7 news coverage as personalities with little or no attention to political issues.

However, elections, at state and local as well as national levels, do matter to large portions of the working class. For example, as a result of the 2010 elections, union rights have been reduced through passage of Right-to-Work and anti-collective bargaining laws. The loss of Medicaid coverage for women who seek reproductive health services from Planned Parenthood will have disastrous consequences for large numbers of customers. Defunding of public institutions and services -- education, libraries, transportation -- hit working people the hardest.

And elected officials get to appoint full-time judges from district courts to the Supreme Court. It is clear that one of the least observed outcomes of the “Reagan Revolution” is the life-time appointments of federal judges that have ruled in ways that have destroyed worker, citizen, and women’s rights. The criminal “justice” system has qualitatively advanced the prison-industrial complex during the last decade.

The contradictory character of elections suggests that the left may need a variegated strategy that addresses participation or non-participation at state and local levels as well as at the national level; that works for and against key critical candidates; that campaigns around issues relevant to class, race, and gender; and that uses the electoral arena to politicize and mobilize the vast majority.

Of course, in certain political and geographic spaces, organizing third parties might serve many of these purposes.

The final issue that activists struggle over has to do with who they are. It is often the case that activists have developed an intellectual pedigree. They have read theory and history, and many come out of movements that provide important experiences.

At the same time, there are much larger numbers of workers and others who share the basic values of the most active and who have an experiential pedigree. For a variety of reasons, large numbers of politically alert and conscious workers have not engaged in political struggles on a regular basis. But many of these workers are members of organizations that in the main have articulated progressive agendas: from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, to the National Organization of Women, to the Sierra Club.

In the end activists, who are the most committed in the sense of time and resources, should be sympathetic to the existing mass organizations. In other words, activists need to work with their brothers and sisters in a whole array of organizational contexts to build networks and break down barriers between different political voices.

Activists need to shed their own sense of superiority while they work with non-movement activists to reduce broad stereotypes and forms of suspiciousness among those in the popular organizations.

So this wonderful encounter in West Lafayette brought together activists from around the state; people of different ages and backgrounds; reflected class, race and gender; and raised directly and by inattention issues critical to building a progressive future. It was clear from the dialogue that narratives, elections, and political identities, in one way or another, constitute continuing hurdles which may be difficult to resolve but should be critically examined.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his new book which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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30 January 2012

Harry Targ : Indiana's 'Super Bowl' of Anti-Worker Legislation

David Johnson, an organizer for the Sheet Metal Worker's International Association, carries a sign during demonstration at the Indiana Statehouse. Image from NUVO.

Right to Work (for less) in Indiana:
The Super Bowl of anti-worker legislation


By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / January 30, 2012
“The heart of the Super Bowl action will be in downtown Indianapolis at the three-block interactive fan environment known as Super Bowl Village. AFC and NFC fans, families, visitors and locals alike can enjoy this ultimate, free fan zone that spans from Bankers Life Fieldhouse all the way to the NFL Experience at the Indiana Convention Center via the newly redesigned Georgia Street.

In addition to endless entertainment, interactive games, Tailgate Town, live concerts on two different stages, bars and other attractions, fans can also fly over Super Bowl Village with four zip lines that traverse Capitol Avenue.” -- VisitIndy.com
WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana -- One hundred passionate activists from labor and occupy groups around the state of Indiana assembled at the State House on Saturday, January 28, to continue opposition to the pending “Right-to-Work-for-Less” bill which appears to be close to final endorsement by the legislature and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Ironically, Alcoa Corporation just announced the expansion of plant facilities in Lafayette, Indiana, prior to the passage of the odious anti-worker bill that Governor Daniels has claimed will bring more jobs to Indiana. A plant in Iowa, a Right-to-Work State, lost its bid for the Alcoa plant expansion to Indiana, not yet such a state.

Workers in the Lafayette plant are represented by United Steel Workers of America Local 115.

The Indiana House of Representatives last week voted 54-44 to endorse a Right-To-Work bill (several Republicans voted “no” with their Democratic colleagues). Now the bill returns to the Indiana Senate for discussion of amendments to the bill and final passage before it goes to the desk of the Governor for his signature. Despite the fact that he had promised labor in the past that he would not support such a bill, the Governor made it his top priority item in the 2012 legislative session.

The intense political battle over RTW has occurred in the context of enormous celebration of the impending arrival of 150,000 NFL fans to the Super Bowl which will be played in Indianapolis on Sunday, February 5. Indianapolis big money interests have been lobbying for this event for years, hoping to put the city on the map for hosting huge money-making events such as the football classic.

Two buses of RTW protesters traveled from Lafayette, Indiana, and Purdue University, 65 miles away, to the rally. After spirited speeches, including remarks from three state legislators, representatives from building trades unions, students, and professors, rally organizers led a march through the Super Bowl village in downtown Indianapolis. Marchers were seen by thousands of Super Bowl celebrants who were roaming around the village spending money in dozens of food and entertainment venues.

