Workers pack Boston hearing, expose union busters

first_imgBoston school bus drivers testify against Veolia’s violations at Nov. 21 city council meeting.WW photo: Joseph PietteIf Veolia Transportation’s union-busting crackdown on the United Steelworkers Local 8751 Boston school bus drivers’ leadership was meant to intimidate the rank and file, it is having the opposite effect.On Oct. 8, the company locked out the drivers after they held a legally protected protest of the company’s many unfair labor practices. Since then, an escalating struggle between Veolia and the drivers’ union has awakened the membership, whose majority Haitian and Cape Verdean workers have consistently turned out in the hundreds for raucous demonstrations, meetings and job actions.The bosses at Veolia hoped that firing four of the union’s leaders would put a chill on the union’s militant activity. However, since the firings, the numbers at these actions have only gotten bigger.This happened once again on Nov. 21 — when 300 drivers and their supporters packed Boston City Council chambers for a hearing called to investigate Veolia’s breach of its vendor contract with the city.Drivers sat in the aisles of the stadium-seating chamber and spilled into two overflow rooms. Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey, who called the hearing, commented that he had never seen so many people at a hearing.The purpose of the hearing was to expose the fact that Veolia’s contract with the city of Boston to manage the school bus system requires it to respect the terms and conditions of its contract with the school bus drivers’ union and maintain “harmonious labor relations.” Failure to do so means it is in breach of contract with the city.Hearing recessed due to no-showsThe powerful turnout of the drivers stood in stark contrast to the absence of representatives of Veolia, Boston Public Schools and Boston’s outgoing Mayor Thomas Menino. All of them were requested to be at the hearing by Councilor Yancey and Committee Chair Councilor Felix Arroyo, but they refused to attend.These no-shows had, of course, been plenty involved in collaborating with Veolia to attack the union. The mayor held multiple press conferences saying the union’s leaders should be fired, and BPS made multiple rounds of robo-calls, day after day, falsely warning parents of an impending strike.But they all evidently lost their nerve when faced with the prospect of sitting in a hearing across from hundreds of school bus drivers and their supporters from throughout the community.Their absence did not go unnoticed by the elected officials who did attend the hearing — they included all Boston City Council members of color.“I do not accept this letter,” said Councilor Tito Jackson, gesturing to the mayor’s letter explaining why he wasn’t attending.The failure of city officials and Veolia reps to attend added to the political momentum of the evening, which put the company and its city collaborators further on the defensive in the struggle to reinstate the fired leadership of the union.In a show of support for the drivers, Yancey pointedly did not close the meeting, but recessed it. This signaled that the council’s investigation into Veolia’s contract with the city would continue — and so would pressure on the bosses, BPS and the mayor to show up at future meetings.Union members and supporters speak outHolding up large posters of Veolia executives locking the gates of the Freeport and Readville bus yards on Oct. 8, drivers used the hearing to ask key questions: Why was the notorious union-busting firm Veolia awarded the school bus contract by the city when its bid was not the lowest, as required by state law? And who gave the order to lock out the drivers on Oct. 8?One driver, Kiette Woody Baptiste, testified that Veolia switched the union’s disability insurance carrier, which had different policy terms. She was supposed to be out on disability, but the switch reduced her payments and forced her to get back behind the wheel while in pain.What also came out at the hearing was Veolia’s constant violations of the contract. Union Vice President and Benefits Administrator Steve Gillis — one of the fired drivers — told the committee how violations by Veolia started the day after the notorious union-busting firm signed the contract.These violations included attempts to reduce the drivers’ base pay by linking it to a GPS system and demanding that the workers reapply for their jobs.Having workers reapply for their jobs is a tactic Veolia has used in other cities and signals an attack on the workers’ benefits. In 2010 in Phoenix, Veolia forced non-union workers at the city bus system to reapply for their jobs and sign a waiver that they would not be eligible to recover their lost benefits.Veolia’s track record became a focus of the hearing in the public comments’ section. Speakers took to the mike to detail Veolia’s crimes in propping up illegal settlements in occupied Palestine; its privatization of water services that results in high rates and cutting corners on safety; and the high rate of cities, like St. Louis and Detroit, that have rejected the company due to its terrible profits-before-people management of essential services.Many Boston residents voiced staunch support for the school bus drivers’ union, calling attention to its history as a union that fights not only for its members but for the community as well. The union has been active in anti-war demonstrations, the lesbian-gay-bi-trans-queer movement, Occupy encampments and the fight against the racist resegregation of Boston schools.Sandra MacIntosh, of the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, described how the union had played an active role in the fight to stop school closings and the various “zone plans” that were meant to dismantle busing.This past March the BPS adopted a plan to return to racist, segregated neighborhood schools over opposition from the community. Billboards throughout Boston are playing a central role in promoting this scheme. Who is paying for them? Veolia Transportation.FacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thislast_img read more

