Maine News: Stop the Privatization of VA Medical Services for Rural Maine Veterans! / by Andy O’Brien

Image credit: Maine Preservation

Medical services for rural veterans at the Togus VA Medical Center in Chelsea are slated to be consolidated, privatized and outsourced to other parts of the state as part of a series of recommendations put forth in a report released by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The document calls for a massive nationwide consolidation and reorganization of veteran’s services.

“If the closure recommendations take effect millions of veterans needing surgery, intensive care, emergency care, substance abuse treatment, skilled nursing home care and inpatient mental health care will be forced to rely on private hospitals that have little to no specialized experience in meeting the unique needs of America’s veterans” per a statement from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

The plan for Maine would convert the hospital at Togus into an urgent care center and then partially privatize and move the emergency room, inpatient medical, surgical services and nursing home services to Portland and other parts of Maine. The report also recommends closing the Rumford community-based outpatient clinic and the Bingham VA Mobile Unit and relocating those services to a new community-based outpatient clinic in Farmington. The VA is also calling for the closure of VA clinics in Houlton and Fort Kent and outsourcing those services to private clinics.

In addition, the VA recommends removing the community living services from Augusta to Portland, but the VA is actually in the process of building a new nursing home on the Togus campus.

The report is pending review by the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, a board created by the 2018 VA MISSION Act, a bill designed to promote vast privatization of VA healthcare. 

If approved, Sec. McDonough’s recommendations would:

  • Close large segments of the VA health care system, including at least 17 integrated VA medical centers around the country.
  • Destroy tens of thousands of union jobs in communities across the country.
  • Deny veterans their preferred choice in health care providers.
  • Force our military veterans to find their own care from a patchwork of for-profit providers.

Currently, over one-third of all veterans’ medical visits have already been sent outside of the VA system and more than a quarter of VA healthcare dollars have already been diverted to the private, for-profit sector as a result of the VA MISSION Act. AFGE estimates that one-third of the union jobs at the VA that the AIR commission would destroy are held by veterans themselves.

VA leadership in Washington claims that these drastic measures are necessary because the veteran’s population is shifting to southern Maine, but it will also require rural Maine veterans to drive several more hours for services that may not suit their unique needs. There is currently no federal funding allocated to make these dramatic changes.

It’s time for VA workers, veterans, and all Americans to demand that our local, state, and national leaders put a stop to this assault on veterans’ care. It’s time to let the air out of the AIR Commission, halt the Senate confirmation of AIR commissioners, and repeal Title 2 of the MISSION Act. Closing VA facilities must be entirely off the table.


Andy O’Brien is lifelong Mainer, writer, former Maine state legislator, and former editor of The Free Press, a newspaper covering midcoast Maine. He covered Maine state politics for nine years with a focus on Lincoln, Knox, and Waldo counties. He is also the communications director of the Maine AFL-CIO but is speaking in his own capacity and is not representing his employer.

Maine AFL-CIO, May 26, 2022,

Opinion: The politicians have failed on guns. Time to go to the people / by Ethan Strimling

Photo: Students protest for gun reform outside the White House | Lorie Shaull/Creative Commons via Flickr

Because we have a Democratic governor who once earned an A+ from the NRA while serving as a state legislator and as governor watered down the only gun safety initiative she was willing to sign (even gun rights groups endorsed it after deeming it basically useless) being challenged by a former Republican governor who signed a law allowing people to carry hidden fully loaded weapons into Maine supermarkets, churches, and nightclubs, I don’t have much hope that anything will happen in Augusta to protect our residents from the gun violence we have seen strewn across America.

Because, tragically, we know something will happen here at some point. Guns are simply too prevalent in our state, too easy to buy, and too easy to carry around. 

There is already ample evidence that people buy their guns in Maine to use in crimes elsewhere because our laws are so lax, so it is just a matter of time before we have our own Columbine, Buffalo, Newtown, Uvalde, Orlando,  Las Vegas, Virginia Tech, El Paso, Aurora, Pittsburgh, Parkland, etc, etc, etc.

Similarly, since we know Congress will never act, as Republicans continue to carry water for the NRA and their most crazed members, protection from the federal level is hopeless. 

And since state law prevents municipal elected officials from passing common sense gun laws that will protect our children, (see paragraph one if you have hope that will change), we really only have one path left in our democracy to pass sensible gun safety measures. 


With that in mind, here are five common-sense gun laws we should work to put on the ballot. 2024 would likely be our best bet, as turnout will be highest (polling is clear that Maine people support reasonable gun laws so the more people who vote, the better). 

  1. A Ban on Assault Weapons. This one goes without saying. Literally every mass shooting I list above, and 90% of the mass shootings we hear about, are with semi-automatic assault weapons. They serve no purpose other than to kill randomly and with abandon. Ban them, as we did in America for 10 years from 1994-2004.
  2. A 10-day waiting period on gun purchases. We had a five-day waiting period on all gun purchases nationally from 1994-1998. It was very successful at keeping guns out of the hands of impulse shooters like the Uvalde shooter who bought his weapons a week before the massacre.
  3. A 10 bullet limit on magazine capacity. Even Sen. Angus King has said he supports this one. And while 10 is likely higher than anyone needs to hunt or protect themselves, slowing a shooter down by forcing them to reload after every 10 shots can provide a vital window for law-enforcement to intervene.
  4. Require permits for all concealed carry. This was the law of Maine for generations and we should bring it back. Allowing people to carry concealed weapons into churches, libraries, bars, restaurants, etc. is simply asking for trouble and provides no benefit to the individual or the public.
  5.  Universal background checks on all gun transfers. Sadly, although supported by a large majority of Maine people, this lost in a ballot initiative in 2016. But the campaign messaging was unemotional and poorly executed. Plus, Former President nDonald Trump did way better than anyone expected. But as with Equal Marriage, a second run might get this across the finish line.

Nothing too radical here. Just laws that were on the books in America within the past generation, or that are already in place in other states. Putting these on the ballot as a slate will be a great chance to see which policies are the ones Maine people most want to see.

It’s likely our only hope.

Ethan Strimling served ten years as Mayor and State Senator for Portland, Maine.

Maine Beacon, May 27, 2022,

Eugene V. Debs: Socialist Internationalism Versus Capitalist Nationalism / by Eugene Debs

Socialist leader Eugene Debs delivers a speech in the early 1900s. (Getty Images)

This Memorial Day, we should rededicate ourselves to fighting the horrors of war. So here’s a 1916 Eugene Debs piece, never before republished, about why internationalism is at the heart of socialist politics.

In 1916, with World War I raging, socialist leader Eugene V. Debs wrote a short piece condemning the nationalism that had thrown soldiers into trench warfare and machine-gun slaughter.

Debs’s article appeared in the January 1916 issue of the National Rip-Saw, a mass-circulation socialist newspaper based in St Louis. The United States still hadn’t entered the war, and Debs wanted to keep it that way. He reminded his US comrades of their duty to oppose the conflict — the fetid fruit of the ruling class — and excoriated the many European socialists who had fallen in line behind their nations’ leaders.

“True socialists,” Debs wrote, “cannot at the same time be nationalists, militarists and capitalist ‘patriots.’ . . . The self-called socialists who are nationalists first and who set the ‘fatherland’ of their masters above the whole earth and above all the workers of the world are not socialists at all but either mild and harmless capitalist reformers and stool pigeons or traitors to the cause.”

Strong words. But this Memorial Day, it’s a reminder that the best way to honor those killed in war is to fight the ruling-class forces that repeatedly send soldiers off to die.

— Shawn Gude

If the principles of socialism have not international application and if the socialist movement is not an international movement then its whole philosophy is false and the movement has no reason for existence.

Karl Marx, founder of the modern socialist movement, based his whole theory upon the internationality of the working class and called upon the workers of all countries to unite in the struggle for their emancipation.

