Obamacare Screws Workers, Windfall for Insurance Companies

Wages, Hours, Jobs Cut – Union Health Plans Terminated

Obamacare Screws Workers,
Windfall for Insurance Companies

APPW Local 153 on strike at Kapstone paper mill in Longview, WA, August 27, over the company’s imposition of contract canceling health insurance to avoid Obamacare “Cadillac plan” tax. (Photo: Brooks Johnson/The Daily News)
APPW Local 153 on strike at Kapstone paper mill in Longview, WA, August 27, over the company’s imposition of contract canceling health insurance to avoid Obamacare “Cadillac plan” tax. (Photo: Brooks Johnson/The Daily News)

By Class Struggle Workers – Portland

PORTLAND, OR – The Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as “Obamacare,” survived a key legal challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, June 25. The court came down 6-3 against a suit by David King, a Virginia limousine chauffeur for a cartel of conservative ideologues who claimed that it was illegal for the federal government to offer tax credits as a subsidy to offset the cost of purchasing private health insurance, if the insurance was purchased through the federal government-administered marketplace. The ruling, along with the same day’s historic verdict allowing gay marriage nationwide, elated Democratic partisans, who have been all atwitter about the President’s legacy as he enters his “victory lap.” But Chelsea Manning, the transgendered Army veteran serving a 35-year sentence for courageously revealing U.S. imperialism’s war crimes, cautioned that the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling didn’t mean equality for all.

If the court had gone the other way on the ACA, it would have made it even harder for millions of Americans to afford any kind of health insurance. That only goes to show that in bourgeois politics, “it could always be worse” for working people. If reactionary troglodytes oppose the ACA because god told them to oppose any sort of social welfare programs, especially those enacted by a Black president, it does not follow that class-conscious workers should support it. This law gives billions to the insurance industry out of the pockets working and poor people in the U.S. Class-conscious workers oppose the ACA and fight for a universal, socialized health care system while implacably defending every health care benefit that workers have won as a concession from the employers. And this can only be achieved as part of a broader class struggle against all factions of the capitalist ruling class, particularly the Democratic party.

Obamacare is a far cry from universal health coverage. The “insurance” it does provide for millions of working and poor people is often illusory. While it has ensured a steady stream of revenue for private health insurance companies, it has had its intended effect of adding to the pressure on unions to give up their hard-won health insurance programs. And that’s only one of the negative aspects for workers. So let’s go down the list. First up, who is excluded from the ACA? For starters, more than 15 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom work in dangerous jobs like construction, agriculture and food industry, are denied coverage, even though many of them pay Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes from which they will never see any benefit. Class-conscious workers demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

Second, while private health insurance plans may cover elective abortions, this portion of the insurance cannot be subsidized by the federal government under the ACA. Medicaid coverage is available in states which have accepted “expanded” funding for individuals earning up to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level. But Medicaid is barred from covering abortion since the Hyde Amendment was passed by Congress and signed by the Democrat president Carter in 1977. Combined with the increasing restrictions on abortion in the U.S. as legal traps and terrorist attacks shutter clinics across the country, this means that millions of poor and working class women effectively have no safe, legal option for ending an unwanted pregnancy. Far from a step towards the free abortion on demand that we fight for, the ACA reinforces the legal obstacles to affordable abortion that Democrats and Republicans have put in place since Roe vs. Wade.

What of the insurance that is offered? The sick reality behind the statistics of increasing enrollment and decreasing number of uninsured since the passage of the ACA is that for working people, the insurance is an illusion, a scam that will not prevent them from being cast into devastating debt because of illness, accidents or chronic disease. The “bronze” health plans have the lowest monthly premiums. These vary by state, and are expected to increase. Currently they are around $150 per month. Already, that’s a significant “invisible” pay cut for a low-wage worker struggling to pay rent and other essential expenses. Yet these bronze plans can have deductibles of over $2,000 for an individual or $5,000 for a family, and annual maximum out-of-pocket costs of $6,000/$12,000 family. Can you afford that? Many working people can’t.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that median single-person, non-elderly households above the poverty level (in other words, those ineligible for standard Medicare or Medicaid) have liquid assets of $2503, and net assets of just $1,369! Households on the poorer end of this spectrum, earning up to twice the Federal Poverty Level, have liquid assets of just $766. Low- to moderate-wage workers on the “bargain” bronze health plan cannot afford to get medical care! And only the more expensive “silver” and higher plans are eligible for federal subsidies to cover out-of-pocket costs. The health-care reform lobbying group Physicians for a National Health Program accurately characterized low-end “affordable” plans as “a mirage, a simulacrum of insurance rather than actual insurance.”

