Archive for February 2014

Debs Speaks To Workingmen

February 26, 2014

Eugene V. Debs was the Socialist Party’s candidate for President in 1904.  On September 1 of that year, Debs delivered a speech,”The Socialist Party and the Working Class”, at the Socialist Party convention held in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Debs-  Presidential Campaign - 1904 - Poster

Below are several quotes from the speech that caught my attention. As always, I think that much of what Eugene V. Debs said and wrote over 100 years ago has very relevant application to our current labor and political issues and situations in the United States.

“The very moment a workingman begins to do his own thinking he understands the paramount issue, parts company with the capitalist politician and falls in line with his own class on the political battlefield.”

“The struggle for political supremacy is not between political parties merely, as appears upon the surface, but at bottom it is a life and death struggle between two hostile economic classes, the one the capitalist, and the other the working class.”

“The Republican and Democratic parties, or, to be more exact, the Republican-Democratic party, represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles.”

“First, all workingmen and women owe it to themselves, their class and their country to take an active and intelligent interest in political affairs.”

” … the Democratic party … is near enough like its Republican ally to pass for a twin brother.”

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You can read “The Socialist Party and The Working Class” in its entirety here.

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All Things Eugene V. Debs

February 25, 2014

If you are interested in the person of Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) – labor organizer, Socialist, and five-time presidential candidate – I would like to invite you to visit my Eugene V. Debs Facebook page. At “DebsEugeneV” you will find a Debs - Leaving Atlanta Penitentiary Christmas Day 1921regular offering of quotes from Debs’ speeches and articles as well as information about his labor and political career.

As I have read the articles and speeches of Eugene V. Debs, I have found that I am learning much about the American labor movement and the political times of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Much of what Debs spoke or wrote has very relevant application to our day and the social-economic-political issues that we are confronted with.

I think that you will find the quotes and information on the Debs Facebook page to be interesting and inspiring. Please visit, “like”, and share the page. Your comments are always welcome.

Know More Than “They” Want Us To Know

February 17, 2014

We only know what “They” want us to know.

Six major media corporations – Columbia Broadcasting Companies (CBS), Disney, National Broadcasting Company-Universal, News Corporation, Time-Warner, and get educatedViacom – control 90% of what America listens to, reads, and watches.

Two hundred and thirty-two media executives control what 277 million Americans read, watch, and listen to.

That is what goes into our brains via morning talk shows, “who is your baby’s daddy” shock and repulse spectacles, the evening news, prime time television dance and musical competitions, police dramas, sit-coms, and weight loss face-off shows. That is what “informs” and “entertains” us.

For the most part, the news is biased and the shows are inane. Intended to shape and distract us. To keep our minds stupefied and off of things such as corporate dominated government, economic inequality, job loss, poverty, and perpetual war.

“That’s why they call it ‘programming'”, someone has written.

So, it is critical that we seek other sources for our news and information if we are going to be informed, well-educated, and prepared for meaningful engagement in today’s real life world. And, there are many alternative sources that we can turn to for different perspectives on and analyses of current events and the socio-economic-political issues that affect each of us and our families every day.

The blogs, news, and organization sites that are linked in the right-hand column are some of those resources.

Let’s get educated and know more than “They” want us to know.

Get informed and educated and involved in the world around you. That’s when we will begin to see positive, Progressive change in our communities.

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“‘Educate yourselves because we’ll need all your intelligence. Agitate because we’ll need all your enthusiasm. Organize yourselves because we’ll need all your strength.”

~ Antonio Gramsci ~

Eugene V. Debs: The Western Labor Movement And A Call For A Class-Conscious Union Movement

February 13, 2014

In the article, “The Western Labor Movement”, Eugene V. Debs defends the Western Labor Union’s decision, made at a May 1902 labor convention in Denver, to change its name to the American Labor Union, adopt a Socialist platform, and begin expanding its organizing jurisdiction. These decisions were made despite the opposition of the American Federation of Labor.

Throughout the course of the article, Debs makes references to a “class-conscious union movement”, “working-class political action”, a progressive, liberal Western unionism “re-enforced with a class-conscious political program”, “independent political action by the working class”, and “class-conscious action at the ballot”.

Debs says that this kind of class-consciousness and action is necessary on the part of workers if their unions are to move beyond the “pure and simple” unionism that dominated union-capitalist relationships at that time.

“Pure and simple” unionism favors capitalist owners, rewards union leaders “for keeping the rank and file in political ignorance and industrial slavery”, and begs, “like Lazarus at the gate of Dives, for a bone from the capitalist legislature and Congress it helped elect.”