‘We are the resistance!’ say Syracuse students and community

first_imgSyracuse, N.Y., Dec. 8.WW photo: Minnie Bruce PrattSyracuse, N.Y. — In bitter cold, 300 protesters marched from Syracuse University into downtown Syracuse in a militant outcry against racism and police brutality. Bridging campus and community, the protest brought together local activists, parents with babies in strollers and Snuglis, children on scooters and a core multinational crowd of students.This Dec. 8 march was called by THE General Body, an SU “united front of student organizations,” the anti-corporatization multi-issue group that occupied the SU administration building for 18 days earlier in the fall.At a brief opening rally, speakers for the “March for Justice: We Can’t Breathe” protest denounced “white-collar war criminals” and Black lynchings, “where the rope has been replaced by the hand of police holding a gun.” One speaker said of the marchers, “We are the resistance, we are the change, we are the future.”The Syracuse community members and SU students, teachers and staff then marched to Bird Library, where they held a four-and-a-half minute “die-in” while names were read of people of color killed by police.As night fell, marchers headed downtown through rush-hour traffic, chanting, “Resistance is justified, when people are occupied!” and “How do you spell racist? U.S.A.!”They sat down, blocking traffic, on the streets in front of the Syracuse Police Department and the Onondaga County Courthouse. Family of people killed in Syracuse police custody spoke about the deaths of their loved ones.The local Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter president, Dr. L. Micah Dexter, said: “From Syracuse to Gaza to Ferguson, resistance is justified. You have the right to rebel.”As the crowd marched back to campus, chanting, “You can’t stop the revolution!” residents from a nearby low-income housing project came out to greet them, with hands raised in the now universal “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture from the Ferguson, Mo., uprising.FacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thislast_img read more

‘All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Grey’

