by Carl Shier
The return of winter on April 11th did not mar a successful
39th Annual Eugene V. Debs - Norman Thomas - Michael Harrington
Dinner. While the snow prevented some from attending the Dinner,
the turnout was excellent and the evening went well.
Jo-Ann Mort, Communications Director of UNITE AFL-CIO and a
member of the DSA National Political Committee was a perfect MC.
She moved the program. She spoke of the need and value of the
DSA. In a spirited manner, she saluted the come back of the U.S.
labor movement under a new leadership.
Several past Debs - Thomas - Harrington Awardees were at the
Dinner: UNITE Secretary-Treasurer Arthur Loevy; AFSCME's Steve
Culen and Rose Daylie; Lou Pardo; Vicki Starr; and two who have
attended every Dinner for 39 years, Carl and Marion Shier and
Saul and Jennie Mendelson.
But not every regular Dinner participant could be there. Jo-Ann
Mort reminded us of the death of Maxie Hill, President of the
Bakery Workers Local 1, one week after he received the Award last
year, and she announced the passing, two days before this Dinner,
of the 1977 Awardee, Charles Hayes. Hayes was a pioneer organizer
of the CIO Packinghouse Workers, a leader of the United Food and
Commercial Workers Union, and a co-founder of the Coalition of
Black Trade Unionists. He was a former Congressman but, for Chicagoans,
the important role he played was in the election of Harold Washington
as Mayor in 1983. He loved the Dinner and attended most of them.
Labor writer David Moberg was introduced to present the Debs
- Thomas - Harrington Award to James Weinstein. David Moberg went
over the history of James Weinstein as a author, historian, activist,
and as the founder of In These Times, the weekly magazine
of the democratic left. He spoke of Jim Weinstein's determination
to continue the publication, a twenty year effort that not only
includes the task of editing the publication but the hard chore
of raising the funds so the bills can be paid.
In accepting the Debs - Thomas - Harrington award, James Weinstein
spoke some of the history of the left, in particular the willful
historical ignorance of the old New Left that fated them to repeat
all the old mistakes. He spoke of the reasons behind the establishment
of In These Times, how he had hoped it would contribute
to a revitalized left, and how he hoped it may still do so.
Jack Parton, Steelworkers Director of Illinois and Indiana,
made the presentation of the Debs - Thomas - Harrington Award
to George Becker, President of the United Steelworkers of America.
Jack Parton related the successful work of President Becker in
fields of labor unity, solidarity, and strategy.
George Becker began by saying how proud he was to receive the
Debs - Thomas - Harrington Award. It will be in a prominent place
in his office.
Becker spoke of the need for economic justice and the role
of the Federal Reserve Board in fighting full employment. The
Board is the representative of economic forces that are not good
for the American people.
The struggles at Bridgestone - Firestone and at Ravenswood
Aluminum showed the need to work with workers and their unions
in all countries of the world. The great help the Steelworkers
received in those struggles made victory possible. "So many
countries had sympathy strikes, and in Argentina where they can
strike in support of any cause, they struck for a whole week in
support of our struggle," Becker said. "Without international
solidarity, we could not have won. And we have to fight for the
workers all over the world to raise their standard of living to
what human beings should have."
Workers are environmentalists. They have to be. They are exposed
to hazardous chemicals in their work. Health and Safety work is
George Becker spoke with pride about his birthplace, Granite
City, Illinois. In the 1920s, they had a Socialist Mayor and a
Socialist Council and Eugene Debs was an honored speaker at many
events. He also spoke of a relative of his wife, in Missouri,
who ran for office as a Socialist when Norman Thomas ran for President.
In politics today, Becker argued, unions should not give to parties
but support individuals who stand for issues that concern the
workers: "We should enter primaries to defeat incumbents
who are against social and economic justice. Most important, we
have to build grass root support on the ideas and issues that
meet the needs of the people".
The program ended with the singing of "Solidarity Forever",
with gusto. One of the comments I heard as we left the room was
how great it was to hear a trade unionist speak the way George
Great evening. While the attendance was good, especially with
union activists, there was a shortage of DSA members participating.
Was it the downtown Chicago location in the evening? Was it the
price of the Dinner? Should there have been a Union rally like
the Charles Hayes Dinner with a speaker like Robert Lekachman?