“Independent political action by the working class” and “class-conscious action at the ballot” would “marshal(s) its members in class-array against the exploiters on election day to vote their own class into power.”

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I believe that there is a rising sense of class-consciousness and class-conscious political action in the United States today.

Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator from Massachusetts, has become a champion for America’s middle class. Auto workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee are voting this week on whether or not to join the United Auto Workers.

The recent election of Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative political organization, to the Seattle, Washington city council and the strong showing of Ty Moore, a Socialist Alternative candidate in the recent race for city council in Minneapolis, are strong indicators of an increasing sense of class-consciousness among voters. Sawant won her election by 3,100 votes and Moore received 42% of the votes cast in his race.

The Walmart and Fast Food worker’s campaigns and strikes for full-time hours, regular, set schedules, and a $15 an hour minimum wage have swept our nation.

Yes, people have grown discontented with increasing economic inequality in our country, corporate influenced and dominated government in our nation, and assaults on our families, livelihoods, homes, and futures.

Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a true class-conscious union and working class political action movement in America like unto the one that Eugene V. Debs called for one hundred and twelve years ago.

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Eugene V. Debs’ article, “The Western Labor Movement”was published in November 1902 edition of the International Socialist Review. You can read the article here.

Eugene V. Debs: A Message From Butte On Class Struggle

February 11, 2014

If I had only known then what I know now, it would have been a lot more interesting.

In 1995, my family and I moved to Missoula, Montana for a job assignment. One of the cities that we spent the night in as we travelled westward through the state was Butte. I remember coming out of the mountains and seeing the city ahead of us. I remember visiting an acquaintance who lived and worked there. But, I don’t remember thinking about the city’s mining and labor union history. To be quite honest, I don’t know if I even knew anything about the city’s mining and labor union past, except that Butte had been the home of the great Amalgamated copper mine in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

I have just read a speech that Eugene V. Debs gave in Butte on June 16, 1902, so I thought I would do a little research about the city and its mining and union activity.

Butte Hill 1890s

Butte Hill, 1890s

The Butte Amalgamated copper mine was located on what was called the “Richest Hill on Earth.” The work, and the money to be made in Butte, drew workers from around the country as well as newly-arrived immigrants from Europe. Butte workers formed the Butte Workingmen’s Union (BWU) in 1878. In 1885, the BWU reorganized itself as the Butte Miners’ Union and disaffiliated anyone who was not a miner. Those who were disaffiliated formed smaller craft unions. In 1893, the Butte Miners’ Union was involved in the formation of the politically radical Western Federation of Miners (WFM). The WFM had a reputation for militancy in the Western states and British Columbia.

In 1900, the Butte population was 30, 470; 10,210 were foreign-born. Out of this population, 18,000 were union members in 34 different unions. These unions represented blacksmiths, brewers, construction workers, miners, musicians, teamsters, even bartenders and newsboys. Because of the labor union density in Butte at this time, the city earned the name “The Gibraltar of Unionism.”

Richest Hill

It was into this setting that Eugene V. Debs stepped June 16, 1902. He came to Butte for a day visit with no intention of delivering a speech to any crowd. Within three hours of his arrival, though, he was speaking to a full house of union workers who had assembled at the Butte Auditorium.

The title of Debs’ speech was “We Must Gain Possession of the Tools of Trade.”

Here are a number of quotes from the speech, arranged under the headings found in the printed version of the speech.

From Debs’ opening remarks

“Never was there a greater demand for intelligent, thorough, and progressive action on the part of the laboring class than now.”

Class Struggle Is On

“We are engaged in a class struggle that is convulsing all human society.”

“I would have the workers recognize these classes (worker and employer) and they ought to organize not only in the industrial field but in the political field as well.”

“I admit that I am arraying class against class, consciously, and I would have the workers recognize their exploiting masters.”

“We have government by class today and the class governing is not the working class.”

“ … if you find it to your advantage to unite upon the industrial field, why not upon the political field. You strike because you do not like the system, yet when you vote you vote to perpetuate that system.

The time has come when no union man can be true to his principles until he puts the union label on his ballot.”

As to the Old Parties

“You cannot expect any help from either of the two old parties. They are simply the two wings to the same foul bird of prey.”

Cruel Wars Abroad

“There never was a time when it was so easy to produce wealth as today … We have all the hideousness of extremes. A few have millions and millions because we are living under a system where private profit is of vastly more importance than human life. The cheapest commodity on earth today is human flesh and blood. To make a profit at the expense of human life is the central controlling motive of the capitalist system.”

