Home About CDSA New Ground Events Debs Dinner Links Join DSA Audio Email us

 
Your contribution is appreciated
but, because of our advocacy work,
not tax deductible.

New Ground 44

January - February, 1996

Contents

  • A Better Left's in Birth By Bob Roman
  • Staley Lockout Nearing an End? By Bob Roman
  • Seeking to Build a New Alliance By Ralph Suter
  • Rallying the Troops in Peoria: Illinois Public Action Convention By Rhon Baiman
  • 1995 Annual Survey of Illinois Voters by Bob Roman
  • Socialist Forum: Champaign's Democratic Left By Bruce Bentley
  • Death and Rememberance
  • Candles in a Dim Time By Rev. Eugene Birmingham
  • A Living Wage By Bob Roman
  • Debs Foundation Fetes Jim Hightower By Bruce Bentley
  • The Other News
  • Letters

  • A Better Left's in Birth

    By Bob Roman

    The 1995 DSA National Convention brought together about 100 delegates and 60 or so observers over the Veteran's Day weekend. Most of the observers and some of the delegates were DSA Youth Section members who took the opportunity to use some of the time for their own national meeting.

    The spirit of the convention was grimly upbeat. Most democratic socialists have long ago discarded the idea of socialism being inevitable. Barbarism seems to be at least as likely: a grim prospect. But there was also the feeling that what DSA does matters to the outcome.

    DSA National Director Alan Charney deserves some credit for this as he had spent time touring the local chapters, promoting the convention. The participation of so many Youth Section members also made a substantial contribution to the positive spirit of the convention. And then there are the times.

    Back at the 1991 DSA National Convention here in Chicago, I had the occasion to overhear a reporter calling in to his editor between sessions. In response to a question from the editor, the reporter said, "Well, you know, this organization's greatest strength and greatest weakness is that, after 10 years, they still don't know what they are." Finally, at the 1995 DSA National Convention in Chevy Chase, Maryland, DSA is edging toward a definition.

    The problem of definition plagues all non-leninist, non-party leftist organizations to a lesser or greater degree. It is essentially a question of utility. As a non-party organization, the idea that members are part of an electoral project is not a given. A non-leninist organization does not have the excuse of being an army in waiting for a someday revolution. The organization must invent a purpose, some utility in the practice of politics; otherwise, the organization exists only as an affirmation of identity and of values. This leads to a politics, internal and external, that resembles a student council: that of posture and personality. This is not a political organization but a secular version of a church.

    The problem of definition is further complicated by the fact that it must be answered individually by each organizational subdivision. The menu of possible answers varies with each subdivision's constituency and arena of action. The answers chosen do not have to be the same. In DSA, they have not been the same.

    Key to DSA's future was the adoption of an "Activists' Agenda" which makes a considered and realistic attempt at intervening in mainstream politics. Key to this intervention is the "Economic Insecurity" hearings which are being held by DSA across the nation. Organized loosely around DSA's publication "Working Our Way to the Bottom", these hearings are intended to put the issues of class and community on the agenda of mainstream U.S. politics. If the effort is coupled with four or five carefully targeted congressional races, the campaign could succeed in much the same way as Wofford's victory placed national health insurance on the agenda of mainstream politics.

    This Economic Insecurity campaign has the further advantage of allowing local DSA chapters to use the project to their own ends. As an example, DSA member Congressman Major Owens is apparently facing a significant primary challenge this year. The congressman's campaign has made it clear to the New York Local that the congressman needs these hearings. If done well, everyone will benefit.

    This strategy has the potential benefit to make DSA into something rather unusual in recent U.S. history: a political ideological organization.

    It is also not a given that a socialist organization in the U.S. should concentrate on the politics of elections, legislation and solidarity. In fact, there are those in DSA that would argue that our primary utility should be on the battlefield of ideas. The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, and there were interesting discussions and proposals at the convention that addressed the battle of ideas.

    It is here that I must become (briefly!) bureaucratically technical. DSA is a 501c4 non-profit corporation. The 501c4 refers to a section of the IRS tax code. Under this section of the tax code, organizations are exempt from paying taxes (mostly: it can get very complicated) but contributions to the organization are not tax-deductible. This does have some major disadvantages in fundraising, but the trade-off comes in political freedom, including the option of participating in electoral politics.

    Most 501c4 organizations compensate for the handicaps in fundraising by establishing parallel 501c3 organizations. 501c3's are what most people think of as non-profits. They are both tax exempt and contributions are tax deductible, but their functions are restricted to charity (service) and education. Political advocacy can consume only a small percentage of their resources and electoral politics is strictly forbidden.

    DSA is no exception to the usual pattern. Our 501c3 organization is the Institute for Democratic Socialism (IDS). As is typical for such 501c3's, it has served primarily as a conduit for contributions and organizations that wish a tax deduction.

