New York meeting discusses political questions posed by Washington's war and attacks on workers' rights
BY STEVE CLARK AND PATRICK O'NEILL
NEW YORK--"We are here today as part of organizing a working-class campaign against U.S. imperialism and its war against the peoples of Afghanistan and the region," said Mary-Alice Waters, opening a September 30 meeting at Columbia University here. "It's a war, like other imperialist slaughters before it, that is an extension of the U.S. rulers' accelerated assault on working people at home."
Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and editor of the Marxist magazine New International, chaired the event, "Communists and the Fight Against Imperialism Today." The response by more than 350 workers, students, and young people--from up and down the East Coast, and from as far away as Tucson, Arizona, St. Paul, Minnesota, Omaha, Nebraska, and Vancouver, British Columbia--was evidence of their determination to deepen that campaign.
"The class struggle doesn't go into remission," Waters said, as the propertied ruling class and their government in Washington exploit the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to rationalize use of massive U.S. military might to maintain their world domination and continue attacks on workers' wages, job conditions, and democratic rights. To the contrary.
As the meeting convened, Waters said, tens of thousands of state workers in Minnesota were preparing to strike October 1 against employer efforts to reduce medical benefits and maintain wage increases below the rise in the cost of living. She also pointed to the response by members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) who are organizing to expose company responsibility for the September 23 deaths of 13 coal miners in two methane explosions at the Jim Walter No. 5 mine in Brookwood, Alabama. And she called attention to recent protests in Cincinnati, condemning the acquittal after a one-week bench trial of the cop who killed Black youth Timothy Thomas last April.
Communist workers are more deeply involved as part of the rising resistance by a broader vanguard of workers and farmers against capitalist assaults on their living and working conditions, Waters said. SWP members are also teaming up with members of the Young Socialists to reach out to students on college campuses who are attracted to this increase in struggles by working people and can be won to the revolutionary movement.
"The determination by layers of working people to press forward with their strikes and other struggles, to refuse to be cowed by what will be increasing patriotic demagogy that 'now is not the time,'" Waters said, "is at the heart of the fight against imperialism and its wars."
The September 30 meeting was part of five days of meetings and discussion by members and supporters of the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists. Socialist workers who are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) met September 29-30 to chart a course for the party's work in the industrial unions (see article on page 12). SWP members who are coal miners and belong to the UMWA, as well as those who are members of the United Auto Workers (UAW), will be meeting in October.
The SWP National Committee met October 1-2, along with leaders of the party's trade union work, organizers of party branches and organizing committees, and leaders of communist organizations in Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. On October 3 a subcommittee of that body continued deliberations.
U.S. rulers need blood of GIs
Waters explained that the organizers of the September 30 meeting had discussed and decided to open the program with a presentation on the class struggle in the United States. They asked Alice Kincaid, a coal miner, to be the first speaker and report on her just-concluded visit to Brookwood, Alabama, where the mine disaster had taken place. Kincaid was followed by several others speakers who discussed aspects of politics in the United States, as well as in the region where Washington has launched its war. ( These presentations are covered in the article on page 9.)
Jack Barnes, the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, was the final speaker at the event. At that time, a week away from the Bush administration launching its bombing of Afghanistan, the patriotism the U.S. rulers and big-business media was trying to whip up was still "skin deep," Barnes said.
He pointed to several of his own recent experiences. As Barnes and another SWP leader, Jack Willey, were on their way to a meeting in midtown Manhattan the previous Friday, for example, they walked past a young Mexican woman on the street selling American flags. "Patriotic zeal," he noted, "is not the main motivation of most of those selling flags and colored ribbons on the streets these days."
At just that moment, Barnes said, a large truck rounded the corner, decked out with two full-sized American flags. The young driver spotted the woman, shot his fist out the window, and shouted: "Viva Zapata!" She returned the salute with a big smile.
To really crank up war fever, the socialist leader said, "the U.S. rulers need the blood of American GIs killed in combat. They need body bags to start being unloaded on tarmacs at U.S. air bases.
"The death of 5,000 civilians at the World Trade Center is not enough," Barnes said. That's "the slaughter of the innocents": something "abhorred, in word, by all three of the desert monotheisms--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Despite the spectacle of 'national mourning' the superrich ruling families have promoted and sucked dry since September 11," he said, "they truly care little or nothing for the lives of civilians.
"It is class-conscious workers and fighters for national liberation who draw a hard-and-fast distinction between the killing of innocent civilians and the deaths of soldiers in combat."
To get a war hysteria rolling the rulers need one of two things, Barnes said. Either the assassination of a top bourgeois figure. Or a substantial spilling of the blood of soldiers--such as the sinking of the USS Maine in 1898, used by President William McKinley as a pretext to go to war against Spain, the first war of the imperialist epoch; or the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, utilized by the administration of Franklin Roosevelt to advance the U.S. rulers' aim of declaring war against their imperialist rivals in Japan and Germany.
'We' versus 'they'
In the meantime, Barnes said, the U.S. rulers have sought to stir up a patriotic whirlwind of emotionalism and sentimentality to reinforce the illusion that "we Americans" have common interests--whether we're among the hundreds of millions of workers and farmers exploited by a handful of capitalist families in this country; or a member of one of those exploiting families and their hired servants in top echelons of the government, big business, the church, schools, and press.
"This classless 'we,' for example," Barnes said, "embraces both death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and Pennsylvania governor Thomas Ridge, who has signed Mumia's death warrant and refused to grant him a new trial." Barnes pointed out that President Bush has named Ridge the new, cabinet-level "czar" of "homeland security."
Behind the rulers' concerted public lamentations, Barnes said, they are seeking to disarm opposition to their deepening militarization on the home front and course toward war abroad. In this regard, he pointed to an interview with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in the September 29 New York Times, conducted by the paper's law correspondent Linda Greenhouse.
"Describing herself as 'still tearful' after viewing the World Trade Center site," Greenhouse wrote, this chief justice-hopeful "told a law school audience in Manhattan yesterday that as part of the country's response to terrorism, 'we're likely to experience more restrictions on our personal freedom than has ever been the case in our country.'"
According to Greenhouse, O'Connor added that "lawyers and academics will help define how to maintain a fair and just society...at a time when many are more concerned with safety and a measure of vengeance."
Barnes asked: "How many of you want to hand over decisions about your 'rights' to the tender mercies of lawyers and academics?"
"Count me out," he added.
The U.S. rulers, Barnes said, want working people to ask: "How can 'we' protect ourselves against 'fanatics' around the world? What are 'we' going to do about stopping 'terrorism'?"
But for workers and farmers here or anywhere else, Barnes said, the only "we" is other working people the world over with whom we share common class interests and a common class enemy--first and foremost the capitalist rulers of the United States, the earth's mightiest and most brutal military power, and its most ruthless exploiters.
"From the standpoint of working people," Barnes said, "that ruling class, its twin political parties, and its state and other institutions are not 'we' but 'they.' It's they, the capitalist war-makers, out of whose hands the working class must organize our fellow toilers and those we can win from the middle classes into a revolutionary struggle to take power--or else they will never stop terrorizing humanity."
