by Harold Taggart and Gene Birmingham
"To explore how we (the Left) can increase our presence
in the mainstream of American political and intellectual life"
was the way James Weinstein, editor of In These Times magazine,
stated the purpose of the "Back to Basics Conference".
The conference was held Oct. 9-11, at Chicago's Congress Hotel.
Several hundred people attended the conference, which In These
Times magazine sponsored and managed. In practice the conference
urged the Left to abandon its dead-end, self-destructive course
toward cultural politics and return to class politics.
Guests, speakers and panelists included a wide variety of stellar
figures of the Left. Syndicated talk show host, Jim Hightower,
was emcee for the Friday evening (Oct. 9) plenary session, and
typified the tone of the conference. Sandwiched in among his hilarious
down-home Texas jokes were serious calls to fight predatory corporations
and embrace Joe six-pack.
Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, the Left's primary preference
for president in the 2000 election, key-noted the conference with
an emphasis on the Left's need to join the middle and lower economic
segments of society in a common effort for reform if needed changes
are to be made in the electoral process. As opposed to the Republican's
equating of morality with sex, he defined morality in terms of
a living wage, affordable health care, quality education, adequate
nutrition for all children and curbing domestic violence, all
of which are true family values. Republicans cloak greed and selfishness
behind the mantle of "individual opportunity". Wellstone
wants us to campaign for education, health care and jobs, saying,
"We all do better when we all do better".
At the Oct. 10 plenary, Dr. Quentin Young described the sick
U.S. health care system, which costs $4,000 per person. Canadians
pay half as much for universal care, better care, and a life span
two years longer than ours. The HMOs, PPOs, etc., represent capitalism
in its purest state: profits have priority over patients.
Environmentalist Barbara Dudley emphasized a need repeated
by others, that the Left has to reach out to the beer and pretzels
working majority in America. Rather than viewing the struggle
as Left vs. Right, she called us to see it as top vs. bottom,
with the largest group in the middle, where our focus should be.
Pointing out that most Leftists are past age 40, the need to enlist
youth is obvious. No one expected Marx's prediction of capitalism's
collapse to occur. In fact, very few mentioned his name at all.
Joel Rogers, founder of The New Party, listed people's concerns:
education, campaign finance reform, environment, raising the minimum
wage, and concern about global capitalism. Neither Democrats nor
Republicans take this list seriously. Liberalism relied on favorable
government regulation and mass politics to deal with problems.
A new time calls for new politics, emphasizing economic strategy,
citizen participation, and electoral strategy.
A wide variety of Working Panels offered opportunity for discussion
to the variety of interests represented. The "Religion and
the Left" panel asked religious and secular Leftists to unite
on shared values, regardless of the different languages used to
describe them. A major illustration was the Saul Alinsky approach
of organizing religious institutions to confront injustice on
their own turf.
The panel on Campaign Finance Reform combined with a focus
on Proportional Representation in voting, which would allow third
parties, minority groups and women greater opportunity to be elected.
Panel leaders called for a united movement of single-issue groups
to work toward finance reform, as the necessary pre-condition
for any other kind of successful reform.
DSA leaders, Chris Riddiough and Joe Schwartz, organized a
panel to discuss "Building a Better Left", a call to
work for greater Left unity and organizational strength. DSA is
working with the Progressive Caucus in Congress and the Institute
for Policy Studies. Labor is essential for an effective Left,
along with people of color and women. What is envisioned is not
a uniting of organizations, but a broad coalition willing to speak
with one voice on issues of common concern. No consensus emerged
from discussion, but the proposal remains alive.
The panel on Feminism, led by Barbara Epstein, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
and Roberta Lynch, provided a good description of its decline
as a movement. While it accomplished changes, it is too weak to
go much further without focusing on class, race and other disparities
among women, especially those of the poor and working class. Women
cannot expect revolution in the near future, but must be in the
struggle for the long haul.
Other panels, which we were unable to attend, included Welfare
Reform, Public Education, Environment, Value Talk, Class in America,
African American Politics, The Media, and several on Labor.
Among the better solutions offered for problems by this august
body was a proposal for a national charter system to replace the
current state charter system to rein in and, if necessary, terminate
predatory, anti-social corporations. Someone suggested a three-strikes-and-you're-out
law for repeat corporate offenders.
The outstanding success story of the conference was the New
Mexico Green Party. As a result of flukes, determination, a spectacular
leader (Carol Miller), party rivalries, an energized staff, demographics
and a flexible campaign strategy, the party managed to become
a major party which entitled it to an automatic spot on the ballot
along with the Democrats and Republicans. Tedious, time-consuming
petitions are no longer necessary for getting on the ballot.
Although 60 percent of registered voters in New Mexico list
themselves as Democrats, the governor, one senator and two of
the three representatives are Republican. The Green Party received
significant help from the Governor who believed the Green party
would split the Democrats. Exit polls showed, however, equal numbers
of Democrats and Republicans voting for the Green party. The Greens
targeted areas to campaign in, such as Albuquerque, where half
the state's population resides, instead of remote, less populated
One of the most rewarding segments of the conference, but under-attended,
was the Sunday Brunch. Guests and speakers could table-hop among
the round, 12 seat, tables, and talk personally with a wide variety
of people. Much time was devoted to the issue of the Left in roles
as spoiler and infiltrator. No consensus will be reached on that
subject in the near future.