With Chris Riddiough, Director of our DSA DC office coming in,
should there have been a session before the Dinner on the political
issues of the day? Would a Saturday lunch work better, preceded
by a morning program? Can we move out of the downtown are and
still have it as a Union event?
These are matters to discuss before DSA plans the 40th Anniversary
Dinner. Please tell us your ideas. Send your comments to Debs
Dinner, Chicago DSA, 1608 N. Milwaukee, Rm 403, Chicago, IL 60647.
Also consider participating in the Dinner Committee next Fall.
I have to repeat as often as I can the value Bob Roman brings
to the Dinner. There is so much work in preparing a Dinner. The
soliciting letters, the Dinner tickets, the push for ads in the
Program book, the announcement leaflet. Keeping track of whose
money comes in and making the deposits. The arrangements with
a hotel- and today it's not easy because hotels have now decided
on charging rent in addition to the normal price plus 9.75% sales
tax and 17% tip. The idea of using the Awards as the front page
and the re-printing of the Hayes leaflet with the late ads. Bob
does a yeoman job and as one who has worked closely with him on
these Dinners, I have the greatest respect for his efforts and
I hope the membership does too....
This year we had a good group working on the Dinner, especially
on the day of the Dinner. I'd like to thank Bruce Bentley, Donn
Schneider, Ralph Suter, Kim Jones, Mark Weinberg, Bill Dixon,
Charles Nissim-Sabat, Eric Ebel, Katie Romich, Michael Heffron,
Finian Taylor, Michael Rabinowitz and Sam Ackerman.
It is expected that the funds raised will be productively spent
to further the goals of the movement.
By Katie Romich
The Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV), a coalition of
students at the University of Chicago, has brought together women
and men from ethnic, feminist and queer organizations as well
as athletic teams and sororities to pressure the university to
create a women's center on campus. In the face of adamant administrative
opposition to the establishment of a full-service women's center,
the students have erected a pup tent on the University's main
academic quads to symbolize both the absence and need for such
The tent, a symbolic protest, also serves to provide the resources
of a permanent women's center as volunteer staffers are trained
to give out phone numbers, referrals for counseling and services,
condoms, and lend books from a small library. This protest recalls
1960s University of Chicago student protests for student housing,
women's health care, and against the Vietnam draft board.
However, this is a slick Administration, skilled at deflecting
the demands of those students who speak for the approximately
1500 others who signed petitions calling for a women's center.
Administrators argue that a women's center would marginalize women,
alienate men, and would be inappropriate for an academic environment.
As well, a critical unspoken concern is that granting a women's
center would start the University down the slippery slope of special
interest group demands. And, as is quite clear, the University
of Chicago would prefer to see its students, faculty and staff
as disembodied minds rather than people facing specific prejudices.
Like myself, other U of C DSA Youth Section members have played
important roles in organizing, supporting and volunteering for
the women's center movement. This effort has importance for us
as democratic socialists, as people concerned with the trends
of universities and higher education. The movement for a women's
center is currently one of the few voices of dissent both being
articulated by students and heard by administrators about the
nature of the University. Our literature emphasizes the sexism
and violence which women have to face as students, faculty and
staff. We assert that the University has a responsibility to address
these concerns. This vocal opposition is one of very few which
has made it to mainstream campus discourse as well as Chicago-wide
Given that the University of Chicago is a far from idyllic
place of learning, it is critical that people be bringing positive
alternative visions to the public discourse on the university.
The establishment of a women's center could help to empower women
and men to address and overcome the sexism ingrained in our society.
Pragmatically, it could foster positive and progressive attitudes
about sexuality and gender as well as help confront sexual violence.
The presence of such an institution would demonstrate an acknowledgment
that a specific oppression faces women and requires specific solutions.
As democratic socialists, we see the critical importance of vocal
dissent as well as positive alternative visions, both of which
are central components of the struggle for a women's center on
On Friday, April 25, U of C DSA Youth Section members met with
Ronald Aronson, director of the Center for Democratic Values.
He spoke about the need for the left to engage in the building
of radical coalitions. The Coalition Against Sexual Violence is
a traditional sort of coalition, brought together to solve an
immediate need based on common interests. The sort of center it
envisions, however, would be the place where more long-term and
profound coalitions could be fostered. Women's centers elsewhere
act as locales wherein women and men organize around race, gender,
and sexuality, address issues of community and diversity as well
as receive services and referrals. The presence of such institutions
encourages the process of finding the complex "common ground"
from which diverse peoples can struggle collectively.