Before the war broke out in Europe there was no question about the international character of the socialist movement, but when the tocsin sounded, international obligation was swept away, or forgotten, and in the frenzy aroused by the military clackers, thousands of socialist party members became the intensest of nationalists and “patriots,” utterly denying their international principles and obligations and turning traitors to the movement to which they had solemnly pledged their honor and their lives.

If the international socialist movement is to be organized on a bedrock foundation, if it is to endure in the future, instead of collapsing as in the past; if, in a word, it is to give expression and direction to the social revolution, it can only be by a rigid observance of the fundamental principles of internationalism and upon the sound basis of the class struggle.

True socialists cannot at the same time be nationalists, militarists, and capitalist “patriots.” They are either one or the other; they cannot be both. The self-called socialists who are nationalists first and who set the “fatherland” of their masters above the whole earth and above all the workers of the world are not socialists at all but either mild and harmless capitalist reformers and stool pigeons or traitors to the cause.


Upon that rock it can stand against the world; upon that rock it can withstand the shock of war, and all the powers of capitalism and hell cannot prevail against it.

We must get rid of nationalism, militarism, and the kind of “patriotism” which is responsible for the socialists of Europe now drenching the soil of the “fatherland” of their masters with the blood of comrades, and we must beware lest nationalism get a foothold in the party here in the United States, for as certain as it does, the party will go the way of the socialist parties of the old world which have been all but destroyed by its vicious and disrupting influence.

Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) was a union leader and socialist.

Jacobin, May 30, 2022,

Little Steel Strike: Remembering the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre / by Fred Gaboury

Police using guns, clubs, & teargas attack marching strikers outside Chicago’s Republic Steel plant, May 30, 1937. | Carl Linde- AP

An earlier version of this article appeared in People’s Weekly World on May 31, 1997.

South Chicago, Memorial Day 1937: Mollie West was there with a group of high school seniors. Curtis Strong was there for the hell of it. Aaron Cohen was there because of the responsibilities assigned to him by the Communist Party.

“There” was the field fronting the Republic Steel plant in South Chicago, site of the Memorial Day Massacre of May 30, 1937.

It was the first warm day of spring. Hundreds of steelworkers, on strike against the “Little Steel” companies and backed by hundreds of supporters, some dressed in their Sunday best, had come to assert the right of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) to establish a picket line at the gate of the Republic Steel plant.

The line was never established. Before day’s end, they would be attacked by an army of gun-toting, stick-wielding Chicago cops. Ten men would be dead or mortally wounded, countless others severely beaten and many more temporarily blinded by tear gas.

Mollie was walking near the front of the group when Chicago’s finest opened fire with tear gas and pistols. “I started to run and fell down. Several others stumbled on top of me. It wasn’t very comfortable,” Mollie said in a telephone interview from Chicago. “But it may have saved my life. And it certainly kept me from being beaten with those riot sticks the cops were using.”

By the time Mollie came up for air, the worst was over. “It was unbelievable what I saw,” she said. “The place looked like a battlefield.” And she saw—or felt—something else: “I looked around to see a policeman holding his gun against my back. ‘Get off the field,’ he ordered, ‘or I’ll shoot you.’”

From left, Mollie West, Curtis Strong, and Aaron Cohen, as pictured in the original 1997 article from People’s Weekly World. | People’s World Archive

Several people came to her rescue and carried her to the first aid station at Sam’s Place, the watering hole that SWOC had rented as headquarters during the strike against the nation’s second-tier steelmakers.

Several doctors had responded to the call for public support. “They never imagined that they would need to turn it into a field hospital,” Mollie said. “But they did—just like in M*A*S*H.”

Curtis hadn’t planned on doing anything that day. He was working at the Gary Works of U.S. Steel and was an active SWOC member of what is now Local 1014 of the Steelworkers union. “I thought, why should I go? Shortly after General Motors capitulated to the Auto Workers union, U.S. Steel signed a contract with SWOC.”

But ever one to seek adventure, Curtis decided to go, “I thought—what the hell, why not?” he said when reached at his home in Gary. “What started as a lark became one of the most damnable experiences in my life.”

Curtis thought the first shots were meant to scare people. “I just knew that no one, not even Chicago’s notoriously anti-union police, would open fire on peaceful demonstrators who were demanding the right to put up a picket line at the Republic plant.”

But he soon found out how mistaken he was. “A guy about six feet away from me was hit and I started to run—and damn fast. I had set state track records when I was in high school.”

Aaron Cohen had been a coal miner in southern Illinois and a leader in the reform movement of the United Mine Workers of America. As such, he earned the wrath of one Van A. Bittner, UMWA district director, whose goons once beat Aaron within an inch of his life.

But the heat of the class struggle can melt old relationships and forge new ones—and such was the case with Aaron Cohen and Van A. Bittner. By the time SWOC launched its drive to organize the steel industry, Bittner was running the show in Illinois and Cohen, then 28 years old, was a member of the Communist Party leadership in Chicago.

Shortly after setting up shop, Bittner invited Aaron and Bill Gebert, head of Illinois CP, to a meeting where he asked Aaron to find SWOC organizers among the various nationality groups and to help get favorable coverage of the campaign in the foreign-language press.

“It was a bit frosty at first,” Aaron remembers, “Bittner didn’t quite know how to deal with me. But I made the first move. I stuck out my hand and said something like, ‘We’re in this together, Van,’ and that was it.”

Aaron, who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, described the Memorial Day event as—at least in the beginning—a “jolly kind of affair. There was a holiday spirit. Guys were walking with their girlfriends. Some brought their families and picnic lunches. There was a baseball game and things for the kids to do.”

The strike began at 11 p.m. on May 26 and police had prevented the union from establishing a picket line at the Republic plant. “So we decided that the whole bunch would go down and set up a mass picket line. After all, Mayor Kelly said SWOC had the right to picket,” Aaron said.

Aaron, too, couldn’t believe what was happening. “But when Alfred Causey, who was standing less than arm’s length from me, fell with four bullets in his back, I became a believer.” Aaron’s voice hardened when he added: “There was Causey laying there dead—and they were still beating him.”

When the group—“at least 1,000 strong” according to George Patterson, who led the demonstration—neared Republic property, they were met by police lined up for about a quarter of a mile “protecting” the mill.

“For once, we had as many pickets as there were police,” Patterson said in his oral history of the massacre. “I went up to Police Commander Kilroy who was reading from a document. ‘I ask you in the name of the people of the State of Illinois to disperse,’ he read and dropped the paper to his side with a flourish.”

There was no verbal command, Patterson remembered. “When Kilroy lowered the paper, all hell broke loose. Bullets were flying, gas was flying, and then the clubbing.”

When Patterson stopped running, he looked at the carnage—at the young boy limping by, bleeding from a bullet wound in his heel, at men and women lying on the ground, some dead, others mortally wounded.

Patterson said he “learned about death” on the prairie before the Republic plant. “It doesn’t take long to know when a man falls forward on his face that he’s been killed, he’s dead, he doesn’t move anymore.”

Police may have been able to cover up the massacre had it not been for Orlando Lippert, a news cameraman for the Paramount Newsreel division and his motion picture camera.

Within seconds—“fewer than seven,” Lippert told a Senate investigating committee—after the assault began, he had his camera grinding away, eventually shooting several magazines of film which he sent to New York.

Paramount executives withheld the film, labeling it “restrictive negatives. Clips and printing of this material absolutely forbidden.”

However, the film was subpoenaed by Sen. Robert La Follette’s subcommittee of the Senate Education and Labor Committee and shown to a closed-door meeting that included Commander Kilroy, Patterson, and several reporters, some of whom wrote stories of the events depicted in the film.

A short clip of the film shot by Paramount cameraman Orlando Lippert, originally hidden from the public. | Illinois Labor History Society

Republic Steel’s Tom Girdler was the lead dog in the employer’s sleigh team that not only provoked the strike but made plans to drown it in blood in a holy war to prevent “the Communists” from taking over. And they meant business.