Demonstrators encountered some hostile reactions, including physical jostling, but also numerous thumbs up and clenched fists in support of protestors carrying placards demanding “Kill the Bill,” “Workers United Will Prevail,” and “Occupy Purdue.”

Opposition to Right-to-Work has a decade-long history around the state since the governorship and the Indiana House of Representatives has shifted from Republican to Democrat and then Republican control. The Republicans, for their part, are committed to destroying the labor movement not only to reduce labor costs but also to end political opposition to their domination of state government.

Among the responses has been the Indiana Coalition for Worker Rights initiated by the Northwest Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, in 2006, “to educate and mobilize workers to demand and defend worker rights.” It pledged itself to:
  1. educate union members and the public about the negative consequences of “Right-to-Work (for Less)” legislation;
  2. challenge the general shift toward privatization of public institutions such as schools, libraries, and health care delivery systems;
  3. mobilize citizens to support a living wage for all workers, affordable health care and education, and greater worker rights to participate in the workplace and the political system;
  4. and work with others to create a coalition of informed citizens “who believe that the protection of workers’ rights is the bedrock of our democratic society.”
In the summer of 2011, a coalition representing various progressive groups in the Greater Lafayette community formed to work on reproductive health care, civil liberties, peace, and labor rights. The new organization, the Indiana Rebuild the American Dream Coalition, held jobs and justice rallies in downtown Lafayette in November.

Parallel to these developments the Tippecanoe Building and Construction Trades AFL-CIO and Occupy Purdue and Occupy Lafayette have mobilized around Right to Work and a whole range of issues that concern the 99 per cent.

It is clear from the experiences of small communities such as those in Tippecanoe County (Lafayette and West Lafayette are the population centers) and various other communities all across Indiana that so-called “outside” and “inside” strategies are needed to fight back against the draconian efforts to destroy worker rights, to promote acceptable living conditions for all, and to begin to create a better world.

Outside strategies include mass mobilizations, protests, educational forums, and dramatic public displays of peoples’ views in venues such as the Super Bowl celebrations.

Jim Ogden, Lafayette, union electrician from IBEW Local 668, articulated a strategy of how best to connect the mass mobilizations to electoral work, a so-called "inside strategy":
We realize that at this point where it’s at in the legislation. We probably will not stop this.

At this point, I think we’re looking at this as a kickoff for the elections in November. And trying to do whatever we can to get the Republicans that had voted for this, to get them out of office. (Journal and Courier, January 29, 2012)
It is clear that the electoral process cannot alone defend workers rights. However, in the context of the immediate needs of the 99 percent, elections, in conjunction with massive public expressions of protest, must constitute a critical component of the work of progressives in the months ahead.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his new book which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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17 January 2012

Harry Targ : 'Right to Work (for Less)' in Indiana

Workers in Indiana opposing HB 1104. Image from PR Watch.

'Right to Work (for Less)' in Indiana:
The historic battle against workers


By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / January 17, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana -- Fifty working people assembled at a town hall meeting in West Lafayette, Indiana, on Saturday, January 14, to share information about the latest phase of Indiana’s battle over a new “Right-to-Work-for-Less” bill. The bill will be voted upon some time in the coming week.

One of the minority Democrats in the State House, Sheila Klinker, described the Republicans' fast-track effort to get their Right-to-Work bill through the legislature and signed by Governor Mitch Daniels well before the National Football League Super Bowl game on February 5. The NFL players union has strongly condemned the bill.

Labor activists had attended the Governor’s State-of-the-State address three days earlier and booed him loudly as he made claims about how Right-to-Work would bring jobs to Indiana (even though he has already praised himself for alleged increases in new investors and jobs in the state during the first seven years of his reign without being a Right-to-Work state).

The Klinker update included reference to the upcoming meeting of the Indiana House of Representatives at which time that body will vote for and probably endorse the bill. Republicans have a 60-to-40 vote majority in that body (and an even bigger majority in the State Senate). Despite the odds, she and her Democratic colleagues support an amendment to the bill which would bring the issue to voters next fall in a referendum.

Although chances of blocking the national reactionary big money juggernaut and the state Chamber of Commerce from getting their way are slim, those for the referendum argue that, because the issue is not well-understood, many Hoosiers remain undecided about it. Since the bill would have such great consequences for workers, union and non-union alike, time to get educated and discuss it is desirable. Also, from the standpoint of most Democrats, a referendum would defuse the escalating political conflict around the state.

Most Indiana Republicans and the big money outside interests represented by such groups as the National Right to Work Committee and the America Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), want to move as quickly as possible. For them Indiana is a bellwether state in the former industrial heartland where unions have been historically strong, wages and benefits were good, and workers had a greater voice in the work place and the voting booth.

Generally, worker rights of all kinds have been superior in the Midwest compared with the 22 states of the South and Southwest where Right to Work is the law. After the 2010 election these national organizations increased efforts to apply their own “domino theory” to destroy worker rights.