first_imgPhoto : Richard ReillyAs of the evening of April 27, hundreds of Black youth rebelled against the police in west and east Baltimore following the funeral of Freddie Grey.  Over 250 were arrested.  The Maryland governor has called in the national guard and declared a five-day curfew from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. starting April 28.  April 27 — Since the horrific death of Freddie Carlos Grey, who appears to have been tortured by the police, the community here has been protesting practically every day.Videos of Freddie Grey’s encounter with the police on April 12 show him screaming in agony while being dragged to a police wagon. He appears to be injured and in extreme pain. His head is tilted and legs bent. What is also known is that while police drove him around and stopped to shackle his legs, he received no medical attention during this time.When he finally arrived at the hospital, Grey was unresponsive. His family reports that his voice box was shattered, he suffered massive fractures to three vertebrae and his spinal cord was almost completely severed.Freddie Grey clung to life for seven days before he died on April 19.Since then the community has continued to demonstrate. On April 20 at 9 a.m., the Greater Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly held a press conference at City Hall at the request of family members, calling for the indictment, conviction and jailing of the six police who killed their son.That evening, protests continued at the Western District police station, whose headquarters sits in the middle of the neighborhood where Freddie Grey was accosted by police.In the evening of April 21, 3,000 people gathered at Presbury and N. Mount streets and then marched to the Western District. This outpouring captured the attention of the world. Many of Grey’s friends and neighborhood acquaintances, who have borne the brunt of police abuse, harassment, shakedowns and physical brutality, were in the crowd.  Many of these youth as well as older community residents felt they could express their anger and frustration. The chant “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Grey” has become the protesters’ anthem.By April 22, police began to barricade the streets around the Western District in an attempt to prevent protests at the police station. When residents and supporters could not get in front of the station, they decided to take the protest downtown. Young people poured into the streets and blocked major intersections, including Martin Luther King Boulevard.On April 23, the Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore SCLC and a member of the People’s Power Assembly, announced to the media that these groups were launching an independent people’s investigation into the details of Freddie Grey’s death. Terence Jones, a national civil rights investigator, joined the press conference and began immediately interviewing witnesses.Protests continued the entire week, including a rally later that day at City Hall called by the Rev. Jamal Bryant, followed by a youth march downtown.On April 25, the Baltimore chapters of the PPA and the SCLC, along with many other groups, called for a citywide march downtown from the spot where Grey had been dragged to the police wagon. Over 5,000 people joined, including supporters from as far away as Ferguson, Mo., New York City and Philadelphia, and marched throughout the downtown to City Hall.Youth rebel; protests continue into nightAfter the rally at City Hall ended, hundreds of protesters marched back to the Inner Harbor, a tourist and business area, and to the Camden Yards stadium, where an Orioles baseball game was beginning. Police in riot gear faced off with demonstrators, swinging billy clubs and attempting to push them out of the intersection of Pratt and Light streets. The same thing happened at the Camden Yards location.  At one point, reported a participant, a cop yelled, “Get these ni—ers off the streets.”It was at this point that police cruiser windows were broken. Later, windows of several downtown stores were broken, including The Gallery, an upscale Inner Harbor mall, and a 7-Eleven.Protests also continued at the Western District police station. At around 10:30 p.m., police phalanxes donned riot gear and charged protesters at the Western District, while defiant youth yelled and screamed.Police swept streets in this besieged neighborhood and clubbed and arrested people.Some 35 people, four of them minors, were arrested.Workers World reporters have yet to find out the extent of the charges on which many of these youth are being held. Legal support is being organized, and youth are slowly being released.PPA organizers call for solidarity and amnestyOn the night of April 26, the Baltimore PPA held  an emergency protest at Central Booking, where arrestees were being held. Speakers expressed the community’s support and demanded amnesty for all arrestees.Baltimore PPA organizer Sharon Black stated, “The anger, pent-up frustration and rage that many people across this country have witnessed on their television screens is based on decades of racist abuse and neglect in communities all across Baltimore. It is about police terror, and it is also about unemployment and low wages, decaying housing and lack of services. Just two weeks ago, prior to Freddie Grey’s murder, the city announced water shut-offs to 25,000 households.”The Baltimore PPA and the Baltimore SCLC have been organizing against police terror for many years. They have heard first-hand accounts from youths as young as 12 about being handcuffed, driven around in police cruisers, terrorized and then released.  Women have spoken about sexual assaults by police. Beatings and shakedowns are common.The Rev. C.D. Witherspoon explained, “Freddie Grey is not the first victim of police murder in this mostly Black city.  His name is added to a whole long list of victims: Tyrone West, Darin Hutchins, Anthony Anderson, George King, Maurice Johnson and many others.”He delivered a strong message to the protesters: “We cannot allow the city, police or media to divide us. We cannot equate property damage with the loss of human life. Freddie Grey cannot be brought back to his family or friends; a window can be repaired. We intend to be here for the youth now and here for them in the long haul.”The Baltimore Police Department and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have issued statements referring to protesters coming from “outside” to stir up trouble. Protest organizers from Baltimore have clearly stated they believe the mayor and the police department are attempting to distract attention from the real issue: indicting, convicting and jailing the six police who killed Freddie Grey.Andre Powell, a state worker and union activist, stated, “If the mayor is indeed worried about ‘outsiders,’ then get the cops out of the community. The majority of them do not live in the city, and they constitute a virtual occupation army. Tell Governor Hogan to withdraw the State Police he has deployed.”Larry Holmes, a national organizer of the People’s Power Assembly from New York City, who came to assist Baltimore activists, stated, “I’m proud to be an outside agitator!” He explained that police terror and racism are a national problem.Sunday’s wake and today’s funeral drew over a thousand people. Throngs couldn’t get into the church and passing cars honked their horns.Note: Workers World uses the spelling “Grey” out of respect for Freddie Carlos Grey. Many friends and family in the community have confirmed that this was his preference and not an “alias,” as police have claimed. Other media are calling him “Freddie Gray.”FacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thislast_img read more

New York protesters say Free Ravi, free Jean!