The imperialist rulers want to hide from workers and farmers the truth explained in the statement released September 11 by the Socialist Workers Party through its candidate for mayor of New York, Martín Koppel. After calling on working people to oppose the U.S. government's war drive and deepening assaults on workers' rights, and explaining that revolutionists reject the use of violence against innocent civilians such as that in New York and Washington, the statement said:
The U.S. government and its allies for more than a century have carried out systematic terror to defend their class privilege and interests at home and abroad--from the atomic incineration of hundreds of thousands at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the 10-year-long slaughter in Indochina, to the war against the Iraqi people in 1990-91, to the burning to death of 80 people at Waco on its home soil, to other examples too numerous to list. In recent weeks, the White House and Congress have stood behind Tel Aviv as it escalated its campaign of both random killings and outright murders in its historically failing effort to quell the struggle by the dispossessed Palestinian people for the return of their homeland.
Half a century ago the revolutionary workers movement and other opponents of colonial outrages, racism, and anti-Semitism in all its forms warned that by waging a war of terror to drive the Palestinians from their farms, towns, and cities, the founders of the Israeli state and their imperialist backers in North America and Europe were pitting the Jewish people against those fighting for national liberation in the Middle East and worldwide; they were creating a death trap for the Jews, which Israel remains to this day. By its systematic superexploitation of the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America; by its never-ending insults to their national and cultural dignity; by its ceaseless murderous violence in countless forms--U.S. imperialism is turning North America into a death trap for working people and all who live here.
"Workers and farmers in the United States have now entered the world," Barnes said.
"For a century the U.S. rulers have largely succeeded in convincing American working people that, at least on home territory, we were exempt from the mass slaughter and misery inflicted worldwide as a result of capitalism's inherent drive toward imperialist domination, fascism, and war. That's the source of the dangers to human civilization in today's world, not 'fanatics' or 'terrorists.' Our class has now joined the rest of toiling humanity."
In this regard, Barnes quoted a British columnist who wrote, "It reminds me of the bitter old foreign correspondent's joke that in news terms, one dead Americans equals 10 Israeli Jews, equals 100 Bosnians, equals 50,000 Bantu Africans."
Over the previous weeks, Barnes said, the employing class in the United States had organized moments of silence, blood drives, volunteer rescue brigades, ceremonies, and other such "civic" displays in order to play on human solidarity to mobilize the population behind the rulers' war drive.
"They put Oprah on a stage in Yankee Stadium to turn on the tears before millions over nationwide television," Barnes said. "But human beings don't grieve for people we don't know. That's a fact of human psychology; otherwise none of us could ever function.
"For self-serving ends, the rulers and their shameless media propagandists have ripped away privacy from thousands of people who did lose family members and friends on September 11. They are cynically exploiting concrete individual weeping in order to turn it into general patriotic fervor."
But none of this has anything to do with human solidarity, Barnes said. It is part of the capitalists' political preparations to maintain their inhuman social system, restrict the rights and drive down the conditions of working people at home, and inflict unimaginable horrors on toilers abroad.
"It's part of the 'pornographication of politics' that has accompanied the deepening crisis and instability of the world capitalist order over the past decade," Barnes said.
"The rulers barrage working people with sensationalized stories of individual corruption, 'decadence,' sex, divorce, and tragedy, all of it turned into group emotion. Whether it's the sex life of President Clinton or Prince Charles; the death in a car crash of Princess Diana; or the private mourning for friends and loved ones killed at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon--the effect of such engineered public spectacles is to take our eyes off the exploitative class relations that are the source of social ills and human misery under capitalism."
All this is part of the rulers' manipulation of anxiety, resentment, and fear of loss in order to diminish what Barnes pointed to as the only reliable basis for human solidarity--the political solidarity of workers, farmers, and other exploited toilers. That solidarity is based not on sentimentality or fear but on the growing political consciousness and confidence of the working majority of humanity who have no class interest in the exploitation, oppression, and humiliation of other human beings.
"That's why the front page of every issue of the Militant during the campaign against the imperialist war," Barnes said, "needs to feature an article or two about a strike or rally organized by workers, a farmers protest, a demonstration against cop brutality, an action in defense of immigrants' rights, or a protest to demand affirmative action for Blacks, women, and other oppressed layers of the working class.
"That's how growing numbers of workers and youth will come to understand in practice who 'we' and 'they' really are--and to think and act accordingly."
Written for 'posterity'?
Barnes commented on a letter from a Militant reader in Miami Beach that he had received shortly after the September 11 statement was released by the Socialist Workers Party.
The writer said that after first hearing about the statement from "my New York friends," who are "understandably...very emotional about the situation," he read the statement on the Militant web site and was "very troubled by the tone and presentation of the SWP's point of view." He forwarded to Barnes the reply he had written to these New York friends.
The writer was particularly disappointed, he explained, that it was only in the seventh paragraph that the SWP statement said: "Whoever may have carried out the September 11 operations, the destruction of the two World Trade Center towers, and the air attack on the Pentagon--with the resulting deaths and injuries of thousands of men, women, and children--these actions have nothing to do with the fight against capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression. Revolutionists and other class-conscious workers, farmers, and youth the world over reject the use of such methods."
The SWP, the writer told his New York friends, "seems to have lost a sense of the moment. Twenty years from now that statement from the NYC Mayoral candidate may seem as if it was to the point." But, he continued, "The essence of a situation does not accurately describe the reality of that moment."
The "tone and presentation" of the party's statement, the writer of the letter said, "will prevent all those American workers who are not emotionally dead from getting to paragraph #7.... I believe that this campaign statement was written for posterity not from the point of view of intervening in this struggle as it exists today. That's the mark of a sect!"
The letter is wrong on both counts, Barnes replied.
"First, the statement was not written for 'American workers' but for the workers of the world, remembering that working people in the United States are an integral part of that international class.
"Communists don't take our political positions and principles from the current consciousness and concerns of these workers," Barnes said, "let alone from emotions 'of the moment.' We explain, as clearly as we can, the class interests and historic line of march of the working class, which is no different for workers in the United States than for our sisters and brothers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the world."
Second, Barnes said, communists never write anything "for posterity." The party's September 11 statement was written for the present, to politically arm class-conscious workers, farmers, and young people to act. Because revolutionaries know that if working people act, if we organize to fight, Barnes said, "we will transform the possibilities before humanity."
That's what communist workers and youth have done in the weeks since September 11, he pointed out. They have taken the campaign against imperialism and its war drive onto the streets in workers' districts; onto the job in plants, mines, and mills; onto the campuses; and to union events and social protests.
As during the opening days and weeks of Washington's war drive against Iraq 10 years earlier, Barnes said, worker-bolsheviks across the United States and around the world were immediately confronted with decisions about what to say and how to conduct themselves on the job. They came under pressure from their employers, and often from some co-workers as well, to observe patriotic moments of silence called for by the Bush administration, to take American flags or yellow ribbons, to attend church services, to join in union-organized blood drives or collections--all organized under the banner of public mourning to mobilize support for the U.S. rulers' chauvinist militarization drive.