With the victories of reactionary candidates in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana reestablishing Right to Work in one state would lead, like a series of falling dominoes, to victories in the rest. (They have already suffered setbacks in this plan in Wisconsin and Ohio.) Indiana, the most conservative of these would be the best place to start. Reestablish Right to Work in Indiana (for a short time in the 60s, Indiana was a RTW state), and the other states would follow.

The Klinker update was followed by two impressive presentations by Tippecanoe County Building and Construction Trade Council President Eric Clawson and Treasurer James Ogden. Clawson gave an impassioned description of what unions meant to all workers. With both heart and intellect he made it clear that the quality of life and work would be made immeasurably worse if union rights were weakened by the Right-To-Work bill.

Ogden referred to numerous studies as he meticulously challenged each claim made by the bill’s supporters. These studies, often based on comparative data between the 22 Right-to-Work states and the rest, have overwhelmingly shown that the 22 have had less job creation, lower wages, worsened health and safety standards, and lowered public school graduation rates.

Even though factors other than Right-to-Work status are also causally connected to these negative worker outcomes, Ogden and Clawson made it clear that the basic standard of living of most workers is hurt by any weakening of the right of workers to form and participate in unions.

It is important to understand that the struggle today in Indiana is part of a 250 year struggle waged off and on between capital and labor in the United States. From the formation of craft unions during the 1780s to the battle for the eight-hour day in the 1880s, to the use of police power, public and private, to destroy railroad and steel workers unions in the 1890s, to the massive general strikes, sit-ins, and other occupy movements of the 1930s, to the PATCO and Pittston strikes of the 1980s, workers have sought to defend their rights and their very survival.

Capitalists have set out to make labor cheaper, more pliable, and vulnerable to shifts in profit-making from investments in factories to stocks, bonds and derivatives.

This latest phase of the struggle has its roots in the passage of the National Labor Relations (or Wagner) Act in 1935. This Act, based on efforts by Congress and President Roosevelt to mollify workers, who were striking all over the country, established the machinery for workers to form unions and procedures for collective bargaining.

From the time of the Unemployment Councils in big cities in 1931, to general strikes in 1934, to factory sit-ins, to the establishment of 40 unions of industrial workers, four million workers strong, in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1936, labor became a force to be reckoned with in national politics.

The peak of labor strength was reflected in the 1946 strike wave, the largest in U.S. labor history. Four million workers walked off the job in electronics, steel, auto, meat packing, mining, and the railroads. Workers wanted wartime caps on wages lifted, continuation of wartime price controls, greater union recognition at the workplace, health and pension systems, and the creation of a political system in which the political power of labor would be as strong as capital.

However, in the 1946 elections, Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress. A first order of business (much as in the 2012 Indiana legislature) was to destroy the power of organized labor. They passed the odious Taft-Hartley Act which was designed to defend the rights of capital in opposition to the National Labor Relations Act which was seen as special interest labor legislation.

Taft-Hartley banned the closed shop, wildcat strikes, strikes in solidarity with other workers, secondary boycotts, and picketing, and gave the federal government the right to order striking workers to abandon strikes and return to work for 80 days. The act also established rules regarding reporting of finances and constricted the rights of unions to support political campaigns.

Taft-Hartley also required union leaders to sign affidavits proclaiming that they were not members of the Communist Party. Refusal to sign such statements could allow workers to challenge the authority of their unions to continue to represent them. Anti-Communist unions, it was hoped, would replace unions in which leaders failed to sign the affidavits.

Since labor radicals played an instrumental role in organizing the CIO, Taft-Hartley saw undercutting labor militancy as central to winning the battle for capital against labor in post-war America.

To further limit the power of unions to represent the interests of all workers, Taft Hartley included Section 14b. This section allowed states to establish so-called Right-to-Work provisions. These provisions would allow workers to not join the unions that existed in their work sites. Unions were required to represent all workers in unionized work places, even those workers who refused to join their union.

This meant that workers might take a “free ride” by getting important services, including negotiation of contracts and defense in grievances against bosses, without paying for them. The long-term impact, it was hoped, was to reduce the size and resources of organized labor.

In 1947, when Taft-Hartley was passed, powerful economic actors such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce, and huge auto, electronics, and meat packing corporations wanted to achieve several inter-connected goals.

They wanted to destroy the power of organized labor which had grown from the streets and the workplaces to the Democratic Party.

They wanted to launch an anti-Communist crusade to convince a skeptical American public that the United States needed to launch a Cold War against the Soviet Union, and alleged “communist” surrogates at home.

And, Southern politicians, particularly, wanted to defeat “Operation Dixie,” a CIO campaign to organize integrated trade unions in the South.

And, for sure, these economic interests wanted to disabuse American workers, unionized or not, of the idea that they had the right to participate in the political process equal to the wealthy and powerful.

So listening to Hoosier union brothers and sisters speak out now at rallies, before television cameras, at town hall meetings, and in their communities and family gatherings, one feels pride and inspiration from the campaign to defeat Right to Work in Indiana.

