This Week in History: June 20-26

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25 years ago: Pol Pot captured by opponents within the Khmer Rouge

On June 21, 1997, it was reported that Cambodian leader Pol Pot had been captured by his opponents within the Khmer Rouge. This prompted diplomatic moves, led by the United States, for his extradition and trial for genocide.

After Pol Pot’s capture, there were reports of the Khmer Rouge leadership breaking up in its last stronghold at Anlong Veng on the Thai border. A faction led by Khieu Samphan reportedly clashed with Pol Pot over a plan to lay down arms and ally with the royalist party FUNCINPEC, one of two parties in Cambodia’s unstable coalition.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who presided over one of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century, pictured in 1977. (AP Photo, File) [AP Photo]

According to FUNCINPEC leader Norodom Ranariddh, son of the late Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Pol Pot ordered the execution of Son Sen and other key Khmer Rouge leaders, then fled into the jungle with his followers. He is then captured by his adversaries. The breakup of the Khmer Rouge was tied to an increasingly bitter struggle between Cambodian coalition partners FUNCINPEC and the Cambodian People’s Party led by Hun Sen.

As head of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1978, Pol Pot was responsible for the deaths of between 1 and 2 million Cambodians, either by execution or a combination of disease, starvation and overwork. .

For Washington, demanding the trial of their former ally for crimes against humanity reeked of hypocrisy. In the 1960s and 1970s, successive U.S. administrations waged a protracted imperialist war throughout Indochina that claimed millions of lives, destroyed industry and agriculture, and retarded economic development in the region of several decades.

Moreover, the United States was directly responsible for the emergence of the Khmer Rouge as a popular political force in Cambodia. Pol Pot only began to gain wider political support after the Nixon administration overthrew the government led by Norodom Sihanouk in 1970 and US forces invaded Cambodia. In the bloody civil war that followed the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by Vietnamese forces, the United States, China, and European powers lent their support to the Khmer Rouge as a counterweight to Vietnam’s influence in the region.

The genocide in Cambodia was the result of a complex historical development in which the pernicious ideological influence of Stalinism combined with the military bloodbath perpetrated by US imperialism against the people of Indochina. Pol Pot’s death in April of the following year ended one of the bloodiest chapters of the 20th century.

50 Years Ago: US Unions Hold “Working for Peace” Conference

On June 23-24, 1972, the major labor unions in the United States held a conference in St. Louis calling for an end to the war in Vietnam. The conference brought together 985 delegates from 35 international unions in 32 states. Among the unions represented were the United Auto Workers (UAW), the International Longshore and Warehousing Union (ILWU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), among others.

ILWU President Harry Bridges (on the podium) and UAW Secretary-Treasurer Emil Mazey (bottom left) at the Work for Peace conference. [Photo]

That such a conference was called reflected massive opposition to the war within the American working class, which pressured labor leaders to speak out against the Nixon administration’s continued attempts to decimate and subjugate the population of Vietnam. However, the discussion at the conference itself made it clear that the union leaders would not attempt to politically organize the working class to stop the war.

The forerunner of the Socialist Equality Party (US), the Workers League, spoke at the conference and spoke to workers and delegates about the need to break with the Democratic Party and form a Labor Party. This was the policy advocated by the Trotskyist movement at that time, when the unions still enjoyed mass support in the working class and carried out a limited defense of workers’ jobs and living standards.

The demand for a labor party, to establish the political independence of the working class from the capitalist two-party system, had gained significant support among rank-and-file workers. So much so that several of the locals represented at the conference had recently passed resolutions to campaign and build a Labor Party.

Despite attempts by union leaders to suppress discussion of a Labor party, it became the focal point of debate at the conference. A delegate from AFSCME of Minneapolis, a supporter of the Workers’ League, spoke at the conference and called on delegates to pass a resolution that “would immediately call for a Labor Congress for the purpose of starting a party Independent Labor for the 1972 elections. .”

The conference organizers immediately took action to prevent any democratic discussion of the issue. Conference President Emil Mazey (UAW Secretary-Treasurer) interrupted the motion and declared it out of order saying that only discussion of the predetermined resolution would be allowed and demanded that the AFSCME delegate be seated without a vote being taken on his proposal.