What we have here is literally “insurance” for the insurance companies: a guaranteed customer base that must purchase “coverage” of dubious value, or pay a hefty tax penalty. Yet in the event of a serious illness, they can only expect to see a payout long after they have been squeezed dry by medical bills. Key to this cash cow for insurance companies is the “precarious” workforce of part-time workers whose employers are not required to offer company health plans since they work less than 30 hours per week on average at any one job. The New York Times (4 July) reports that private insurance plans are demanding increases of 20 to 40 percent for 2016. And through its “risk corridor” program, the ACA guarantees federal subsidies to insurance companies if they fail to reap sufficient profits during the transition to the ACA!

Employer-sponsored plans are generally marginally better when they are offered (required for most wage workers averaging over 30 hours per week), yet most still leave poor and middle-income workers in a catastrophic financial state before “insurance” kicks in. Again, there is the monthly premium, a significant effective pay cut. Three-quarters of company-sponsored plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, have a single-member deductible of over $1,500, and the average annual out-of-pocket limit is $3,000-$3,500 dollars. So for singles, the maximum deductible – the amount a patient must pay up front before insurance covers anything – is greater than the average total financial assets of the median household above the poverty line!

On top of this, there are the several hundred thousand mainly low-waged, part-time workers who have had their hours cut to less than 30 a week so that the employers don’t have to offer them health care (see Ben Casselman, “Yes, Some Companies Are Cutting Hours in Response to ‘Obamacare’,” FiveThirtyEight, 13 January). Class Struggle Education Workers (CSEW) in New York already exposed this vicious anti-worker plan when it was being debated in Congress and at the time of its passage. See “On the Healthcare Crisis” (September 2009) and “Healthcare “Reform” Law: Bonanza for Wall Street, an Attack on Working People” (March 2010), reprinted in Class Struggle Education Workers Newsletter No. 2 (October-November 2010) and The Internationalist No. 32 (January-February 2011).

This bleak situation was not created by the ACA. By every reasonable measure, the U.S. has long had one of the worst and most expensive health care systems among wealthy imperialist countries. Health care bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy for individuals in this country, and have been for decades. ACA has reinforced this perverse system while liberal Democrats like economist Paul Krugman crow about Obama’s historic “reform.” What’s new to the ACA is a huge incentive for companies to push to dismantle health care coverage that unions have established through years of protracted struggle. In 2018, an excise tax of 40% will kick in on benefits valued at over $10,200 per year for individuals or $27,500 for families, the so-called “Cadillac” plans. Unions are doubly vulnerable in fighting this attack on workers benefits, because it comes from the Democratic Party that they loyally support.

The corporate analysis firm Jones Day offered clear advice to companies on this:

“Significantly, the ACA does not require employers to provide coverage for spouses and does not penalize employers for excluding spouses from coverage, so employers will need to evaluate the potential savings from excluding spouses from eligibility for health coverage…. While unions may resist efforts to curtail employee benefits in the near term, employers should consider the leverage that avoiding the Cadillac tax provides at the bargaining table…. Employers should take advantage of the leverage that the ACA provides, whether that means negotiating union waivers to allow employers significant flexibility to change and modify their plans, negotiating lower levels of coverage to balance out the added costs of expanded coverage, or negotiating to end coverage under employer-sponsored plans altogether.”

– “What’s the Deal? The Affordable Care Act in Labor Contract Negotiations,” October 2013

In recent contract negotiations, union workers have seen employers following this playbook, demanding lower coverage and ending employer-sponsored plans.