And any kind of historical reflection has to lead to the conclusion that today’s struggle is part of the same struggles that go back years and years. These struggles, dare to say, are class struggles. But today the occupy movement has made it clear that this historic battle is one between the 99 percent, for all its variation and the one percent. “Right-To-Work for Less” may pass in Indiana in 2012, but with odds like 99 percent versus one percent, it is clear which side will achieve lasting victory in the years ahead.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his new book which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]


Harry Targ interviewed about 'Right to Work'



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16 December 2011

Harry Targ : The State of Indiana Vs. Universal Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt viewed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as her greatest achievement. Image from Creative Commons.

The State of Indiana vs. the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / December 16, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana -- The massive atrocities of World War II led nations to commit themselves permanently to the protection of basic rights for all human beings. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of the wartime President, Franklin Roosevelt, worked diligently with leaders from around the world to develop a document, to articulate a set of principles, which would bind humankind to never carry out acts of mass murder again.

In addition, the document also committed nations to work to end most forms of pain and suffering.

Over 60 years ago, on December 10, 1948, delegates from the United Nations General Assembly signed the document which they called “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” It consisted of a preamble proclaiming that all signatories recognize "the inherent dignity" and "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" as the "foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world."

The preamble declared the commitment of the signatories to the creation of a world “in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want...”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights consisted of 30 articles, with varying degrees of elaboration. The first 21 articles refer primarily to civil and political rights. They prohibit discrimination, persecution for the holding of various political beliefs, slavery, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention.

Persons have the right to speak their mind, travel, reside anywhere, have a fair trial if charged with crimes, own property, form a family, and in the main to hold the rights of citizenship including universal and equal suffrage in their country.

The remaining nine articles address what may be called social and economic rights. These include rights to basic social security in accordance with the resources of the state in which the persons reside; rights to adequate leisure and holidays with pay; an adequate standard of living so that individuals and families have sufficient food, clothing, shelter, and medical care; and education, free at least at the primary levels.

In addition, these nine articles guarantee a vibrant cultural life in the community, the right to enjoy and participate in the arts, and to benefit from scientific achievements.

While each article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a rich and vivid portrait of what must be achieved for all humankind, no article speaks to our time more than Article 23. It is one of the longer articles, identifying four basic principles:
  • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment.
  • Everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself (or herself) and his (her) family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his (her) interests.
Using the language of our day, the principles embedded in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitute a bedrock vision inspiring the global 99 percent to rise up against their exploiters from Cairo to Madison, to Wall Street, to cities and towns all over the world.

The global political economy is broken. The dominant mode of production, capitalism, increasingly cannot provide work, fair remuneration, rights of workers to speak their mind and organize their own associations, and the provision of a comfortable way of life all because the value of what they produce is expropriated by the top 1 percent of global society.

While each locale experiences this dilemma in its own way, the Republican-controlled legislative and executive branch of state government in Indiana is poised to pass legislation reestablishing itself as a so-called "right-to-wor" state. The RTW laws which can be found in over 20 states allow workers to gain the benefits of union representation on the shop floor without joining unions or paying for union services which are provided to all workers.

The basic goal of RTW laws is to bankrupt the labor movement. The end result, as data suggests in every state, is to reduce rights, benefits, and working conditions for all workers. The National Right to Work Committee, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and other right-wing groups funded and organized by the 1 percent, want to eliminate hard-fought worker rights which will reduce the costs of labor, wages, working conditions, and the standard of living of all workers, unionized or not.

Data about the world and data about the United States make it clear that there has been a 30-year trajectory in the direction opposite to the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Global inequality is growing. The rights and abilities of workers to form unions are shrinking. Standards of living of most of humankind are declining. The ability of most workers everywhere to acquire secure jobs is declining.

Globally there has been a quantum shift from agricultural, manufacturing, and service employment to the informal sector, oftentimes “street hustling.”

Not only is this condition being put in place in the state of Indiana but well-financed organizations such as ALEC foresee victory in Indiana setting off a “domino effect"; Indiana, then Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin. To paraphrase a late nineteenth century geo-politician, “He who controls the heartland then can control the rimland.”

And in the end, anti-worker politics in the United States, like anti-worker politics virtually everywhere around the globe, violates the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially its precious Article 23. The workers’ agenda is fundamentally the human rights agenda.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his new book which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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12 March 2011

Harry Targ : Thousands Brave Cold Rain to Support Indiana Workers

On a cold, rainy day thousands rallied against anti-worker legislation March 10 in front of the Indiana Statehouse. Image from Fox59.

In bitter cold rain:
Thousands rally at Indianapolis State House

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / March 12, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS --On Thursday morning, March 10, three buses left the parking lot of a large supermarket in Lafayette, Indiana bound for the huge workers rights rally at the Indianapolis State House.

The buses were sponsored by the United Steelworkers Local 115A and the NAACP. About 100 workers, teachers, and peace and justice activists were on the buses. About two miles away another three buses left for Indianapolis with 100 activists from the Building Trades Council of Tippecanoe County and the Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO).

The buses were warm, cozy, and the spirit of solidarity pervaded the atmosphere. Travelers were determined to demonstrate their outrage at the rightwing onslaught on workers and education being planned by Indiana Republicans. Arriving about one hour later, riders disembarked from the warm and fuzzy atmosphere of the trip to a bitterly cold, cloudy, and windy rally in downtown Indianapolis.

