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New Ground 28

December, 1992 - January, 1993


  • Ok, we've won. Now... Light A Fire Under Clinton
  • Illinois Blazes Progressive Paths
  • Third Annual Radical Scholars Conference A Muted Success
  • Post-Election Panel Debates Meaning of Clinton Victory
  • Labor Activists Meet To Chart Strategy
  • Willy Brandt Fallen Comrade By Carl Shier
  • Youth Battle Free Trade; Head South Of The Border
  • Education Amendment Very Narrowly Defeated; No Fairness In School Funding For Illinois By David Peterson
  • Missouri Workers Need Your Help

  • Ok, we've won. Now...

    Light A Fire Under Clinton

    The day that we have all worked so hard for finally arrived November 3. Not necessarily the election of Bill Clinton, but the defeat of George Bush, and with him, twelve years of disasterous, hateful, divisive laissez-faire capitalism.

    Critical support for Clinton was hard for some DSAers to stomach. He does lead the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, he is the governor of a "right-to-work" state, and he did make a conscious effort to distance his campaign from Blacks and labor. And there is always the character issue.

    Yet, throughout the campaign he was strongly pro-choice, he has already announced his intention to end the ban on gays in the military, he wants to renegotiate NAFTA and he wants to restore some progressiveness to the tax structure. Most importantly, he views governement intervention in the economy as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

    For In These Times publisher Jim Weinstein, Clinton's election "means the end of the Cold War." For Noel Beasly, International Vice-president, Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, it opens up new space for our agenda.

    But Clinton is not going to be responsive to our agenda unless we make him respond. Franklin Roosevelt once said to group of labor leaders, "OK, you've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it!" The first 100 days after January 20 are when we have to be our most active. Set the tone, get involved in DSA!

    Illinois Blazes Progressive Paths

    Progressive forces in Illinois made history November 3 by electing Carol Moseley Braun as the first African-American woman to the US Senate.

    Braun beat beat Republican millionaire Rich Williamson soundly, 57%-43%. Former DSA Youth Organizer Jeremy Karpatkin directed Braun's field operations. Chicago DSA contributed volunteers and money to Braun's campaign.

    Chicago City Council member Luis Gutierrez was elected the first Latino to the US House of Representatives from the midwest.

    Former Black Panther Party leader Bobby Rush was also elected to the US House.

    Illinois also elected its first woman Supreme Court Justice.

    Third Annual Radical Scholars Conference A Muted Success

    For the third year, the Midwest Radical Scholars and Activists Conference drew together more than five hundred left academic and community activists, at Loyola University, October 23-25. This year's theme was "500 Years: From New World to New World Order." The opening plenary heard from: Manning Marable, African-American Studies scholar at University of Colorado, former DSA Vice-Chair and current leader in the Committees of Correspondence; Elizabeth Martinez, Chicano studies scholar and a leader in the Committees of Correspondence; Tony Mazzocchi, Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union leader and long-time advocates for a "labor party"; and Andrea Smith, Chicago leader in the native American group Women of all Red nations.

    More than 80 panels were presented, of which Chicago DSA sponsored four. The most successful, drawing about thirty folks, was a panel on "The Democrats after the Election" which heard from John Cameron, Research Director at Illinois Public Action and DSA member; Bob Fitrakis, Central Ohio DSA leader and candidate for Congress; and J. Hughes, Chicago DSA co-chair. The meeting was notably free of the rancor of most such discussions, with all agreeing that it made sense to treat participation in the Democratic Party as a tactical decision for each local group in each election, and not as a global principle. This position was bolstered by Fitrakis' performance, outrageously militant as always, and not at all identifiable as a meek capitulator to the Democrats.

    Our panel on "Electronic Democracy" heard from Carl Davidson, chief wheel behind the Conference and director of a computer consulting firm for the Left, Networking for Democracy, and Mike Muench, a Left Green activist. The 25 folks in this workshop participated in a conversation which ranged all over the gamut, from current legal battles over encryption of communications to whether representative democracy can be completely replaced by electronic referenda.

    Our two workshops on Sunday morning were less well attended, but deserve special mention to honor the valiant efforts of the speakers: Linda Shapiro, director of the health and Medicine Research Group, and Guidi Weiss, active in the Chicago DSA Health care Task Force, spoke on the dangers and promises of the health reform focus on "managed care." The group generally agreed that while HMOs and their ilk may play an important role under a single-payer national health insurance system, that they can never solve the access or cost-containment problems facing health care, though Clinton apparently thinks they can. Also Luther Snow, Executive Director of the Community Workshop on Economic Development, spoke on "Urban Development in the 90s," in spite of being stood up by two other speakers.