The La Follette hearings, which began on July 2, did more than expose the Memorial Day events. Committee investigators found that Republic was the largest buyer of tear and sickening gas in the country. Republic’s private arsenal was stocked with 552 revolvers, 64 rifles, 245 shotguns, and 83,000 rounds of ammunition. The other companies had similar arms caches.

One of the few national news outlets to cover the Memorial Day Massacre, the Daily Worker denounced the actions of the Chicago police in its May 31, 1937 issue. | People’s World Archives

In his autobiography, Len De-Caux, first editor of CIO News, described the Little Steel Strike as a “murderous class war.” In addition to the Memorial Day massacre in Chicago:

— Strikers were gassed, clubbed, and shot in Youngstown, Massillon, and Cleveland, bringing the total killed to 18.

— Governors, mayors, sheriffs, and police were suborned against SWOC and the CIO, sometimes with hard cash.

— The Mohawk Valley Formula, with its “citizens’ committees,” back-to-work movements, and other strike-breaking techniques was applied with vigor.

— “Friends of labor” in public office betrayed SWOC, as witnessed by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “curse on both your houses” remark at a press conference.

Although the Little Steel Strike ended with only Inland signing an agreement, it has earned a place in the annals of the great battles of the American working class.

In 1937—as they had been in the Great Strike of 1919—steelworkers were in the vanguard of the class struggle.

This article was part of the 2019 People’s World series: 100 Years of the Communist Party USA. Read the other articles published in the series.

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries

People’s World, May 22, 2020,

How Mining Companies Have Exploited the Pandemic to Push New Mines on Vulnerable Communities / by Jen Moore

President of the Pueblo Shuar Arutam of Ecuador, Josefina Tunki, during a protest along with other Shuar women. (Photo: Comunicación PSHA)

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.  Arundhati Roy, April 2020

Just over two years ago when lockdowns were being declared like dominoes around the world, there was a brief moment when the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to hold the potential for much-needed reflection. Could it lead to a reversal away from the profit-driven ecological and socio-economic dead end we’ve been propelling toward?

Arundhati Roy’s call to critical reflection was published in early April 2020. At the time, she was observing the early evidence, on one hand, of the devastating toll of the pandemic as a result of extraordinary inequality, the privatized health care system, and the rule of big business in the U.S., which continued to play out along lines of class and race.

She was also writing with horror at how the Modi government in India was enacting an untenable lockdown on a population of over a billion people without notice or planning, in a context of overlapping economic and political crises. While the rich and middle class could safely retreat to work from home, millions of migrant workers were forced out of work into a brutal, repressive, and even fatal long march back to their villages. And that was just the beginning.

The jarring “rupture” with normality that Roy wrote about two years ago has reinforced many “prevailing prejudices”, as she anticipated. Whether we’re talking about Amazon, the pharmaceutical industry, or mining companies, big business managed to have itself declared “essential” and profit handsomely. Meanwhile, poor and racialized people have paid the highest costs and experienced the greatest losses in the U.S., India, and many other countries around the world.

But we have also seen how people have fought back hard showing tremendous resilience in the face of greater adversity.

This is very much the case in mining-affected communities around the world, many of whom were already in David and Goliath battles before the pandemic to protect their land and water from the harms of mineral extraction. They have found no reprieve since the pandemic began.

While taking measures to protect themselves from COVID-19, these movements have refused to let their guard down as governments and corporations have taken advantage of greater social constraints to advance the mining industry.

A Pandemic Made to Fit the Mining Industry

Land defenders block mine-related traffic in Casillas, Guatemala, 2019. (Photo: NISGUA, via EarthWorks Flickr)

Since April 2020, the IPS Global Economy Project has been participating in the Coalition Against the Mining Pandemic, which came together to help document what was happening in the mining sector during the pandemic. The coalition is made up of environmental justice organizations, networks, and initiatives from North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America that work in solidarity with mining-affected communities.

The group observed early evidence that mining companies would be among the worst pandemic profiteers. In the past, after all, these corporations have sought to benefit from floods, coups, dictatorships, and other disasters to rewrite laws and push projects through while local populations are busy dealing with catastrophe and living under the gun.

In addition, the coalition especially wanted to understand what the pandemic meant for the struggles of Indigenous peoples and other mining-affected communities on the frontlines with whom we work in solidarity.

This collaborative research effort has involved local partners in 23 countries to document what it’s been like trying to protect community health from the ravages of the pandemic — while also fighting against the threat of losing their water and territory from the long-term impacts of gold, iron-ore, copper, nickel, coal, and lithium mining.

The 23 countries where we looked at cases have recorded 29 percent of the world’s known COVID cases, 43 percent of recorded COVID-related deaths, and include two of the top ten countries for the highest mortality rates (calculated by dividing the number of recorded COVID cases by the number of COVID related deaths). In order, these are Peru and Mexico. (Ecuador, where we looked at another case study, now ranks 11th.)

As expected, our recently released Latin America report No Reprieve demonstrates how COVID-19 restrictions seem to have been made to fit the mining industry. As Price Waterhouse Cooper observed in its 2021 Great Expectations report on the global mining industry, “by any important measure, mining is one of the few industries that emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic economic crisis in excellent financial and operational shape.”

Precious metal prices rose in the context of the uncertainty created by the pandemic, leading to historic profits for some companies despite lower production in 2020. Prices for base metals, such as copper, soon followed as markets opened up. This was much earlier than the lifting of social constraints, putting affected communities at an even greater disadvantage than before the pandemic in their struggles for water, land, and survival.

No Reprieve for Mining Affected Communities

"Sanitizer against coronavirus, the mining virus, and the government virus. These killers won't kill us." March in Putaendo, Chile. (Photo: Putaendo Resiste)

“Sanitizer against coronavirus, the mining virus, and the government virus. These killers won’t kill us.” March in Putaendo, Chile. (Photo: Putaendo Resiste)

The lengthy lockdowns and other public health measures that were put in place not only spelled greater socio-economic crisis than before for these communities. They also meant greater difficulty or outright bans on meeting together to discuss concerns about environmental contamination, hardship, mining projects, and the greater difficulty of dealing with government offices responsible for permitting and inspections.

Online meetings were often inadequate or unavailable. When there was no other option but to get together to protest, the risks were greater than ever.

In Brazil, as in many other countries in Latin America, mining has continued pretty much without interruption since the start of the pandemic. For over a year, the community of Aurizona in the state of Maranhão has been living without an adequate supply of drinking water since the rupture of a tailings dam at the Aurizona gold mine owned by Mineração Aurizona S.A. (MASA), a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Equinox Gold.

On March 25, 2021, at the height of the pandemic in this part of northwestern Brazil, the Lagoa do Pirocaua tailings dam overflowed, contaminating the water supplies of this community of 4,000 people. Despite company promises, the community continues to lack adequate water supplies. Meanwhile, the company obtained a legal ruling that prohibits street blockades and filed a lawsuit against five movement leaders to try to deter their organizing.

In Colombia, Indigenous Wayúu and Afro-descendant communities in the La Guajira region experienced heightened risks from the continued operation of the Cerrejón mining complex, the largest open-pit thermal coal mine in Latin America. This mine is now owned exclusively by Swiss commodities giant Glencore, which consolidated its control over the mine in January 2022 when it purchased the shareholdings of Anglo American and BHP Billiton.

This mine has already operated for over three decades and displaced dozens of communities. In September 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd, asked the Colombian government to at least temporarily suspend Cerrejón’s operations, pointing out that the contamination, health impacts, and lack of water the communities already faced increased the risk of death from COVID-19.

Instead, the mine continued and even accelerated operations, while communities suffered serious physical and emotional impacts from greater social confinement and loss of subsistence economic activities. The company donated food and safety equipment to improve its image, but this generated divisions and disagreements among communities that were difficult to resolve given the restrictions on meetings.

Making this situation worse, the government and companies have refused to respect a 2017 Constitutional Court decision that recognized violations of community rights to water, food, sovereignty, and health in authorizing the diversion of the Bruno Creek’s natural course to expand coal extraction. Instead, since mid 2021, Glencore and Anglo American have been suing the Colombian government under the terms of bilateral international investment agreements with Switzerland and the United Kingdom for not letting them expand the mine.

