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New Ground 55

November - December, 1997


  • United Power: Alinsky Comes Home to Chicago by Gene Birmingham
  • Jobs with Justice 10th Annual National Conference by Bob Roman
  • 8th Annual Midwest Radical Scholars & Activists Conference by Dennis Dixon
  • Labor Rights World - Wide by Bob Roman
  • Fall Campaign Against Sweatshops Begins by Bob Roman
  • Campaign for Better Health Care by Bob Roman
  • 12th Annual Mother Jones Dinner by Kathy Wood
  • Letters

  • United Power: Alinsky Comes Home to Chicago

    by Gene Birmingham

    United Power for Action and Justice was adopted as the official name for the coalition of religious, labor and community organizations which met at the University of Illinois Pavilion on October 19, 1997. Nearly 10,000 people attended what was a fulfillment of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's vision for a broad based community organization, to which the Archdiocese offered to match funds from other groups.

    The business of the Inaugural Assembly was to adopt the name, introduce leaders newly elected by the founding Trustees of Chicago Metropolitan Sponsors, and announce short term strategies for membership growth. The purpose was to demonstrate a unity already existing. Opening prayers were offered by Jewish, Catholic and Muslim leaders.

    Some 66 speakers, including Archbishop George of the Chicago Archdiocese, were allowed a minute or so to commit their group publicly to the umbrella organization. Organization was the name of the game from the opening at 3:25 p.m. to the promise kept to close at 5:20 p.m. The arrival of the crowd by the busload gave furthered evidence of much advance planning.

    Eleven regional groupings in Cook County were identified. Five Interest Groupings were listed: Labor, Community, Islamic Mosque, Community Health Centers and Jewish Coalition. In addition to two Lutheran denominations, there were a variety of evangelical Protestants, and Roman Catholic parishes being the largest single block. Still being sought are businesses, colleges and universities, hospitals, professional groups and a wider geographic area, including DuPage County.

    Much was made of the gathering of religious people who seldom meet informally, let alone officially. The two Lutheran bodies joked that their get together was as rare as the meeting of Muslims, Catholics, Jews and Protestants.

    Conspicuous by their absence were mainline Protestants other than Lutherans: Episcopalians, Presbyterians, United Methodists and United Church of Christ, especially so because they share a long history of social justice action. One reason I have heard is opposition to church-as-church forming a political group, rather than encouraging their members to address justice issues by forming separate political groups. Identification of the organized church as a political group weakens the ability of the church to speak to all human institutions, religious and political, none of whom can represent completely the will of God. This point is illustrated by the recently formed Protestants For the Common Good, whose members are individuals rather than official church bodies.

    Ten follow-up meetings of the assembly were scheduled in geographic are as between Oct. 30 and Dec. 6, for the purpose of providing information and enlisting more member groups. The financial goal is to raise $600,000 annually through a dues structure to provide a core operating budget.

    Issues to be addressed were listed as Public Life Concerns, viz.: city / state capital improvements; healthcare; voter awareness and turnout; affordable housing; jobs, temporary work and downsizing; schools, tuition cost and education; safety, crime, violence and drugs; child care and young people; aging with dignity; financial institutions and equitable lending; quality and pace of life; fairness toward immigrants; and transportation.

    How well this coalition functions will depend upon how willing the Catholic Archdiocese will be to share leadership. The ability to bring out people by the thousand indicates a significant power base. Labor was represented by SEIU Local 73, IBEW Local 134, Illinois Education Association, and Chicago Federation of Labor, a small number compared with the large number of religious bodies.

    While Chicago DSA has expressed interest in the group, no response has yet been received. We will want to monitor activity of United Power to determine the nature and extent of DSA participation, official or unofficial.

    Jobs with Justice 10th Annual National Conference

    by Bob Roman

    Jobs with Justice held its annual National Conference in Chicago on Friday and Saturday, October 24 and 25. The Conference was held mostly at the Ramada Congress Hotel, except for the opening session which was at IBT Local 705's hall on the near west side. Some 400 people attended attended the conference.

    The conference was preceded on Friday by a Religion and Labor "pre-conference" co-sponsored by Chicago's National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. This was a "facilitated dialogue" intended to provide practical assistance for those who want to expand religious - labor collaborations.

    The conference included the usual fare of educational and planning activities, but it also included an action on Friday in support of SEIU Local 73's efforts to organize workers at United Armored Services.

    A special emphasis was on Jobs with Justice's Workers' Rights Boards. This project is vaguely reminiscent of the Bay Area (CA) New American Movement's Workers' Rights Center, which was active in the mid 70s.

    But the Workers' Rights Boards go far beyond a limited concept of counseling on rights and strategy to taking public action. A major portion of the Saturday morning session was devoted to this project, with testimony from grass-roots activists from across the country on the issues related to the workplace and to welfare and to workfare.