first_imgUPDATE: The New Sanctuary Movement announced Jan. 29 that “After weeks of unrelenting community mobilization, Judge Katherine Forrest ruled this morning that ICE denied Ravi Ragbir due process by detaining him in his routine check in on Jan. 11. That means Ravi will get to fight his ongoing case from home rather than from behind bars in detention. The fight is not over. This ruling only affects Ravi’s detention, not his pending deportation. …Today’s decision is proof that organizing and the power of community will ultimately set us free. That’s why we must keep up the fight for the thousands of people facing the same racist, unjust, and escalating treatment from ICE every day.” On the morning of Jan. 27, nearly 100 people protested outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 26 Federal Plaza in New York City to support Ravi Ragbir, an immigrant rights leader from Trinidad who is head of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York, and Jean Montrevil from Haiti. Both were arrested by ICE agents earlier in January. U.S. Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Yvette Clarke from Brooklyn spoke at the rally in support of the two prisoners.Ragbir is being detained in the Bronx and has another hearing scheduled for Jan. 29, at which another demonstration is planned. Montrevil has already been deported to Haiti, where he is fighting for his freedom. The slogan for the demonstration was “Build bridges, not walls.”WW photo: Anne PrudenFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thislast_img read more

Solidarity with Korea

first_imgSpeakout connects U.S. threats to war profits and racism at home.Activists gathered in downtown Boston on March 10 for a speakout led by women from the Boston branch of Workers World Party to push back against war rhetoric and say, “U.S. hands off Korea!” They gathered at the corner of Park and Tremont streets with signs, a loudspeaker and a banner decrying U.S. military expansion around the world, especially against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The southern half of the peninsula has been occupied by U.S. military forces since 1945.Phebe Eckfeldt from the Women’s Fightback Network told the crowd: “This is why north Korea needs to and has a right to defend itself.” She held up a map detailing sites all over the Korean peninsula where the Pentagon organized massacres of tens of thousands of Korean civilians and liberation fighters in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Eckfeldt was part of a delegation to south Korea, sponsored by the Korea Truth Commission, that uncovered and exposed the massacres.Speakers angrily raised connections between U.S. military expansion around the world and the need for capitalism to find new markets for private businesses. The imperialist need to profit from the global class war has led to initiatives like the U.S. government’s 1033 program. For almost 20 years, billions of dollars in military vehicles and equipment have been funneled through the Defense Logistics Agency to local police departments. This has led to mine-resistant armored vehicles in places like the streets of Ferguson, Mo., and the Standing Rock Sioux land, which brings home that this continent has always been a war zone for nationally oppressed people.FacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thislast_img read more

South Koreans press for peace treaty

first_imgMembers of South Korean Peace Delegation with International Action Center supporters.New York — The Trump administration continues to evade the biggest question looming over Korean-U.S. relations: When will Washington sign a peace treaty to end the Korean War?Any talk of normalization of relations between the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is meaningless when Washington won’t even agree to discuss an end to a war that killed millions of Koreans and has lasted since 1950, despite an armistice agreement signed 65 years ago.It is the continuation of this formal state of war and the U.S. military occupation of South Korea, along with annual war exercises that simulate an attack on the north, that have forced the DPRK to bolster its defense capabilities.While Trump himself publicly blows hot and cold on the question of the DPRK, he has appointed some of the most vicious war hawks to top positions in his government.John Bolton, who in February wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First,” was named Trump’s national security adviser in April.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who handles relations with the DPRK, recently spoke at the United Nations advocating harsher economic sanctions on that far-north country, which would deprive it of fuel this winter. Many such attempts in the past by the U.S. to starve and freeze the Korean people into submission have failed.But the Cold War attitudes at the top don’t reflect the realities on the ground. The Korean people, divided since 1945, have been working toward peace and reunification for decades. This was made spectacularly clear to the world at this year’s winter Olympic games in South Korea, when athletes from the north received an ecstatic welcome as they joined their southern compatriots in a joint parade under one flag.South Korean Peace Delegation in N.Y.Representing this strong movement, a South Korean Peace Delegation recently visited New York City to attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. They called on the U.N. to help build permanent peace on the Korean peninsula by declaring an end to the Korean War and suspending the sanctions against the DPRK.During their stay, members of the delegation spoke on Sept. 25 to a special forum at the city’s Solidarity Center. It was chaired by Sara Flounders of the International Action Center, who welcomed the delegation as representing “the hopes and aspirations of 60 million Korean people for peace and reunification.” She then explained that they spoke for “many groups who have united to end the war and sanctions, and sign the peace treaty.”Members of the delegation, who ranged from young workers to veteran fighters against South Korean military dictatorships, have been key organizers of the massive movement, called the Candlelight Revolution, that swept the corrupt Park Geun-hye dictatorship out of power last year. They stressed that it was this mass, disciplined and militant resistance that had encouraged the current government of Moon Jae-in to move toward better relations with the north.Moon’s efforts are very popular in the south. The delegation members pointed out that while his approval rating dipped somewhat because of the economy, “it rose again after the joint North-South declaration,” and that “Moon’s new economic policy is based on improving relations” with the DPRK.The Korean War and the ongoing U.S. military occupation of South Korea have taken place in the name of the United Nations. But as one Peace Delegation speaker said: “The United Nations has no right to intervene in North-South issues. The U.N. is actually the U.S. in a different mask. The U.N. Command should be dissolved.”Another member said the so-called U.N. command “is not a U.N. authority. It’s really a U.S. authority.”When people in the audience congratulated the speakers’ courage in standing up to much repression over the years, one of the seasoned fighters replied: “It’s not important how much repression. What’s important is how much we can do to achieve peace and reunification.”FacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thislast_img read more