Democratic socialists need such institutions in the same way
that such institutions need democratic socialists. The establishment
of a women's center on the campus of a notoriously conservative
University would be an opportunity for the sorts of meaningful
political linkages which democratic socialists must help build
in order to strengthen the voice and power of the left.
For more information, contact Katie Romich at 773-363-5365
or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Bob Roman
The Chicago DSA membership welcomed Ron Aronson, Director and
Organizer of the Center for Democratic Values (CDV) at a meeting
at Roosevelt University on Saturday, April 26. The meeting was
organized as part of a weekend blitz of Chicago, seeking participants
and financing for CDV.
The CDV is beginning its life as a "think tank" project
of DSA. The Center has already sponsored a DSA-wide discussion
on the role of government in society and published a pamphlet
by noted economist Robert Heilbroner on the deficit debate. Other
pamphlets, even books, are in the works, but CDV's next project
is national conference this fall. The conference will be held
in conjunction with the DSA National Convention in Columbus, Ohio,
during the first week in November.
The focus of CDV's first national conference is "Arguing
with the Right", and this was the essence of Ron Aronson's
message at the meeting. Arguing matters. Ideas matter.
As Ron Aronson explained it, the CDV came out of a middle of
the night illumination of the obvious: that among the many things
the Left has lost, it has also lost its voice. It is this aspect
of building the next Left that CDV addresses.
It is not enough- it is in fact a recipe for defeat to not
take the arguments of the Right seriously. For the Right has not
simply generated lies and rationalizations justifying domination
by wealth, the Right has developed a world view. We must not only
answer the arguments of the Right, we must pose arguments that
demand a response from the Right.
The CDV collected some $200 at the meeting, and an additional
contributions from a DSA member brought the total to $900. This
is most of what the CDV needs to staff its national conference,
but the expenses won't stop there. Please consider making a contribution.
You may make it tax deductible by making the check out to the
"DSA Fund". Send it to: Center for Democratic Values,
DSA, 180 Varick St, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10014. For more information,
contact Ron Aronson at 212-727-8610. Email: email@example.com
by Gene Birmingham
About 75 people gathered at the Lodge Hall of Local 1487 of
the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
in DesPlaines, on April 5 to listen to speakers and to be entertained
by musical groups. DSA's Steve De La Rosa found co-sponsors for
the event in addition to DSA: Citizen Action of Illinois, Campaign
for Health Care and Nation Associates.
Speakers included Clem Balanoff, addressing Campaign Finance
Reform and its implications for raising prices of products whose
owners contribute to political campaigns. Maureen Kelleher of
Dollars & Democracy described an effort of Roman Catholics
and Friends (Quakers) to work for one person one vote legislation.
Dialog groups are set up around the country on this issue.
Liane Casten represented Chicago Media Watch, noting that the
media do not give campaign finance reform good coverage. Liz O'Connor
of SEIU Local 25 Justice for Janitors, spoke on a recent success
in obtaining wage increases but not all the benefits they wanted.
More organizing needs to be done.
Music was provided by Mark Zeus, acoustic guitar player; The
Pakk, a rock band; Gregory Flint and Erich Peterson, french horn
players; and an alternative music group, ChromaZone. A magician,
Art Widen, provided entertainment under the name RLD Perfect.
De La Rosa says all those involved want to participate in another
event. The Campaign for Better Health Care is being considered
as a theme for the next gathering. Location and date are being
worked out. Voter registration tables are a possibility for the
next time, too.
The purpose of these events is to keep issues before the voters,
provide information for progressive groups in the next election
campaign, and help them combine their efforts to elect candidates
of the left. Steve is looking for people to serve on a Steering
Committee to plan events, to help with mailings, phone tree, fax
messages and letters to the editors. Contact him by phone at (630)
871-9070 or contact Gene Birmingham, West Suburban DSA at (630)
By Bill Dixon
On the last weekend in February, more than fifty students from
across the country gathered at Capitol University in Columbus,
Ohio for GO LEFT ! - a national conference of DSA's Youth Section.
Conference goers joined DSA honorary chair Barbara Ehrenreich
and DSA directors Alan Charney and Chris Riddiough for a weekend
of searching political discussions and state of the art activist
training, including an hour or two of full-throated hell raising
against sweatshop labor. As the era of Clinton and Gingrich begins
to fade from a bad dream to a bad memory, the US campus Left remains
alive and thriving.