The rally consisted of speeches, chants, prayers, and exhortations. Thousands of Hoosier workers withstood the cold to express their anger and their clear realization that the quality of their lives was in jeopardy.

Local 115A passed out some literature to articulate the reasons for enduring the cold and shouting for economic justice. They said that:
  1. The struggle in Indiana was inspired by the events in Wisconsin.

  2. The rally was about worker rights, including so-called Right-to-Work legislation and proposals to eliminate the right of teachers to organize.

  3. The right-to-work bill that was not dead as some media had reported would negatively impact workers in both the private and public sectors.

  4. Public sector rights, which need to be defended, had already been weakened by Indiana’s governor, Mitch Daniels.

  5. The struggle in Indiana was not a publicity stunt, copying the movement in Wisconsin. Democratic House members walked out of the legislature and traveled to Illinois to forestall the Indiana body from passing the draconian legislation.

  6. Taxpayers of the state were not funding the walkout by State House Democrats.

  7. The so-called Right-to-Work bill was not the only threat posed to workers in Indiana. One bill would eliminate the secret ballot in union certification elections. Another would remove the right to collective bargaining from public employees at the local level. Another bill would prohibit local communities from establishing living wage laws in excess of the state determined minimum wage.

  8. The struggle in Indiana is about protecting public education. Bills would authorize private firms to be hired to evaluate teacher performance, without any teacher input. School funding could be used to provide vouchers for use in private schools. Schools that did not meet certain performance standards would be transferred to private for-profit corporations.

  9. The campaign to protect public education also required resisting the cutting of funds for colleges and universities.

  10. The struggle for workers rights was relevant to the economy of the entire state of Indiana, not just the 300,000 unionized workers.
Another USW Local 115 document made the motivation for action crystal clear:
We stand at the statehouse as one people, one labor movement, one united group of citizens. We are proud to be union members and union supporters because together we have built Indiana! Whether we are construction workers, teachers or students --whether we clean buildings, deliver health care or manufacture useful products -- we stand together!
There were different assessments of the State House rally in Indianapolis. The conservative Indianapolis Star, on the one hand estimated that only 8,000 workers rallied in Indianapolis, but on the other hand pointed out how cold, windy, and rainy the weather was, suggesting that attendees were truly committed.

One trade unionist, recalling the rally of 20,000 Building Trades workers in 1995 indicated that he could not tell if this rally was bigger or smaller than that one. Another worker said that we needed at least 100,000 at the rally to make a difference.

Several speakers expressed their appreciation for those that attended the rally. AFL-CIO leaders from Kentucky and Wisconsin pointed out that the Indiana struggle was part of a larger movement involving workers from Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and everywhere that the basic standard of living of workers was being challenged.

Perhaps the most poignant statement came from an Iraq war vet who reminded the crowd that $3 trillion had been spent on two costly, foolish wars in the 21st century that helped create today’s economic crisis.

The outcome of the ferment, anger, and rebelliousness all around the world remains unclear. But one fine folk singer, after leading the crowd in a rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” wished the movement well. He recalled Woody Guthrie’s injunction: “Take it easy, but take it.” Perhaps that is where we are at today.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical.]

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28 February 2011

Harry Targ : Hoosiers Protest Right-to-Work Laws

Trade unionists and progressives rally at Indiana State House in Indianapolis Feb. 22. Photo by Alan Petersime / AP.

Protesting Right-to-Work laws:
Hoosiers rally at Indiana State House


By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / February 28, 2011
"A word on apathy -- I generally consider it to be a non-issue. Workers are not apathetic; there are lots they care about. But they have to have restored faith in their unions and legislators to act -- we are working on that one. Apathy is a label used by the hegemonic few to cover fear, intimidation, and hopelessness."

-- Ruth Needleman, Professor of Labor Studies, Indiana University/Gary and author of Black Freedom Fighters in Steel: The Struggle for Democratic Unionism (2003), in an e-mail, February 24, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- Until late last week, the general media practice, including NPR and Democracy Now, had been to ignore labor militancy in Indiana. However, the movement here in Indiana has been much more energized and larger than many expected.

A state issues forum that was held during the afternoon, February 20, in Lafayette, Indiana on the draconian Republican legislative agenda drew a standing room crowd, about 150, largely public school teachers but with a number of Building Trades, Steel and UAW unionized workers. The event was sponsored by the Obama group Yes We Can Tippecanoe with support from the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition.

The response to the threats to workers, teachers, and public education was a collective expression of anger coupled with a general recognition that the Indiana Republican agenda is a threat to the entire working population of the state.

From Monday to Friday with an anticipation of continuation next week, trade unionists and other activists have been traveling to the state capital building in Indianapolis to protest an array of bills including Right-to-Work, promotion of charter schools, establishment of student-performance-based evaluation of teachers, an Arizona style anti-immigration bill, and a ban on same-sex marriage. (At the February 20 forum articulate spokespersons drew connections between all these issues and even the concept of "class struggle" was raised.)