While some of the most well-entrenched unions, such as the New York City United Federation of Teachers, have been able to resist ACA-related cuts to their health care plans, in recent contract negotiations, unions across the country have succumbed to the employers’ blackmail. Even some allegedly “progressive” unions have gone to the bargaining table offering to slash members’ health care benefits right from the beginning of negotiations. This was the case in ILWU Local 5 covering workers at Powell’s Book Store in Portland, which Class Struggle Workers – Portland fought against. And across the board, increasing premiums and stagnating wages are forcing union members to make painful decisions about canceling optional enrollment for spouses and domestic partners.

Recently, 800 members of Local 153 of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW) at the Kapstone paper mill in Longview, WA were forced to go out on strike after rejecting a concessionary “final offer” from the company. The most prominent concession that the bosses demanded was to cancel the workers’ health insurance in order to avoid the ACA tax  and replace it with a cheap “high deductible” plan. The strike was called off on September 3 when the company brought in scabs, but the fight continues. Meanwhile, 2,200 metal workers across the country have been locked out since early August by Allegheny Technologies, among them United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7150 at a titanium plant in Albany, OR, for refusing the company’s “offer” that slashed health insurance benefits. There, too, management is using scabs.

Similar fights over essential health coverage are posed from coast to coast. Obamacare is one more weapon in the arsenal of the bosses’ offensive against the unions. AFL-CIO leaders have criticized the tax on union-negotiated health plans, yet they keep on rounding up votes for the Democrats. This sorry spectacle underscores that whether the issue is union-busting “right to work” laws or attacks on health care and retirement benefits, the key for labor to defeat these attacks is adopting a class-struggle program for powerful working-class action across traditional trade-union divisions, independent of and against all the parties of capital, Republicans and Democrats.

There’s no need for any of this deadly mess that’s called the health care “system” in the U.S. – except the need for profit. U.S. reported corporate profits are at over $8 trillion per year. Even ignoring the fact that a socialized health care system would be freed from the disastrous anarchy, inefficiency and bureaucracy required by private ownership, the present U.S. health care system, the most expensive in the world, consumes around $3 trillion per year. Present corporate profits could fund it twice over with trillions to spare. But this isn’t a question of accounting, tax rates, or one that any “reform” of the present system could achieve.

Union signs call to “stop the war on workers.” But that one-sided class war is the domestic face of the imperialist war U.S. rulers are waging around the world, and it won’t stop until it is defeated by mobilizing workers’ power, here and abroad. We can’t accomplish that so long as workers are bound hand-and-foot to one of the bosses’ parties. As the union tops once again throw their support behind the Democratic Party in the upcoming U.S. elections, worker militants must draw the lessons of their leaders’ support for the administration that designed the ACA bonanza for the insurance companies that is destroying health care for working people.

The key lesson is the need for a class-struggle workers party. It all comes down to a question of power, and Obamacare is one more reason why the workers must rise up and smash the power of the tiny minority of exploiters, rip the productive forces that we have built up out of the hands of these vultures, and establish a workers government to organize a planned economy, producing to fulfill human needs rather than the dictates of profit. Otherwise, the ACA debacle is a harbinger of worse to come – much worse. ■

This article first appeared in The Internationalist No. 41 (September-October 2015)

Advertisements

Resolution for 2015 Oregon AFL-CIO convention

MOBILIZE UNION POWER AGAINST “RIGHT-TO-WORK” UNION-BUSTERS

WHEREAS, unions are required by law to represent all employees in a bargaining unit, whether they are union members or not; and

WHEREAS, at least two “right-to-work” initiatives, allowing workers in unionized public sector jobs to avoid paying for their representation, are in the process of becoming ballot measures in Oregon; and

WHEREAS, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a main sponsor of misnamed “right-to-work” initiatives in the Pacific Northwest, financed by union-bashers such as the Koch Brothers and Wal-Mart, is pushing lawsuit against SEIU Local 503 which represents over 20,000 home care workers in Oregon; and

WHEREAS, the unionization of the largely minority home health care workers in the state has raised their wages by more than two-thirds, as well as providing medical and health coverage; and

WHEREAS, unionization has boosted the wages and job security of all workers and particularly of African American, Latino, Native American and immigrant workers; and