Kicking off the weekend with characteristic garrulousness was
Joseph Schwartz, a professor of political science at Temple University
and a member of DSA's national political committee. Schwartz's
topic was the "ABCs" of socialism, a kind of introduction
to the current debate over the socialist politics. What does it
mean to be a democratic socialist activist in the United States
in 1997? What can socialism today even be said to stand for in
the wake of liberal and social democratic decline, Communist collapse,
right-wing radicalism, and global (and local, for that matter)
capitalist triumph? Good questions like these as yet admit few
good answers, and probably won't for some time to come.
In answering queries from the floor Schwartz repeatedly made
the point that for all of the ambiguities of the socialist project,
it still remains the precondition to any serious attempt promote
democracy and social justice in our time. Discussion returned
to the hard questions more than once, demonstrating a healthy
and more than passing interest among the participants in advancing
DSA's level of political debate.
But as enthusiastic as the discussion was, it didn't come near
to the excitement of the demonstration against sweatshop client
Guess jeans, which was organized later in the afternoon in a shopping
mall in downtown Columbus.
About half of us gathered outside the store's entrance, quietly,
while everyone else dispersed throughout the mall passing out
leaflets. At some point it occurred to someone to start chanting
and shouting, and of course that's when the fun began. "No
more sweatshops, shame on Guess"! Thirty of us letting that
slogan fly drove a few customers out of the store, perhaps kept
a few more from approaching anywhere near.
It inevitably brought the mall's rent-a-cops promptly to our
side. At first they kept telling us to stop making noise, which
didn't work. But after about five minutes or so they gathered
more of their rent-a-troops and escorted us through the mall and
down the escalator and out on to the street, chanting and leafleting
all along the makeshift parade route. On the street we continued
the demonstration for the benefit of the local news teams.
The conference continued with workshop sessions: global capitalism,
youth culture, chapter-building, welfare reform, socialist-feminism.
The format was a little unstructured but people seemed more or
less happy to follow the discussions wherever they happened to
Barbara Ehrenreich spoke in the evening in a public event co-sponsored
with Columbus DSA. She emphasized how strongly disenchanted the
American people seem to be with what usually goes by the name
of Big Government. Ehrenreich urged that with a few exceptions
(health care, social security) the Left ought to be more "localist,"
and leave the defense of the centralized public sector to others.
She also urged that socialists find the courage to offer genuine
visionary alternatives to the current debate rather than settle
for the least of the evils offered by the status quo.
Sunday morning featured a talk by Chris Riddiough on DSA's
Campaign for Economic Justice, the national project around which
DSA's locals will soon be focusing their work. Riddiough explained
the strategy of the campaign, which revolves around coalition-building
with other progressive groups around issues of economic inequality.
She also discussed DSA's work with the House Progressive Caucus,
the group of Congressional leaders who are emerging as an important
challenge to the dominant Clintonite line within the Democratic
The last session of the conference was an extended discussion
on DSA's rapidly developing work around prison issues and criminal
justice. The youth section's own initiative on these issues, the
Prison Moratorium Project, has begun petitioning state legislators
in New York to demand a halt to all new prison construction. Among
African-American and many urban communities, prison issues have
become a serious problem for public debate. What does it say about
the United States when more African-American men are incarcerated
than are in college? When we have in prison a larger proportion
of our population than any other nation in the world? These issues
take on a special relevance in a period when social spending by
states is often cut in favor of more spending on police and prisons,
particularly when the largest federal social spending initiative
in over a decade was masked under the rubric of a "Crime
Bill." A socialist organization looking to confront the intersections
of racism and capitalism has every reason to join the growing
debate on the what role prisons, schools, and jobs will play in
shaping the future of life in US cities.
The conference was larger than in recent years. DSA maintains
a visible presence on more than twenty campuses across the country,
even if the internal structure of the Youth Section remains a
bit improvised and unstable. While this year has by no means been
any kind of high tide for student activism, DSA has been able
to keep up a serious and committed network of contacts. The next
Youth Section gathering is scheduled for DSA's national convention,
also slated for Columbus, Ohio. But do us a favor, won't you?
Don't tell anyone down at Guess jeans that we're on our way back.
For almost two years, newspaper workers have been battling
the corporate owners of the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News
to win a just contract. The 19-month strike recently entered a
new phase when the six striking locals initiated an effort to
move the fight to the plant, and set up the contract campaign
both in Detroit and throughout the companies' corporate empires.