Barnes called attention to the example set by communist workers--none of them either "emotionally dead" or mentally dead--who held their ground, stuck to their principles, and steadfastly refused to join in these patriotic displays.
In doing so, these workers established where they stood from the outset, won respect from co-workers, and laid the basis for ongoing discussions and political work as the U.S. war and its consequences unfold.
These workers were prepared above all--in their minds, in their habits, and in their gut--by their accumulated experience as disciplined cadres of the communist workers movement. Equipped with that training in proletarian politics, Barnes said, the timeliness, tone, and communist clarity of the Socialist Workers Party's September 11 statement undoubtedly stood them in good stead, as well.
Two classes, different responses
In the wake of the World Trade Center attack, Barnes said, public discourse in much of New York City had been covered by "a patina of petty-bourgeois hysteria and panic."
But there's not a single, socially homogeneous "New York," Barnes said, any more than there is a single "America." Cities, like countries, are class divided, and they are politically polarized. "They are a geographical connection of 'we' and 'they.' And especially as the rulers head into a war, they want to make us think of everybody, altogether, as we."
Barnes read from a recent Op/Ed piece by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, reflecting the panic among layers of the professional and middle classes and the deepening social crisis and insecurity underlying it. "Women I know in New York and Washington debate whether to order Israeli vs. Marine Corps gas masks, and half-hour lightweight gas masks vs. $400 eight-hour gas masks, baby gas masks and pet gas masks, with the same meticulous attention they gave to ordering no-foam-no-fat-no-whip lattes in more innocent days.
"They share information on which pharmacies still have...antibiotics that can be used for anthrax," Dowd wrote. "They are toting around flats and sneakers in case they have to run, and stocking up on canned tuna, salmon and oysters, batteries and bottled waters" And Dowd goes on in that vein for 16 paragraphs.
"But you don't see gas masks in the subways used by millions of working people every day, do you?" said Barnes. In fact, many workers are becoming impatient at cops who act even more brazenly like they own the streets in parts of the city, as well as the stoppages on roads and tunnels that are adding hours to the working day in some cases.
"Despite the hysteria that saturates the big business media," Barnes said, "there really are two New Yorks."
A would-be Bonaparte undone
New York City since September 11, Barnes said, also provided a textbook study in all the elements of Bonapartism at this stage of the capitalist crisis in the United States, as well as its current limitations.
Playing on the panic and insecurities of middle-class layers in times of crisis--ultimately the root of the mass base of any serious fascist movement--bourgeois figures will push themselves forward as someone who stands above conflicting classes and can restore order and stability. They demagogically pledge to cut through government bureaucracy and workaday politics to "get the job done," often by setting aside "legalities." Like H. Ross Perot during his run for the U.S. presidency in 1992, they appeal to special armed units--such as the Navy SEALs in Perot's case--as the only "trustworthy" and "incorruptible" force that can protect the population.
With the onset of the crisis in New York City, Barnes said, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani hoped to reverse his fortunes to push himself forward as the "can-do" man of the hour. Prior to September 11 Giuliani had still been the object of a nearly year-long press campaign scandalizing him over his personal life, part of the pornographication of bourgeois politics noted earlier.
Now, scheduling frequent press conferences at "Ground Zero," the mayor sought to project an image of composure, control, and candor--the man "in charge." He repeatedly reminded the public that the "uniformed services" are "my people"--above all the cops but also firemen, several hundred of whom were killed when the Twin Towers collapsed. The members of the "uniformed services" who died in the catastrophe have been elevated by the press and politicians as heroes above the 4,000 plus civilians also killed there.
A would-be Bonaparte, Giuliani then began testing the waters, first to see if the current two-term limit could be set aside so he could run for mayor again this fall, or if his term could at least be extended for a few months.
"But in a situation where timing was everything," Barnes said, "Giuliani made his bid too late, days after the atmosphere of crisis had peaked and begun to recede in New York City, along with his own place in the limelight. Even more decisive, the mayor had misjudged the stage of the broader social crisis, which was not yet ripe for an open move to push parliamentary forms to the side."
Nonetheless, Giuliani's class intuition that from within the "uniformed services" will come the shock troops of Bonapartism in the United States was on the mark, Barnes said--and of fascist movements, too. Police departments, sheriffs offices, and other "law enforcement" agencies are already honeycombed by those with ultrarightist sympathies. And this will become more the case as the capitalist crisis deepens and the employing class begins unleashing armed gangs against workers picket lines and organizations of labor and the oppressed.
At the National Committee meeting the two days following the public meeting, Barnes responded to several questions about whether the cops and firemen serve the same class interests in capitalist society. No, Barnes said. The police are armed defenders of capitalist order and property; becoming a cop puts anyone, regardless of class origin, outside the working class and on the side of the propertied in the class struggle. It is a class divide, Barnes said.
Firemen are not an armed force in defense of bourgeois property and rule. Many firemen see themselves more like other public employees and can express solidarity with unions and embattled workers. But the ruling class organizes fire departments in a hierarchical, military fashion, with a chain of command from lieutenants and captains on down. The officer corps of the police and fire departments collaborate day in and day out on many different levels, making the cadres in fire houses vulnerable to all the reactionary pressures emanating from the ranks of the cops and rightist currents they gravitate toward.
Pakistani toilers are U.S. workers' allies
The U.S. rulers face formidable obstacles in carrying out their war against Afghanistan and points beyond--from the Philippines and Indonesia in the East, to Iraq and Syria to the West.
"More than half a century after the peak of its world domination in the years just after Washington's victory in World War II," Barnes said, "U.S. imperialism--history's final empire--is acting today from relative weakness, not strength."
With only London solidly at its side, Washington has not been able, and will not be able, to marshal the kind of broad if conflicting and unstable coalition it patched together 10 years ago to wage war against Iraq. Other European powers have been more guarded in their support and have little to offer militarily in any strategic sense. Putin is eager to boost Russia's leverage in Europe as much as possible and deal blows to restive Muslim oppressed peoples from Chechnya eastward throughout its current territories and the former lands it still dominates; authorities in Moscow, however, still look upon the U.S. military buildup across their southern flank in Central Asia as a mixed blessing.
The biggest obstacle to the war drive right now, Barnes said, are the working people of Pakistan, who have mobilized in their tens of thousands to oppose U.S. war preparations and to condemn Islamabad's support for the aggression.
For this very reason, he said, they are also objectively the most important international ally of working people in the United States, as are working people and youth from Egypt and Palestine to Indonesia and the Philippines who are already going into action to respond to Washington's war moves.
World Youth Festival in Algeria
Barnes called attention to those seated on the platform at the meeting who had participated in the 15th World Festival of Youth and Students in Algeria in August, which drew some 6,000 delegates from around the world, particularly from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
These young people--part of some 25 Young Socialists from seven countries who participated in the festival-- "had an effect on something historic," Barnes said. "I think it's hard either for them or others to fully absorb what was registered by that gathering."
The success of the Algiers festival, Barnes said, marked another step forward in building a new anti-imperialist youth movement worldwide.