Militarized Mining

One of the many protests in Honduras during the pandemic by the Comité Municipal en Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos, calling for the release of eight water defenders standing up for the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers. (Photo: Guapinol Resiste)

One of many protests in Honduras during the pandemic by the Comité Municipal en Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos, calling for the release of eight water defenders standing up for the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers. (Photo: Guapinol Resiste)

Not only did the spaces for community organizing shrink, disappear, or just get a lot harder, violence got worse in many places. In many cases, there was heavy-handed repression, heightened militarization, and ongoing legal persecution of land and environment defenders.

In Honduras, the Tocoa Municipal Committee for the Defense of the Natural and Public Commons spent nearly the entire first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic fighting for the freedom of eight water defenders who were arbitrarily detained for their peaceful opposition to an iron ore project owned by the Honduran company Los Pinares Investments.

They were only freed in February 2022, after the narcodictatorship of former President Juan Orlando Hernández lost power to the country’s first female president, Xiomara Castro. Meanwhile the company, which has ties to U.S. steel company Nucor, managed to start operations in mid 2021 without obtaining the required environmental permit, immediately putting in danger the future of the San Pedro river on which downstream communities depend.

In Mexico, a special group of public armed forces called the Mining Police was inaugurated in 2020, aimed at protecting mining facilities from mineral theft. The recruitment of troops was announced for the first time in July of that year, during an online event entitled “The reactivation of mining in the face of the new normality.” By the end of September 2020, the first 118 federal officers with military training had graduated and were deployed to guard the La Herradura gold mine owned by the Mexican company Fresnillo plc, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and owned by Industrias Peñoles.

In contrast, no measures have been taken to lower the levels of subjugation, extortion, forced displacement, and violence against the communities that inhabit these same areas — such as the community of El Bajío, which neighbors the La Herradura mine, where the Penmont company from the same business group operated illegally until 2013.

Members of the community of El Bajío have faced violence since this time, despite receiving 67 favorable rulings declaring the land occupation agreements of the community members affected by the Mexican company Penmont (a subsidiary of Fresnillo plc) null and void. These rulings have yet to be executed and the risks for the community have intensified.

Two members of this community were brutally assassinated in April 2021. Beside their bodies a piece of cardboard was found on which 13 names of other community members involved in the resistance to the mine were written, a clear threat. The state has not provided any protection to family members either — although there are constant patrols by state police, the National Guard, and the army to intimidate the population.

Mining for Supposed Economic Recovery

Protest led by the “Panama is Worth More Without Mining” Movement (MPVMSM) in Panama City. (Photo: Radio Temblor)

Protest led by the “Panama is Worth More Without Mining” Movement (MPVMSM) in Panama City. (Photo: Radio Temblor).

At the same time, administrative processes for companies to get new permits got easier and projects moved forward. The justification was that mineral extraction would supposedly contribute to post-pandemic economic reactivation, but it’s well known that mining tends to divert attention from more sustainable economic sectors at a national level and impoverish local communities.

In Panama and Ecuador —  both countries with few industrial mines in operation due to widespread rejection by the affected populations — there have also been attempts to accelerate mining expansion in the name of economic reactivation.

In Ecuador, there is widespread opposition to mining in the country due to its impacts on water, the country’s exceptional biodiversity, and the well-being of small farmer and Indigenous communities.

During his election campaign, current President Guillermo Lasso promoted “human rights and the rights of nature… and the protection of the environment with a sustainable agenda.” However, once he took office in May 2021, he showed his willingness to serve transnational mining interests.

On August 5, he issued Executive Decree No. 151, an “Action Plan for the Ecuadorian Mining Sector,” which seeks to accelerate mining in fragile ecosystems such as the Amazon and high-altitude wetlands (páramos). It gives legal certainty to mining companies by providing a favorable environment for investors, indicating explicit respect for international agreements that favor corporate interests. It likewise proposes the acceleration of environmental permits for mining projects without taking into account the socio-environmental impacts.

Similarly, on May 19, 2021, the Panamanian government presented its strategic plan to base its post-pandemic economic recovery on mining. Given the prevalence of corruption and the constant violations of environmental regulations and the Constitution by mining companies in Panama, citizens see this mining stimulus plan as the government aiming to enrich itself and its cronies.

Faced with the fallacy of national economic recovery through mining, a national campaign platform arose called the Panama Worth More Without Mining Movement (MPVMSM). This broad based movement of environmental organizations, teachers, workers, youth, small farmers, and Indigenous communities opposes mining and the renegotiation of the contract over the only operating mine in Panama, Cobre Panama owned by First Quantum Minerals, which they consider unconstitutional and argue should be canceled.

Despite evidence that upwards of 60 percent of Panamanians support this movement’s aims, the government insists on continuing to promote initiatives aimed at making way for mining expansion in the country.

Truly Essential Resilience and Resistance 

Protest against mining in Acacoyagua, Chiapas, México. Sign reads: "Who gave you permission?" (Photo: Luis Rojas Numura.)

Protest against mining in Acacoyagua, Chiapas, México. Sign reads: “Who gave you permission?” (Photo: Luis Rojas Numura.)

Despite the conditions for peoples’ struggles having gotten harder over the last two years, the resilience and resistance of people fighting from the margins for their land, their water and their community health has persisted, often with women, Indigenous peoples, and small-scale farmers at the forefront.

From Mexico to Argentina, the communities and organizations who shared their experiences for this report have found ways to continue fighting for respect for their self-determination, community health, and their own visions of their future. While some projects moved ahead, others have not been able to overcome tireless community resistance.

Whether communities are fighting to address mining harms or standing in the way of these unwanted projects, their struggles are potent examples of the sort of reimagining and digging in for fundamental change that Arundhati Roy urged at the start of this pandemic.

Through their resistance, mutual care, traditional knowledge, and efforts toward greater food sovereignty and collective wellbeing, these communities and movements demonstrate the urgent need to shift away from a destructive model of economic development that has been forced on people around the world, based on endless extraction to serve international markets with primary materials that are turned into products for mass consumption.

They point out the vital need for a serious reckoning to address the harms that have taken place and to pull back the reins on such militarized mass destruction in order to prioritize peoples’ self-determination and more sustainable ways of living. This is what is truly essential if we hope to ensure collective health and wellbeing now and for future generations.

Jen Moore is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Counterpunch, May 30, 2022,

Mexico leads in opposing the Cuba blockade and U.S. imperialism / by William T. Whitney Jr.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel, right, and his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, left, raise their arms during a ceremony to award the Jose Marti Order to Lopez Obrador, at Revolution Palace in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, May 8, 2022. El presidente cubano Miguel Díaz Canel, a la derecha, y su homólogo mexicano, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a la izquierda, levantan los brazos durante una ceremonia de entrega de la Orden José Martí a López Obrador, en el Palacio de la Revolución en La Habana, Cuba, el 8 de mayo de 2022. | Yamil Lage / Pool Photo via AP

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) visited Cuba on May 8-9. He began by highlighting regional unity as good for equal promotion of economic development for all states. AMLO addressed themes he had discussed previously when Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited Mexico City in 2021.

At that time, AMLO, by virtue of Mexico serving as president pro tempore, presided over a summit meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC). He proposed building “in the Western Hemisphere something similar to what was the economic community that gave rise to the current European Union.”

Two days later, AMLO included Diaz-Canel in a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence. Praising Cuba’s dignity in resisting U.S. aggression, he called for an end to the blockade.

Months later in Havana, on May 8, 2022, AMLO, speaking before Cuban leaders and others, recalled “times when the United States wanted to own the continent…. They were at their peak in annexations, deciding on independence wherever, creating new countries, freely associated states, protectorates, military bases, and…invasions.”