This campaign will include Action! Motown'97, the two-day mobilization
of supporters nationwide for actions and rallies on June 20-21,
1997 in Detroit.
Action! Motown'97 will help focus attention on anti-union USA
Today parent Gannett Corporation which has already sunk more than
$250 million in an effort to bust the locals of the Teamsters,
Communication Workers of America and the Graphic Communications
You can obtain additional information by contacting Chicago
Jobs with Justice (312-226-6340) or Chicago DSA (773-384-0327).
Action! Motown'97 has a website: http://www.action97.w1.com
Your participation is essential!
Please set aside Friday and Saturday, June 20 - 21, plan to be
by Ron Baiman
Lean And Mean: The Changing Landscape Of Corporate Power
In The Age Of Flexibility By Bennett Harrison NY: Basic Books,
Publication Date: 1994, 324 pages, $25.00
In this excellent book, prominent progressive economic policy
analyst Bennett Harrison offers an analysis of global advanced
capitalist industrial development that contradicts many of the
commonly accepted stylized "facts" regarding the new
"third wave" global and flexible information economy.
His work draws on an extensive and exhaustive interdisciplinary
array of studies in Business Organization, Economics, Urban and
Regional Planning, Sociology, and Political Science, as well as
his own detailed investigations. From these roots Harrison constructs
an alternate set of basic understandings which, as in his earlier
works, highlights a dominant structural trend in the world economy
which has profound theoretical and practical political implications
for the left (Bluestone and Harrison, 1982) (Harrison and Bluestone,
Harrison's major thesis is that industrial structure in the
future world economy will be increasingly dominated by ever more
extensive business organizations, networks, and alliances, that
will use internationally coordinated resources and power for their
own private advantage. Harrison concludes that far from devolving
into small, independent, innovative and competitive market driven
firms, the most successful business organizations and economies
in the world exhibit a tendency for extensive cooperation, partnership,
cross-ownership, technological exchange, joint marketing, and
long-term supplier and sub-contracting relationships, or "concentration
The first part of Lean and Mean is devoted to "reassessing
the idea that small firms are the economic development drivers".
In this section Harrison, after a detailed statistical and data
review of the extremely influential work of David Birch and other
small business advocates, rejects their central policy conclusions.
Citing multiple recent studies in the U.S. and abroad, including
one by researchers at Dunn and Bradstreet who supplied Birch with
his data, Harrison finds that in most developed economies, including
the U.S., small firms are not generally more competitive, more
innovative, or larger job generators, and that they certainly
do not offer better working conditions, than larger firms (Birch,
1987). In this context, Harrison notes that large firms can and
do engage in both mass and "niche" market production
and are often better positioned for the later as well as the former.
This statistical critique is supplemented by detailed institutional
studies of the Northern Italian "industrial districts"
and of "Silicon Valley". Harrison claims that evidence
from Northern Italy suggests that the non-hierarchical, small
business "flexible manufacturing" industrial districts
in northern Italy, which were the inspiration for Piore and Sable's
well known thesis in The Second Industrial Divide and for
one of the development model's promoted in Michael Best's widely
acclaimed The New Competition, are undergoing a transformation
toward traditionally hierarchical large firm led industrial networks
like those operating elsewhere in the world economy. Harrison
also casts a critical eye at the "small business heroic entrepreneur"
mythos of "Silicon Valley," citing evidence showing
that the concentrated economic power of large defense contractors
and of Stanford University were critical and remain central to
the valley's high technology development.
The second part of the book is devoted to detailed documentation
of "flexible production" and "large firm-led production
networks" in Japan, Europe, and the U.S., as well as an investigation
of the labor and environmental failings of these developments.
Harrison leaves no doubt that the Japanese government engages
in extensive "capitalist planning" and that the Japanese
private sector is "pervaded by hierarchy, asymmetric power,
and the practice of long-term planning" (p. 162). In contrast
to Japan, with its well developed hierarchically organized system
of industrial "supply" keiretsu, and more "cobweb"
conglomerate "networked" keiretsu, and to Europe with
its private-public joint enterprises such as Airbus Industrie,
Harrison is pessimistic about the prospects of most U.S. firms
to engage in the kind of long-term planning and supplier relationship
building that has proven so successful in other countries.
One obstacle to the development of comparable long-term private
and public networking and planning relationships in the U.S. is
the deeply rooted suspicion of collaboration and "cartelization"
which continues to be promoted by Neoclassically trained economists.