    Bogdan Denitch, Chair of DSA's International Affairs Committee and founder of the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York, on which this is modeled, was probably DSA's most visible representative however. Bogdan spoke that Friday night to a gathering of the various ethnic communities from former Yugoslavia, including a coalition of Chicago Muslim groups working to protect Bosnian Muslims. That talk was unfortunately much smaller than his previous Chicago appearances in the Serbo-Croatian communities, since he ran for office in Croatia this summer as a Social Democrat, and is now tagged as a militant opponent of the nationalist and fascist groups that most of the American ethnic groups support; many of Chicago's Serbs and Croats boycotted consequently, and that evening was a Muslim holy day. But his talk on Yugoslavia at the Radical Scholars conference was much more successful.

    The most dramatic of all, however, was his appearance on the panel "Left Strategy." This panel heard from successively: Abdul Alkalimat, a bookstore owner and advocate of black-led, Marxian revolution, who advocated that the Left encourage more Los Angeles-style "insurrections;" Elizabeth Martinez, who demurred to proffer strategy, and instead talked about how her trips to Cuba and China led her to join several Leninist sects, until she found herself in the reform Communist Committees of Correspondence (She did offer that we should try to learn more from native Americans); Dan Swinney, of the Midwest Center for Labor Research, who recounted the Center's effort to have the Chicago City Council use the right of eminent domain to expropriate run-away factories and give them to workers; Carl Boggs, a Left Green who confessed that the Greens had become a big disappointment, that he was burned out on giving strategic advice, and instead recounted the theoretical inadequacies of Marxism; and finally our star, Bogdan Denitch, who proceeded to dress down each of the other panelists, especially Alkalimat, and argue forcefully that while he would love to see a global movement of Green revolutionaries led by people-of-color, that on this planet, the mass Left is the hundred or so social democratic and labor parties, and that if we wanted to have a strategy, it should be to emulate them and work in coalition with them. While his arguments no doubted convinced some of the 100 or so in the crowd, a heated discussion with some of his fellow panelists did ensue.

    But what do you expect when you bring together under one tent everybody from authentic organizers for housing and community development projects with neo-Maoist supporters of the Shining Path?

    Next years' conference is already in the planning stages, and will take a different tack: clusters of similar community groups, focusing on housing, health care and so on, will be asked to sponsor and help organize three or four mini-conferences-within-the-Conference on their concerns. We hope that with this structural commitment to inclusion of community activist interests that we can tip the balance away from the sectarian political and extremely academic focus of some of the panels. If you are interested in participating in the planning for the next conference, please call J. Hughes 752-3562.

    Post-Election Panel Debates Meaning of Clinton Victory

    Post-election meetings are a dime-a-dozen these days. A panel discussion held November 15 at the United Electrical workers union hall reiterated familiar and conflicting interpretations of what the Clinton victory means for the left.

    The first speaker was Mel Rothenberg, member of the Illinois Committees of Correspondence (CoC) Steering Committee, and a professor of Math at the University of Chicago. Prof. Rothenberg acknowledged that the CoC was still formulating its opinions about many issues, including electoral politics, but that nonetheless most members had a long common experience in (Communist Party-based) electoral action. He then went on to argue that very little could be expected from the Clintn administration, in the areas of women's or minority empowerment, and in his support for NAFTA.

    Helen Schiller, the radical Alderperson representing Uptown, the poor North side area of Chicago, spoke next. She first emphasized that we did win in that we had to stop the Bush train, and we did. Ms. Schiller attacked Mayor Daley as being "more Republican than Edgar or Bush," whose policies are extremely regressive, and whose circle of advisers have now gone on to help get Clinton elected. She described city budget cuts that have been devastating needed services, and called for a re-commitment to building grassroots structures of popular power. In closing she described the plight of low-income housing in Chicago and cautioned that no politician, including the President, has the power to control the economy.