U.S. leaders, he declared, need to be convinced “that a new relationship among the peoples of America…is possible.” He called for “replacing the OAS with a truly autonomous organism.” CELAC presumably would be that alternative alliance. Formed in 2011, CELAC includes all Western Hemisphere nations except for the United States and Canada.

The United States in 1948 established the Organization of American States (OAS) for Cold War purposes. When the OAS expelled Cuba in 1962, only Mexico’s government opposed that action, and later Mexico was one of two nations rejecting an OAS demand to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba.

AMLO predicted that “by 2051, China will exert domination over 64.8% of the world market and the United States only 25%, or even 10%.” He suggested that, “Washington, finding this unacceptable,” would be tempted “to resolve that disparity through force.”

AMLO rejected “growing competition and disunity that will inevitably lead to decline in all the Americas.” He called for “Integration with respect to sovereignties and forms of government and effective application of a treaty of economic-commercial development suiting everybody.” The “first step” would be for the United States “to lift its blockade of this sister nation.”

AMLO’s visit prompted agreements on practicalities. The two presidents determined that Cuba would supply Mexico with medications and vaccines—particularly Cuba’s anti-COVID Abdala vaccine for children. Mexico’s government will send almost 200 Mexican youths to Cuba to study medicine; 500 Cuban physicians will go to Mexico to work in underserved areas. The two presidents signed a general agreement providing for expanded cooperation in other areas.

Before arriving in Cuba, AMLO had visited Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize. Along the way, he reportedly complained that, “The United States may have awarded $40 billion in aid to Ukraine but doesn’t fulfill its promise of years ago of helping out Central America.”

The two presidents’ encounter in Havana raises the question of a long-term Mexican role in mobilizing collective resistance to U.S. domination and the U.S. blockade of Cuba. Mexico is well-positioned to lead that effort, what with strong economic and commercial connections with the United States. The United States, leaning on Mexico as an economic partner, may well be receptive to certain demands.

According to the White House-based Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, “Mexico is currently our largest goods trading partner with $614.5 billion in total (two way) goods trade during 2019.”

Beyond that, and in relation to Cuba, Mexico has its own revolutionary tradition and longstanding ties with Cuba. She is well-placed to lead a strong international campaign to undo the U.S. blockade.

In his major speech, AMLO cited support from Mexico in Cuba’s first War for Independence. He mentioned Cubans’ collaboration with Mexico’s much-admired President Benito Juárez and pointed out that Mexico in1956 hosted Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro as they prepared for their uprising against Batista. AMLO cited former Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas’ solidarity visit to Cuba in 1961 after the CIA-organized Bay of Pigs invasion. In token of cultural ties between the two peoples, Mexico was the guest of honor at Havana’s recently concluded International Book Fair.

José Martí warrants special attention. In exile, Martí lived, taught, and wrote in Mexico from 1875 to 1877. Afterwards he stayed connected with Mexican friends. Martí would later write admiringly about the liberal reforms of Indian-descended President Juarez, whom he regarded as the “impenetrable guardian of America.”

That “America” would be “Our America,” which became the title of a Martí essay with deep meaning for unity and for separation from the United States. “Our America” proclaimed that the culture and history of lands south of the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) originated autonomously, quite apart from European and U.S. influences. The essay appeared first in January 1891, in two journals simultaneously. One was El Partido Liberal, published in Mexico, the other being a New York periodical.

Unity among Latin American and Caribbean nations appears to be precarious as the U.S. government prepares to host the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, on June 6-10. The Summit is an offshoot of the OAS which, according to its website, “serves as the technical secretariat of the Summits process.”

The United States has indicated that the leftist governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua won’t be receiving invitations. AMLO, speaking in Havana, reiterated his objection and once more stated that if nations are left out, he will not attend. Nor will the presidents of Bolivia and Honduras, Luis Arce and Xiomara Castro, respectively.

The presidents of several Caribbean nations will also be staying away. They point to the hypocrisy of U.S.-appointed Venezuelan “president” Juan Guaidó being invited, but not Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.  Unhappy with U.S. advice on transparency of elections and Russia-Brazil relations, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will not attend.

The conclusion here is that the old system of regional alliances is unstable and that the timing may be right for renewed resistance to U.S domination and the blockade. Now would be the occasion for U.S. anti-imperialists and blockade opponents to align their strategizing and efforts with actions, trends, and flux in Latin America and the Caribbean. And, most certainly, they would be paying attention to actions and policies of Mexico’s government.

Martí had often corresponded with his Mexican friend Manuel Mercado.  His letter of May 18, 1895, the day before he died in battle, stated that, “The Cuban war…has come to America in time to prevent Cuba’s annexation to the United States.… And Mexico, will it not find a wise, effective, and immediate way of helping, in due time, its own defender?”

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.

People’s World, May 20, 2022,

The Summit of the Americas Is an Instrument of US Hegemony in Latin America / by Kurt Hackbarth

US president Joe Biden delivers the commencement address during the graduation and commissioning ceremony at the US Naval Academy Memorial Stadium on May 27, 2022, in Annapolis, Maryland. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The US has attempted to exclude several countries from next month’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. The move has only backfired, prompting a boycott of the summit and renewed calls for an alternative union of Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Earlier this month, the assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, Brian Nichols, gave an interview to the Colombian station NTN24. When asked whether the United States, host of this year’s Summit of the Americas in June, will be inviting Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to the event, Nichols replied:

It’s a key moment in our hemisphere, a moment in which we are confronting many challenges to democracy. . . and the countries you just mentioned . . . do not respect the Inter-American Democratic Charter and therefore, I do not expect them to be present.

Nichols was not the first member of the Joe Biden administration to say this; in March, Juan Gonzalez, a special assistant to the president and member of the National Security Council, had already floated the idea. But coming closer to the date and directly on a Latin American news program, Nichols’s remarks sank like a lead balloon across large parts of the continent.

The Mutiny Spreads

The first signs of incipient dissent arose in an area that might seem unlikely: the Caribbean. On May 5, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) announced that if any American country were excluded from the summit, its fourteen member nations would likely not attend. “The Summit of the Americas is not a meeting of the United States, so it cannot decide who is invited and who is not,” the ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, said pointedly.

On May 10, it was the turn of one of the region’s big guns: Mexico. At his daily morning press conference, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) stated that in the event of countries being excluded, he would sit the summit out.

We are not in favor of confrontation; we are in favor of joining forces, of uniting, and although we have differences, we can resolve them, at the very least by listening to each other, through dialogue, but not by excluding anyone. Moreover, no one has the right to exclude [anyone].

AMLO’s high-road approach to boycotting the summit sent the wheels of diplomacy spinning in Washington. Within hours, US ambassador Ken Salazar went running to the National Palace to attempt to persuade AMLO to change his position, while at the daily White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki stressed that “the invitations have not yet been issued” and “a final decision has not been made” as to who would be invited.

Such maneuvering, however, failed to quell the mutiny. That same evening, Bolivia’s Luis Arce — elected in the 2020 election that overturned the US-supported coup — announced that he, too, would not attend. The following day, Honduran president Xiomara Castro — whose husband, Manuel Zelaya, was run out of the country in the US-supported coup of 2009 — signaled her opposition.

In an unusual confluence of Left and Right, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro intimated, without stating why, that he would also be a no. A few days later, Guatemala’s Alejandro Giammattei joined them, followed by Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, who announced that even if the Biden administration were to change its mind, he wouldn’t be going anyway.

With critical articles sprouting up in the mainstream media, the Biden administration entered damage-control mode. Over two consecutive days, the administration announced the easing of certain restrictions on Cuba in areas such as flights, remittance limits, and consular services, as well as on Venezuela. A special committee, including former senator and summit advisor Chris Dodd, was tasked with trying to succeed where Salazar had failed in convincing AMLO to attend — but in an initial meeting, failed to do so. First Lady Jill Biden was then dispatched to the region for a six-day tour but to countries where nothing was at stake: Ecuador, Panama, and Costa Rica.