    One of the more interesting meetings at the convention was organized by Ronald Aronson around the "IDS Project", a proposal to eventually develop IDS into a full service democratic socialist think-tank. This prospect was not nearly so fascinating as the sense of possibility and immediate benefits that came from the meeting. The conversation focused on ways in which the project might be boot-strapped into viability, using very few resources, and on simple techniques that can be (and are) used to develop an organization into a recognized media resource.

    The primary challenge facing this project is DSA's National Political Committee and the Steering committee, both of which will have some responsibility for getting the project off the ground. In addition to the usual problem of one more project competing for scarce attention, the IDS Project faces legitimate issues regarding governance and less legitimate attitudes of 'not invented here'.

    The issue of governing the IDS Project are more potential than immediate. Among the disadvantages of the 501c3 / 501c4 duality is that the two organizations can sometimes become so distinct and separate that they then part ways. Examples are not hard to find; the NAACP Legal Defense and Education fund is but one. A more immediate concern may be the diversion of money to IDS projects that might otherwise go to DSA.

    Still, the IDS Project has tremendous potential, especially if accompanied by a purposeful and realistic DSA intervention in mainstream politics.

    There was not a great deal of controversy at this convention, and the improved sprit of the delegates made some of the issues of previous conventions (e.g., the expense of attending the convention) far less salient. But what issues there were illustrated the continuing problematic nature of the convention as a decision making body. The limited time available to the delegates, the general lack of knowledge about parliamentary procedure, the general lack of knowledge and experience about how to lobby: all these make the legislative process difficult for delegates who brig their own agenda to the convention. These are longstanding deficiencies that the National Office and the NPC had best be aware of in planning future conventions.

    There were few surprises in the National Political Committee elections. The proposed constitutional amendment reducing the size of the NPC did not pass; it remains a 24 person body. It remains a largely bi-coastal body, also, although California has lost some representation largely through migration to New York and New Jersey. Ann Arbor's Eric Ebel and Chicago's Ron Baiman ran for the NPC and lost, but Tom Ellett of Sparta, Wisconsin, was elected, as were candidates from Pennsylvania, Colorado and Puerto Rico.

    The complete set of resolutions adopted by the 1995 National Convention should be available from the DSA National Office and, eventually, at the DSA web site. An excellent first person account of the convention is archived among the November messages (message #144) at the Economic Democracy gopher at the University of California, Berkeley.

     

    Resolutionary Socialism

    Among the more popular items of business at the DSA National Convention was the work to be done on the "Where We Stand" political perspectives document. The document is the culmination of the "Mission Vision" discussion begun a few conventions ago and is intended to replace the founding statement of DSA adopted in 1982.

    The work offered delegates the opportunity that most lefties dream of: a soap box of one's own before a largely sympathetic audience! After much pulling and tugging, hacking and adding, the document was referred to an editorial committee for polishing before being submitted to the January NPC meeting for approval.


    Staley Lockout Nearing an End?

    By Bob Roman

    As New Ground goes to press, some significant developments have been happening in the two and a half year lock out of the A.E. Staley Company workers. There is a chance that the lockout may be over soon.

    On Monday and Tuesday, December 11 and 12, UPIU Local 7837 conducted its regular leadership election. Incumbent President David Watts was defeated, 249 to 200, by former bargaining committee chairman James D. Shinall. This is generally reported as a victory by a faction of the union rather more willing to settle on the company's terms.

    On Wednesday, December 13, the A.E. Staley Company presented the union bargaining committee with a new offer. This is indeed speedy work for the company. The last time the union membership directed the bargaining committee to request a best offer from the company, it took the company months to bring an offer to the table. The new offer seems to be a calculated test of the union's resolve although ignorance of union civics is also possible; the new leadership does not take office until January.

    On Wednesday evening, the lame duck union board rejected the offer, saying it was little different from the other offers rejected by the union. The outgoing local president, David Watts, said the new proposal had more acceptable language regarding grievance and arbitration but still contained work shifts of 12 hours and other provisions that would cut union jobs. President-elect James Shinall pledged to support David Watts until the leadership changes in January.

    UPIU President Wayne Glen could overrule the local decision and refer the contract to a vote. The common gossip has it that the contract offer would be accepted by the membership if it came to a vote. At press time, there was no word of any decision.


    Seeking to Build a New Alliance

    By Ralph Suter

    An ambitious new "progressive / populist" organization provisionally named "The Alliance" could change everything for DSA activists and other progressives. A self-consciously anti-corporate, pro-worker organization committed to genuine democracy, economic justice, and ecological sustainability, The Alliance seeks to build a "local to national" grassroots movement capable of forcefully and effectively challenging the well-organized radical right.

    "Organization" may be too limiting a term for The Alliance because it seeks to become much more than a conventional action organization or coalition. Rather, it seeks to become a decentralized and highly democratic yet well-organized network of progressive individuals and organizations seriously dedicated to cooperating with each other in a variety of ways to wrest power away from large corporations and to put it in the hads of ordinary people. The Alliance's ultimate goal is to become, or to become part of, an international democratic citizens' movement.