This is quite a shift in international working-class politics, Barnes said. During the first 13 World Youth Festivals between 1946 and 1989, the Stalinist movement that drew on the immense resources of the regime in Moscow had tightly controlled the festivals. They sought to use these gatherings as a way to advance Moscow's class-collaborationist diplomatic goal of reaching a long-term accommodation with imperialism--an objective as ultimately utopian as it was counterrevolutionary.
With the collapse of the Stalinist regimes across Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union itself between 1989 and 1991, he said, it appeared for a time that there would never be another world youth festival. But the Cuban government hosted a festival in Havana drawing some 12,000 participants in 1997, welcoming a broad range of revolutionary and anti-imperialist forces from around the world, excluding no one, and closing down no conversations or literature tables.
The Algiers festival, the first ever held on African soil, was a second advance for that new, anti-imperialist tradition, said Barnes.
Barnes noted that in 1965 a previous World Youth Festival had been scheduled for Algeria. It held out the promise of being more open than prior festivals to exchanges among young revolutionaries, under the impact of developments at that time in the anti-imperialist struggle: the wave of successful independence fights across Africa and the Middle East, the Cuban Revolution, and the victorious struggle against French colonial rule in Algeria itself, which had culminated in the establishment of a workers and peasants government there with close ties to revolutionary Cuba.
Barnes said he had been planning to participate in that earlier Algeria festival as part of a delegation from the Young Socialist Alliance. A few months earlier, he said, he and another YSA leader had conducted an interview with Malcolm X for the Young Socialist magazine; the interview is still in print in a pamphlet and book published by Pathfinder, both under the title, Malcolm X Talks to Young People.
When Barnes took Malcolm the completed interview to look over, Malcolm was glad to hear about the YSA's plans to attend the youth festival in Algeria. Malcolm said he had met a number of young revolutionaries during his visits over the previous year to Africa, including Algeria, and Europe. He said he would draw up a list of these contacts, so the YSA could send them copies of the Young Socialists interview and arrange to meet and hold discussions at the Algeria youth festival.
That way, Malcolm added, "both sides can broaden your scopes."
"I told Malcolm we looked forward to doing so," Barnes said.
Two events happened that changed those plans.
First, in February 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated, before the interview in the YS had been printed and before the YSA leaders had gotten the list of young revolutionaries from Malcolm. "We fully intended to carry out our pledge to Malcolm, nonetheless," Barnes said. "We were confident that if we went to the festival in Algeria, we would find some of those young revolutionaries Malcolm had spoken of, and meet many more like them."
Second, in the spring of that year, just days before the festival was scheduled to open, the workers and farmers government was overthrown in a counterrevolutionary coup and the gathering was canceled. Barnes was half way down the Italian peninsula on a train en route to Algeria when he got the news.
"So, fulfilling our pledge to Malcolm was postponed," Barnes said. "I never thought it was canceled--pledges among revolutionaries never are. I always considered fulfilling that pledge to be postponed--but, of course, I had no way of knowing for how long, or under what circumstances the deed would be done.
"Now we know," Barnes said. "It was fulfilled last month by the international Young Socialists delegation to the 15th World Youth Festival in Algiers."
That delegation, he said, had discussions and established relations with young revolutionists and anti-imperialist fighters from across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and got hundreds of copies of communist and revolutionary books and pamphlets into their hands.
In contrast, a substantial number of the official Communist Parties and their youth organizations with historic ties to the former Stalinist regime in Moscow either boycotted the 2001 Algiers festival altogether (such as those from France, Italy, Canada, and Japan), or sent only a token delegation (such as two leaders from the Young Communist League in the United States).
The pretext for this de facto boycott was that the Algerian government had repressed protests for language and national rights by the oppressed Berbers in that country and that political conditions had become too explosive and dangerous at the time. The call to stay away from the festival was in fact organized, behind the scene, by the imperialist government of France and by international Social Democracy, which scheduled a competing youth festival in Panama some weeks earlier.
At the SWP National Committee meeting following the September 20 public event, Barnes noted that both the political character of the Algiers festival and its composition was falsified by the article that appeared in the September 8 issue of the People's Weekly World, the newspaper of the Communist Party USA. The article was written by Noel Rabinowitz, one of the two YCL leaders who attended the festival.
"Though we were not a large delegation," Rabinowitz wrote, "the participation of anti-imperialist youth of the U.S. was a political victory for the festival. the Young Communist League USA (YCLUSA) took our internationalist responsibility seriously and played a leadership role in the effort. The YCLUSA convened the United States National Preparatory Committee (USNPC) ensuring the re-pre–sentation of a broad array of national youth and student groups such as the United States Student Association and United Students Against Sweatshops. The YCLUSA repre-–sented the USNPC in the Inter–national Organizing Committee, led the U.S. delegation and participated in the plenaries of several key sessions."
The truth--that the YCL ended up discouraging participation in the gathering and only organized for two of its own members to go--is completely covered up in the article.
Ever since the 1930s, Barnes said, the world Stalinist movement had gotten used not only to being able to circulate lies but also to "make them true"--simply by means of corruption, thuggery, and ass-ass-–inations by its worldwide murder machine.
"The greatly weakened remnants of this former international movement are no longer able to do so," Barnes said. "That's a big advance for the international working class.
"But as the People's Weekly World article on the World Youth Festival shows," Barnes added, "that doesn't mean they won't still try."
The SWP leader noted at the party's National Committee meeting that since September 11 both the YCL and Communist Party USA were among those in the working-class movement that had gone the farthest in accepting the U.S. rulers's patriotic framework of "we" and "our country's" fight against "terrorism."
The YCL featured a badge on its web site saying, "I love New York, Honor their memory.... Unite in Peace." The YCL urged its chapters "to support the vigils and rallies for peace that are spontaneously happening around the country," along the central political axis: "No more victims! End the cycle of violence."
In a September 21 statement, CPUSA national chairperson Sam Webb had the following to say: "The death of more than five thousand people is an American tragedy. Other countries have experienced equal or worse tragedies, but this took place on our national soil and was so cruel and unexpected....
"Indeed, people are questioning long held assumptions that inform how we think about our lives, our families, and our nation's future. We are all asking, 'How could it happen here and what can be done to prevent it reoccurrence?'"
Soldiers, not warriors
In closing his talk at the September 30 meeting, Barnes said that while the events of the previous two weeks had not "reshaped the globe"--as a headline in that day's New York Times "Week in Review" section had proclaimed--political forces that were already in motion had indeed begun speeding up.
That fact, he said, places special responsibilities on the communist movement, as well as increased opportunities, to deepen its course of following the lines of resistance in the working class and among farmers, to reinforce its industrial union fractions, and to win young forces to the Young Socialists and the Socialist Workers Party.
"We are building a movement of disciplined soldiers, not individual warriors, he said.
"Warriors have many traits worthy of emulation," Barnes said, "chief among them being courage."
No revolutionary organization can accomplish much without cadres who display courage, both politically and physically, Barnes said. "But courage and discipline are not the same thing. And courage without discipline becomes just another form of petty bourgeois individualism. It can lead to unnecessary harm--to individual workers, to the communist movement, and to innocent bystanders."