WHEREAS, the anti-labor ballot measures are designed to undermine and financially ruin public sector unions which are vital to the welfare and living standards of all workers; and

WHEREAS, ballot measures in Oregon are part of a national campaign by corporations and their political supporters to destroy unions and wipe out the gains won by organized labor; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Supreme Court last July agreed to hear a case that could eliminate “fair-share” fees paid to public sector unions, in effect creating a national “right-to-work” law by judicial fiat; and

WHEREAS, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, after eliminating collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in 2011 and now ramming through a state “right-to-work” law, is campaigning for such a law nationally; and

WHEREAS, the same forces backing these union-busting laws such as Illinois governor Bruce Rauner want to eliminate the minimum wage entirely rather than raising it to a living wage; and

WHEREAS, support for these measures in Oregon comes from big lumber, including Freres Lumber Co. and Stimson Lumber Co. and right-wing politicians such as Washington County Attorney, Jill Gibson; and

WHEREAS, workers in “right-to-work” states earn substantially lower wages, have less employer-sponsored health insurance or pensions and significantly higher workplace death rates due to weakened union protections; and

WHEREAS, the experience of Michigan, where anti-union forces pushed through “right-to-work” laws with a stealth campaign while organized labor did little to stop them, shows the danger of complacency; and

WHEREAS, backroom deals with legislators and state officials will not stop a determined employer offensive; and

WHEREAS, the union-bashing offensive that began even before the 1981 PATCO air controllers strike, which many other unions failed to support, shows that a failure to fight has disastrous results; and

WHEREAS, the powerful labor mobilization in Wisconsin in 2011 demonstrated that the public will enthusiastically back unions when they fight, despite anti-labor media campaigns; and

WHEREAS, the failure of Wisconsin unions to call a state-wide strike at the crucial moment, even after preparing for one, led to a devastating defeat while the strategy of a “recall” and voter turnout campaigns predictably failed to repeal “right-to-work” legislation in Wisconsin; and

WHEREAS, the power of our unions rests in our ability to use our economic strength in defense of our rights as workers, and failure to use that power only emboldens the labor-haters; and

WHEREAS, we have had enough of the one-sided class war waged by profit-greedy bosses,

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that this body expresses the determination of Oregon workers to whatever it takes to defeat any such union-busting laws, including using our right to strike to defend the union shop; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we urge Oregon and Washington unions and their supporters to mobilize at “right-to-work” events with rallies, marches and other means to expose the drive by cutthroat employers to drive our wages to the bottom while they make billions in profits from our labor; and be it further

RESOLVED, that area unions should prepare a major region-wide stop-work action against this effort to impoverish workers by using the courts and the rest of their legal arsenal; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Oregon AFL-CIO will encourage and support any affiliated locals collecting dues from represented workers directly, in order to stymie employer attempts to cripple labor financially; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that in defending union independence from the bosses and standing together in defense of all those threatened by the employers’ assault, WE HAVE THE POWER TO DEFEAT THE WAR ON WORKERS, BUT WE MUST USE THAT POWER OR LOSE IT.

Support Pasco Teachers: Down with Washington’s Slave-Labor Law!

SEATTLE, Washington – Schools here remain closed today, Friday, September 11 on the fourth day of the strike by public school teachers, the first in 30 years. While the Seattle strike has grabbed national attention, teachers in the southeastern Washington city of Pasco have been on strike since September 1, and are still out in defiance of a court order. As in public schools across the country, teachers have been squeezed by low wages, lack of basic classroom supplies including textbooks, overemphasis on standardized testing, and a dictatorial administration that will not allow teachers, parents or students any input in curriculum development.

150812 Pasco teachers vote to strike nbc
Pasco, WA teachers voted overwhelmingly in August to strike.

On Friday September 4, Franklin County Judge Alex Ekstrom ordered the teachers to return to work Tuesday, after the Labor Day weekend. Under Washington State’s slave labor laws, strikes by public employees are illegal. While the school board refuses to meet with union representatives, the court is set to fine the local union two thousand dollars per day, and individual union executive board members an additional $250 per day. But Pasco teachers courageously refused to bow to the slave-labor injunction and are continuing their strike as of Friday. (A court hearing is scheduled for today to begin imposing the draconian fines.)