    The Alliance was formed in response to Ronnie Dugger's "A Call to Action: Real Populists Please Stand Up" a four and a half page article published in the August 14/21, 1995 issue of The Nation. Dugger, now in his mid-60s, was the founding editor (in the mid 1950s) of the Texas Observer and is spending the 1995-1996 academic year at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. A friendly, outgoing man who is very politically savvy but not at all a politician or even an experienced political organizer (he initially tried to persuade Ralph Nader to write the article), Dugger began with the following paragraph:

    "We are ruled by Big Business and Big Government as its paid hireling, and we know it. Corporate money is wrecking popular government in the United States. The big corporations and centimillionaires and billionaires have taken daily control of our work, our pay, our housing, our health, our pension funds, our banks and savings deposits, our public lands, our airwaves, our elections and our very government. It's as if American democracy has been bombed. Will we be able to recover ourselves and overcome the bombers? Or will they continue to divide us and will we continue to divide ourselves, according to our wounds and our alarms, until they have taken the country away from us for good?"

    Dugger ended the article with an invitation to join and help organize a new "citizens alliance". By late August, groups of people from around the country who had responded to his call had begun meeting locally. By mid-October, nearly 1400 people had contacted him by mail, fax or email. A Chicago group met for the first time on November 1.

    A national planning meeting was held November 11-13 at the University of Chicago's Reynolds Club in a room reserved by DSA's UofC Youth Section. About 75 people representing newly-formed local alliances and a variety of progressive organizations attended. Although there were only a few people of color (hardly surprising, given the readership of The Nation), and although there were somewhat more men than women, there was a lot of age, income, educational, occupational, and other kinds of diversity. There was also a strong consensus about the need for The Alliance to consciously strive for as much diversity and inclusion as possible in its future recruiting efforts.

    Among the actions taken in Chicago were the formation of an interim steering committee, a tentative decision to hold a larger national assembly in February, and a decision to incorporate as a 501c3 tax exempt organization rather than as a political party or a political action organization. The steering committee includes one man and one woman from each of six regions of the U.S. (NE, SE, N. Central, S. Central, NW, and SW) as well as Ronnie Dugger. John McCowan, an African American environmental justice organizer from Birmingham, has since been added to the committee. McCowan wants to focus specifically on the task of bringing people of color into The Alliance.

    At the Chicago meeting, the organization's name was provisionally changed from "Citizens Alliance" (which Dugger had proposed in his article) to simply "The Alliance". This was done partly because there are already several "Citizens Alliance" organizations associated with the right-wing militia movement and partly to make it clear that The alliance is open to all interested people, whether or not they are U.S. citizens. Some other right wing "Alliance" groups also exist, however, including the "National Alliance", a white nationalist group described in a recent Chicago Tribune article (December 12), and the newly formed "Catholic Alliance" which is associated with the Christian Coalition. So the name may be changed again at the national assembly.

    The steering committee has decided to postpone the national assembly from February to a later date (possibly Memorial Day weekend) in order to allow more time for planning and fundraising and to allow Alliance members more time to build local chapters. It will probably be held in Chicago because of Chicago's central location and lower air fares.

    As yet, there is no formal membership or dues policy. People are free to start local alliances using whatever names they deem appropriate and to make whatever decisions and take whatever actions they choose. Meanwhile, the steering committee is meeting by email and a bi-weekly conference call. A temporary national communications center has been established in Boston. A permanent center will be established later, probably after the national assembly. The first edition of The Alliance newsletter should be ready by the time this issue of New Ground is out.

    The steering committee is also nearing completion of an Alliance Organizing Manual drafted by Ronnie Cummins of Minnesota, an organizer for the Pure Food Campaign, and Ben Lilliston of Chicago, who works for the Cancer Prevention Coalition. The manual, which should be in final form by the end of December, is full of inspiring yet practical advice about how to recruit members, how to form new local chapters, how to deal with the media, how to approach other progressive organizations, and other important topics. One goal is to have active Alliance chapters in each of the nation's 3300 counties by the year 2000. The manual stresses that the goal is to recruit not merely "paper" members but to get people actively involved in efforts to bring about concrete change.

    Although The Alliance is a "populist" rather than a "socialist" organization, DSA members will find much to like and little if anything to dislike about its plans and about Dugger's article. Populists, as this term is understood by Alliance members, share with Socialists the belief that for-profit corporations now dominate the political process in very unhealthy and undemocratic ways and that a key to bringing about desirable change is regaining popular control over the political process. Corporations must be required to act more responsibly, under the threat of charter revocation and even confiscation of corporate assets. Ideally, corporations should be deprived of their current status as "legal persons", if necessary by means of a constitutional amendment.