"We've often said that discipline is something that cannot be imposed," the SWP leader said. "It is something the cadres of a proletarian party internalize over time, through collective class-struggle experience and Marxist political training. When we need party discipline most, there often won't be time to check with some higher body: we'll simply act on the basis of who we've become through that process of political preparation."
At the same time, Barnes said, September 11 was the time, more than ever, when all the units of the communist movements--the party branches and organizing committees, the trade union fractions, the chapters of the Young Socialists--needed to get together, discuss the political situation, and decide what they were going to do.
"The organizational structure, norms, and institutions of the communist movement become more important at times such as these," he said. "That's when all of them are put to the test, in the crucible of an imperialist war and militarization drive."
These questions were central to the two days of discussion and decisions by the Socialist Workers Party leadership following the September 30 public meeting, as well as the international leadership gathering that wrapped up the five days of deliberations.
Returning to the themes that had been struck by Mary-Alice Waters in opening the New York public meeting, Jack Barnes noted in his closing remarks that during an imperialist war, strikes by workers and other actions in which working people oppose the oppression and brutalities of capitalism are the cells of the most fundamental counter to the rulers' patriotic course.
"Communists are not organizing an antiwar campaign," Barnes said. "As the Bolsheviks put it during World War I, we don't have a revolutionary policy in peace time and a peace policy in wartime.
"Instead, in the midst of Washington's war, we are organizing a stepped-up campaign against imperialism, against what Lenin taught us is the final stage of capitalism--the stage we're still in. We keep our eyes focused on the class struggle."
It is in the course of class battles, Barnes said, that the illusion that "we"--the ruling class and working people together--need to "equally" sacrifice for the war effort is challenged in practice by the actual experience of growing numbers. Workers who go on strike or stay the course in some social or political struggle, despite the pressures of imperialist war, are refusing to sacrifice their rights, wages, union organization, or life or limb to the needs of the capitalist exploiters, Barnes said.
For communist workers, Barnes concluded, it is both possible and necessary to turn more deeply toward the resistance of working people in the Untied States in response to the imperialist war against Afghanistan. At the same time, a new generation can be won to the Young Socialists and the communist movement if revolutionary workers collaborate with YS members to go out to college campuses and elsewhere to meet young people repelled by the course of the imperialists and who can be attracted to the working class and revolutionary struggle.
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Speakers weigh revolutionary traditions, political opportunities
BY STEVE CLARK AND PATRICK O'NEILL
NEW YORK--The opening speaker at the September 30 meeting here on "Communists and the Fight against Imperialism Today" was coal miner Alice Kincaid. She had just returned from visiting miners and their families and neighbors in Brookwood, Alabama, and participating in a memorial service of 1,500 people for those killed in the mine disaster there.
The bosses' drive to squeeze more profits out of workers, cutting corners on safety in the process--a drive that has gone hand in hand with the U.S. rulers' increasingly aggressive foreign policy--took a deadly toll at the Jim Walter Resources Blue Creek Mine No. 5. Upon learning of the disaster, socialist workers in mining and other industries from Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York, and Alabama headed to the area to talk to miners, find out the facts, and report them for the Militant.
"Workers in the mine knew this was in the making," said Kincaid. "There was a constant tug-of-war between the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and the company over safety questions"--in particular, the frequent buildup of methane. Blue Creek No. 5 was a very deep and gassy mine, she said, the deepest in the United States.
"That didn't mean, however, that coal couldn't be mined safely," said Kincaid. "Miners knew the company was turning a blind eye to the accumulating dangers."
The big-business media treats the explosion as a "horrible tragedy, an 'act of God,'" said Kincaid. And the local newspapers are pressing the company's line that there should be "no rush to judgment" on the cause of the explosions.
In reality, said Kincaid, many miners point out that such killings are a direct result of the speedup drive of the coal bosses.
'An area rich in revolutionary history'
The next speaker was Ma'mud Shirvani, author of the introduction to the Pathfinder book To See the Dawn, which records the deliberations of the 1920 Congress of Peoples of the East, called by the leadership of the Communist International. The anti-imperialist congress had drawn some 2,000 delegates from Central Asia and elsewhere throughout the region.
In introducing Shirvani, who is also Pathfinder's Farsi-language editor, chairperson Mary-Alice Waters noted that Farsi is not only the official language of Iran but one of the major languages in Afghanistan as well.
Shirvani began his remarks by drawing attention to one of the displays just outside the meeting hall--a map, headlined "The Class Struggle on the 'Silk Road.'" The map featured dates and brief descriptions of revolutionary struggles in the region over the past century. (see ISR pages 4-5).
Volunteers had to research and prepare the map from several sources, said Shirvani. "There is no available map that depicts the real character of Afghanistan, showing the peoples of various nationalities and languages flowing across the borders of Iran, Pakistan, and countries in Central Asia--borders arbitrarily imposed in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries by the colonial powers." In Central Asia, those borders were drawn by British imperialism and tsarist Russia; it was the imperialist rulers of the United Kingdom and France who carved up Palestine, the Arabian peninsula, and what are now Syria, Iraq, and the so-called Gulf States.
Writing in a 1913 article entitled "The Awakening of Asia," Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin observed that "hundreds of millions of the downtrodden and benighted have awakened from medieval stagnation to a new life and are rising to fight for elementary human rights and democracy."
The oil fields in the Mideast, Iran, and Central Asia have long been a prime target of imperialist pillage, Shirvani said, as they remain central to Washington's military and diplomatic policies today. As part of struggles to regain their national sovereignty and dignity, peoples throughout the region have fought to retake control of oil and other natural resources.
"This year, in fact, marks the 50th anniversary of the nationalization of the British-owned oil industry in Iran," Shirvani said. Those anti-imperialist mobilizations built on the upsurge a few years earlier that had overturned the monarchy in Iran--the regime of the Shah--and established a republic. The toilers of Iran, Shirvani said, proved they could operate the refineries and other equipment--something the "enlightened" British imperialists had predicted they could never do--and "began to throw off the self-image that they were inferior to the colonial masters."
Reacting against this challenge to imperialist interests, Washington in 1953 carried out a CIA-organized coup against the Iranian republic, gaining an edge for U.S. oil interests against their British rivals in the process. The reinstalled regime of the Shah was "a prison house and torture chamber for workers, peasants, and oppressed nationalities," Shirvani said.
During the 1970s strikes and struggles against the military regime swept Pakistan, and a revolutionary upsurge peaked in Afghanistan in 1978, with the ouster of a pro-imperialist government. That same year a popular revolutionary struggle opened up in Iran, Shirvani said, "in which the working class emerged as the gravediggers of the Shah's regime," overthrowing it in early 1979.
"With the fall of the Shah," he said, "the U.S. rulers lost one of imperialism's two main pillars in that entire region of the world--the other being the state of Israel." And despite the slaughter of more than 150,000 civilians and soldiers during the 1990–91 Gulf War, Washington failed in its goal of establishing a protectorate in Iraq to replace what it had lost a little more than a decade earlier in Iran. "The U.S. rulers have not recovered from the blow of the Iranian revolution to this day," he said.