However, other institutional factors such as the well developed
"market for corporate control" leading to chronic investment
"short-termism," absurdly high "hurdle rates"
for investment return, and managers and board members with little
to no actual product related experience, may be more serious obstacles
to a "high-wage" path in the U.S. which would emphasize
long-term process and product improvement over short-term accounting
profit. Harrison's pessimism in this regard for the U.S. has been
recently corroborated for the U.K., and by analysts comparing
both countries to each other (Hutton, 1995) (Eatwell, 1996).
In a chapter on "the dark side of flexible production"
Harrison focuses on the low wages, contingent labor, and lax environmental
standards at assembly plants for "high tech" companies
which is a corollary of "flexible manufacturing." The
data assembled here forcefully demonstrate that the social and
human costs of the new organization of production are not being
addressed within the current institutional framework.
The book concludes with a chapter on economic development policy
which nicely summarizes the Reich/Porter debate on "Who is
Us" and outlines a number of policy proposals including:
regulating the global companies and their networks, and stimulating
government industrial/technology policy and inter-firm alliances
and military conversion. Harrison sides with Porter and William
Lazonick in arguing for the enhanced importance of local development
and cooperation in addition to competition at the local level.
He also notes that as the power of the multinational corporations
to avoid national jurisdiction increases, efforts to license,
tax, and otherwise regulate them have diminished to the point
where, in the words of Raymond Vernon, the U.S. government's approach
is now one of "a very light hand almost to the point of invisibility"
The strength of Lean and Mean lies not so much in its
policy advice, which is largely a summary of well-known positions,
but in its detailed institutional and statistical documentation
of the growing importance of non-market networking and planning
relationships among concentrated capitals in the world economy.
Harrison's data and analysis thoroughly refute any lingering doubt
regarding the scope and significance of these developments which
clearly require large-scale public planning and policy if resources
are to be directed to the human development of those most in need.
It is increasingly ironic, but not surprising, that in the
face of this evident trend toward ever more extensive concentration
without centralization in the private sector, conservative ideologies
- and now some on the left - are calling for a small, limited,
and balkanized public sector (Belkin, 1996). As many have pointed
out, this would generally undermine democratic political power
and socialist aspirations, and clear the way for the unconstrained
pursuit of profit (Baiman, 1996).
The weakness of Harrison's analysis lies in the area of policy
recommendations. For example, Harrison's solution for the "dark
side" of flexible manufacturing, is to induce companies to
abandon "the low-wage path" through a "joining"
of private and public sectors to provide the "three T's:
technology, training, and technical assistance" to smaller
suppliers, and through efforts to make the new large networked
"lean organizations rather less mean" (p. 245). To his
credit Harrison also touches on the need for "better and
more vocally organized trade unions" or "other forms"
of labor organization, and for a long term growth strategy led
by public investment. However, missing a discussion of institutional
arrangements and policies congenital with private ownership and
profit seeking control of economic forces, the book fails to project
a clear alternative to the glaring contradiction between increasingly
concentrated private power and diminishing public leverage and
welfare which it documents so well.
Do you remember from your history classes the dispute between
Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson about the nature of the
newly forming American democracy, how Hamilton wanted the wealthier
property owners to have more power than others while Jefferson
wanted to distribute power in a somewhat more equal manner?
"In our time, Hamilton has won", was the answer former
Senator Paul Simon gave after he posed the question. He was speaking
on "Campaign Finance Reform" at the First United Church
of Oak Park on April 19, 1997. The event was sponsored by Protestants
for the Common Good.
Simon shared the podium with Ed Wojcicki, publisher of Illinois
Issues. Wojcicki pointed to four pieces of the problem from
his vantage point in Springfield, Illinois.
· The amount of money donated to campaigns is growing
rapidly, notably from gambling interests. The Illinois State Medical
Society is the largest single contributor to campaigns in Illinois.
· Money for candidates does not come from their legislative
district, but from interest groups outside of their districts
and from state legislative leaders who control the contributions.
· No candidate wins in Illinois without the backing
of their party's leaders.
· Information about campaign financing is hard to come
by because anyone seeking information is required to fill out
a form fully identifying themselves, thereby making themselves
vulnerable to the leadership if they want to run for office or
Simon described the problem in terms of incumbents who do not
want to change the system which got them elected. On the other
hand, almost no mail or phone messages are coming to legislators
on this subject. He predicted that as little as 20 letters or
calls per district would result in passage of some kind of reform.