Pasco is the largely immigrant city where Antonio Zambrano Montes, a Mexican agricultural worker, was shot down in cold blood by police last February. On Wednesday, the Franklin County prosecutor outrageously announced that no charges would be brought against the cops who gunned down the unarmed Zambrano in a hail of 17 bullets, despite cellphone video recording of the murder seen by millions. However, there may still be a coroner’s jury hearing. Class Struggle Workers – Portland and the Internationalist Group have actively supported protesters in Pasco, who have been hit by a number of arrests. A CSWP fundraiser was held in July to raise money for their defense. A demonstration against this racist injustice will be held in Pasco tomorrow.

Pasco and Seattle teachers are fighting for decent education for their students, and are now standing for the fundamental freedoms of all workers. They must have the support of working people and the labor movement throughout Washington and the country. Smash the slave-labor law! Victory to the teachers!

Pasco teachers continue strike on September 8 despite injunction.
Pasco teachers continue strike on September 8 despite injunction.

Contributions and messages of solidarity should be sent to the Pasco Association of Educators, 2318 W Court St, Pasco, WA 99301.

Bridge City Militant No. 1

Bridge City Militant No. 1, Fall 2015Bridge City Militant No. 1 is out! To get your union-printed copy, contact CSWP.

In this issue:

Update on Open Letter to Socialist Alternative and 15 Now PDX

A growing number of area labor activists have condemned the violent, misogynist attack on union members perpetrated on May 17 by Justin Norton-Kertson, the head organizer of $15 Now PDX and a prominent supporter of Socialist Alternative. Union activists and leaders, many of whom have substantial political disagreements with CSWP, have nevertheless recognized that Norton-Kertson’s attack on union members who dared to disagree with him at a public forum was a gross violation of the basic norms of workers democracy, unacceptable for a man who is promoted as a leader of the struggle against poverty wages.

As we noted in our May 21 open letter, other members of $15 Now and SAlt were present at the May 17 film showing and observed Norton-Kertson’s unhinged rampage. They did nothing to stop their comrade as he assaulted trade unionists, made vile sexist threats against women, and threatened to call the police to intervene in a meeting that included immigrant workers. These organizations remained silent until June 3, when we received an email from the “Portland Committee for $15 Now” requesting from us “evidence” of Norton-Kertson’s attack, alleging that there were “conflicting accounts” of the assault that these would-be investigators witnessed and allowed to happen.

We made it known to $15 Now/SAlt that if they need to be reminded of the facts of the assault that they witnessed and condoned, we were ready to present our evidence to them, including the Facebook posts by Norton-Kertson smugly bragging about it all – does that count as one of the “conflicting accounts”? And on July 20, we met with a purported investigative committee of three people, one of whom is apparently Norton-Kertson’s wife. As of the publication of this update, there has been no further action from $15 Now/SAlt.

But we have no confidence that these organizations’ “investigation” of themselves and their spokesman will yield adequate corrective action. As we emphasized in our open letter, “The fact that they stood by and said nothing at the time speaks volumes. If anyone associated with us had done anything half as vile as your supporter did, we would have stopped it instantly.”

Defense of democracy in our movement is a duty of the entire workers movement. The behavior of SAlt/$15 Now PDX spokesman Norton-Kertson has no place in our movement, particularly from someone who is promoted as a leader of the crucial struggle against low-wage super-exploitation. CSWP members are respected labor activists with decades of experience in the movement. We will continue to take the case to our respective unions and the broader movement that Norton-Kertson must be removed from all responsible posts.

Saturday July 25: Fundraiser for Pasco, WA Anti-Police Brutality Protesters

Saturday July 25, 2-10 p.m.
Panel Discussion, Fundraiser Party, Live Music
From Portland, Oregon to Pasco, Washington: Protest Racist Police Murder

Featuring Mic Crenshaw and David Rovics

2-10 p.m. Saturday, July 25
Musicians Local 99 Hall
325 NE 20th Ave, Portland

Saturday July 25: Protest Racist Police Murder!
Printable flier for July 25 fundraiser party.

