Tag Archives: Texas

The Conroe Detention Center Strike – Reflections of a Houston Militant and Wob

In the Spring of 2014 a hunger strike started inside an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas at the Joe Corley Detention Facility one hour north of Houston. Joe Corley is one of several detention centers and prisons run by The GEO Group, INC which is a private company making millions off of incarcerating prisoners, immigrant detainees, the mentally ill, and those with addictions. Several weeks before the hunger strike started in Conroe, there was a hunger strike in Tacoma, Washington at the Northwest Detention Center which is also run by The GEO Group. The strike in Tacoma went on for over a month and at its height was carried out by around 1,200 inmates. These strikers developed a demand letter as they were on strike. The demands were centered around the conditions of the facility itself and included better food, better treatment, better pay, lower commissary, and “fairness.”

Inspired by the Tacoma strike, inmates at the Joe Corley Facility decided to carry out their own hunger strike in Conroe. Initial reports were that a larger group had started the strike but that the group had become smaller by the time they released a demand letter through a lawyer. Similar to the strikers in Tacoma, Joe Corley inmates demanded improved conditions of the detention center, better quality of food, outdoor privileges, and better visitation arrangements. But unlike Tacoma, they demanded something quite different: the abolition of deportation and detention.

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A Houston Wob’s Reflection on the USW Strike

Unions’ power is in decay and lately have been resorting to more creative methods in order to remain relevant. We’ve seen the Democrats putting their money behind the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Fight For $15 in Houston at the same time attempting to “turn Texas blue.” But this dependency of unions like SEIU and the United Steel Workers (USW) on the Democratic Party means they are severely limited in what they are willing to do in the realm of tactics. This along with union density being sharply in decline, as well as union power being undermined by Right-to-Work spreading to states like Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, means the unions are not up for waging anything close to a class struggle. Instead unions like the USW maintain their position as representing only certain interests and timidly bargaining around them.

Texas, like other Right-to-Work states, has a working class that is almost entirely disconnected with their own fighting traditions. There is no real culture of workers resistance, union or not, nor is there any historical memory of fighting strikes. However, recently in Houston we have seen a few significant developments unfolding in labor starting with the immigrant rights movement and detention center hunger and labor strikes, the Maximus Coffee strike and lockout at the end of 2013, the ongoing Fight For $15 “movement” and its semi-annual spectacles, and the most recent and equally significant, the USW refinery strikes. These developments are very exciting for Houston not simply because of the lack of historical memory of struggle to draw from, but also due to the high density of industry in Houston which is unlike most of the country.  This makes Houston a critical choke point for US capital and thus pivotal for workers struggle nationally. Continue reading A Houston Wob’s Reflection on the USW Strike

As the South goes, so goes the Nation

*Written with Will

W.E.B. DuBois spoke these words – as the South goes, so goes the nation – many years ago to capture the fact that the South represents a key link in the chain for the U.S. working class in terms of resistance against exploitation and the violent suppression of organizing and organization among workers and people of color. This is no less the case today. The South (defined here as the 11 states of the former Confederacy plus Kentucky) has been central to the ruling class offensive and reorganization of capital for the last 40 years. Kim Moody illustrates the South’s growing importance for U.S. capitalism since the 1950s in his book U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition.

To try to summarize some of Moody’s key arguments: Claims that industry has completely disappeared from the U.S. and been replaced by the service sector are without basis. Some on both the left and the right have played into the myth that the U.S. is a de-industrialized land with no working class, no industrial proletariat as typically understood. The growth of the service sector in recent decades is neither new nor indicative of the death of industry. In fact, services have outpaced industry since the early 20th century because as the capitalist economy expands from local to national to global, the problems of circulating capital, distributing goods and determining profits require more and more service type labor. The industrial core remains the sector on which most economic activity is dependent. While some industry in the U.S. has declined dramatically since the 60s and 70s – textiles and clothing for instance – for the most part manufacturing has simply relocated from its strongholds in the Northeast and Midwest to the South.
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A Republican Resurgence?

In recent months, there has been a chorus of voices discussing the “civil war” within the Republican Party, and the Party’s resurgence from its devastated state after the 2008 presidential elections. The civil war, it is said, is over the soul of the GOP, whether it will be a big tent party that is moderate enough to win over young people, folks of color, and the large section of voters identified as independents, or whether it will be a firmly conservative party that is more narrow in its base but also more ideologically pure. Talk of a GOP resurgence began in earnest over the summer with the tea parties and health care townhall protests, with the emphasis of both on grassroots (some would say Astroturf) activism in rekindling the party, and has only gained momentum after the recent election results in New York, New Jersey and Virginia.

Texas is an important starting point for thinking about what these debates mean. Since earlier this fall, incumbent Rick Perry and Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison have been battling it out for the GOP nomination for governor of Texas in the 2010 election. While heated intra-party contests might normally be cause for concern within the national party, Texas holds extra weight in that it is the second largest state in the U.S. (after California) and currently controls 34 electoral votes, making it an important, if not the most important, piece in the Republican electoral college puzzle. Further, it is a “majority minority” state – meaning white folks make up under 50% of the state’s population – putting it at the center of a debate within the GOP about whether the party will/should develop new strategies and a new identity to win people of color away from voting Democratic in the upcoming years.
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