    The third speaker was James Weinstein, editor of In These Times. He began by saying that this election marked the end of Cold War era, and that while he didn't disagree with Mel about Clinton's defects, he agreed with Ms. Schiller that this was victory for the idea of an activist government. The electiono permits a revival of politics within the Democratic Party, with the increase in women and people of color in elected positions. The Democratic Party has shifted to the Left, regardless of Clinton. Clinton's strategy was clearly to minimize his association with labor and minorities in order to win back the Reagan Democrats, while at the same time winning labor's cooperation by backing "universal" health insurance, a striker replacement bill, military spending cutbacks, and so on.They will inevitably come into conflict over NAFTA, and Weinstein expressed hope that labor may now feel free to be a little more independent and critical of Clinton. Weinstein noted that Clinton had obligations to a very wide swath of constitutencies, even those that he marginalized in his campaign.

    Tim Black, professor emeritus at Chicago City College, spoke last. He seconded the pessimism about the Clinton victory, citing his experience with white Democrats' resistance to Harold Washington and Carol Braun. He noted that he might like Clinton, but he didn't trust him. The larger context, he insisted, were the trade agreements, which could empoverish mst Americans, and the possibility of war between the major powers.

    After an intervention/question by a member of Labor Party Advocates, Jim Weinstein presented a familiar DSA argument for the tactical nature of decisions to work in the Democratic Party vs. 3rd parties. He asserted that any group that couldn't get a candidate elected in a Democratic Party primary, couldn't get an independent elected. The responses quickly degenerated into a tirade against the Democratic Party, which appeared to leave most of those in attendence more bemused than convinced.

    Labor Activists Meet To Chart Strategy

    Should labor and progressives begin pressuring Clinton to the left immediately or should the expected "honeymoon" within the new government be extended for as long as possible?

    Activists from the labor and progressive communities met shortly after the election to discuss a response to the Clinton victory.

    The round-table discussion, sponsored by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and convened by ACTWU Vice-president Noel Beasly, explored the possibility of an action on Inauguration Day, sending a delegation of displaced workers, homeless, and the poor to Little Rock, Arkansas, and a petition drive.

    Consensus developed on pressuring Clinton from jump street despite the fact that this will most likely not be the strategy of the AFL-CIO leadership. Some form of demonstration or rally is likely for January 20, 1993.

    Further discussions will take place December 7, 6:30 p.m., at the ACTWU building, 333 South Ashland Avenue.

    Willy Brandt Fallen Comrade

    By Carl Shier

    The international socialist movement, and DSA in particular, lost a true friend when Willy Brandt died recently.

    When Brandt became president of the Socialist International, the confederation of democratic socialist, social democratic, and labor parties of which DSA is the US affiliate, he breathed life into that body. He moved it from a near defunct, Eurocentric organization into a truly international body with sections in 92 countries.

    Never had the SI held a convention outside of Europe until Brandt brought it to Vancouver, Canada, in 1978. As delegates, we sat just behind the Swedish and Spanish delegationsone in power, the other soon to be.

    Brandt recognized the socialist intelligence of DSA founder Michael Harrington. One of Mike's last task was to write the SI Declaration of Principles in June 1989 at Brandt's request. The program stressed the problem of North-South relations under capitalism.

    Brandt's time as West German Chancellor and mayor of West Berlin was highlighted by his ostpolitik, the policy which began normalizing relations between West and East Germany and thawed the Cold War until revived by Reagan, Thatcher, and Brezhnev. For this, Brand won the Nobel Peace Prize, which was truly deserved.

    Youth Battle Free Trade; Head South Of The Border

    As currently negotiated, the North American Free Trade Agreement would be a disaster for all of the workers of this hemisphere.

    President-elect Clinton, while expressing a desire to renegotiate the contract, is already beginning to show signs that he will not be pursuing the kind of language about worker rights and environmental standards that we would like to see included in NAFTA.

    To that end, the DSA Youth Section, with the help of Jose LaLuz, Education Director for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, has developed a fact-finding tour of maquilladoras along the US/Mexico border.

    There, workersprimarily womenwork for minimum wages and in sub-standard conditions, while capitalists salivate at the prospect of opening the entire country to these conditions.

    Upon returning to the US, national and regional speaking tours at campuses, churches, and union halls will educate the public about the true meaning of free trade.

    Testimony before legislators is also scheduled.

    The trip is January 5-12, 1993 and participants are expected to pay their own travel to Texas. Some financial aid may be available, contact the CDSA office for more information. Women, people of color, and bilinguals are especially encouraged to attend.

    Education Amendment Very Narrowly Defeated; No Fairness In School Funding For Illinois

    By David Peterson

    Equality in school funding was one of several important issues facing Illinois voters in the recent general election. Unfortunately, the measure placed on the ballot as the "Education Amendment" was defeated by a narrow margin, with a bloc of mainly white suburbanites playing the decisive negative role.

