building communist party
BY BARBARA BOWMAN
LOS ANGELES — "We celebrate Pat Grogan's life today at the same time we celebrate winning the freedom of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, meaning that all of the Cuban Five, imprisoned in the U.S. for their defense of the Cuban Revolution, are back in Cuba," said Pat Nixon, opening a Dec. 21 meeting here to celebrate Grogan's political work. Nixon is organizer of the Pathfinder Print Project, supporters of the Socialist Workers Party who organize volunteer production work on revolutionary books from Pathfinder Press.
A nearly five-decade builder of the communist movement, Grogan died in San Diego Dec. 1 after a battle with cancer. Fifty people attended the celebration, organized by party supporters in the Los Angeles area, drawing participants from Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego.
"Like many of her generation, Grogan was inspired by the Cuban Revolution, the Black struggle and the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people during the U.S. war against their country," said Norton Sandler, a National Committee member of the SWP who co-chaired the meeting.
"Pat met Young Socialist Alliance members selling the Militant newspaper when she was a 21-year-old student at Columbia University. She joined the YSA and soon after the SWP, and never looked back," Sandler said. He pointed participants to attractive displays reflecting different events in Grogan's political life and the nearly 30 messages sent to the meeting from around the world.
Grogan joined at a time of rapid recruitment to the revolutionary party and quickly became a veteran, Sandler said. She was a leader in the Columbia Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, wrote for the campus paper and ran the first of many election campaigns as a SWP candidate.
Grogan's political generation participated in the rise of a new wave of struggles for women's rights, Sandler said. She joined in the SWP's participation in the fight to legalize abortion in the late 1960s and early '70s, and later in the fight for the national Equal Rights Amendment.
SWP turn to industry
In 1976 Grogan was living in Chicago, where she was among the first wave of party members who got jobs in the steel industry to be part of developing working-class resistance there. She joined "Steelworkers Fight Back," a current in the United Steel Workers that fought to democratize the union and transform it into a fighting instrument capable of resisting the steel bosses' attacks.
Women had traditionally worked in segregated departments in the steel mills, said Sandler. In the mid-1970s women Steelworkers increasingly won nontraditional jobs in the coke ovens, operating cranes and in the skilled trades, winning support from male co-workers and using the strength of the union to do so. Grogan was part of that fight.
Grogan served for a decade on the SWP National Committee and carried out a variety of leadership responsibilities, he said. She was a staff writer on the Militant newspaper and edited its "Women in Revolt" column. She attended the Socialist Workers Party's leadership school, where small groups of party leaders studied Marx and Engels for six month stretches. She ran as an SWP candidate for public office in New York, Illinois, Wisconsin and Utah.
Along with longtime party leader Evelyn Reed, Grogan wrote Abortion Is a Woman's Right! which party members and other battlers for women's rights used then and now. The pamphlet included an interview with Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a champion of the right to abortion in Canada, who was put on trial four times by the Canadian government.
Katy LeRougetel sent greetings to the meeting on behalf of the Communist League in Canada. She related how Morgentaler agreed to an interview, but told Grogan the only time he had was on a flight to Toronto. She rushed to buy a ticket, got on the plane and got the interview.
Linda Harris, a leader of the Communist League of Australia, sent a message about how they use the pamphlet today. "On recent visits we made to Bangladesh and Malaysia, we met young women and men wanting to read and discuss it," she said.
As workers' battles against attacks on their unions and their rights became more generalized, the overwhelming majority of SWP members got jobs in basic industry. Grogan continued to help lead party branches and the work of party members in the unions in Milwaukee and Salt Lake City after leaving New York.
"We worked together with other unionists in Salt Lake in the early 1990s to organize tours for Eastern airline strikers, a British coal miner, Pittson Coal strikers, and two members of the African National Congress Youth League," SWP Los Angeles branch leader and party National Committee member Ellie García told the meeting. "These fighters spoke at union meetings, community halls and in workers' homes." At the time Grogan was a member of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union at the Phillips Refinery and later the United Steel Workers at the Kennecott Copper mine.
Grogan left active party membership in the late 1990s, moving to San Diego along with her companion Jesse Smith and teaching school for the next 15 years. She remained a regular financial contributor to the party.
In recent years, she joined the Pathfinder Print Project. Dave Prince, the SWP National Committee member assigned to work with the project, explained that more than 240 volunteers help produce, upgrade and keep in stock more than 300 Pathfinder books and pamphlets used by SWP members and other vanguard workers. Grogan served on the steering committee of the English-French proofreading team.
"The print project is made up in its majority of comrades like Pat, who were trained through their experience in the party and its work in industry," Prince said. "It is not possible to imagine an international effort requiring the political commitment, discipline, attention to detail and organization that the print project requires could be led other than by those who got their training through that experience."
Nora Danielson, a party supporter from San Francisco, explained she had originally met Grogan in the 1970s when both were party members active in defense of women's rights, and she was glad to have had the chance to work with her again in the print project. "I always enjoyed her forthrightness and the easy way that invited response in kind," she said. "She had a sharp, clear political mind and heart."
A fund appeal raised $1,700 to advance the work of the party.