    This is very much part of the AFL-CIO's effort to make workers' rights the "civil rights of the 1990s". Indeed, the effort to build links with the religious community is very much a part of this project. This process of building a coalition with the religious community was evident not only at this Conference but also with the Chicago Federation of Labor's Labor Day outreach program that was organized in conjunction with the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (see July-August, 1997 New Ground).

    The process of coalition building is just beginning, and everyone is aware of how much more needs to be done to build connections outside the labor movement. Community groups, in particular, will be a challenge given the competitive and often hostile relations among them.

    If this Conference served any purpose beyond a well deserved celebration of Jobs with Justice's 10th anniversary, it was to convince its participants that it can be done. It must be done.

    8th Annual Midwest Radical Scholars & Activists Conference

    by Dennis Dixon

    The Eighth Annual Radical Scholars and Activists Conference was held at Roosevelt University in Chicago on October 24 and 25. For 1997, the planners had adopted the theme, A Teach-in on Labor and New Alliances. The plan was to continue the efforts in forging the Labor - Academia - Community alliances that had been advanced through similar teach-ins at Columbia University, UCLA, the University of Virginia and other places across the country.

    The original idea for the conference was somewhat controversial among some persons who did not identify the Labor Movement as "left" or "radical". Nonetheless, many people thought the idea was particularly exciting. Unfortunately, we were not able to draw great numbers of trade unionists from our efforts geared particularly toward those organizations.

    We did have a number of union rank - and - filers. We were also supported by the participation of Bill Fletcher, the Education Director of the AFL-CIO, Carole Travis, Political Director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Illinois, and others. During the major plenum on Friday evening, they pointed out that while the leadership of the unions and the AFL-CIO certainly may not fulfill all of the policy and everyday practices that democrats might find ideal, there has been a distinct shift in outlook that is taking hold. John Sweeney, AFL-CIO President, sent greetings to the conference, which reinforced that proposition.

    The general opinion from participants that I spoke to was that the conference was a qualified success. While the total attendance was only between 200 to 250 at the latest count, the people who did attend were seriously interested in the subjects being discussed and participated well in the discussions. Panels on Dialectics, the Media, and Unfair Burdens: Working Women, Today's Inequalities and the Talks of Unions attracted good participation even though they took place on Friday afternoon. A Labor History panel, which also took place on Friday afternoon, was well attended and attracted good participation.

    The Saturday sessions on Market Socialism: a Debate Among Socialists, Public Housing, Structural Reform, Race, Political Action, Globalization, Democratic Schools in a Democratic Society, Technology and Work, and Welfare Reform all were reported to have had excellent participation .

    The Jobs with Justice national convention took place right across the street from the conference. It brought a number of people to the conference and a number of people from the conference attended functions at Jobs with Justice. The conflict in scheduling was unavoidable given the time frame available in which the two conferences were able to attain space and accommodation. They did work in cooperation to make participation in both conferences as easy as possible.

    Fall is a tough time for conferences as many organizations make plans for conventions and conferences during this season. The disappointing response from Labor organizations points up the particular need for persons attempting to organize conferences of this type to gain commitments well ahead of time.

    The result also points up how "internal organizing" (unions informing the rank and file of issues and events of interest to Labor) needs to expand and become a more central feature of relations between the "leadership" and the "membership". This is shown through the reaction of many of the officers contacted in which the assumption was made that the invitation to the conference was only for the union "officials" and was not seen as a potential for greater education and participation for rank and filers. Other persons organizing within the labor movement might keep this in mind. We are in the business now of organizing a social movement, as John Sweeney has stated, and that will achieve best results through democratic participation.

    Labor Rights World - Wide

    by Bob Roman

    On Thursday, October 30, some 70 people gathered in the vasty dimness of the Reynolds Club in Hyde Park to hear Richard Berg of the Teamsters, Joe Costigan of UNITE and the Fair Trade Campaign, Terry Davis of the United Electrical Workers, and Tom Geoghegan, noted labor attorney and author, discuss the current state of American labor law, international solidarity and its implications for organizing.

    The meeting was organized by the University of Chicago DSA Youth Section as part of the International Union of Socialist Youth's "International Day of Action and Solidarity". In the United States and Canada, the DSA-YS and the New Democratic Youth of Canada decided to focus on labor rights and globalization.

    In the States, this work centers on Representative Bernie Sanders' Workplace Democracy Act. Passage of this legislation would significantly change the balance of power in the workplace, making it at least possible to organize.

    The major provisions of the act include:

    The DSA Youth Section is hoping to bring representatives from IUSY affiliates in Chicago next spring for a comprehensive conference on international solidarity and organizing. For more information, contact Daraka Larimore-Hall at (773) 643-6457.