At the same time, he explained, "The toilers of Iran were not able to forge a proletarian leadership capable of leading them in establishing a workers and farmers government in 1979. Such a victory could have opened a new stage in the struggle by revolutionary-minded peasants, workers, and youth against imperialist oppression and for socialism throughout the region."
This failure in Iran was due in large part, Shirvani said, to betrayals by the Stalinist regime in Moscow and its backers in Iran going back to the post-World War II revolutionary upsurge in that country. The bureaucratic course and murderous factionalism of the pro-Moscow misleadership in Afghanistan, compounded at the end of 1979 by the disastrous Soviet invasion, set back the popular struggle there as well.
Stalinism's legacy throughout the Middle East and Central Asia was to leave the battle against imperialism bereft of revolutionary working-class leadership, Shirvani said. The methods used in the attacks on September 11 are a product of this leadership vacuum and resulting political retreats.
Explaining imperialism's roots
In her welcoming remarks at the opening of the New York meeting, chairperson Mary-Alice Waters had pointed out that "the communist movement has at our disposal a wealth of material explaining the roots of imperialism's unrelenting drive toward war. We have newspapers, magazines, books, and pamphlets that help us explain the line of march of the working class in the worldwide struggle for national liberation and socialism," Waters said.
She explained that week in and week out, members of the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists are introducing revolutionary literature to other workers, farmers, and youth. They sell the Militant, the Spanish-language monthly Perspectiva Mundial, New International magazine, and books and pamphlets published by Pathfinder Press off street tables in working-class districts in cities and towns across the United States, at plant gates, on campuses, and at political events.
She pointed, for example, to titles from the past decade such as issue no. 7 of New International, featuring "The Opening Guns of World War III: Washington's Assault on Iraq," and Capitalism's World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium, both by Jack Barnes, as well as U.S. Hands Off the Mideast! Cuba Speaks Out at the United Nations by Fidel Castro and Ricardo Alarcón, and To Speak the Truth: Why Washington's 'Cold War' against Cuba Doesn't End by Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara.
Among many other titles on sale at the large literature table at the New York meeting were The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels; Lenin's Struggle for a Revolutionary International; The Struggle for a Proletarian Party by James P. Cannon; In Defense of Marxism by Leon Trotsky; and Teamster Bureaucracy and Revolutionary Continuity: Marxist Leadership in the United States by Farrell Dobbs.
Both before and after the program, participants pored over these and many other books and pamphlets on the Pathfinder literature tables outside the meeting hall. Young people carefully studied titles, looking over and discussing the books. A table with steeply discounted shopworn books proved especially popular, with many purchasing a box or bag full of titles purchased for $1, $2, or $3 each.
Participants also gathered around a range of attractive displays with illustrations and text about the recently concluded World Festival of Youth and Students in Algiers, miners' fight for safe working conditions, the record of the Militant newspaper in opposing imperialist war, "Bolshevism versus anarchism," and other topics.
Supporters of the communist movement had prepared a large buffet of snacks, desserts, and beverages for the opening reception and informal discussion following the close of the event.
Pathfinder sales campaign
In introducing the third speaker at the September 30 meeting, Steve Clark, editorial director of Pathfinder, Waters reviewed some of Pathfinder's publishing plans for the end of 2001 and early 2002.
These include, among others, a new issue of New International magazine; a book-length interview with Cuban revolutionary leader Víctor Dreke; the first-ever Spanish-language and French-language translations of The History of American Trotskyism 1928–38 by founding SWP leader James P. Cannon; a Spanish translation of Barnes's Their Trotsky and Ours: Communist Continuity Today; and a new edition of the popular booklet by Joseph Hansen, Too Many Babies? The Myth of the Population Explosion.
Waters also described the campaign launched by Pathfinder to reach total sales of $500,000 in the 18 months to June 30 of next year. The army of volunteers around the world that helps in both the production and sales of Pathfinder books, she said, is "responding to the growing potential and what we know will be a political thirst for these books."
In addition, participants in the meeting contributed or pledged just shy of $35,000 towards a fall $125,000 Pathfinder Fund.
Washington deepens its war trajectory
In his remarks to the meeting, Clark responded to the assertion trumpeted by much of the big-business press, and echoed by many middle-class radicals, that Washington's post-September 11 militarization drive registered a fundamental policy shift.
"This is simply false," Clark said. "The U.S. rulers are taking the opportunity to put into play the course they have been preparing for, step by step, for some 15 years. With ongoing tactical differences over how far and how fast to move, the Congress, Clinton, and Bush the elder and younger have been pressing along this bipartisan course ever since the deepening crisis of the world capitalist order signaled by the 1987 stock market crash and collapse of the Stalinist regimes across Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union a few years later.
"With the collapse of those regimes," Clark said, "also came the collapse of the capitalist rulers' hopes that they could defeat the toilers of the world through a 'cold war.' But accomplishing that goal will take gigantic class battles and a 'hot war'--a coming conflict in which the toilers, with revolutionary leadership, can triumph."
The war against Afghanistan, Clark said, "is not some 'turn' in U.S. policy, but another step--and a new opportunity for the rulers--to try to recoup some of what they failed to accomplish in advancing imperialist interests during the bloody 1990–91 war against Iraq."
Similarly, the rulers' accelerated assault on political rights in the United States does not involve primarily new legislation or executive orders, but "the implementation of what was put in place over the previous eight years by the Clinton administration and Congress." Clark pointed to the reinforcement of a so-called homeland defense command structure; the use against immigrants of "secret evidence," "preventive detention," and curtailment of review and appeal rights under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act; the bolstering of commando and SWAT-style squads on the federal, state, and local levels; the establishment of a White House "counterintelligence czar"; and other such measures.
"They've had all this ready for use for several years, in anticipation of the rise in struggles by workers and farmers they know is coming in the United States," Clark said. "Now they have the pretext to ratchet up the pace."
Even the layoffs of airline employees and other workers the bosses are blaming on "terrorism" were largely planned well beforehand, as profits were being squeezed by overcapacity and increasingly volatile world competition, and as capitalism headed into its first worldwide recession since 1990–91. "The employers just seized the opportunity to wave the bloody flag against workers and unionists who stood up to defend the rights and livelihoods of working people," Clark said.
None of this would come as a surprise to anyone who's had a chance to read and think about some of the books and magazines referred to by Waters at the opening of the meeting, Clark said. He pointed to several others, including "U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War" in issue no. 11 of New International magazine, and Cuba and the Coming American Revolution by Jack Barnes published earlier this year.
Working people and youth in the United States who want to combat the social evils we see accelerating all around us, Clark said, need to look for revolutionary solutions and reach out to the struggles of workers and farmers the world over. The impoverishment and lack of industrial development in the countries where the great majority of humanity lives, and the vast inequities in social and cultural conditions, are the product neither of "conspiracies" nor "chaos," Clark said. "They are the inevitable result of how capitalism works, not how it doesn't work."