Individual letters or calls are more effective than petitions.
Lack of campaign finance reform results in a welfare reform
flawed by responding to those who contribute rather than to those
who have needs. Reforms themselves always need further reform
as the rich and powerful find ways around them.
Simon's proposal for reform includes: 1) public financing of
elections by voters' being allowed to check off an amount of their
taxes, with candidates being given equal amounts for their use;
2) free radio and TV time in blocks large enough to deal with
issues and cut the appeal of 30 second negative ads; 3) prohibit
all private contributions. If the media resist providing free
time, they need to hear public concern on the matter.
Money will always talk, said Simon, but its power can be checked
if the people are adamant enough about the issue.
Five people were arrested on felony charges during protest
activities around the 1996 Democratic Convention. Although the
trial judge has determined that there was no probable cause to
arrest them in the first place, the Prosecution has persisted
in pursing the matter. Trials are expensive. Please consider sending
contribution. Make your check payable to "Eighth Day Center
for Justice/FOL" and mail to:
At the 39th Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner, the magazine
Dissent had a special offer in the Program Book. For $16
one can receive four issues of the quarterly democratic socialist
publication. Since 1955, I have kind of been the Dissent
Chicago literature agent. It has been an honor because in the
days of lack of faith and hope so many have dropped away. But
for us long distance runners, it's been a pleasure to continue
to work for socialism in our time. Send your $16 check to
Solidarity and the workers' blood is really RED!!
Editor's note: Copies of the Program Book are available.
Call (773) 384-0327 and leave your name and address.
For over a year now, members of DSA and other democratic socialist
organizations have been participating in a variety of "left
unity" discussions, both in face to face meetings around
the country and through an Internet email list devoted to this
topic. These have included meetings in Chicago as well as monthly
meetings in New York that have been attended by Alan Charney,
DSA's National Director.
Committees of Correspondence (CoC), has already formally endorsed
a left unity proposal. At its national convention last summer,
CoC resolved to "explicitly explore and promote an organizational
alliance between left organizations, including but not limited
to the Committees of Correspondence, Solidarity, Democratic Socialists
of America, Socialist Party USA, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization."
In addition, CoC resolved to "make it clear in all its discussions
with other organizations that our goal is to promote maximum organizational
and political unity while promoting a structure that preserves
diversity and innovation within such a combined alliance."
There has even been talk of a merger. And there is widespread
agreement that of all the organizations mentioned in CoC's resolution,
CoC and DSA are the most likely candidates for a merger, given
the similarity of views of their members. Mergers, however, can
be very difficult and time-consuming, as people who were involved
in the 1982 merger of New American Movement and Democratic Socialist
Organizing Committee (which resulted in DSA) will testify.
Nevertheless, a looser alliance of the kind mentioned in CoC's
resolution could gradually lead to a merger. Such an alliance
would enable interested organizations to affiliate but would not
require any of them to give up their present identities or governing
structures. Among the benefits of such affiliation would be the
sharing of some administrative and mailing costs, the publication
of a joint news and discussion periodical, and (perhaps most importantly)
the formation of a "united front" designed to achieve
a larger and more effective democratic socialist public and political
presence. The new alliance could also accept individual members
who don't wish to be members of any of the affiliated organizations.
So far, several DSA members who are participating in the email
discussions have expressed interest in co-sponsoring a resolution
similar to CoC's resolution (or stronger) at the national convention
to be held November 8-9 in Columbus, Ohio. No one has any illusions
that such a resolution would easily pass, much less that it would
quickly lead to the formation of an actual alliance. However,
there are many things supporters could do prior to the convention
to increase its chances.
If anyone reading this is interested in co-sponsoring, endorsing,
or at least discussing a resolution regarding formation of a new
democratic socialist alliance, please contact me by phone, email,
or U.S. mail: Ralph Suter, 1529 W. Touhy Ave. #2, Chicago, IL
60626-2623; 773-743-6130; RLSuter@aol.com.
[Note: To subscribe to the left unity email list mentioned in
the first paragraph, send the message "subscribe jhurd_newparty
<your e-mail address>" (without the quote marks and
substituting your own email address) to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
We welcome your letters but keep them relatively brief: about
250 words, no more than about 500. Warning: letters may be edited,
mostly for length.