    Fall Campaign Against Sweatshops Begins

    by Bob Roman

    Chicago Jobs with Justice began its fall campaign against sweatshops on October 4 by targetting Nike Town on the "Gold Coast" of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The demonstration brought together some 40 people who formed an informational picketline and distributed several hundred leaflets explaining the economic and social facts behind the goods Nike sells. The October 4th demonstration was part of a coordinated "National Day of Consciousness" sponsored by the National Labor Committee.

    The demonstrators and noontime Saturday shoppers were addressed by Congressman Bobbie Rush, Reverend Tom Joyce and DSAer Katie Romich.

    For information on how you may help, call Chicago Jobs with Justice at (312) 226-6340. In Hyde Park, call the UofC DSA Youth Section at (773) 643-6457.

    Campaign for Better Health Care

    by Bob Roman

    The Campaign for Better Health Care held its first annual conference on Saturday, October 25th. Appropriately enough, it was held on the Rush - Presbyterian - St. Luke campus on the near west side of Chicago.

    Nearly a hundred people attended workshops and meetings designed to educate and plan further action. In particular, CBHC is continuing to work on HB 626, the Healthcare Consumers' Bill of Rights, but they are also concerned about Illinois' implementation of health insurance for uninsured children. In Chicago, CBHC has a project to hold hospitals accountable to the surrounding community. State legislators Barak Obama, Jesus Garcia and Mary Flowers contributed their experience and insights to the meeting.

    For information on how you can become involved, call the Campaign for Better Health Care at (312) 913-9449.

    12th Annual Mother Jones Dinner

    by Kathy Wood

    The 12th Annual Mother Jones Dinner in Springfield, IL, was held October 4. This year's topic was the wealth generated in the health care industry. Entertainment was provided by Kristin Lems, whose new union ABC song was a hit. Nearly 200 union and community activists attended the dinner.

    The next morning, some of us made our annual pilgrimage to the Mother Jones grave in Mount Olive. At the start of the century, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones was known as the grandmother of all agitators and the "miner's angel". She began her career as a radical in 1871 and worked variously as an organizer for the Knights of Labor, Socialist Party of America, the Industrial Workers of the World and the United Mine Workers of America. Born in Ireland in 1830, she died in Illinois in 1930. "I'm not a humanitarian," she once exclaimed, "I'm a hell-raiser!" The annual Mother Jones Dinner is dedicated to her memory.

    Look for our soon - to - be -released video of the first ten years of Mother Jones Dinners, interspersed with Mother Jones' words of wisdom. Anyone who wants to be on our mailing list can contact the Mother Jones Foundation at P.O. Box 20412, Springfield, IL 62705.


    Dear Editor,

    Thanks to New Ground for continuing with the discussion of "Market Socialism". The September/October 1997 issue carried an article by Ron Baiman entitled "Feasible Socialism". I am a friend of Ron, and admire his activism. But I must take issue with his confusing of "socialism" and "social democracy." His article advocated Market Social-democracy, not market socialism.

    There is a big difference, and it must be understood in terms of the basic difference between socialism and social democracy. Socialism, as it is classically defined, is a system in which most productive property is publicly owned. Whereas Social democracy where most productive property is still in private hands, where a capitalist class still retains power, modified a bit to make conditions for the workers more humane (basically to prevent them from revolution).

    Market socialists assume a change in property ownership. This applies, whether they be "public" market socialists like Stauber and Roemer, or whether they are "Worker Managed" market socialists like Schweickart. They propose different forms of public ownership-unions, public banks, the state-but they all assume that the capitalist class, as the almighty ruler and robber, has been virtually eliminated.

    Market social-democrats assume the continuation of private capitalist property. The capitalist market, is of course, a part of the capitalist system. Social-democrats want to humanize and modify the capitalist system, so they seek to control the most brutal parts of run-wild laissez-faire marketing. They try to control the mad dog by cutting off its tail. Cutting off its head is the only long term solution. Let me urge my social-democratic friends to realize that this kind of opposition to "market socialism" is really opposition to classical socialism, and not to markets.

    A corollary part of this error is where Ron, on page 9, throws out the classical Marxist bedrock which says that economics determine politics, and not that politics determine economics. Check out Capital, Volume I.

    There is another place on the left which opposes market socialism. They are the remnants of the old Leninist left - the Stalinists, Trotskyists, Monthly Review. They are the folks, who for a half century, had a fundamentalist, almost religious faith in total planning and central control. As a graduate of that school I speak with respect and affection for their devotion and sacrifices. But we are all getting old. It is very hard to abandon the beliefs of a lifetime. Hopefully, a few of them can see that the collapse of the Soviet system makes it mandatory to think through a new and feasible socialism.


    Perry Cartwright

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