Ecuador: ‘Yankee hands off Venezuela’

first_imgFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare this On the morning of Feb. 8, the Ecuadorian Committee in Solidarity with the Peoples and Their Community Organizations demonstrated peacefully in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Thirty-two Ecuadorian social organizations signed a letter of solidarity with Bolivarian Venezuela. The letter had been delivered the previous day by the committee to Ecuadorian Foreign Minister José Valencia. It was read aloud in the presence of a crowd of people carrying Venezuelan flags and placards with the image of Simón Bolívar, the iconic liberator of South American countries from Spanish colonialism. The letter made it clear that the current President Lenin “Moreno does not represent the people of Ecuador” in his support of the current U.S. campaign against the Bolivarian nation of Venezuela. Illegal actions taken by the Moreno government against Venezuela were rejected and denounced: “Yankee hands off Venezuela.” “We oppose U.S. intervention in the affairs of the peoples of the world,” shouted protesters.last_img read more

Amazon Struggle Spreads to Virginia

first_imgFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare this When Amazon announced it would build two new headquarters, one in New York City and the other near Washington, D.C., most people assumed that it was a done deal. This was not only because of Amazon’s sway as a powerful transnational corporation, but because of the company’s close ties with finance capital and the military-industrial complex. Of course, Amazon’s executives would choose to locate near Wall Street and the Pentagon to further develop those ties.But then the people of New York City loudly said, “Hell no!” After the uproar went on for three months, Amazon’s seemingly inevitable arrival was stopped. Now, this people’s victory is inspiring others to take matters into their own hands.  Since Amazon reversed its decision about opening a New York headquarters, activists in Arlington County, Va. — where Amazon plans to set up HQ2 —  have been holding meetings and demonstrations to raise awareness about the negative impact the company would have on the community and to build support for a campaign to prevent its arrival. Protesters raised issues such as gentrification and rising rents for area residents, which have accelerated since Amazon announced the new headquarters in Crystal City in northern Virginia. They have also exposed Amazon’s lie about providing 25,000 new jobs, most of which would be filled by people from outside Virginia. Additionally, they oppose Amazon’s ties to Immigration, Customs and Enforcement.Momentum is building On Feb. 28, activists disrupted a meeting between Amazon and local businesses — which cost an outrageously prohibitive $200 to attend. They demanded a public hearing on the deal. Much like the one in New York, the deal in Virginia was brokered behind closed doors with no community input — despite city officials’ multimillion-dollar offer of public money to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world. In response to the agitation from below, politicians in the area are starting to speak up. It’s a similar cycle as occurred in New York. While Amazon has yet to release a warning that it’s reconsidering the deal, as it did in New York, the situation remains fluid.  Its outcome is far from certain.When residents of New York City went up against Amazon, activists from Seattle and Germany — who were were engaged in their own battles against Amazon — came to the city to build connections and share their experiences. Learning how Amazon had undermined all its commitments to the people of Seattle, when opening its headquarters there, made the stakes very clear. But hearing how Berlin activists had successfully beaten back Amazon made the task at hand in New York City seem all the more possible.As the struggle against Amazon spreads, it’s important to note that this is just one example of struggle that is inspiring others. The victory of the West Virginia education workers in the spring of 2018 inspired a cycle of education workers’ strikes that is still playing out today, from Los Angeles and Oakland Calif., to Ohio and Kentucky.After decades of a capitalist offensive against the working class, with its dismantling of critical social service programs, union busting, prison expansion, low wages, mass deportations of im/migrants, among many other attacks, the conditions for mass outrage exist. Under these conditions, struggles can spread like wildfire.last_img read more