    The Chicago Alliance has met three times since its first meeting and will meet again December 20. On December 12, an action plan committee met and developed a list of projects the Chicago Alliance may undertake. This list includes: a recruitment and publicity program; development of a database of Chicago area progressive organizations and activists; publication of a weekly periodical addressed to the Chicago area progressive community; a rapid response network; a physical facility with meeting rooms, copiers, and an adjoining café designed to encourage networking among Chicago activists; and a legislative tracking program.

    For more information or to request a copy of Ronnie Dugger's article, contact: The Alliance, PO Box 1011 North Cambridge Post Office, North Cambridge, MA 02140; (617) 491-4221, fax: (617) 354-0176; email: inalliance@aol.com. The Chicago Alliance now has a voice mail number (312) 714-7333.


    Rallying the Troops in Peoria: Illinois Public Action Convention

    By Rhon Baiman

    As Chicago DSA's representative to IPA, I felt duty bound to brave the first blizzard of the winter, embarking on what turned out to be a 6 hour drive to Peoria for the IPA's 20th annual convention, held on the weekend of December 8th and 9th. Illinois Public Action is the Illinois affiliate of Citizen Action. Citizen Action bills itself as the largest consumer organization in the country, and IPA is one of the original state affiliates, the largest consumer group in the state. IPA has a board of about 120 or so folks representing unions, community groups, other organizations, progressive activists like DSA member Quentin Young, and elected officials in the state including: Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Lane Evans, Chicago alderman Joe Moore and Peoria alderman Frank McNeil, State Senator Alice Palmer, State Representative Jan Schakowsky, Cook County Clerk David Orr, among others.

    Because of the blizzard, I missed the Friday board meeting though I was told that the few who did make it had no debates of consequence.

    The faithful assembled at 10:15 AM Saturday to hear an inspirational talk by William McNary, IPA Legislative Director, asking us to call the President on his automated comment line to encourage him to stand up to the Republican budget cuts.

    Bob Creamer, IPA Director, then gave a solid class based analysis of current economic trends. Productivity is up 25% since 1974, yet family income for the bottom 40% is down, with no change for the bottom 80%. Social policy and the weakening of unions are major factors behind this redistribution to the wealthy. Market forces left on their own will increase inequality and drain us of hope and caring for our fellow citizens. Creamer was upbeat about the Democrats' chances, claiming that people were finally beginning to understand how bad the "Contract with America" is.

    The devastation wrought by Republican cuts was hammered at by other speakers including Marca Bristo. Ms. Bristo was the Director of Access Living, one of the originators of the ADA act and staff advisor to the Clinton Administration on disabled issues. She gave a very moving talk on the effects of cuts for disabled kids. Ms. Bristo noted that these cuts would force many of the kids into institutions and she compared egregious HMO doctors to Nazi doctors as they also blame their actions on the "higher authority" HMO managers. She was followed by Senator Alice Palmer who announced that she is going to run for re-election for her senate seat. Don Solzman, a state representative from Peoria, and Del Morrison of the Illinois Council of Senior Citizens followed her.

    We next had an assorted of Senate candidates including Dick Durbin, the Congressman from the 20th District, endorsed by Simon, and a representative from Patrick Quinn's campaign. The Quinn / Durbin endorsement choice was the major issue of the board. Durbin ultimately got the endorsement (in spite of his pro-NAFTA vote) as I appeared that he had lined up the labor vote; tey felt he was the candidate who could succeed. I voted against his exclusive endorsement because of NAFTA, thinking we could endorse both. But it never got to this despite Dr. Young's eloquent speech in favor of Quinn.

    In a question period after a Jan Schakowsky speech, I made some remarks regarding the need for anti-capitalist ideology to truly fix a system that is not fixable otherwise. Jan Schakowsky responded by saying "The American people are not ideological; therefore, the way to go is to attack private power." The Republicans sure seem to be able to project ideology! Schakowsky, by the way, gave a good talk in the afternoon session stressing the need for a moral attack against the Republicans.

    There were a lot of disgruntled Caterpillar workers around and they made themselves heard in various forums - on the need for unity including with the former scabs if they were to progress against the company. In a workshop on the "living wage campaign", Phil Gerboc, an organizer from SEIU Local 73, gave a militant talk on organizing without labor laws. David Starr, the IPA Research Director (who has worked with the Economic Policy Institute run by DSA member Larry Michel), outlined recent debilitating trends in the labor force including the erosion of the minimum wage as undermining the base for all wages.

    I made some comments on the need for unions to get out a systemic structural critique of why profitable companies have to layoff workers and break unions. I suggested that Labor buy or otherwise support the creation of alternative media outlets like a radio station in Chicago (as they could have done with WCFL) which could carry labor and alternative news. The Labor movement, in my view, has got to get into the battle for the minds of people. As Quentin Young suggested to me after my remarks, attacking "market ideology" might be more effective than attacking "capitalism", but however this is done, it has got to involve more than running an occasional pro-labor ad campaign on TV. Progressives like Jim Hightower and Michael Moore have got to have a venue and no other progressive movement under capitalism has the resources with which to do this.