By May 20, the State Department, in the person of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kerri Hannan, had been reduced to threatening recalcitrant countries that they would “lose an opportunity to engage with the United States” while in a fit of Cold-War paranoia blaming the whole thing on Cuba. And as the days ticked on, the uncertainty, lack of agenda, and lack of invitations remained.

A Grotesque Joke

The United States’ self-appointed authority to certify democracies is, to put it mildly, pretty rich. In the last twenty-five years, two of its presidents have been elected while losing the popular vote, one of whom was installed by five justices of the Supreme Court. Its electoral system allows oligarchs, corporations, and special interests to contribute unlimited sums of money through political action committees to elect congresspeople representing gerrymandered districts to a Congress with an 18 percent approval rating but a 93 percent reelection rate.

Its judicial system hounds whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and journalists like Julian Assange. Its police kill African Americans and other minorities with no pretext. On the day of the most recent presidential inauguration, a mob assaulted the Capitol, forcing those inside to block entryways to the chambers with heavy furniture. None of this is lost on people abroad.

Add the history of US interventionism, and the whole thing becomes a grotesque joke. There isn’t a country in Latin America and the Caribbean that has not suffered, in one form or another, from US-sponsored plots, coups, embargos, and interventions, in the vast majority of cases in order to support the emergence or continuity of pliable dictatorships.

By means of Operation Condor in the 1970s, the CIA and State Department helped spread terror, torture, and disappearances across the near entirety of South America; in the 1980s, it was Central America’s turn. And except for some isolated and carefully worded non-apologies, the US has not only failed to own up to its brutal, interventionist past, but as the recent examples of Honduras and Bolivia have shown, continues to pursue the same policies in a broadly bipartisan manner.

What is more, as has been amply pointed out, Cuba — together with its fellow boogeymen Nicaragua and Venezuela — participated in the 2015 edition of the summit held in Panama, in the wake of Brack Obama’s semi-opening with the island. So as things currently stand, Biden’s summit, in addition to rolling back the modest advances of the president he served under, may also wind up constituting a regression on the lamentable status quo he inherited: in the 2018 edition held in Peru and boycotted by Trump, every country was at least represented. This time, it’s anyone’s guess.

Nothing to Offer

Over and above the smiling high-handedness of Brian Nichols and co, another reason the summit is in such a precarious state is that many countries have succeeded in snuffing out a simple fact: there’s nothing in it for them. Exemplifying the mindset common to the US political elite, Biden — author of the Plan Colombia and the Alliance for Prosperity, which brought a similar “security” model to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — seems only able to conceive of Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of migration and militarization.

Countries throughout the region have watched his administration pour billions into Ukraine while giving short shrift to plans such as AMLO’s that, at a fraction of the cost, would extend two of his more popular social initiatives — the reforestation program Sembrando vida and the youth apprenticeship program Jovenes construyendo el futuro — into Central America.

In a larger sense, the lack of enthusiasm for the summit may be reflective of a broader problem: the exhaustion of the model itself. Born in 1994 in the wake of the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Summit of the Americas, through its very Declaration of Principles, was established to “promote prosperity through economic integration and free trade.” The goal, within ten years, was to wrap all of the Americas (save Cuba, of course) into a “Free Trade Area of the Americas” (FTAA).

For this very reason, the 2001 edition of the summit in Quebec was met with fierce anti-globalization protests, building on the 1999 “Battle of Seattle” against the World Trade Organization (WTO). When the FTAA finally foundered among international protests, the work of social movements, and the opposition of pink-tide governments, the Summit of the Americas was stripped of its original raison d’être.

Moreover, the summits are an outgrowth of the Organization for American States (OAS), the Cold-War relic based in Washington and designed to ensure US hegemony throughout the region. While the organization turned a blind eye to the abuses of right-wing dictatorships in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, it was an enthusiastic supporter of the neoliberal free-trade agenda that became the weapon of choice in the ’90s and 2000s. And as the horrendous conduct of Secretary General Luis Almagro during the 2019 elections in Bolivia made clear, it continues to support a good coup whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Strength in Saying No

AMLO, to his credit, has repeatedly called for the OAS to be replaced by a new organization “that is not a lackey of anyone.” And at last year’s summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), he proposed just that: a sort of Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) for the new generation that would include the entire region. Under clear pressure, however, he has pivoted to suggesting that the proposed union should cover all of the Americas — that is, the United States and Canada as well.

This would be a historic error. While the workers, unions, and grassroots movements of the Americas have everything to gain by strengthening their ties, the imperial interests of the United States and Canada simply cannot fit within the same organization as Latin America and the Caribbean. With near inevitability, any such association of the Americas would combine the politics of the OAS with the economics of the FTAA, locking them into an airtight legal structure that no one would be able to escape. And without, in every likelihood, conceding an inch on the free movement of peoples.

In contrast, as the fracas over this year’s summit has amply demonstrated, what spooks the United States is the prospect of a region to its south with even a moderate degree of coordinated decisionmaking. The region should return to AMLO’s original proposal, building on the experience of its integration experiments over the last twenty years, and work to make a union of Latin America and the Caribbean a reality. Then, if it chooses to attend future editions of events like the Summit of the Americas, it can do so on its terms. Meanwhile, as the events of the last few weeks have demonstrated, there is strength in saying no.

Kurt Hackbarth is a writer, playwright, freelance journalist, and the cofounder of the independent media project “MexElects.” He is currently coauthoring a book on the 2018 Mexican election.

Jacobin, May 27, 2022,

Dollar General Workers Are Fed Up / by Alex N. Press

Dollar General workers are demanding that the company address low wages, understaffing, and hazardous working conditions. (Mike Mozart / Flickr)

A wave of worker backlash to abusive labor practices has hit Dollar General. Workers are fed up with poverty wages and health and safety violations. The retailer may soon make the list of the new organizing movement hitting companies like Starbucks and Amazon.

Cowardly. That’s how David Williams, who works at a Dollar General in New Orleans, describes the discount retail chain’s resistance to workers’ demands for better wages and working conditions.

Raised in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, Williams has worked at Dollar General for around two-and-a-half years. He says that his starting wage was around $8 an hour; it is now $9.25. Williams works part-time, and says that paying bills on Dollar General’s wages is “a constant struggle.”

“I never know when I’m gonna have my next meal, I never know when I’ll be able to pay my rent,” says Williams. “I’m constantly figuring out if I need to ask for extensions on bills, and then I’m not sure I can even hit the extension’s deadline. It’s a constant struggle thinking about this every single day.”

Williams is one of more than 150 Dollar General employees who traveled to the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, on Wednesday, May 25, to demand that company executives address low wages, understaffing, and hazardous working conditions. The workers were joined by labor advocacy groups such as the Fight for $15, United for Respect, and Step Up Louisiana, as well as workers from Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree.

Dollar General has enjoyed steady profits despite the pandemic, and CEO Todd Vasos was paid $1.7 million in 2021, a 37 percent pay bump that amounts to 986 times more than the median wage of one of the company’s 163,000 workers in the more than 18,000 stores across the United States.

A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute finds that 92 percent of Dollar General employees make less than $15 an hour. Twenty-two percent make less than $10 an hour; Williams is just one of them.

The pandemic was the final straw for many of these workers, who have begun speaking up about not only low wages but pervasive health and safety concerns. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has cited Dollar General fifty-five times since 2016, fining the company a total of $3.6 million. As OSHA regional administrator Kurt Petermeyer said following a recent citation, Dollar General has a “long and extensive history of workplace safety violations” and “blatant and continued disregard for the safety of their employees.”

Williams says that his biggest concern is the heat. He drinks two Powerades and a large bottle of water during his shift to stave off dehydration. When he speaks to management about the temperature in the store, they often say that the air-conditioning is on and working, and don’t seem concerned about the temperature.

“I’m pretty sure that when it’s that hot and you’re trying to do your job as well, who’s to say that you can’t have a heat stroke,” says Williams. Asked about working at Dollar General more generally, he characterizes the job as “the ugliest thing you’ll ever see.”