Nicolás Maduro: ‘They intend to create a conflict with Colombia’

first_imgOriginal published at on Sept. 11. Translation by John Catalinotto.Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro ended his address to the National Defense Council on Sept. 9, which exposed the existence of a military threat and escalation against his country.  He said, “We have the evidence of how they intend to create a false positive to provoke an armed conflict between Colombia and Venezuela.”The Monday night meeting followed a day of growing diplomatic tension. First, Venezuelan Minister of Communication Minister Jorge Rodríguez presented evidence of how the Colombian press, particularly Semana magazine, falsified and disseminated documents in an attempt to accuse the Venezuelan government of collaborating with the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia and the sector of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that resumed armed struggle against that country’s government.After that presentation, a press conference took place in the afternoon with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza and Rodríguez.  The diplomatic corps, which is accredited in Venezuela, was summoned to hear “precise information on the terrorist acts planned to be launched from the Republic of Colombia under the protection of the  government in Bogotá.”Toward nighttime President Maduro met with the National Defense Council.  Representatives from all levels of the Bolivarian National Armed Force, public officials and the national cabinet participated in the meeting.President Maduro, following Article 232 of the Constitution, said: “As head of state, I have passed authority over to the National Defense Council for the collective management of this situation, which is one of a genuine threat of violence, armed conflict and attack by the militarist and criminal government of Colombia.” In his speech, President Maduro denounced the 42 different covert acts that the Colombian government has carried out in three months. One of them has been, and continues to be, an attempt to “recruit Venezuelan officers and noncommissioned officers with the intention of attacking the Venezuelan air and missile defense system, supported by a group of Venezuelans.”President Maduro also referred to the orange alert decreed days ago and the beginning of border operations called “Sovereignty and Peace in Venezuela” that will be carried out from Sept.10 to 28. These are taking place “to fine-tune the entire national defense system, to fine-tune all the mechanisms of the deployment of our country’s military capacity, to fine-tune land defense, anti-aircraft — the coordinated defense of the national territory itself.” Colombia’s president accuses MaduroThe tension between the two countries peaked following the new escalation that began on Aug. 29 when a section of the FARC announced its return to armed struggle. This was followed by Colombian President Iván Duque’s accusation that Maduro’s government offered the FARC support within its territory.Two days later on Aug. 31, Rodríguez announced the arrest of a person who was planning to detonate explosives in central Caracas. He also denounced the presence of three military training centers in Colombia near the Venezuelan border. He explained that this individual, along with others, was trained there and then sent to Venezuela.It was not the first time that the Venezuelan government reported the presence of military training centers in Colombia whose aim is to attack Venezuela. The first incident was the attempted assassination [by drones] of President Maduro on Aug. 8, 2018.The current scenario is framed within [the context of] a new offensive to attempt the overthrow of  President Maduro. Declarations [by the opposition] have escalated in recent weeks — particularly since the decree signed by Trump on Aug. 6 to tighten the economic and financial blockade. [Trump’s decree froze Venezuelan governmental assets.] It resulted in Maduro’s decision to suspend negotiations [with the opposition] in Barbados.In this context — and in consideration of the demobilization of the [anti-Maduro] opposition at the national level — the Colombian factor gained strength in the manner of a siege on the Venezuelan government. Duque made no comments on Sept. 9 about the statements made [by President Maduro] from the Miraflores Palace in Caracas.Other external threats against MaduroFinally, three significant events also occurred on Sept. 9. First, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet read a report which reiterated her concerns about human rights violations in Venezuela, while it recognized the negative impact of the blockade and opposition violence.Second, there were the words spoken by Elliott Abrams, U.S. special envoy for Venezuela. From Brussels, he accused the European Union of not imposing greater sanctions against Maduro’s government and of being permissive with its leaders.Finally, it was learned that on Wednesday [Sept. 11], the Organization of American States will debate the request made by self-proclaimed president [of Venezuela], Juan Guaidó, to activate the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance.  The document puts on the table the possibility of forming an international coalition against Venezuela. The Venezuelan government withdrew from the OAS [on April 29]. The United Nations General Assembly scheduled for Sept. 27 will be a new scenario for diplomatic confrontation. The tempo has accelerated once more.FacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thislast_img read more