When the leaders of the victorious Bolshevik revolution in Russia launched the Communist International some 80 years ago, its statutes said it was breaking "once and for all with the traditions" of most previous organizations that claimed to be socialist "which, in reality, only recognized the white race." In the new communist world movement, it said, "are fraternally united people of all colors--white, yellow, and black--the toilers of the entire world."
Clark welcomed those at the meeting to join with the Socialist Workers Party, the Young Socialists, and their supporters in the ongoing effort to build such an international movement.
Young people stand their ground
"No one is more deeply affected by war than young people," said Waters in introducing the next speaker, Arrin Hawkins. "Young people recognize the implications for themselves and their generation when the rulers go into overdrive, playing upon human solidarity and sympathy to whip up support for their war drive."
Hawkins spoke on behalf of the national leadership of the Young Socialists. She is also a member of the steering committee of the party's United Food and Commercial Workers union fraction. Hawkins was a leader of the 160-strong delegation from the United States to the Cuba-U.S. Youth Exchange held in Havana in July, and then participated the following month in the World Festival of Youth and Students in Algeria. Other members of the World Youth Festival delegation were also seated on stage, as well as elected leaders of the party's UNITE, UFCW, and UMWA national union fractions.
"Since coming back from Cuba and Algeria, Young Socialists have been on a campaign to talk to young people about our experiences, and about the possibilities opening for an international anti-imperialist youth movement and to build the YS," Hawkins said.
As it happened, she and another delegation member were due to speak at a community college in Minnesota on September 11. "The professor asked me, 'Are you still comfortable speaking?' He said the subject--building an anti-imperialist youth movement--might imply that by 'imperialist' we meant the United States!"
"I answered him that, 'yes,' we want to go ahead with the meeting," Hawkins said. "We want to talk about the imperialist United States, and about the socialist alternative we can learn a lot about by looking at revolutionary Cuba."
In the meatpacking plant where she works in Chicago, Hawkins has also found daily opportunities to talk with co-workers about her opposition to the U.S. war drive and its patriotic trappings.
"One co-worker became visibly disturbed when I was talking to another worker," she said. "I told him, in a calm and civil tone, that this war is against the interests of working people. He didn't succeed in shutting down my conversation. And the next day he greeted me, as he usually does, with, 'Hello, how're you doing?'"
In closing her remarks to the meeting, Hawkins emphasized that "it's important to reach out to new people, to deepen our work among them.
"Young people are looking for a way forward. The SWP and Young Socialists need to organize systematic sales and other political work on the campuses, to introduce rebel-minded students to communist literature, and to win them to the Young Socialists."
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Socialist workers in unions discuss campaign against imperialism and its war drive
BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS AND SAM MANUEL
NEW YORK--Socialist garment and textile workers and meat packers from 21 cities across the United States met here September 29-30 to discuss the next steps in carrying out collective communist work in the trade unions and industries where they are employed. Charting a course of action against imperialism and its war drive today means deepening socialist workers' integration into labor and other social struggles in city and countryside, Socialist Workers Party leader Norton Sandler noted in an opening report to the fraction meeting on behalf of the party's Organization Bureau.
Most participants were members of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Others were working in garment, textile, or packing plants not yet organized by these unions. Two workers who are members of the Communist League in Canada employed in the meat packing and garment industries also took part.
Sandler pointed to a number of examples of ongoing struggles by working people in the United States, such as the response by miners in Brookwood, Alabama, to the deaths of 13 coal miners in two explosions at the Jim Walter no. 5 mine September 23.
Miners are speaking out, explaining they told the company of the increasing safety problems that would lead to a devastating methane explosion in the mine, and countering attempts by government officials and the big-business press to cover-up Jim Walter's responsibility for explosion.
As the socialist workers met, state workers in Minnesota were preparing for a strike for decent wages and working conditions that began October 1. Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura is using National Guard troops to operate some services in the state and is spearheading a vicious campaign against the strikers, telling them they must accept "sacrifices" because of Washington's war drive.
"As the war drive against Afghanistan escalates, pressures by the bosses and their government will grow on workers to subordinate our struggles to the needs of 'our company' and 'our country,'" Sandler said. This gives communist workers an opportunity to discuss with fellow unionists and workers that the only "us" and "them" in capitalist society is "we" the working class internationally and "they" the bosses and imperialist rulers, each with conflicting and usually diametrically opposed interests.
Sandler and others at the meeting noted a number of other proletarian struggles unfolding: the protests in Cincinnati's Black community against the acquittal of a cop who killed Timothy Thomas earlier this year; strikes by 2,500 Machinists in Amana, Iowa, by packinghouse workers against Washington Beef in eastern Washington State, and by members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Wyoming.
These and other struggles are the most effective resistance to imperialism and its wars, Sandler stated, because they objectively weaken the employers and their government in Washington, which is preparing a military assault on the people on Afghanistan and is intensifying its assault on workers' rights at home.
Sandler reviewed the response of socialist workers on the job to the war hysteria being organized by the U.S. government in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. "All of these displays of patriotism are aimed at drawing working people into the war they are organizing against the people of Afghanistan and the region," Sandler said. "But to do that they will also have to step up their assault on working people at home."
Attacks on workers' rights
Using the September 11 event to do what they were already planning to carry out, airline companies drew on "emergency" provisions in contracts to justify massive layoffs of up to 100,000 workers. American Airlines and others initially announced they would deny severance pay to laid-off workers, but had to back off in the face of protests by workers and their unions.
"Every airline worker will now have to go to the security office in the airports and be put through another security screening," he said. The federal government is placing armed National Guard troops in the airports and federal marshals on commercial flights.
Immigrant workers have come under increasing assaults as part of the war drive. "Many Mexican workers who usually visit home this time of year are not going because they know it will be difficult to get back across the border," said Sandler. Plans floated by the Bush administration to accelerate the legalization of immigrant workers from Mexico are being shelved for now and the U.S. government is preparing new ID cards for Mexicans who regularly come into the United States that include a fingerprint imprint that will be scanned for computerized identification.
"The bosses will also use the war drive to attempt to get us to produce more," explained Ron Morales, a garment worker from New Jersey. Supervisors in his plant distributed a letter in English and Spanish. Referring to the events of September 11, the statement read: "The most important contribution you can make to your business is to process, cut, sew, finish, and ship as many shirts as you can, as fast as you can, and with outstanding quality." Morales also explained that the company had cut the workday since September 11, with him and other workers getting only 25 hours a week.
Socialist workers described a number of instances of resistance to such efforts by the employers. John Studer, a garment worker from Philadelphia, for example, said that five strikes are now under way in that city, including by bus drivers, grocery store clerks, and other workers. Studer said that while socialists and fellow unionists were visiting one of these picket lines recently some passerby got mad at the pickets for striking past September 11. "But the strikers stood fast and said they are not ready to put off their fight," he said. "It's a good example of workers not subordinating their struggles to the government's 'national unity' hoax."