On February 10, police in Pasco, WA shot and killed Antonio Zambrano Montes, a 35-year-old agricultural worker from Mexico. Antonio was unarmed and had his hands up when three cops shot him down on the sidewalk. Since then hundreds of local residents have refused to let his final words, no es justo (it’s not right) be forgotten. Now the police and local authorities are trying to silence those who would protest against them with frivolous arrests and bogus criminal charges. From Ferguson to Baltimore, the police murder black and immigrant working people with impunity and would trample on everyone’s fundamental civil rights. Join us to raise funds for the legal defense of Pasco protesters, hear from protest organizers targeted by political persecution, and enjoy some live music and food!

This event is not sponsored or endorsed by AFM Local 99.

Click here for a FaceBook event page.

Sponsored by Class Struggle Workers Portland. For more information: 971-282-7903 | cswp@csw-pdx.org | csw-pdx.org | P.O. Box 86902, Portland, OR 97286

Open Letter to Socialist Alternative and 15 Now PDX

CSWP Open Letter to Socialist Alternative and 15 Now PDX
Click here for a printable version of this open letter.

On Sunday, May 17, following a film showing sponsored by 15 Now PDX and Socialist Alternative about the struggle of immigrant workers in New York, Justin Norton-Kertson, the main spokesman for 15 Now PDX and a supporter of Socialist Alternative, physically attacked one of our comrades, tearing papers out of his hand, ripping one up and throwing it on the ground. Norton-Kertson proceeded to threaten further physical violence, repeatedly threatened to call the police, and repeatedly made vile sexist remarks to female trade unionists who objected to his aggression, threats and torrent of abuse. Class Struggle Workers – Portland denounces this egregious violation of workers democracy, and we hold you responsible.

Class Struggle Workers had important points to make about the film being screened, The Hand That Feeds, on the struggle of the workers at the Hot and Crusty bakery that won a contract and union hiring hall. The initial target of your supporter’s attack, Alex, spoke about how he had been an active participant in that struggle, being on the H&C workers’ picket line for almost every one of the 55 days it lasted. He said that the struggle there was an inspiration to us because it shows what workers can do, even under difficult circumstances (such as lacking the documents required by the bosses’ government), when they rely on their own class power. The Hot and Crusty workers didn’t have anything to do with the Democratic Party, didn’t wait for the Labor Department to do things for them, didn’t go begging to City Hall or expect elections to change things. They stuck it out on the picket line, brought out the support of other NYC unions, and they won.

He also spoke about the struggle of immigrant workers in Pasco, Washington, where Mexican worker Antonio Zambrano-Montes was gunned down by the police with his hands up. He told how the CSWP won several Portland unions to condemn this racist murder and to march on May Day under a banner saying “Labor Against Racist Police Murder,” emphasizing that the only power that can stop the murderous police is the multiracial working class fighting for revolution to do away with the racism inherent in American capitalism. Alex, a supporter of the Internationalist Group and union member of ILWU Local 5 in Portland, contrasted the class-struggle strategy of the H&C workers with electoralist strategies, such as that of Socialist Alternative and 15 Now to win an increase in the minimum wage through ballot initiatives, which rely on the Democratic Party. He pointed out how the leaders of his own union used this as an excuse for negotiating a sellout contract. He also noted Socialist Alternative’s support for a presidential campaign by Democrat Bernie Sanders, and in the past for immigrant-basher and opponent of abortion rights Ralph Nader.

This political critique apparently was enough to send Norton-Kertson into a frenzy. Our comrade had seemingly violated the first commandment of opportunist lash-ups everywhere, “thou shalt not criticize.” After the event as Alex was selling The Internationalist outside the theater where the event took place, your supporter came up to him and started ranting, telling him to get out. After our comrade pointed out that the sidewalk didn’t belong to him, Norton-Kertson grabbed a paper out of his hand, tore it up and threw it on the ground, saying this was what he thought of our politics and if we came to 15 Now events again “I will beat the shit out of you.” Alex responded calmly that we do not condone violence in the labor movement, whereupon Norton-Kertson stormed back into the theater.