    In the end, the measure did get a "yes" from 57% of the voters, but Illinois requires a 60 % majority to amend the state's constitution. The strongest support came from the inner cities and the rural areas, where the schools are suffering the most.

    The proposed amendment's brief and unambiguous 99 words caused a storm of controversy throughout the campaign. Terming education a "fundamental right," it said the "paramount duty" of the state was "to guarantee equality of educational opportunity" by taking on the "preponderant financial responsibility for financing the system of public education."

    The idea of "preponderant financial responsibility"meaning more than half the cost of creating equal schools from kindergarten through twelfth gradearoused the greatest hostility. This language would have empowered the state to take whatever actions it required to curb and compensate for the vast inequalities of the current school system, not the least of which are its radical disparities in funding.

    The white suburban vote was mobilized by the Coalition for Accountable and Responsible Education, a business lobby, and was editorially backed by both the Chicago Tribune and Crain's Chicago Business.

    "The suburbs will get nothing but an income tax increase and get nothing back in return," declared State Senator Judy Baar Topinka. "We're already paying through the nose for everybody else's bills."

    Spurred by the negative lobbying tactics of the regional business class, it was this fearthe fear that what privileges the Haves enjoy over the Have Nots could be eroded or compromisedthat drove the amendment to defeat.

    The fight for the amendment was not helped by some of the recommendations of the Illinois Task Force on Educationeven though many if not most of its members supported the measure. When, for example, this group announced that an "adequate" level of per pupil funding for state schools would be in the $3898 to $4304 range, one has to wonder: are they kidding? Adequate for what? For the next generation of ditch-diggers, poker dealers, and soldiers of fortune?

    An adequate level of per-pupil funding would be at least three times that amount. And this wouldn't even begin to take into account the amount of capital-type funds that are desperately required today to create pleasant, comfortable and well resourced environments for learning 21st century skills. To get a clearer idea of what these numbers mean, contrast the current detention centers called schools called schools in the inner city with the best funded districts in the state, which spend $12,000 per year and more on each of their students.

    The crass ideologues at the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute and others who jumped into the anti-amendment camp can pretend all they like that there is no correlation between school expenditures and student performance. In fact there is profound correlation, and they know it.

    Consider the contribution to the debate made in an op-ed by Michael Kamin, a framer of the state's 1970 constitution language on education. He wrote that passing the amendment would mean "one achieves equality of educational opportunity by limiting opportunity to the lowest common denominator that the state, by itself, can reasonably afford . . . . This is the approach that it has taken the Russians three-quarters of a century to repudiate."

    Thus the conflict over the Education Amendment takes us to the heart of a deeper conflict within our society.

    The structure of US society is like a giant pyramid. And as with a pyramid, the function of society's base is to support its apex. Our society already supports a vast array of educational opportunities for the privileged groups who occupy the top. They already have all the resources they need to afford those opportunities.

    Historically the government has had the responsibility of maintaining the status quo. Those few cases where it implemented more egalitarian ends where always rife with popular struggle. The privileged at the apex do not want an educational system advancing people at the base out of their poverty and powerlessness. In fact, what they want is a system much like our current oneskewed along class, racist and sexist lines, and grotesquely malfunded. All we have is people and passion.

    Thus the most important correlation is the one rarely mentioned: the one between, on one hand, those people who benefit from living within a class and racist society; and, on the other hand, those institutional measures they must constantly adopt or reject to preserve and defend the hierarchy of power and privilege they enjoy.

    The skirmish over the Education Amendment is just one part of the on-going effort of people to achieve more decent and just conditions in life. To be sure, this large struggle will not end with the defeat of a simple piece of legislation.

    Missouri Workers Need Your Help

    300 workers at the Doe Run Company smelter in Herculaneum, outside of St. Louis, Missouri, have been on strike since July 30. The company, which has lead mines in the state feeding the smelters, wants to reduce wages by 53 percent to $8.50 per hour.

    A few years ago, Doe Run's parent company, Flour Corp., succeeded in decertifying the union at its mine operations.

    The smelter workers voted 272-0 to strike and are battling scabs with picket lines.

    As the holidays approach and winter sets in, don't forget the women and men strugglingto maintain a decent way of lifenot only for themselves, but for all of us.

    Gifts of food or funds can be sent to: Doe Run Employees Relief Fund, 300 Grand Street, St. Louis, Missouri 63103.

    Be sure to tell them where you heard of their fight.

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