“It’s a pain so unbearable that you can’t describe it. That’s how horrific this is. Enough is enough. Dollar store workers put too much into this to get paid as they do,” he adds.

Faulty air-conditioning was also a problem for Mary Gundel, a manager of a Dollar General in Tampa, Florida, who was fired after her TikTok about the company’s hazardous working conditions went viral.

“At my store, I found mold in the cooler and we had to work without proper ventilation when the air conditioner broke when it was hot outside — and that’s just one location,” said Gundel, who also took part in the Goodlettsville rally. “As a manager, not a day went by where we were properly staffed, forcing me to go beyond my duties to unpack boxes, clear store aisles, or work countless hours in overtime. It’s appalling that it had to take a viral video of my store’s conditions for the corporate executives to begin paying attention.”

Thus far, attempts to unionize Dollar General stores have been defeated by the company. In 2020, Dollar General shut down a Missouri store that voted to unionize. In 2021, the company retained union-busting law firm Labor Relations Institute, paying consultants $2,700 per day to beat a union drive at a Connecticut location.

Workers see the Goodlettsville rally as the next step in increasing pressure on the company. Coming as it does at a time when other low-wage workers in the retail sector are beginning to organize other large companies — from Starbucks to Apple, Target, and Trader Joe’s — Dollar General workers say that now is the time to change what has become intolerable.

“This is a very scary feeling, but I feel like I’m doing something right, not just for myself but for the people who live the same struggle as I do,” says Williams.

This is everybody’s fight. Everybody has a voice. The ones who are voiceless actually do have a voice and it’s up to you to use that voice for what you want and what you need. Demand it, because you deserve it. Everybody who works hard, everybody who puts their blood, sweat, and tears into this job and gets paid little to nothing? You deserve more than what you get.

Alex N. Press is a staff writer at Jacobin. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Vox, the Nation, and n+1, among other places.

Jacobin, May 28, 2022,

NRA convenes in Texas as gun stocks soar on Wall Street / C.J. Atkins

Then-President Donald Trump speaks at a National Rifle Association event in 2019. Trump will be the featured speaker at the NRA’s convention in Houston this weekend. | Michael Conroy / AP

The funerals haven’t even been held yet in Texas for the 19 schoolchildren and two teachers murdered at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday. Families remain grief-stricken, pleading for information about why law enforcement reportedly dithered as their loved ones were being gunned down.

But that’s not stopping former President Donald Trump, other Republican lawmakers, and firearms marketers from descending on Houston this weekend for a three-day celebration of guns at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.

Meanwhile on Wall Street, the country’s biggest gun and ammunition manufacturers are also having a party—because their stock prices are swelling. Smith & Wesson added 8.4% in the days immediately after the massacre. Sturm, Ruger, & Co. tacked on 5.7%. For bullet maker Olin, the gain was 3.8%. The biggest winner was Ammo Inc., an Arizona-based manufacturer of ammunition and owner of, billed as the largest online marketplace for guns. Its share price jumped more than 12%.

By now it’s all a familiar story. After a mass shooting, the NRA rushes to deflect blame from itself for promoting the culture of violence, all the while encouraging more gun purchases in the name of safety. In Washington and in state capitals around the country, the gun lobby’s political arm—the Republican Party—does its utmost to sabotage any possible firearms regulation. And the gun companies reward them both for the effort spent to protect their profits.

The 21 victims—including 19 children and two teachers—of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. | Family handouts

The whole affair is premised on transforming fear into votes for the GOP and into dollars for shareholders.

Gun party met with protests

Though some politicians and singers pulled out of the NRA’s Houston confab, Trump will be the headline speaker. He’ll be joined by other darlings of the far right, such as Sen. Ted Cruz and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott—who said a few years ago that he was “embarrassed” his state wasn’t number one in the nation for gun purchases—won’t be showing up. Instead, he’ll address the meeting via video.

Comments from Rocky Marshall, a former NRA board member, previewed what’s expected to be the message from the organization. Marshall said that the Uvalde massacre “does put the meeting in a bad light,” but said that the free and easy availability of military-grade assault rifles is not the problem. Instead, he shifted the blame to mental illness and inadequate school security.

The nation certainly faces a crisis of mental health care accessibility, but the NRA’s attempt to deflect from its role in blocking common sense gun regulation like stronger background checks and limits on semi-automatic weapons sales isn’t fooling public safety activists.

They’re organizing massive protests to greet convention-goers and keeping tabs on which political leaders show up to pledge their fealty to the gun lobby.

“The real question now is which elected officials will choose to side with violence and go kiss the ring in Houston this weekend instead of siding with communities crying out for public safety,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told the press.

Cesar Espinosa is executive director of the Houston-based immigrant rights group FIEL (Familias Inmigrantes y Estudiantes en la Lucha / Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle). FIEL is among the organizations leading the protests this weekend.

“This is not the time or place to have this convention,” Espinosa said. “We must not just have thoughts and prayers from legislators, but rather we need action to address this public health crisis that is affecting our communities.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had a similar message for the Republicans converging on his city. “You can’t pray and send condolences on one day and then be going and championing guns on the next,” he said. “That’s wrong.”

The NRA isn’t listening, though. In 1999, immediately after the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, the group invaded Denver to hold a big gun meeting. In Houston this weekend, they’re just following the same pattern of spitting in the faces of victims’ families.

Making a killing off of killing

When it comes to the political economy of mass shootings, the pattern at work is really quite simple. Once a mass shooting occurs, there is inevitably talk of stricter gun control legislation. This comes from activists and Democrats determined to do something about automated murder, as well as from right-wingers who want to exploit the situation for the sake of selling more guns.

“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” President Joe Biden, a longtime crusader for gun control when he was in the Senate, asked after Uvalde. “Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone?”

The answer, of course, is to be found in Congress and on Wall Street.

The Democratic-run House has passed several gun control measures, but the guarantee of a filibuster in the split Senate means that, once again, nothing will be done immediately to respond to this crisis. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he has no intention of giving gun legislation any hearing.

Same old, same old.

As soon as legislative proposals are made, the NRA and its allies are up in arms—figuratively and literally—about attacks on the Second Amendment. Americans are told that the government is plotting to take away all their guns.

Then what happens? Gun and ammunition manufacturers and retailers watch as sales soar. They, in turn, continue funding the operations of the NRA, which is a multimillion-dollar operation itself. Panic buying ensues, donations for the NRA pour in, and gun company shareholders cash in. (It’s worth noting that the only recent mass shooting which did not see an immediate jump in gun company share prices was the Buffalo grocery store massacre, where most of the victims were Black.)

Of course, the other beneficiaries of this cycle can’t be forgotten—McConnell and the Republican Party. The NRA, which is little more these days than the political arm of the gun industry, can be counted on to deliver its members’ votes and dollars into the GOP fold at every election. Republicans in Congress reciprocate by ensuring that no serious piece of gun legislation ever becomes law. And in the state legislatures they control, Republicans typically weaken existing gun laws after a mass shooting.

It is a mutually beneficial relationship that ties the gun industry, the gun lobby, and the Republican Party together.

The important role that mass shootings and the political machinations of the NRA-GOP alliance play in driving gun profits has been frankly admitted by many top executives in the industry.

At a global conference for retailers hosted by Goldman Sachs in 2015, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ed Stack, announced that “The gun business was very much accelerated based on what happened after the [2012] election and then the tragedy that happened at Sandy Hook.” He was referring to the massacre of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.

A year earlier, James Debney, the chief executive of Smith & Wesson, told an investor’s meeting that “the tragedy in Newtown and the legislative landscape” had driven sales up “significantly.” He commented that “fear and uncertainty that there might be increased gun control drove many people to buy firearms for the first time. You can see after a tragedy, there’s also a lot of buying.”

But Tommy Milner, the head of Cabela’s, one of the leading gun retailers, was even more blunt. Before a group of investors in Nebraska in 2015, he stated that his company’s business “went vertical…I mean it just went crazy.” The transcript from the conference says that Milner explained to shareholders that his company “didn’t blink as others did to stop selling the AR-15.”

The AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle based on the U.S. military’s M-16 and was the type of gun used at Sandy Hook, at Uvalde, and at so many other mass shootings. The decision to continue selling this particular gun was a competitive advantage for Cabela’s against other retailers and brought in “a lot of new customers.” Milner said the company benefitted from the “tailwinds of profitability.”

Breaking the GOP Senate blockade

Reversing the country’s crisis of gun violence is a long-term task that will take many different forms—political, cultural, and economic. There are already some measures that could be taken right away, though, if it wasn’t for Republican intransigence.

In March of last year, the House passed two different bills aimed at expanding and strengthening background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has no intention of allowing gun legislation to pass. Any progress on the issue depends on breaking the GOP’s filibuster blockade. | Susan Walsh / AP

One of them would eliminate the so-called “Charleston loophole,” named after the 2015 massacre in South Carolina, which allows a person to buy a gun if their background check is not complete within three days. The other targets the “gun show loophole,” which lets private sales of firearms to go on totally unregulated, with no background checks at all, at gun shows or online.

Neither bill has been brought forward for a vote in the Senate because of McConnell and the GOP. With the chamber split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, the mere threat of a filibuster by the right-wing minority is enough to sink legislation before it even gets a hearing.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who introduced her own far-reaching but similarly doomed gun control package in 2019, expressed the frustration of the moment after Uvalde. “The breakdown of the political process has never been clearer. We can’t even act to keep our own children safe,” she said on Tuesday.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin similarly placed the blame directly where it belongs: “We can’t budge the Republicans an inch on this issue of gun safety.”

With the Democratic Party unable to rally recalcitrant lawmakers in its own right-wing faction like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to eliminate the filibuster, it falls to voters and the people’s organizations to change the makeup of the Senate in the elections this fall.

Shrinking the GOP’s hold in the Senate below 40 seats to block their filibuster power and keeping them in the minority in the House are key to winning progress on gun legislation—as well as every other pro-people priority, from labor law reform to voting rights protections to COVID relief and more.

The right wing’s bullets and political dollars must be countered with our votes.

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

People’s World, May 27, 2022,

The People’s Summit for Democracy offers a progressive vision to counter US dominance in the region / by Sheila Xiao, Manolo De Los Santos

Coalition organizations from the People’s Summit for Democracy marched on May Day in Los Angeles, California.

Parallel to the exclusionary Summit of the Americas organized by the Biden Administration, people’s movements and organizations have organized the People’s Summit for Democracy to uplift diverse voices from across the region and engage in necessary dialogue

In a recent interview, Brian Nichols, the US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, was asked the question that is on everyone’s mind ahead of the June 2022 Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California: Will three particular countries in Latin America (Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua) be invited? Nichols responded with neither hesitation nor equivocation that the answer was no. Speaking on behalf of President Joe Biden, he further added that countries whose “actions do not respect democracy”—as the US government views these three countries and others like them—“will not receive invitations.” Nichols’ seemingly offhand comment, said with the usual arrogance of US officials and calling the three countries “regime[s that] do not respect [democracy],” sent a shockwave through the region that the US was likely not expecting.

Throughout Latin America, the reaction was immediate. Leaders such as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Bolivian President Luis Arce, and Honduran President Xiomara Castro, as well as several heads of state from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) including Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Keith Rowley, all expressed that they would not participate in the summit if the exclusions of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua were maintained. CARICOM has called for a summit that ensures “the participation of all countries of the hemisphere.”

Biden’s insistence on continuing the US policy of exclusion and aggression against Latin America has made his summit a failure before it has even begun. Mired in controversy and criticism, the Biden administration has not been able to build consensus around any common agenda because of the double standards it creates.

While the US may have already moved on, the memories of recent coups and interventionist plots by the US government in the region are still fresh. The US and the Organization of American States (OAS) both helped engineer a coup in Bolivia in 2019 that overthrew a democratically elected government.

There is no Americas without Cuba

The summit since its inception has been met with skepticism by progressives across Latin America due to the outsized or, more accurately, domineering role played by the US and the OAS with regard to invitations, agenda, and vision. However, this year the US seems to have underestimated the important political shifts in the region and their impact on the political legitimacy of the US

The US does not seem to have anticipated any challenges to its leadership of the summit, but the pushback against US hegemony comes as no surprise to most Latin Americans and those around the world who have been following the region’s politics of late. Since the last summit in 2018, the political map has undergone radical transformations. Not only are progressive governments outnumbering reactionary ones across the region, but many of them emerged precisely out of a deep rejection of US-backed governments and policies, and the conditions that they create for the people.

Across the region, countries whose public sectors were undermined for decades by US- and IMF-imposed neoliberal policies saw their societies and economies devastated during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the extreme poverty rate in the region rose from 13.1 percent in 2020 to 13.8 percent in 2021, representing a setback of 27 years. At more than 2.7 million deaths from COVID-19, the Americas represent 43.6 percent of global COVID-19 deaths despite constituting only 12 percent of the world population.

The outliers in this general trend of economic crisis and humanitarian emergency were Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, which suffered some of the lowest rates of deaths from COVID-19 in the region and the world due to their comprehensive strategies of, above all else, putting the health and well-being of their citizens before profits.

This policy extended beyond their national borders. From as early as March 2020, Cuba was already sending medical brigades to countries across the region and the world to support their responses to COVID-19. With Cuba’s development of five vaccines against COVID-19, the country has worked closely with other global south countries to distribute vaccine science and technology to promote localized production and distribution; meanwhile, US pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies like Pfizer and Moderna were turning record profits. At the height of the pandemic in Brazil, Venezuela sent oxygen to the city of Manaus, which had run out of the vital supply despite pleading for federal aid from the Brazilian government under President Jair Bolsonaro.

It has become glaringly clear that countries in the region have everything to gain from maintaining cooperation and partnerships with the countries the US declares to be its enemies.

Democracy for whom?

The US excuses its aggressive policy against Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua by citing these countries’ alleged human rights violations and the so-called threats that these countries pose to democracy.

However, many have started to question what kind of democracy exists in a country where 1 million people have died from COVID-19, 2.2 million people are in prison (accounting for more than 20 percent of the world prison population), where police kill an average of three people a day (with Black people being 2.9 times more likely to be killed by police than white people), and where $801 billion is spent on the military (the US makes up 38 percent of global military spending).

The majority of people in the Americas have rejected this hypocritical moral high ground and the premise that the US has the right to decide who participates in what forum and with whom. This is why a coalition of more than 100 organizations from across the region have come together to organize the People’s Summit for Democracy to counter the improperly named “Summit of the Americas.”

The People’s Summit carries forward the legacy of movements against neoliberal capitalism and US imperialism that have organized counter-summits every time the US organizes its Summit of the Americas. The People’s Summit will be held in Los Angeles, California, on June 8-10, and seeks to bring together the voices of people whom the US would prefer to silence and exclude. Immigrant organizers in Los Angeles will take the stage with landless rural workers from Brazil to discuss their visions of democracy for all. Feminist organizers from Argentina to New York will share strategies of how to fight for abortion access and counter the reactionary right-wing attacks on women and LGBTQ people.

These unprecedented times call for more cooperation and less exclusion. While unfortunately the US government also denied the visas of a 23-person delegation of Cuban civil society to the People’s Summit, the bonds between the Cuban people and the people of the Americas are unbreakable, and despite their best efforts, the US cannot silence the aspirations of the people.

For the Americas, which are on the cusp of transformative times, the age of the Monroe Doctrine is over.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Sheila Xiao is a researcher and community organizer. She is chair of the Los Angeles chapter of the ANSWER Coalition and the co-founder of the peace organization Pivot to Peace. She is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.

Manolo De Los Santos is the co-executive director of the People’s Forum and is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He co-edited, most recently, Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2020) and Comrade of the Revolution: Selected Speeches of Fidel Castro (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2021). He is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.

People’s Dispatch, May 26, 2022,