World Is Changing

“The capitalists have you absolutely at their mercy. They do not consider you at all. I am not finding fault with them. I am finding fault with you, because the system cannot continue a day longer than you wish it.”

“It is only a question of time when the last vestige of competition will have disappeared and there will be only two classes – the very rich and the very poor, a class of exploiters and a class of exploited. The middle class will have gone.”

The Class Struggle

“Political parties have stood for various theories, but the only real voice in them was the power of the capitalists who used all parties equally for their own ends.”

“The struggle of labor for its own interests will be of the same strength and more irresitble when it is conscious of its own interests. That is why we urge class consciousness.”

“Without this consciousness of its right and its might labor will ever be a mere puppet before the skill and power of capital – a skill and power possessed by capital because it is conscious of itself, conscious both of its interests and its opportunities. Labor will soon become conscious of itself and of the struggle it must enter upon. The struggle has been on for a long, long time, but labor has not realized the fact and so has been divided and blinded by its methods.”

“The pressure of event has been arousing this class consciousness in labor … “

Easy With Labor United

“Thus, half asleep, labor has not only failed to gain ground in the struggle but has been decoyed into fighting for its enemy. At each election labor has divided and fought valiantly in two wings of the army, both arrayed against the cause of labor. At the ballot box alone can it win its own cause …..”

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I enjoy reading the speeches and articles of Eugene V. Debs. I find each of them to be very educational and inspirational. Much of what Debs spoke or wrote is very relevant and pertinent to much of what we are experiencing, economically and politically, in the United States today. As I read the speeches and articles of Debs I learn much about the history of American politics and American labor activity. And, as I read Debs, I am encouraged regarding my own involvement in the democratic process.

The speech that Eugene V. Debs delivered in Butte, “We Must Gain Possession of the Tools of Trade”, can be read here.

Some of the information about Butte, Montana and labor was found in The Montana Pioneer article, A Labor Movement Born in Butte.

Understand The Game

February 10, 2014

Eugene V. Debs said “the character of government is determined by the political party it represents, and the party is simply the political expression of the economic interests of the class it represents.”

-Labor- Class Conscious Vote

Eugene V. Debs: On The Ballot And Class-Conscious Voting

February 2, 2014

This afternoon my wife and I went block walking with a small group of acquaintances to register people to vote.

We believe that voting is a right, a privilege, and a responsibility that every eligible United States citizen has and should Debs and the voteexercise. Voting is the most personal and intimate opportunity we have to be involved in the democratic process. Unfortunately, it is not a right that many choose to exercise. The state in which we live, Texas, has one of the worst, if not the worst, voter turn-outs in the nation.

As I was participating in the democratic process and engaging with people this afternoon, I thought about a number of statements that Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) – labor organizer, Socialist, and five-time presidential candidate – made about the ballot and the power of the vote to bring about change.

Here are just a few.

“Workingmen are in the majority. They have the most votes. In this God favored land, where the ballot is all powerful, peaceful revolutions can be achieved. Wrongs can be crushed – sent to their evil hell, and the right can be enthroned by the workingmen acting together, pulling together.”

~ “What Can We Do For Working People?”,  April 1890 ~

“Why is that labor does not conquer anything? Why does it not assert its mighty power? Why does it not rule in Congress, in legislatures, and in courts? I answer because it is factionalized, because it will not unify, because for some inscrutable reason, it prefers division, weakness and slavery, rather than unity, strength and victory.

Will it always be thus unmindful of its power and prerogatives? I do not think so. Will it always tamely submit to degradation? I protest that it will not. Labor has the ballot. It has redeeming power.”

~ “Labor Omnia Vincit”, September 1895 ~

“To the unified hosts of American workingmen fate has committed the charge of rescuing American liberties from the grasp of the vandal horde that have placed them in peril, by seizing the ballot and wielding it to regain the priceless heritage and to preserve and transmit it without scar or blemish to the generations yet to come.”

~ “Liberty”, November 1895 ~

“Thus, half asleep, labor has not only failed to gain ground in the struggle but has been decoyed into fighting for its enemy.

At each election labor has divided and fought valiantly in two wings of the army, both arrayed against the cause of labor.”

~ “We Must Gain Possession Of The Tools Of Trade”,  June 1902 ~

Granted, these quotes from Debs have to do with the need for workers to not just vote, but to vote class-consciously. Working men and women must understand their relationship to the corporate elite and their political representatives in local, state, and federal government offices. The working class must work and vote in a class-unified way on the shop floor and at the ballot box if their rights, values, and needs are going to be represented and protected.

Debs said then, and he would say today, that the time has come for the working class of America to organize politically as a party in order to advance their political-economic agenda for America.