A unionist attending the event who came out upon hearing the commotion then went inside to complain to Norton-Kertson that he shouldn’t lay hands on someone because of a disagreement, saying he was acting like a child. (Norton-Kertson later responded by calling the unionist “daddy.”) Norton-Kertson then followed his critic back outside, threatening to call the police. This was a menace to everyone there, particularly at an event where there were a number of undocumented immigrants present who are particularly vulnerable to police repression. A woman trade unionist, an officer of the Portland Industrial Workers of the World, was outraged at the threat to call the cops against a member of the workers movement and loudly objected. Norton-Kertson grotesquely responded by telling her to perform oral sexual acts on different parts of his male anatomy. This shocked just about everyone present. Those interested can find the actual words this evidently deranged misogynist used in various postings on Facebook. Should he attempt to deny the facts, we have an extended cellphone recording in which his disgusting insults and threats can be clearly heard.

You can also hear a female construction union militant reacting incredulously to his sexist slurs and threats to call the cops. Your woman-hating rep is seen smirking as he responded to criticism from several bystanders, sneeringly repeating that they did nothing and would never be anything in Portland. People respond saying how dare he say that, there are ironworkers, stage hands, painters, “we are all unionists here,” including members of the IWW which was credited in the film (as is the Internationalist Group). And the initial target of his assault, in addition to being seen in the film on the picket line at Hot and Crusty has been fighting for his union to demand $15 and hour and more. Norton-Kertson’s taunt against the trade unionists who denounced his ranting and threats – “you’re done in this town” – would more accurately apply to this foul-mouthed sexist.

Subsequently, Alex and Becca of CSWP stayed for several minutes speaking to several students from the alternative student newspaper Rearguard at Portland State University who came out asking to interview Alex about Hot and Crusty, since he had spoken in the meeting about how he directly participated in that struggle. As our comrades then walked back to their car, they passed by Norton-Kerston who, apparently unable to contain himself, yelled at our comrade that she should perform an oral sex act on yet a third part of his male anatomy. When comrade Becca called him a “sexist,” he challenged her to beat him up. She declined.

It should go without saying that such actions have no place in the workers movement, and if tolerated can only bring discredit to the left. That they were carried out by a self-proclaimed organizer at an event about struggles of immigrant workers, whose campaigns denounce rampant sexist abuse and harassment is nothing short of a disgrace.

Since the incident Sunday night, Norton-Kertson and associated opportunists have been scrambling to defend his intolerable actions, while constantly changing their story. First they claim that our comrade only criticized the organization that invited the CSWP to speak, which as indicated earlier is utterly false. Their second line of defense is that your man was “upset that a group who asked to be included as a speaker – presumably in support of the content of the event – spent their speaking time denouncing the organizers of the event” (Facebook posting by Shamus Cooke of Workers Action). Yet precisely because we have deep differences with the politics and strategy of Socialist Alternative/15 Now, CSWP asked – both in writing and in phone calls before the event – to have its name removed as a sponsoring group, which was done. To claim that we spoke “under false pretenses,” as Norton-Kertson says in a Facebook post, is utterly disingenuous.

A third defense from Norton-Kertson, in the same Facebook post, was that in the middle of his tirade, “That’s when I got called a fag, and replied by inviting them to do sexually explicit things to my backside.” The part about a derogatory homophobic remark being made is a flat-out lie – none of our comrades would or did say it, nor is it in the recording which covers that entire episode. The next day when a member of CSWP (who was not at the event) called up an acquaintance in Socialist Alternative to ask who supposedly made such a remark, they were unable to say who it was. Norton-Kertson himself then sent a text message to the comrade and said that someone unknown had used the anti-gay slur against him and he “lost his temper.” Again, this is a pure invention. No such remark was made, and the video shows him as a sneering, smirking male chauvinist thoroughly enjoying taunting the women workers who objected to his threats with his sexist slurs.

