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Message to the workers of Louisiana

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If you are one of the million or so workers in Louisiana, you may be thinking of voting for David Duke in Saturday’s gubernatorial election.

As a worker, you have much to think about these days. Almost everybody agrees these are hard times. Some people say that the depression now hitting this country began ten years ago in Louisiana.

As a worker, you are concerned with your own livelihood and standard of living. If you have a family or dependents, you surely are concerned about them.

Hawks’ resignation from Duke staff

You have probably heard that Bob Hawks, the state coordinator of the Duke campaign, resigned the other day and blasted Duke. Some say Hawks was an agent for the Edwards campaign working to undermine Duke. Others say he’s a rat leaving a sinking ship.

Whatever the case may be, Hawks raised the religious question. He accused Duke of not following the path of Jesus and said he hadn’t seen him read the Bible or go to church.

Now, religion should have no place in this campaign. The religious beliefs of any person, whether Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Hindu or whatever, should be considered a private affair. The Constitution prohibits state promotion of religion. This is a political campaign, not a religious one. Throwing it into the campaign diverts attention from the main and fundamental issues, which have to do with the economic, social and political problems in the state of Louisiana.

Corporate letter-writing campaign

You might have received a letter from your employer urging you to vote against Duke. Quite a few companies have been sending such letters to their workers:. Stewart Enterprises, the Lamar Corporation — we don’t know who else, but Business Week magazine of Nov. 18 says many.

It is a violation of the Constitution and Labor Relations Law to tell workers how to vote, either in union elections or in political campaigns. Of course, many workers who know the anti-labor record of the companies they work for are suspicious when their bosses suddenly go on a media campaign against Duke. Where have they been all this time? And why right now?

The way they’re talking now, you would think the gas and oil would evaporate and the Mississippi River dry up if Duke’s elected. However, these bosses might just as quickly change their minds the day after the election and embrace Duke in the same way the German industrialists and bankers supported Hitler.

These are questions we have to keep in mind when these bosses — and some are the most greedy when it comes to wages and working conditions — suddenly become knights in shining armor urging us to do battle. Whatever their motives may be, it has nothing to do with our own interests as workers.

Every worker ought to question their motivation. It has always been how to get profit out of their enterprises by taking our labor and giving us in return as little as possible.

So let’s not speculate on what their motives may be. Let’s examine David Duke independently of what they say and consider his candidacy from the point of view of our class interests as workers.

David Duke has been a state representative long enough that he should have been able to clearly and simply address the burning issues facing Louisiana. These are: joblessness, health care for the hundreds of thousands who have none, and the growing poverty which is 20% above the national level.

Yet he has introduced no bill, made no speeches, nor raised as much as a whisper in connection with these very profound issues.

Rich state, poor people

David Duke has avoided addressing the most important question of all. That is, why should this state, which is so rich in natural resources, have so many poor people? And why should you as a worker have to worry about your job?

Louisiana is not poor. It has one of the greatest natural resources in the world — oil. It also has another important source of energy — natural gas. It has a big petrochemical industry.

Its fertile soil provides a rich variety of agricultural products that are shipped to all parts of the world. Its forests yield lumber and paper products. Off the coast are rich fishing areas.

So why is life becoming more and more difficult?

Consider one thing which Duke never seems to mention. Whether you make your living as a wage worker or as a professional, your income level is lower than that for comparable work in almost all the Northern, Eastern and Central states of the United States.

If you are a public school teacher in Louisiana, you earned an average of $21,280 in 1987. But a teacher in New York state got $32,620 in that same year (World Almanac, 1988).

Wages have gone up a bit since 1987 but the differential is still about the same. That’s a fact, and facts are stubborn things.

This kind of differential in pay between Louisiana and other states holds true not only for teachers or other professionals but for all workers.

Some may say, and properly so, that wages in Louisiana are better than in Mississippi, Arkansas, or other states of the old Confederacy. But that only helps to make the most important point.

Why should the Southern states have lower wages than the rest of the U.S.? It’s not because of geography. It’s history that makes the difference.