PA prisoners tortured for protesting racist policies

first_imgEric McGill was locked up in Lebanon County Correctional Facility in Lebanon, Pa., on Jan. 19, 2019. For 15 months now he has been held there, not because he has been convicted of a crime, but because he cannot afford the preposterous $1 million bail the judge set.And during his entire pretrial incarceration, McGill, a 27-year-old Black man, has been held in solitary confinement (SHU) because he refuses to cut off his dreadlocks.Car caravan demonstrators make a stop outside Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia demanding release of prisoners, April 15.                                                                            WW photo: Joe PietteLebanon County prison authorities deny that he is being held in solitary confinement, which is regarded as torture by the United Nations. They claim he is simply placed in a “secure housing unit” that is no different from the general population — despite the fact that they specifically placed him in the SHU to punish him for refusing to submit to the racist demand that he get rid of his “locs,” a hairstyle worn by people of African and Indigenous nations across the world.Matthew Feldman of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project told Workers World that those held in Lebanon County SHU are let outside their cells for a maximum of one hour a day, between midnight and 2 a.m. That’s also the only time McGill is allowed to use the phone.Five days a week, McGill gets one hour outside in the dead of night. On the other two days, he gets about five minutes outside. As long as it’s not raining or snowing, prisoners get the option of outdoor recreation or rec time for an hour. If they choose not to take it, they get 20 minutes of indoor time.  If outdoor rec is cancelled completely, they get a full hour of indoor rec.They’re allowed one half-hour visit per week. No books or photographs from the outside are permitted.McGill has had a cellmate for most of the 15months. They take all meals in their cell. Their toilet has no lid or cover, and if you flush the toilet twice within five minutes, it locks for an hour. The cell lights are kept on almost all day, sometimes 24 hours, with constant illumination even when prisoners are trying to sleep.These are the conditions that Lebanon County authorities say are not “punishment” and do not constitute solitary confinement. The prison’s own handbook says typical punishment for engaging in a physical fight is 30 to 120 days in solitary.These were the conditions McGill and others in the SHU faced even before the pandemic caused widespread death row-style lockdowns in prisons across the country.Even in the racist bourgeois legal system, someone like McGill is supposed to be presumed innocent at this point, having not been convicted of a crime. “It is a legal fiction that people detained pretrial can’t be punished. I don’t know how you can claim what is happening to him isn’t punishment,” said Feldman.Dreadlocks have a cultural and religiously significant meaning for the Rastafari movement to which McGill belongs. It is clear that he is being tortured for his religious and cultural beliefs.McGill was told by multiple staff, including in writing, that the reason he is in solitary is because he refuses to cut his hair. Feldman says at least two other Black men are now being held in solitary because they too refuse to cut their dreads.Violation of civil rightsEric McGill wrote to the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, a nonprofit legal aid organization that represents people incarcerated in any institution — the only statewide legal aid organization doing this kind of work.The PILP provides free legal services for civil matters, mostly civil rights violations. Two other men have since filed their own Pro Se lawsuits and are being represented by PILP.These men are suing on the grounds that their detention is a violation of a federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which was supposed to ensure religious liberty rights to incarcerated people and to prevent jails and prisons from imposing arbitrary burdens on people.They claim it is also a violation of the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, that defines national citizenship and forbids states to restrict the basic rights of citizens or other people.Even Pennsylvania state prisoners and those in federal detention are allowed dreadlocks. Lebanon County claims that contraband could be hidden in them and that “locs” are “unsanitary.” Long straight or curly hair is accepted, as long as it’s tied back.Criminalizing wearing dreadlocks is a symptom of the racist, genocidal nature of mass incarceration. To destroy the ability of a person to practice their religious and cultural beliefs is itself a form of genocide.The district judge is currently slow-walking this case. Workers World demands the immediate release of Eric McGill and the other two claimants. During the pandemic current crisis, we must fight especially hard to demand:  Tear Down the Walls! Free Them All!FacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thisFacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmailPrintMoreShare thislast_img read more