The imperialist war drive and assault on workers' rights by the employers and their government highlights the need for socialist workers to carry out communist work in the unions, many speakers said. This can only be done through their collective and consistent work talking socialism on the job. This includes bringing Pathfinder books, the Militant, and Perspectiva Mundial to co-workers; functioning as revolutionary politicians in the unions, seeking to chart a course that strengthens the basic defense organizations of the working class; bringing co-workers to strikes, social protest actions, and Militant Labor Forums and other political events; and introducing workers to the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists.
Experiences in New York to further this effort, where socialist workers are building fractions in the meat packing and garment industries, were discussed at the meeting.
"Over a two-year period in a central meatpacking district in New York City we had done very little political work, brought no workers to party forums and political events, sold few Pathfinder books and pamphlets and no subscriptions to the Militant," said Dennis Rich. "We had to recognize and act on the fact that we did not have a communist fraction, of the type we built at the beginning of the party's turn to the industrial unions and explained in the book The Changing Face of U.S. Politics."
Course to rebuild fraction
Rich, who went through that experience in New York and now works in a textile mill in the Carolinas, said the decision "brought to an end going to work to do your duty. We set out on a course to rebuild a communist fraction of meat packers in New York, where party and YS members think socially and act politically and talk socialism on the job every day." A similar decision was made to begin the process of building a fraction of garment workers in the center of the industry in the city.
This is possible with regular party leadership attention and work with each of the fractions-in-becoming. "The conclusions we came to in New York and the steps we are taking to rebuild fractions of socialist workers on this basis apply to the entire party as we work through the steps to strengthen the political work of our fractions in response to Washington's war drive the last couple of weeks," Sandler said.
After the initial joint session, socialists in the UFCW and UNITE met separately, concentrating more on the lessons of their political work in each industry and union they belong to.
"As a result of not being prepared, we found ourselves responding differently in some places," explained Lisa Potash, a Chicago sewing machine operator and member of UNITE Local 39-C, in her report to the meeting of the socialist garment workers. "When we function along these lines it means we don't have fractions that can be effective in the fight against imperialist war," she added. Potash said officials of UNITE appealed to workers to contribute money to a union-sponsored "Solidarity Relief Fund," a move that objectively aids the U.S. rulers' patriotic and nationalist campaign.
Standing up to war pressures
"An example of the need for political clarity and firmness required by vanguard workers today is the rejection of the imperialist war drive in any form," stated Ernie Mailhot, a meat packer and member of UFCW Local 81 in Seattle, in an initial summary at the meeting of socialist packinghouse workers. "This is a basic principle. Those who give credence to the U.S. war effort against the people of Afghanistan, in any guise, help to undermine the understanding of the distinction between 'them' and 'us,' between the capitalist exploiters on the one hand and the exploited working people on the other."
During the discussion in both fraction meetings, many examples were given of supervisors passing out yellow ribbons or American flag stickers to be put on hard hats, and holding moments of silence "for the victims of September 11."
Diana Newberry, a garment worker from Pittsburgh, reported that in the plant where she works the bosses announced that there would be a moment of silence and prayer for those killed in the September 11 attacks. "I remained at my machine and did not participate," she said. "This led to some tension and some workers didn't want to speak to me. But it opened the way to calm civil discussion with a few others," Newberry reported.
The bosses also organized a prayer service in the garment shop where another socialist works in Newark, New Jersey. She explained that even though she had only been in the plant a short time she stayed at her machine and would not be drawn into this pro-war activity.
In many factories the bosses organized similar moments of silence the day after U.S. president George Bush called for such patriotic actions in his address to Congress September 20.
A matter of principle
Samuel Farley works at Dakota Premium Foods in South St. Paul, Minnesota, where workers have been waging a struggle for more than a year for union recognition and a contract. "Every Friday, the company organizes a safety meeting in the cafeteria," Farley reported. "On September 21, management announced they would begin the meeting with a moment of silence. I asked them to unlock the door and stepped out of the room until the meeting resumed, even though I was alone in doing so at that time. It was a matter of principle."
Nan Bailey, a garment worker in Los Angeles, went through a similar experience that day at a large garment shop. The company asked all the workers at the plant to go to the plant's yard for a few moments of silence. Bailey and another co-worker were the only ones to stay at their machines.
Bill Estrada, a meat packer in New York, described his experiences on the job. "Things have calmed down a little, but there was a lot of emotion on the job the first few days after September 11," he said. "A foreman called me a 'terrorist.' There was a lot of pressure to speak out on the shop floor in front of everyone, on the spot. I decided it was better to approach individual workers and have calm discussions away from the boss, and to avoid any shouting matches. Socialists have won respect from a layer of workers and have a history of political work in this plant. A minority among my co-workers think 'we should get bin Laden.' But on the whole there is a lot of space to gain a hearing for opposing Washington's war drive."
"The answers to the big political questions are needed by vanguard workers to advance the struggles they are involved in," stated Joel Britton in his report on the work of communist meat packers in Chicago. He described systematic work among meat packers on the job, at plant gates, and in the region--as well as among broader layers in working-class neighborhoods--that have resulted in gaining new subscribers to the socialist press and selling copies of New International and Pathfinder books. "This is why we need to increase the political level of the functioning of our fractions. We are becoming more effective because we are filling this objective need."
Building on their experiences in carrying out a working-class campaign against imperialism and its war against the Iraqi people a decade ago, the meetings of the socialist meat packers and garment and textile workers affirmed the need to discuss with fellow workers why participation in moments of silence, taking yellow ribbons or American flags, or taking part in any other patriotic action weakens the working class in its struggle against the employers.
Skills and building fractions
Socialist workers in UNITE discussed the need to master skills in textile and garment shops, where speedup and increased production quotas are often the norm. In garment, where socialist workers prioritize sewing jobs, which are in the heart of production, workers often need to become proficient in several operations in order to keep the job. Sewing is a skilled job that takes time to learn, and, like other sewers, socialist workers seek to master a number of operations in minimize constant layoffs and short hours that often mark how the bosses organize production to the detriment of the workforce. Becoming a skilled operator is part of being able to get jobs in the large shops and garment districts where thousands of sewers work, Potash noted.
The discussion on gaining the skills necessary to do the job is completely tied with being an effective fighter on the job, being able to introduce workers to socialist ideas, books and the Militant newspaper as well as working with others against the bosses brutal speed up and worsening job conditions, she said.
The meetings discussed the subscription drives for the Militant, Perspectiva Mundial and to sell copies of the three issues of New International magazine that are most directly relevant to the current U.S. war drive against the people of Afghanistan--NI no. 7, with Opening Guns of World War III; NI no. 10, with Imper–ialism's March to Fascism and War; and NI no. 11, U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War. The meat packers fraction voted to adopt goals of 55 new Militant subscriptions, 55 new Perspectiva Mundial subscriptions, and 70 copies of New International before November 18. The garment workers adopted a goal of 50 new Militant subscriptions, 35 new Perspectiva Mundial subscriptions and 50 copies of New International.
Sam Manuel is a garment worker in Washington; Argiris Malapanis is a meat packer in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Tom Fiske, a meat packer in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Karen Ray, a garment worker in St. Paul, contributed to this article.
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