Jefferson and slavery

Take the case of Louisiana, which became a state in 1812, nine years after it was purchased from France during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was considered one of the most enlightened people of his day, especially in France where he served as the U.S. representative. He was a writer and thinker, a scientist and statesman, and the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence with its famous line about “All men are created equal.”

Yet Jefferson as President of the United States purchased the vast Louisiana Territory, which had been the home of Native people for thousands of years. And instead of taking an enlightened and democratic approach to this territory, Jefferson, a slaveholder himself, was most interested in extending slavery there.

Many think that the mass of the whites were made better off by the enslavement of Black people. But it isn’t true. The enslavement of great numbers of Black people made a few whites rich and powerful. But the white workers never got anything from slavery to benefit them historically. Far from being lifted above the ordinary workers in Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles or Philadelphia, the white workers in the South have lagged behind the rest of the country. The idea that white workers were helped by slavery is a myth.

Of course, there may be some sick psychological satisfaction in being free while others are forced into involuntary servitude. But the upshot of it is that the standard of living of workers in the former states of the Confederacy has never come close to that of workers in the Northern, Central and Western states. Today, more than 125 years after the bloody Civil War, which cost the lives of so many people and finally resulted in the abolition of slavery, workers in Louisiana must still grapple with this problem.

Who’s Duke against?

Now comes David Duke, who is running not just against Edwards, but against the Black people. That is what is firmly implanted in the minds of the electorate as Saturday approaches.

But that is not the whole truth. What he carefully conceals is that he is running against the working class as a whole, Black and white.

Duke’s slick and well-publicized campaign shows that he’s not just an individual. Who’s behind him? At first he said he was for the “little people.” Now he claims he has letters of support from some of the biggest monopolies, the billionaires, although that has yet to be proven. It is known for sure, however, that he gets a lot of money from millionaires on the far right. (Don’t forget, a billionaire has a thousand times as much as a millionaire!) But either way, he is proving himself very useful to the big monopolies.

This is a time when mass anger could very easily focus on the big corporations and banks as they throw workers into the streets and the economy goes into a tailspin. Duke is helping big business by diverting attention away from those responsible for the economic disaster and blaming everything on the poorest people.

You have heard that Duke used to openly praise Hitler and was selling Nazi literature from his office just two years ago. Hitler, too, directed the anger and fear caused by the 1930s depression away from the biggest bankers and industrialists. He organized a movement that destroyed the progressive and labor movement in Germany, using racist oratory to whip people up. But like Duke, at the beginning of his career Hitler tried to look anti-establishment. He talked against the international bankers, claiming they were part of a so-called Jewish conspiracy.

That didn’t stop the biggest German bankers and industrialists from eventually coming in behind him. They needed a Hitler, with all his violent and totalitarian methods, to save their system of capitalism. Eventually, all he had to offer was a monstrous war that ended in smoldering ruins.

Now, in Louisiana, Duke is trying to build a similar movement. And what is its objective? Not to help raise wages for all working people, or guarantee their job security. It is to reverse the entire period of the last 40 to 50 years, when gains have been made not only in civil rights but in union organization, in women’s rights, in education, and in social reforms generally. Many of these gains have been under attack since the late 1970s. But Duke wants to sweep them all away.

One of David Duke’s most vicious arguments concerns, of course, the question of welfare. He gives the impression that Black people and other minorities consume a great portion of the state budget and that if they were penalized, this would help reduce the budget.

In one form or another, this same argument has been put forward in almost all the states. The more rabid politicians make it a principal point in their election campaigns, calling people on welfare free loaders, parasites, and so forth.

But who really gets welfare in this country? Who gets the billions and billions of government funds? Not poor people. The ones who devour huge sums from the federal and state budgets are the giant corporations! They’ve been living on welfare all the years of their existence. Almost all of them are subsidized in one form or another. During the Reagan years, their subsidies came in the form of huge reductions in taxes. It got so ridiculous that some giant oil companies paid less taxes than a working class family!

In addition, they get special financial benefits through grants for research and development and other forms of hidden subsidies. This is particularly true for military contractors, especially those in aerospace.

