Archive for June, 2012

Bomber Command and Historical Memory

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

This article now appears on Harry’s Place where an extensive discussion is taking place. Please feel free to add your comments there.

One of the things that struck me when I interviewed Vietnam veterans two decades ago for my book, Saigon to Jerusalem, was what happened to them when they returned home from the war.

It was not so much that they were spat upon (which happened, but rarely) or honoured (which also happened, but even more rarely) but that they were ignored.

They were invisible. It was a war that most Americans wanted to forget.

It was a long process for the Americans to come to terms with Vietnam and the process began with the building of that extraordinary memorial in Washington DC, with its stark rendering of the names of each of the tens of thousands of Americans who died there.

Today in London, the Queen is dedicating a new war memorial in Green Park to the memory of the more than 55,000 British airmen who fought and were killed while serving in Bomber Command during the Second World War.

This new memorial may serve a similar purpose, both for the surviving veterans who will finally feel honoured and no longer invisible, but more important, it will help ignite a debate about historical memory.



Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

This article appeared in Notizie Internazionali, published by FIOM-CGIL in Italy.

“Questo è un giorno che non dimenticherò mai ” ha detto Jyrki Raina, il neo eletto Segretario Generale di IndustriALL Global Union—ma non era del tutto chiaro che cosa volesse dire.

IndustriALL Global Union is formed

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

This article appeared in In These Times.

“This is a day that I will never forget,” said Jyrki Raina, the newly-elected General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union — but one could not be sure what he meant.

On the one hand, at a congress in Copenhagen, trade unions representing some fifty million workers in 140 countries had just created a single global union federation for workers in mining and manufacturing.

IndustriALL is the merger of three existing global union federations — the largest of which, the venerable International Metalworkers Federation, includes several well known US unions such as the United Auto Workers, the Machinists and the United Steelworkers. Leaders of all those unions were in attendance as were delegates from every continent and corner of the world.

History was being made.

But history is messy, and what was supposed to be a celebration of trade union unity was turning into a shambles.


The case of John Edwards

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

This article appeared in the Morning Star today.

At the beginning of this month, the prosecution of former US Senator John Edwards for breaking campaign financing laws ended in a fiasco. The federal jury in North Carolina acquitted Edwards on one count and could not reach consensus on the remaining five. The judge declared a mistrial and Edwards walked free.

The case is important to progressives in America for a number of reasons — above all because of the defendant himself, John Edwards.

In 2004, Edwards ran for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency, was beaten by John Kerry and then became Kerry’s running mate. In 2008, Edwards ran again, and this time was beaten out by Barack Obama.

Edwards’ 2008 campaign was an extraordinary one.

He launched his bid for the Presidency standing in the ruins of New Orleans, a city which had become a symbol of what Edwards would call “the two Americas”.


Their morals and ours: The case of John Edwards

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

John Edwards.This article appears in the current issue of Solidarity.

John Edwards was once the shining hope of American progressives; today, he’s a disgraced former politician. Last week, his trial in federal court ended with an acquittal. The trial, and the public reaction to it, showed yet again a very ugly side to American politics and culture.

While it may seem ancient history to Americans, it was only four years ago that John Edwards ran for the Democratic nomination for President on a moderately social democratic platform. This put him far to the left of the two front runners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. When the health care plans of the three candidates were compared, it was obvious that only Edwards was committed to genuine reform — and Obama came in with the least ambitious plan of all.

Edwards focussed his 2008 campaign on the notion of “two Americas”, a phrase perhaps first used by James P. Cannon in his 1948 speech to the Socialist Workers Party convention.

As Cannon said at the time, “there are two Americas — and millions of the people already distinguish between them. One is the America of the imperialist … There is the other America — the America of the workers and farmers and the ‘little people’.”

American socialist writer Michael Harrington later used the phrase “the other America” as the title of his seminal book on poverty, written at a time when everyone else was talking about “the affluent society.”

Edwards probably never even heard of Cannon, but he may well have been influenced by Michael Harrington. His campaign chose to focus on the issue of poverty in America — and it resonated in the working class and on parts of the left. Unions like the United Steel Workers decided early on to throw their weight behind the Edwards candidacy.


How Nestle Learned Global Labor Solidarity Is Alive and Well

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

This article appeared in In These Times.

To some, trade union internationalism may seem to be a very old-fashioned notion, even quaint.

One might imagine that in some of world’s leading corporate boardrooms the use of the word “solidarity” might prompt a condescending smile.

But as the world’s largest food corporation, Swiss-based Nestlé, has recently discovered, global labour solidarity can be very real and very powerful.