    Bernice Bild of the Coalition for New Priorities (CNP) and the Coalition Against the Contract gave a good talk with roll out visuals and poster board cartoons (available from CNP) on the magnitude and effects of the Republican budget. I agreed with her completely. We should not get caught up in the current budget balancing mania. We should be asking why a country with vastly increased wealth and productivity all of a sudden cannot afford Medicaid and Medicare which we could afford decades ago? As an economist friend, Peter Dorman, notes: using demographics alone one canot make the case for these cuts. Bernice was quoting Northwestern University economist Eisner's piece in The Nation in which he points out that the deficit as a share of the GDP has been declining as the economy has grown faster than the deficit, and that allowing for a "capital budget" would make the issue much more rational and manageable to begin with.

    Toward the middle of the afternoon, the buses from Chicago came and the place filled up - especially for the banquet that evening. IPA appears to be fighting the good fight. It is a large organization with five offices around the state and an army of canvassers that support its operations. One wishes that it would become more openly militant - but somebody has got to service the barricades with immediate effect and even IPA may be pushed into more fervent ideological opposition if doors continue to close on "mainstream" liberal activism.


    1995 Annual Survey of Illinois Voters

    by Bob Roman

    The Coalition for Consumer Rights (CCR) published its 1995 Annual Survey of Illinois Voters. A two volume set, the Survey is divided into the Voter Opinion Update and the Worry Index Report. The Survey has been published each year since 1990.

    The Voter Opinion Update queried a sample of Illinois voters on a variety of issues covering taxes, property rights, health care, insurance and the courts. The information contained in the report is generally interesting and politically useful, but it needs to be treated with some caution. Generally, the results are stated in a positive light, e.g., the percentage of people who would be willing to pay more taxes for specific programs. This is useful information but, as Kevin Phillips observed, what people are against is much more useful in predicting electoral behavior.

    With this in mind, the general climate in Illinois for change is not encouraging. Since 1992, the percentage of Illinois voters believing the state is going in the wrong direction has decreased from 57 to 36 percent. Likewise, an overwhelming majority of voters believe their personal economic situation will remain the same or get better.

    The Worry Index Report is an attempt to measure voters' relative issue concerns and how they change over time. Respondents are asked about how much they worry about 16 different issues, on an ascending scale from 1 to 10. The result reported is the average ranking for each issue. Education has been the highest ranked issue for five of the six years of this report. Retirement security is presently rated number two and has ranked among the top four issues consistently.

    Not untypical for CCR reports, the appendices are more interesting and useful than the body of the report. The raw tabulation of responses and demographics are presented as well as some cross-tabulations, mostly by region. It would be useful if CCR would be willing to make the raw data available on disk as some of the most interesting cross-tabulations are not provided. Nonetheless, the 1995 Annual Survey of Illinois Voters is available, for $10, from the Coalition for Consumer Rights, 225 W. Ohio, Ste 250, Chicago, IL 60610.


    Socialist Forum: Champaign's Democratic Left

    By Bruce Bentley

    On Saturday, October 16th, I sojourned downstate Illinois to network with the progressive left community, Socialist Forum, in Champaign. There were 40 people in attendance of which half were female, two were persons of color and three quarters were young adults in their 20s. The atmosphere was one of camaraderie and ambitious activism.

    Socialist Forum was first formed two years ago. It emphasized being non-sectarian so it has no official affiliation with any organization; nevertheless most participants are members of CoC, New Party and DSA. Socialist Forum has two functions. First, to provide political and socialist education to members and the community. Second, to organize local activism with a democratic left perspective. SF has organized demonstrations in Champaign in relation to health care and reproductive rights. It has worked on the UoIL campus labor issues and is a strong supporter of the Staley workers in nearby Decatur. SF has working committees on labor, education and publicity respectively.

    At this particular meeting, SF had a guest speaker, DSA member Elaine Bernard of the Harvard University Trade Union Program. She spoke on the New Party as a viable third party democratic left strategy. Moreover, Chicago New Party activists presented the strategy and activities of the New Party in Chicago.

    For downstate DSA members in Bloomington-Normal, Decatur, Springfield, Danville and Champaign-Urbana, Socialist Forum is an excellent opportunity to experience progressive comradeship and activism. Socialist Forum meets on the third Saturday of each month from 10 AM to Noon. The meeting is located at Illinois Disciples Foundation (Springfield Avenue at Wright Street) in Champaign. For more information call Bob Naiman at (217) 344-1776.


    Death and Rememberance

    Two past honorees of the Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner died in 1995. They were Murray Finley and Joe Jacobs.

    Murray Finley

    Once the President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, Murray A. Finley died last July. Murray Finley was awarded the third annual Thomas - Debs Award in 1973 at the 15th Annual Dinner. The featured speaker that year was The Honourable Stephen Lewis, the Ontario Legislative Assembly Leader of the New Democratic Party. After receiving the Thomas - Debs Award, Murray Finley went on to merge his union with the Textile Workers Union and to lead the fight to unionize the southern textile giant, J.P. Stevens. This effort was one of the earlier examples of a corporate campaign. The film Norma Rae was based, in part, on the J.P. Stevens campaign. From 1982 to 1987, Murray Finley served as the President of the Eugene V. Debs Foundation. After retiring in 1987, he taught at Harvard and the University of Virginia.

