Residents of Belfast, Northern Ireland, included an image of Malcolm X in the mural they created under the coordination of Mike Alewitz.
The following is an edited version of a speech given by Mike Alewitz with the Labor Art & Mural Project to the New England Anti-War Rally in Hartford, CT, on 7 December 2008.
Today marks the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. One day later, on December 8, 1941, the US declared war against Japan and officially entered World War II.
One day later, on December 9, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt sent US army troops against striking autoworkers in Inglewood, CA. Three thousand soldiers, with fixed bayonets, cleared a 1-mile radius around the factory of North American Aviation Co., a subsidiary of General Motors.
The first official use of the army in World War II was directed against US autoworkers.
Roosevelt was the worst strikebreaking president in US history. Throughout the 1930s, hundreds of striking workers were killed, thousands wounded and tens of thousands thrown into jail. In 1934, Roosevelt’s first full year in office, 52 strikers were murdered – one every week.
Despite the hoopla about New Deal public works programs, the number of jobless Americans never fell below 8 million. The Civil Works Administration lasted three months. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration lasted less than a year providing starvation wages to 2 million people. Even within these programs, workers were subject to draconian measures. In the spring of 1939, when conditions got so bad in the WPA that workers went on strike, Roosevelt immediately fired all 1.5 million of them!
Roosevelt supported the most brutal dictators in the world, including Batista in Cuba and Anastasia Somoza in Nicaragua. During World War II he ordered the internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration camps. His policies, including the refusal to allow Jewish refugees to enter the United States, lent tacit support to the persecution of European Jews. He refused to act against the widespread lynching of African-Americans throughout the South. He helped lay the foundation for the carnage of World War II that placed 100 million workers under arms and slaughtered over 70 million innocent human beings.
Why am raising all this? Because today, as we stand on the verge a new depression, a lot of well-meaning people are waiting for Barak Obama to take office and are hoping for a new, New Deal. Unfortunately, their wish may very well come true.
No fundamental change is going to come from Washington DC. Now, as then, the bloody wheels of the war machine grind on, regardless of who is in the white house or what their happy slogans and jingles might be. Take a look at the new faces - same as the old faces.
Where are the voices of outrage about the billions of dollars being given to the auto executives, as a reward for laying off thousands of workers and cutting the retiree benefits of those who spent a lifetime of back-breaking work on assembly lines? Where are the voices demanding, bring the troops home now, so that we can provide health care and education for those who need it?
Where? Only here. Take a look around you – no one else is going to end the war but us.
The creation of industrial unions during the 1930s and 40s came about because millions of workers self-organized militant sit-down strikes and actions against the employers and against the government.
When you step onto the street today, you are joining those millions. You cease to be someone passively consuming the lies and you become someone that is making history. Each and every one of you is an important part of that process. It doesn’t matter whether you are here representing a big organization or participating in your first demonstration - in the streets we all become something much more powerful than individuals alone.
You may wonder why those of my, or older generations continue to vote for McGovern, for McCarthy, for Johnson, for Clinton and every other Democrat who has continued to destroy their hopes for peace. You may wonder how they can do this time after time. It is because, to do anything else is to challenge much of what they have spent their whole life believing and defending. To reject that policy, to say and understand that it is all a lie, is to risk everything. It is to admit that we need to make revolutionary change in this country.
And we do – because if we don’t, we will not survive. But revolution and fundamental change comes from those who have little to lose and everything to gain. It comes from immigrant workers; it comes from the young and those who reject the idea that change is going to come by strolling into a ballot box or writing a check.
We don’t need a new New Deal, an old deal, a square deal or any deal. We need to quit making deals. We need to quit swallowing concession contracts – concession contracts have never saved one single job. We need is to follow the example of the 200 workers who, at this moment, are occupying the Republic Window and Door Company of Chicago after being fired from their jobs. That’s our real history and tradition!
That’s the tradition of the active-duty GIs who organized and fought to bring an end to the war in Vietnam. It is the tradition of millions who went into the streets and defeated legal segregation during the civil rights movement. The eight hour day, the right to have a union, the right to vote, the right to stand on a street like this to speak out, the right of women to control their own bodies, the right of people to express their own sexuality, all of these have advanced when we take action in the streets.
We need to take power out of the hands of a ruling class so blinded by greed that they will destroy the planet. We need to place power into the hands of working people and put human needs before profits.
Right now, we need to stay in the streets demanding that they take every boat and every plane and go to Iraq and Afghanistan and bring the troops home just as fast as they put them there. We need to keep marching until we win. And that’s we are going to do.