Moreover, in other Facebook posts over the next several hours, Socialist Alternative/15 Now organizer Norton-Kertson repeatedly brags about threatening to call the cops, saying that in order “to rile up a bunch of so-called ‘socialists,’ who are at an event for no reason but to trash on everyone there,” all you have to do is:

“Tell them you are going to call the cops if they don’t leave. You don’t have to mean it, you just have to say it and watch the superiority complex do it’s [sic] work. I don’t give a shit how uncool threatening to call cops is. It was worth it to watch their faces turn red with disbelief and anger. I have my moments…”

Grooving on his threats and slurs, in another posting Norton-Kertson repeats, “it felt good to piss them off that much.” He has apparently since taken down those posts, perhaps trying to cover his tracks, but we have screen shots of them.

We do not presume that Socialist Alternative authorized one of its supporters to engage in such misogynistic antics. His vicious tantrum appeared to us and others to be that of someone out of control. However, he is one of yours, and thus you are responsible for his actions. We have not exaggerated in the least, nor have we repeated his vile remarks, although they were witnessed and objected to by a number of people who have provided signed statements. We also have the cellphone video in which Norton-Kertson’s threats and filthy verbal abuse can be clearly heard, and are prepared to make it public if need be . For that matter, several of your comrades wearing Socialist Alternative t-shirts witnessed it and can confirm what we have said here, unless they have also personally degenerated so far that they have no regard for truth. The fact that they stood by and said nothing at the time speaks volumes. If anyone associated with us had done anything half as vile as your supporter did, we would have stopped it instantly.

Any self-respecting socialist organization would expel someone who attacked a member of the workers movement by tearing papers out of his hands, ripping them and throwing them on the ground, threatening to beat him and to call the police while repeatedly sliming women trade unionists with graphic sexist slurs. What group would want to be represented by someone exhibiting such vile behavior, or even be known for harboring the likes of Justin Norton-Kertson? His actions bring discredit on anyone associated with him. Any group with an ounce of proletarian morality would also issue a formal apology to those who were the target of his ranting, threats and aggression. But we don’t expect any such response from an organization like Socialist Alternative that considers cops to be workers and whose British mentors organize prison guards. It is little wonder that their representative would threaten to call the police.

We have spoken with a worker at the theater, who after witnessing the aggression by Norton-Kertson and his threats to call the police told him to leave. We assured the theater management that this kind of intolerable behavior was not representative of the workers movement in Portland, and that their desire to have the theater be a place for open debate and discussion was laudable and appreciated. We are firm believers in workers democracy. When we hold a public forum, those in the audience who wish to speak are free to say their piece within the time allotted, and we don’t go around physically attacking them afterwards. In fact, at a film showing sponsored by CSWP in February, a supporter of Socialist Action spoke from the floor, saying a number of things we disagreed with, sold his paper outside without incident and had a beer with us afterwards, where we discussed our political differences (which are as great as those we have with Socialist Alternative).

We defend workers democracy, and are quite capable of defending it for ourselves. If we chose not to respond to the incredible provocations on Sunday night, it was just that, a choice. People can clearly see who was the aggressor, and how vile his behavior was. In the future, Mr. Norton-Kertson would be well-advised to watch his mouth and the filth and threats that spill out of it, especially with regards to women and our comrades. Members of CSWP and the Internationalist Group as an organization have participated in and organized numerous united-front actions with groups they have fundamental differences with, including Socialist Alternative, always ensuring that while united on a central demand or demands, each tendency is free to put forward its own program. But we will not put up with attempts at intimidation, sexist abuse, or attempts to silence the revolutionary program.

In closing, we will briefly restate the differences that your organizer sought to silence. The comrades who formed Class Struggle Workers – Portland are hardly do-nothing critics. We have been actively involved in, and often organized, just about every action of labor solidarity in the area for a number of years. But we have seen from our own experience how the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy sells out one struggle after another. We also see today, as so often in the past, how their “left” hangers-on help them in this. 15 Now is actually calling (in its ballot initiative) for $15 later (in 2019) because the bureaucrats and Democrats wouldn’t go along. As for Socialist Alternative, it is a social-democratic left group whose whole reason for being is to pressure the capitalist state. Socialist Alternative stands for class collaboration, CSWP stands for class struggle. The Hot and Crusty struggle won precisely because it based itself on the latter, not the former. That’s the difference in a nutshell.

Class Struggle Workers – Portland
May 21, 2015