    Joe Jacobs

    Labor lawyer Joe Jacobs died in November. Joe Jacobs received the Thomas - Debs award in 1988 at the 30th Annual Dinner. His fellow honoree was Saul Mendelson. The featured speaker was Deborah Meier. His award read:

    "You rightfully deserve the title presented to you by the Illinois Labor History Society as the 'Dean of Labor Lawyers'. For 57 years, you have been involved in many landmark cases in the establishment and growth of U.S. labor law. You have pioneered in fighting unrestrained employer aggression prior to and after the passage of the National Labor Relations Act. You have represented sharecroppers, sit-down strikers, union organizing committees, and unions all over the country.

    "In Chicago, you have made your contribution throughout the years to the Chicago Teachers Union in many, many bargaining sessions. You have championed collective bargaining for public employees. At the 1986 American Federation of Teachers Union Convention, Mayor Harold Washington issued a proclamation declaring July 6, 1986, Joseph M. Jacobs Day!

    "You are counsel for the Upholsterers Division of the United Steelworkers of America and participated in the merger arrangements of the two unions. You and your firm are also counsel for many other unions.

    "Your activities are greatly appreciated as Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Labor History Society, Honorary fellow of the Truman Library, and Vice-President of the Eugene V. Debs Foundation in Terre Haute, Indiana.

    "The Norman Thomas - Eugene V. Debs Award is presented to you in Chicago on this seventh day of May, 1988, for your years of dedication in carrying on the struggle for economic and social justice in the important field of U.S. labor law."


    Candles in a Dim Time

    By Rev. Eugene Birmingham

    As I write this before Christmas, I am reminded of a verse from the Gospel of Luke in the Christian scriptures. The author puts these words into the mouth of Mary who had just been told that she would be the mother of the messiah:

    "He [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." Luke 1:53

    In his collection of sermons in 1982, Reverend William Sloane Coffin wrote in his Introduction:

    "We are living in the era of 'Reaganomics', a philosophy that reverses the priorities of Mary's Magnificat by filling the rich with good things and sending the poor empty away." (Wm. Sloane Coffin, The Courage to Love, Harper & Row, 1982, p. 3)

    Reaganomics was only the beginning. The present understanding of our economic problems is that the rich do not have enough, so we cut their taxes; and the poor have too much, so we cut their benefits. The irony involved in nominal Christians' demanding cuts in welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, school lunch programs, etc., during the pre-Christmas season does not seem to have occurred to the present political Establishment. Instead, the further they go to the Christian Right, the more they favor attacking the poor.

    In place of physical and material help, Christians of the right advocate a raising of moral values by the poor. If anything is more destructive of human values of any kind, more than being hungry or homeless or living in constant need of essentials, I cannot imagine it.

    Turn to the Christian Left. One bright spot for me is the fact that Revered Dr. Paul Sherry, president of my denomination, the United Church of Christ, is leading a religious response to the needs of the locked out workers at A.E. Staley in Decatur, IL. He has called on the churches to join him. The latest issue of United Church News provides the address to send support to the workers in Decatur and the address of PepsiCo to plead for dropping its contract with Staley. His attempts, along with other clergy, to meet with the Staley management has so far proven as difficult as for other allies of labor. This gives rise to another irony: the Christian Left taking literally the scriptures as they apply to the poor, while the Christian Right takes literally the biblical myth of creation as scientific fact, overlooking references to the poor.

    Another bright spot on the Christian Left was a gathering in Chicago's First United Methodist Church, on Sunday, December 3. DSA Honorary Chair, Cornel West, had been invited to give a keynote address to help form "Protestants for the Common Good". Cornel West had to cancel his appearance, but another DSA member, North Carolina professor Michael Eric Dyson, took his place. He challenged the full house gathered that afternoon to get on with the job. The job is to provide a mainline and evangelical Protestant alternative to the Christian Right. It would call for making the needs of the neediest of our society the priority for the nation. It remains to be seen what will come of it, but reactions sought from the crowd are to be used by the organizing committee to draw up an agenda for action.

    One more bright spot on the left was a call from the United Church of Christ's Office for Church in Society to its member churches to get involved in politics. Individuals can be encouraged to do their part and churches can provide information on candidates without crossing the line on the limitations imposed by their tax-exempt status. We keep watching the national pot to see if it will boil, wondering what it will take to light a fire under a nation whose people are being systematically robbed of their power to control their own destinies. Perhaps the watched pot is beginning to bubble. We in DSA have the opportunity to fan the flames.