An estimated 10,000 trade unionists and other progressives mobilized at the State House on Tuesday. February 22. Democratic members of the Republican-controlled legislature began to absent themselves from sessions, forestalling a required quorum. Similar to the actions of Wisconsin politicians, Hoosier legislators assembled in Illinois. Their agenda was to say “no” to Right-to-Work legislation and to demand real dialogue on a variety of bills on the legislative docket that would radically transform education in the state and hit employed and unemployed workers even harder than RTW alone.

I attended the Thursday State House rally organized by the Indiana State AFL-CIO. As we were going through the security check we heard a roaring crowd inside the rotunda of the old-fashioned State House building. As we entered the rotunda we saw about 2,000 workers from the ground level to the third floor cheering a militant speech from the president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO.

Other speakers condemned the attack on workers, exhorted them to continue the struggle, and connected the issues -- Right-to-Work, draconian cuts in unemployment benefits, threats to pensions and benefits, destruction of collective bargaining for public employees, and all the efforts of Governor Mitch Daniels to privatize and destroy public education.

Angry workers showed placards from the UAW, SEIU, various Building Trades unions, including locals representing electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and painters. A speaker from the Indiana State Teachers Association thanked the State AFL-CIO for connecting the fight-backs of manufacturing, service, and construction workers with those of education workers.

Talking to business agents and other labor leaders, I learned that the Republicans had offered a deal to the construction and manufacturing unions to take RTW off the table if rallies were ended. The leaders made it clear that organized labor in Indiana saw this proposal for what it was, an effort to split the labor movement and the working class.

One labor leader claimed that a deal beneficial to teachers had been offered the Indiana State Teachers Association, which is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Apparently the teachers rejected it. Workers of all kinds have become aware of this standard practice political elites use to split the working class and it has been rejected.

Protesters were also suspicious of press reports that the Governor and the legislature had “pulled” RTW off the table. Legislative procedures, several said, made the situation fluid. The discourse, speeches, informal conversations, chants, and picket signs all spoke to the emergence of real class consciousness this time.

Over the next days and weeks the trick will be to keep the momentum, militancy, and sense of solidarity alive. And, as one friend put it, rank-and-file trade unionists, particularly younger members, need to understand that whatever the outcome of this immediate campaign, vigilance will be necessary.

A good labor history lesson would make it clear that factions of the capitalist class resumed the struggle to push labor back even before the ink was dry on President Roosevelt’s signature making the Wagner Act of 1935 labor’s “Magna Carta” law. By 1947, Republican majorities successfully turned back significant worker rights with the Taft-Hartley Act which made state laws, such as Right-to-Work, possible.

The Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio cases show the possibilities that can be achieved by progressives, including trade unionists, working with some members of the Democratic Party.

The legislators in Indiana and Wisconsin have been forced to act in ways that demonstrate their real support of workers. The level of worker anger and mobilization made it clear to Senators in Wisconsin and House members in Indiana that they need to give concrete support to the mass mobilizations that are taking place.

As an old labor film ends, a life-long activist is quoted as saying “You think this is the end? It’s just the beginning.” The fight-backs in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and elsewhere have rekindled labor militancy, and the rudiments of class consciousness.

The most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class will not bow to mass movements without much more mobilization and struggle. Without falling prey to romantic comparisons with the ferment in the Middle East, it may be the case that, as with Egypt, a general strike is the only action that will stop the drift toward unbearable and deepening misery of the working class.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical.]

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18 March 2010

Why's There no Money for Education? (Hint: War)

Photo from .M.'s photostream / Flickr.

The legacy of 'starving the state'
The project of privatizing the educational system, by starving the public system, has been paralleled by a fundamental feature of American government, the existence of a Permanent War Economy.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / March 18, 2010

The Tippecanoe School Corporation in Indiana, which educates over 11,000 students in 17 schools, is being forced to cut its budget by $8 million by year’s end. This means firing over 150 teachers and staff. In addition, during the next round of contract talks teachers will be asked to take a cut in salary and benefits. Supplies and expenses for the classroom and for travel will be cut. Of course, increasing class size is in the mix as well.

In addition, the state higher education system has been ordered to cut millions of dollars in expenditures, including freezing and reducing salaries, eliminating new hires, and increasing class size. Purdue University has to cut $30 million over the next two years while the size of undergraduate classes explodes and applications for graduate school skyrocket. And of course the economic crisis in education, K through college, is occurring in almost every state in the country.

Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, summarized the crisis very well when he reminded readers that states cannot run deficits to cover educational costs. (In Indiana, recent “reforms” have shifted educational costs from property taxes to the sales tax. In a recession spending and sales taxes go down and so do financial resources for education.)