The conference made clear that workers demanded both an end to the war and a serious political alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties. He also made it clear that the union bureaucracies, far from acting as workers’ representatives, functioned to stifle these demands and block such a political struggle.

75 years ago: Congress overturns Truman’s veto on the Taft-Hartley Act

On June 23, 1947, the Republican-controlled United States Congress overruled a veto issued three days earlier by President Harry Truman, ostensibly blocking the Taft-Hartley Act. The congressional decision created the conditions for the law, which contained significant attacks on unions, to take effect the following year.

In a national speech announcing his veto, Truman said, “The bill taken as a whole would reverse the fundamental direction of our national labor policy, inject government into private economic affairs on an unprecedented scale, and conflict with important principles of our democratic politics. society.

“Its provisions would provoke more strikes, not fewer. It would contribute neither to industrial peace nor to economic stability and progress. It would be a dangerous step towards a fully managed economy. It contains seeds of discord that would plague this Nation for years to come.

The law was intended to restrict the right to strike. It required that 80 days’ notice be provided in the event of a shutdown, while banning secondary strikes and boycotts that could develop into a broader working class movement. It provided for the federal government’s handling of contract disputes and included provisions for the National Labor Relations Board to seek injunctions against unions accused of violating statutes of the law.

A labor rally in New York calling on Truman to veto Taft-Hartley. [Photo]

Truman’s posture of opposition to the legislation was a sham. First, he knew his veto would be overridden by Congress. Moreover, his Democratic Party administration had responded violently to the wave of mass strikes that erupted at the end of World War II. He had repeatedly deployed the army to break strikes, including an army takeover of the railways in May 1946.

In condemning the legislation, Truman was seeking to curry favor with the AFL and CIO labor federations in the run-up to the 1948 presidential election. The union leadership had condemned Taft-Hartley as a “slave labor bill “. Their main concern, however, was that abolishing the closed shop by law would undermine the influence and revenue of the union bureaucracy by reducing the number of dues-paying workers.

During the strike wave of 1945-46, unions were forced to call a series of major strikes. However, they worked to keep them isolated from each other and to end disputes by signing separate contracts. Above all, the union bureaucracy was hostile to the prospect of turning the industrial push into a working class political movement directed against the Truman administration and the capitalist system.

After his stint in 1948, Truman invoked Taft-Hartley a dozen times against workers’ strikes. For their part, the bureaucrats of the AFL and the CIO used its provisions, prohibiting socialists from holding union office, to carry out a vast anti-communist purge of their organizations.

100 years ago: US President Harding opposes Philippine independence

On June 22, 1922, in a statement to a delegation of Philippine government officials, US President Warren G. Harding said, “I must tell you that the time is not yet for independence.

The U.S. military had occupied the Philippine archipelago after the Spanish-American War of 1898. The United States had fought a brutal war until 1902 with Filipino rebels who had declared an independent republic. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos died in the conflict, and the US military used torture and summary executions against rebels and innocent civilians, tens of thousands of whom were herded into concentration camps.

Harding was merely repeating the conclusions of the American Wood-Forbes mission of 1921, which concluded that the Filipino people were not “ready” for independence. The authors of the findings included General Leonard Wood, who was to govern the Philippines as Governor General until 1927. The Wood-Forbes report provoked fierce opposition in the Philippines and a delegation from the Philippine Senate, led by its President Manual Quezon , had come to Washington to challenge the report. In 1936, Quezon would become the first national president of the Philippines when the United States granted the country Commonwealth status, a form of semi-colonial rule.

Harding’s statement in 1922 was an unqualified defense of imperialism, speaking of the powers that be “training” and “educating” indigenous peoples. He cited the British Empire as “reflecting the colonial advantages of wider association under one flag”. Harding came close to the truth, when he noted, “that under the Four Power Treaty, the security of the Philippines was guaranteed so long as the islands remained under American protection”.

Manuel Quezon (collection of the United States Library of Congress)

The Four Power Treaty signed in 1921 by Britain, France, the United States and Japan was an attempt to establish an imperialist status quo in the Western Pacific. It included a division of World War I spoils in the region, particularly German colonial possessions.

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