    A Living Wage

    By Bob Roman

    The Jobs and Living Wage Campaign has spread to Chicago. The campaign is being organized under the auspices of Chicago Jobs with Justice. The effort is being lead by Chicago ACORN, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and public employee unions, most notably the Public Employees Union SEIU Local 46.

    The campaign intends to introduce an ordinance in the Chicago City Council that would require any company that receives a City contract or a City subsidy to hire first from community-based hiring halls for non-construction work and require those companies to set a wage floor for all employees sufficient enough to get a family of four above the poverty level.

    Similar campaigns have started in a number of cities, including Boston, Denver, San Jose, St. Louis, Albuquerque, New York and Milwaukee. A similar campaign which set a minimum wage for City service jobs passed in Baltimore and a Jobs and Living Wage proposal was placed on the ballot in St. Paul.

    DSA has been a participant in many of these campaigns. Chicago DSA Executive Committee endorsed the Chicago Jobs and Living Wage campaign at the October meeting.

    The Chicago Jobs and Living Wage Campaign plans to have the ordinance introduced in the first session of the Chicago City Council in January. The Campaign is planning a full court press, with hundreds of constituents descending upon the council for a rally and large scale lobby of aldermen.

    This is to be followed up by a major accountability rally toward the end of February. Aldermanic supporters of the ordinance will be called to account for their activity in support of the ordinance or their lack of activity. This second event is particularly important as Chicago aldermen are notorious for expressing support for whatever seems popular, even to the point of becoming co-sponsors of an ordinance then allowing the legislation to die in committee.

    The campaign was kicked off with a major rally on December 2nd. Some 700 people heard a variety of labor, community and elected officials speak in favor of the ordinance.


    Debs Foundation Fetes Jim Hightower

    By Bruce Bentley

    On November 4th, 225 unionists, activists and socialists attended the annual Debs Foundation Dinner in Terre Haute, Indiana. Chicago DSA and Central Indiana DSA had an active literature table at the event. The Debs Award recipient was talk radio gadfly Jim Hightower. The predominate theme of the evening from MC Noel Beasley (UNITE), Jack Sheinkman and Jim Hightower was the corporate elite's class war upon labor and minorities. Hightower was the featured speaker and he emphasized that the progressive Left must respond to this rapacious class war by fighting back via organizing and agitation. His speech resonated with aphorisms such as: "the Democratic Party is favoring Wall Street not Main Street". Hightower stressed that the Republican Party has no mandate for change since 6 of 10 eligible voters did not vote. Therefore, the Republicans got only 2 of 10 votes and of those 20% were "no" votes against the Democrats.

    In relation to organizing, Hightower stated that "Labor is not weak. It is 17 million strong which is more than all the Church groups". Moreover, Hightower emphasized that the elite tactfully divide us through racial politics thus obfuscating class division. He commented that "we are all in the same boat although we did not come here on the same boat".

    "Agitation," Hightower noted, "is an American democratic expression". We must use every resource possible such as radio, Internet, public access TV, town meetings and speaker bureaus. Finally, Hightower stressed militant agitation with the following sound bites: "I learned from my parents that two wrongs don't make a right, but three left turns do make a right." And, "There's no building tall enough that a dog can't lift its leg on."

    Membership in the Debs Foundation is only $10 (limited income $5). The dues helps maintain the Debs home and provide educational and cultural programs. Membership fees can be sent to: The Debs Foundation, PO Box 843, Terre Haute, IN 47808.


    The Other News

    West Suburban DSA collected several bags of toys and food, and over $300, for the locked out workers of the A.E. Staley Company. The contributions were collected at the branch's Christmas Party on December 10th at St. Michaels United Church of Christ in West Chicago. The collection was in support of this year's Food and Toy Caravan organized by the Staley Workers Solidarity Committee.

     

    The Socialist International concluded their Council meeting in Brussels on Friday, December 8, by calling for tougher sanctions against Nigeria and an end to French nuclear tests.

    The SI Council characterized the current set of sanctions against Nigeria as inadequate and called for a more complete system of economic and political sanctions against the Nigerian regime, including an oil boycott. The SI Council called for a more completed system of economic and political sanctions against the Nigerian regime, a return to democracy in Nigeria, and for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Nigeria.

     

    J. Hughes reports: I have good news on the SI-Net front. I finally got through to Luis Ayala, the Socialist International's Secretary-General. We had a log chat about the Web. He said he'd been hearing that there were "SI Home Pages" in various parts of the world, and SI will be starting an ambitious Net project from their office in London. Apparently they have recently bought new computers, modems and a dedicated line for their modems (I don't know if it's ISDN). They have plans for an SI Web page which will have documents and articles from Socialist Affairs. They have some kind of consulting firm working with them, and they plan to go on-line by late December or early January (that's probably too ambitious as they are planing a huge Euro-fete in Brussels in December). They are also looking for institutional supporters of their net projects.

    I'll soon be receiving an updated list of members, observers and so on from them to update the SI page in the DSA web site. I'm to send him the names of the Webmasters and list moderators of the various parties that I know of, such as Alex Ng in Canada.