He added that
Across America, schools are laying off thousands of teachers. Classrooms that had contained 20 to 25 students are now crammed with 30 or more. School years have been shortened. Some school districts are moving to four-day school weeks. After-school programs have been canceled; music and art classes, terminated. Even history is being chucked. Pre-K programs have been shut down. Community colleges are reducing their course offerings and admitting fewer students. Public universities, like the one I teach at, have raised tuitions and fees.
While we all know this, it is imperative that we revisit the crisis in education and its connections to history, economics, and budget priorities. For example, New York Times columnist and economist, Paul Krugman recently reminded us that a critical component of Reaganomics, and what the world has since called “neoliberalism,” is the privatization of any and all public institutions.

Every instrumentality of the state should be used to smash the state, except for its support functions for finance capital and the military. By cutting government spending, the Reagan administration began the historic process of “starving the beast.” Downsize public institutions so they can no longer deliver.

As Krugman put it:
Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.
In the field of education, the “starve the beast” privatizers advocated for charter schools, arguing that the private sector can educate the young better than the public sector. As Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, has pointed out, despite statistical manipulation there is no evidence that private schools perform any better than the underfunded and downsized public schools.

The “starve the beast” approach also developed a rationale for declining public school performance to justify further privatization. The problem with public education, they claimed, was the teachers. And of course not all teachers were performing badly in their jobs. No it was the teachers in unions that were dragging down our educational system.

The project of privatizing the educational system, by starving the public system, has been paralleled by a fundamental feature of American government, the existence of a Permanent War Economy. Ever since the Korean War every administration has put military spending as the first national priority, such that over much of this period half of every tax dollar went to military spending.

What this looks like in the state of Indiana and Tippecanoe County (and you can find out comparable data for your own community by accessing the National Priorities Project) includes the following:

Taxpayers in Indiana will pay $10.7 billion for total defense spending in FY2010. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:
  • 166,952 music and arts teachers for one year OR
  • 1,437,611 scholarships for university students for one year OR
  • 1,932,357 students receiving Pell Grants of $5550 OR
  • 1,604,035 Head Start places for children for one year OR
  • 187,862 elementary school teachers for one year
In Lafayette, Indiana, the population hub servicing most of the Tippecanoe School Corporation children, $85.8 million in local taxes going to military spending in 2010 could provide the following:
  • 1,503 elementary school teachers for one year
  • 1,336 music and arts teachers for one year
  • 15,462 students receiving Pell Grants of $5550
  • 11,503 scholarships for university students for one year
  • 12,835 Head Start places for children for one year
A call for “money for education and not for war” is critical to improve the lives of young people today and tomorrow. Diane Ravitch puts it succinctly:
I have not changed my fundamental belief that all children should have a great education that includes not just basic skills, but history, literature, geography, civics, the arts, science, foreign languages, and physical education.
[Harry Tarq is a professor in American Studies who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical.]

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17 February 2010

Sky is Falling : The Press and Evan Bayh's Retirement

Panic attack. Image from Moonbattery.

Press frames the corporate spin:
Evan Bayh calls it quits


By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / February 18, 2010

On February 15, 2010, the sky began to fall, at least according to media pundits. Incumbent Senator Evan Bayh announced that he was not running for a third term as senator from Indiana.

The press scurried to construct a frame on the story that would be compatible with corporate spin. The Democratic Party is doomed. No alternative candidate could possibly surface in this red state to maintain the Democratic Party edge in the Senate. The Bayh announcement, the stories said, followed on a flood of other announcements by Democrats. Bayh was just the latest of the entire class of incumbent Democrats who were fleeing the sinking ship.

Why did the Senator from Indiana choose to retire even though he had at least a ten-point lead on any possible Republican opponent and a multi-million dollar war chest for his campaign? Well, Bayh said he had had enough of partisanship, polarization, and the broken system called Congress. And he, the good centrist, had been unable to lead the ne’er do well partisans to the compromise table.

And, the media suggested, the sainted Democrat resigned out of frustration because the “left” in the Democratic Party could not be tamed. The sub-text in the news suggested that once again the system is coming crashing down because of those dogmatic politicians who support real health care reform, a jobs bill that would create jobs, finance reform with teeth, and a substantial reduction in wasteful spending justified by reckless war. When will they ever learn.

The real story might be a bit different.

Democrats in the state of Indiana now will have a chance to select a candidate who can represent the interests of the people rather than the health care industry. The source of the Congressional gridlock has been the Republicans who have opposed every piece of legislation and every nominee to fill an administrative position recommended by the Democrats and the White House. And, the efforts to stifle governance by the Republicans have been aided and abetted by a handful of centrist Democrats such as Evan Bayh who oppose real health care reform and labor rights.

Bayh’s voting record earned him an Americans for Democratic Action rating of 70, which is fairly liberal (his fellow Hoosier Senator Richard Lugar has a rating of 25). But Bayh’s senatorial career is marked by extreme fluctuations from one congressional session to another. As Ezra Klein reported last April:
In the 109th Congress, Bayh's voting pattern suddenly develops an uncharacteristic liberalism. He becomes the 19th most conservative member, with a record more liberal than, among others, Joe Biden. As context, these were also the years when Bayh was preparing for the presidential run that he eventually aborted.