Russell Long on corporate welfare

Nobody was more eloquent in describing how big business has brought about the real welfare system in the United States than the former Majority leader and whip from Louisiana, Senator Russell Long. In April 1967, he told the Senate:

“Most campaign money comes from businessmen. … Many businessmen contribute to legislators who have voted to exempt their businesses from the minimum wage. Businessmen contribute to legislators who have fought against taxes that would have been burdensome to their businesses. … Power company officials contribute to legislators who vote against public power. … Bankers, insurance company executives, big moneylenders generally contribute to legislators who vote for policies that lead to high interest rates.

“Many large companies benefit from research and development contracts which carry a guaranteed profit. … In recent years, quite a battle has developed over the desire of government research contractors to obtain and keep lush private monopoly patent rights on those things discovered with billions of dollars of government research money. The possibility of windfall profits in this area defies imagination. …

“Drug companies are often able to sell brand-name drug products at anywhere from twice to 50 times the price of identical nonbranded products for welfare and Medicare patients. … Executives of drug companies will contribute to legislators who vote to permit or bring about such a result.

“Executives of regulated companies contribute to legislators who vote to go easy on the regulation. …

“Many industries are subsidized. This includes the merchant marine, the shipbuilders, the sugar producers, the copper producers, and a host of others. …

“This list is merely illustrative; it could be elaborated upon and enlarged to include many more.” (Quoted in “The Rich and the Super-Rich” by Ferdinand Lundberg.)

All this welfare for the rich corporations that run Louisiana! But has Duke ever told it like it is? Has he ever tried to mobilize the workers against these rich corporate criminals who thrive off government welfare?

White workers and affirmative action

In addition to welfare, Duke harps on affirmative action. As he tells it, whites are being penalized because the law now requires that Black and Latino workers who have faced past discrimination should be compensated affirmatively in promotions.

There’s no reason that affirmative action has to hurt white workers. The discrimination in the past was the result of the policies of the bosses. They instituted discrimination in the workplace and they should pay for it.

Are there ways to erase racial discrimination in the workplace without taking it out of the hides of white workers? Take the matter of promotions. Say a white male is entitled to a promotion from labor grade 2 to labor grade 3, but a Black (or woman) worker with less seniority is now eligible for the job because of the law on affirmative action. The worker who would have gotten the job on the basis of seniority should also get an equivalent pay increase. That way the worker isn’t penalized because of the past discriminatory practices of the company.

There can be many other approaches to make sure that affirmative action doesn’t hurt any workers. It is a pity that the labor movement has gradually acquiesced to a half-way measure regarding affirmative action which puts the burden on the workers. It leaves the labor movement open to vicious racism.

Extended jobless benefits

Duke doesn’t address the question of why Louisiana pays out so little in unemployment benefits when so many are out of work. Unemployment insurance isn’t just a federal program, like Social Security, it’s a federal-state system.

Wouldn’t this be an opportunity for Duke, if he really was for the workers, to demand a state extension of benefits? This is particularly important in a state like Louisiana where the crisis has lasted so long that benefits have run out for hundreds of thousands.

Living in Louisiana, you have seen periods of boom as well as bust, especially in the oil and gas industry. The boom periods made the powerful corporations much richer, more aggressive and predatory. But have they left the workers any better off?

Louisiana has the resources to be one of the most self-sufficient states in the union. Instead, it has become more dependent on what is happening to the economy, not just nationally but even globally. Why is that?

If all the natural wealth of Louisiana were being utilized to provide for the needs of the residents of the state, there wouldn’t be any problem. But that’s not what’s happening. Everything is produced in order to make a profit. When the profit system goes bust, the most significant section of the population, the workers, are left helpless.

But the workers don’t have to be helpless. We’re the majority of the population! If we get together, we can be tremendously powerful. We have the ability to stop everything from moving, as can be seen in other countries when workers go out on a general strike. Certainly, the big bosses are aware of that, and will do all they can to prevent the workers from getting any ideas.

That can mean throwing their weight behind a demagogue like Duke in order to get him elected, so he can channel everything into a racist struggle.

What is needed in Louisiana, as elsewhere, is a change in the relationship between the working class and the capitalist class. It is necessary for the working class to take hold of all the natural resources and means of production and use them for the interests of society as a whole, not for a handful of millionaires and billionaires.

Voting against Duke will help open the road to such a development.