    Any ideas for things that the SI can or should do online would be apparently be much appreciated, and since SI still doesn't have an email address, I'd be happy to fax them along: jhughes@medicine.bsd.uchicago.edu .

     

    The DSA Labor Commission was reorganized at the DSA National Convention. The Labor Commission publishes a youth-oriented newsletter, The Labor Activist, and is planning to have its first National Conference in Chicago the first weekend in May.

     

    J. Hughes resigned as the Editor of Eco-Socialist Review, the publication of DSA's Ecology and Socialism Commission. Pleading exhaustion from profession and fatherhood, he handed the job to Mark Schaeffer, a longtime eco-activist from Albany, NY. The current plan is to continue producing ESR here in Chicago.

     

    Unfortunately, DSA member Ben Nichols lost his campaign for a third term as the mayor of Ithaca, NY. The election was very close, but close doesn't count. DSA NPC member Teresa Alt also lost her bid for an Ithaca city council seat.

     

    Bob Fitrakis lost his bid for the Columbus, Ohio, school board.

     

    Closing the GAP: The GAP has always styled itself as being a socially responsible company. When the National Labor Committee and Jobs with Justice started leaning on the company for the abuse and the union busting in progress at the Mandarin plant in El Salvador (one of the GAP's suppliers), the company's initial reaction was complete denial. As pressure and publicity grew, the GAP decided to cut and run. It announced it would no longer use the Mandarin International Company as a supplier.

    This was not acceptable to SETMI, the union representing the workers at the Mandarin plant in El Salvador. They wanted the GAP to remain involved, helping facilitate an agreement between union and Mandarin. This fight was particularly important as SETMI is the first union to even gain a foothold in a Free Trade Zone in El Salvador. The National Labor Committee and Jobs with Justice continued the campaign and the GAP found itself facing a wave of bad publicity.

    As New Ground goes to press, the GAP and the National Labor Committee announced an agreement. The GAP will remain involved with getting Mandarin International to come to an agreement with SETMI. With any luck, the Jobs with Justice fundraiser for the blacklisted SETMI members will become a victory celebration.

     

    The Steelworkers' campaign to gain a fair contract at Bridgestone-Firestone has gained international support. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) adopted a resolution on December 6 condemning Bridgestone - Firestone management for its anti-worker policies in the United States. The resolution called on workers worldwide to boycott Bridgestone - Firestone products. The ICFTU action came during a whirlwind tour of Europe by five "permanently replaced" Bridgestone - Firestone workers.

    The international activities are being stepped up as negotiations on a new contract continue in Chicago. The talks started again on November 6 after a six month lull. About 4,200 Bridgestone - Firestone employees in five states suspended their strike on May 22 and switched strategies in an effort to gain a new contract. Approximately 1,000 of the workers who were "permanently replaced" still have not returned to work.


    Letters

    Editor:

    The article by Kurt Anderson, "The Quick Vote", provided a practical and understandable description as to the legal and management obstacles to organizing.

    In his first paragraph, Kurt Anderson refers to the left and academic critics of the labor movement. During the 1960s, I once catalogued over 100 articles providing most times friendly but critical analysis of the apathy and inaction of the labor movement. The classic was written by Solomon Barkin, Research Director of the Textile Workers Union of America, for the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, called "The Decline of the Labor Movement and What Can Be Done About It", 1961. The critical question that needs to be examined is why it took so long for the issues he raised to be addressed. More important, how can we construct an open and continuing dialogue between union leaders and the movement and friendly critics. In an atmosphere of critics frustrated by being ignored or attacked and defensive labor leadership stingy to permit new ideas and suggestions the only victor will continue to be the corporate interests. The corporations are skillful at both using and co-opting new ideas, while labor has most frequently been closed and hostile.

    An excellent read is the book by Donald Stabile, Active Unionism: The Institutional Economics of Solomin Barkin, M.E. Sharpe, 1993. It examines the role and difficulties of a non-ideological leftist critic, his successes and his failures in promoting new ideas in the labor movement.

    Reading and discussing both these publications can be a first step to developing a workable cooperative strategy that goes beyond rhetoric. This is an important moment, an important opportunity for joint creative action. Let's learn from the past how to achieve this goal.

    In solidarity,

    Stanley Rosen

     

    Dear Editor:

    On behalf of New Hampshire DSA, I'd like to thank you for the copies of New Ground we've received. It's a top-notch newsletter. We circulate it at members meetings, and everyone agrees that it's a standard for us to aspire to. Personally, I appreciate the Decatur / Staley coverage and also like Kurt Anderson's recent "The Quick Vote".

    In return, I have enclosed a copy of Progressive New Hampshire. We're still new at the newsletter thing, but PNH has been working well for us.

    In solidarity,

    Don Taylor

    Political Education Director, NHDSA


     Add yourself to the Chicago DSA mailing list (snail mail and email).

     Back to top.