In the 110th Congress, however, that flash of liberalism gives way to a career-high conservatism: He actually displaces Nelson as the Caucus's most conservative member.
In addition to being an on-again off-again liberal and a reigning centrist today, Senator Bayh served as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council from 2001 to 2005, and a member of the Senate Centrist Coalition and other centrist sounding legislative bodies. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Perhaps most important, his wife, Susan Bayh, has earned over $250,000 in stock options for serving on the board of the giant health insurance company Wellpoint. Though the Senator has denied being influenced by his wife’s corporate ties, he has expressed his preference for maintaining the primacy of the marketplace for health care.
My own preference would be — and you may have found common ground here this morning on Easter, which is appropriate — deal with the inefficiencies, figure out a way to make the private marketplace accomplish our public good, only have the government role as a backstop, as a last resort, if the private sector has just failed to meet the challenge. [Evan Bayh on Fox, Sunday, April 12, 2009]
Hoosier Democrats need to do what all progressive Democrats need do over the next election period. Identify progressive candidates who will address and commit themselves to the 2008 Obama campaign agenda (whether Obama supports it or not). That means meaningful health care reform, support for the Employee Free Choice Act, real climate change legislation, and a jobs package that will put millions of Americans back to work. In Indiana a candidate standing on that record would be a significant improvement over Evan Bayh.

[Harry Tarq is a professor in American Studies who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical.]

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24 July 2009

Hoosiers and Health Care : WellPoint's Susan Bayh

Political wife: Susan Bayh, with husband Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, owns between $500,000 and $1 million in employee stock in health insurance giant WellPoint.

Susan Bayh and WellPoint:
What Hoosiers know about health care


By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / July 24, 2009
My own preference would be —- and you may have found common ground here this morning on Easter, which is appropriate —- deal with the inefficiencies, figure out a way to make the private marketplace accomplish our public good, only have the government role as a backstop, as a last resort, if the private sector has just failed to meet the challenge. -- Evan Bayh on Fox, Sunday, April 12, 2009
Senator Evan Bayh is one of those so-called “blue dog” Democrats who remain ambivalent about parts of the Obama political agenda, particularly the Employee Free Choice Act (despite his long-time popularity with Indiana trade unionists) and health care reform.

Hoosiers see through Bayh’s principles for opposing these centerpieces of economic and social reform. Evidence is particularly clear on what is behind Bayh’s opposition to any change in health care policy in the United States.

For example, Fort Wayne’s Journal Gazette reported on December 15, 2007 (Sylvia A. Smith, Washington editor) that the senator’s wife, Susan Bayh, earned $248,700 from stock options she “earned” from participation on the corporate board of WellPoint, Inc. and sold when the stock was at its highest price. Over the prior four years, the paper reported, Bayh earned money from sales of stocks eight times from Wellpoint, the health insurance giant; Curis Inc., a pharmaceutical developer, and the E-Trade bank. She gained $1.7 million in pre-tax earnings from seven of these transactions.

The story also listed Susan Bayh’s 2007 public transactions including, in January, the purchase of 3,333 shares of WellPoint stock at $44.18 per share and selling them for $78 earning $112,722, and, in May, the acquisition of the same number of shares and selling them for $84.98 per share earning $135,978.In 2006, Bayh bought 20,001 shares of WellPoint and sold them earning $796,078.

The Lafayette Journal and Courier (Maureen Groppe, Gannett Washington Bureau) reported on June 15, 2009 that Susan Bayh owns between $500,000 and $1 million in employee stock in the “Indianapolis-based insurance giant,” WellPoint. WellPoint is one of eight corporate boards she sits on including the Curis, the pharmaceutical developer.

Daniel Lee, Indianapolis Star columnist reported on May 17 that the WellPoint executive board is trying to influence the public debate on health care to forestall the emergence of a “public option.” If that is not possible, Lee suggested, private insurers would want to create a system in which private companies control the public option. Lee quoted Common Cause CEO, Bob Edgar, who said that “many of the corporations who benefit from health care have come around to realize that while they may lose some of the things they were hoping to protect, if they move to universal coverage there will be more money across the board for everybody.”

WellPoint, with 35 million customers, is the largest commercial insurance provider, controlling Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The company made $2.5 billion in profits in 2008. Spokespersons have said that they could support expanding coverage to the 45 million without coverage and even could drop restrictions on coverage to people with pre-existing health problems. Brad Fluegel, Chief Strategy Officer of the company, said that “we can do it in a way that’s fair and equitable for folks. There is no need really for a government-run plan.”

As to WellPoint’s political activity, in 2006 the company gave $430,580 to federal candidates; 16% to Democrats, 82% to Republicans and two percent to Joe Lieberman. Lee indicated that in 2008 WellPoint spent $4.33 million on federal lobbying and made three million calls to consumers.

And then there are critically placed political influentials such as Susan Bayh. Although the Senator is “agnostic” on health care, his aides point out that the couple do not discuss any issues related to WellPoint.

If any one believes these spokespersons, I have a Hoosier bridge I can sell them cheap.

[Harry Tarq is a Hoosier. He is a professor in American Studies who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical, where this article also appears.]

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