The conference was both a hope for the future and a success
in its own right. Congratulations is due In These Times
for its organization and management of the conference. (Who says
leftists can't be highly efficient?) The Green Party has set an
example of success. Another conference would be useful to focus
on next steps, whether by forming another party, or ways of cooperation
among groups, now that many groups have become better acquainted,
have seen the value of networking, and have heard the call to
work together. In the meantime, it remains for all of us on the
Left to build on the good foundation that was laid.
by Kurt Anderson
As if Friday nights weren't good enough, the resignation of
Newt makes November 6 an especially Good Friday. His missteps
on the final budget deal depressed Republican base turnout and
ads specifically designed to attack Clinton backfired. Newt's
predictions that a Republican pickup of less than five seats would
be disastrous was correct. It ended his political career. Ironically
enough, Newt the historian forgot one of the most repeated lessons
of history: revolutions almost always eat their fathers.
Any new Republican leadership which comes forward will have
to place a kinder gentler face on it's anti-worker and anti-family
agenda. On a recent Nightline, Bill Paxton (R-NY) said
that there is a movement to take the party back to the Reagan
Republican era. Is that supposed to be a step forward or backward?
Organized labor played a significant role in the essentially
defensive victories across the nation. Unlike the 1996 elections
in which the AFL-CIO spent millions on TV ads attacking Republicans'
voting records (and hence attracting much attention as exemplified
in California's Proposition 226), unions spent their time and
money in 1998 reaching out, educating and activating their members.
22% of all voters in 1998 were members of union households as
compared to 14% in 1994. This was an increase of over 6.7 million
more union household votes than in 1994. In addition, the AFL-CIO
unions registered 500,000 additional union voters, sent 9.5 million
pieces of mail to union households and made 5.5 million personal
phone calls. The efforts of the Christian Coalition pale in comparison.
In addition, labor defeated the Proposition 226-like Measure
59 in Oregon with 53% of the vote. Also, the coalition which defeated
Prop. 226 in California was held together to make sure that Senator
Barbara Boxer was re-elected and that Grey Davis was the new Governor
The AFL-CIO has also been actively recruiting union members
to run for public office. Six hundred union members ran for public
office in 1998. Nevada elected a waitress and member of the Culinary
Workers' Union to the Nevada State Senate. She is the first woman
union member to hold a Senate seat in the state's history.
Most importantly, though, issues ruled election day with union-household
voters. Preserving Social Security, support of public education,
a patient bill of rights and stronger laws protection the rights
of workers to join unions were the hottest issues with union households.
Overall, 71% of all union households voted Democratic. Luckily
for the Democrats, they didn't win back control of the House thus
avoiding another 1992-1994 debacle of rudderless wandering.
by Amy Traub, Dan Graff and Bob Roman
If the recent media blitz about globalization has taught us
anything, it is that the entire world is now tremendously interconnected,
that what happens abroad can profoundly affect conditions here
and vice-versa. The Youth Section of the Democratic Socialists
of America, both nationally and here in Chicago, are currently
working on an international campaign in support of the labor rights
of factory workers in Tijuana, Mexico.
In this particular case, the hundred some workers at the Han Young factory in Tijuana
weld truck chassis exclusively for Hyundai Motors, a Korean corporation.
Due primarily to unsafe and unsanitary working conditions - including
absence of ventilation, faulty equipment, and lack of protective
gear - workers at Han Young decided in June of 1997 to form a
union so they could collectively bargain for better conditions.
After the overwhelming majority of workers voted to join an
independent union, the government labor board declared that the
election was invalid since the workers were already represented
by a union. This union, the CROC (Confederacion Revolucionario
de Obreros y Campesinos) was one of the corrupt organizations
closely tied to the PRI, the political party which has ruled Mexico
for the last 70 years. Without the knowledge of the people working
there, the Han Young management had negotiated a "protection
contract" with the CROC in which the company paid off union
leaders in exchange for labor peace.
"The CROC collects money directly from the employers and
holds no meetings," explained one worker, "its representatives
only come to the factory when there is trouble, to tell the workers
to go back to work."
It is understandable that workers would want to exercise their
rights (guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution and, theoretically,
by NAFTA) to organize an independent union that would actually
represent their interests. Yet results of three separate labor
board supervised elections, all in favor of independent unionization,
have not resulted in recognition of the union. Workers have been
bribed, threatened, fired, beaten, menaced with arrest, mislead,
defamed, and victimized by suspicious "accidents".
Thousands of other workers in Mexico's northern maquiladora
(export-oriented manufacturing) sector face similar conditions
when they try to claim their legal rights. They are exploited
as cheap labor by transnational corporations under the rubric
of "free trade" even as their own basic freedoms to
organize amongst themselves and speak out about their working
conditions are violated with impunity.
The international solidarity
efforts that Han Young workers have explicitly called for (including
marches, boycotts, demonstrations, letters from prominent religious
leaders and organizations, speaking tours by Han Young workers,
hunger strikes and even solidarity actions by Hyundai workers
in the corporation's home country of Korea) have already had some
success. Because of international pressure, workers who had been
illegally fired were reinstated with back pay. But the independent
union, democratically elected by the plant workers on several
occasions, has still not been officially recognized. Without recognition,
they cannot legally negotiate a contract or go on strike. That's
why international efforts continue, and youth members of the Democratic
Socialists of America in the U.S., the New Democratic Party in
Canada, and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in Mexico
planned simultaneous demonstrations in cities across the continent
on October 30th.
On Thursday, Oct. 29, on the University of Chicago DSA sponsored
a forum on the striking Han Young workers. Nearly thirty students
and community members attended the forum, a very good turnout
in the face of horribly stormy weather that evening. Panelists
included David Moberg, a senior editor at In These Times
and journalist specializing in labor issues, Amy Traub, a student
at the University of Chicago and coordinator of the Han Young
support work on campus, and Dan Graff, a representative the Labor
Rights Task Force of the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee, which
has been helping coordinate Han Young solidarity support in the
The panelists provided an update on the situation at Han Young,
where workers have been on strike for union recognition since
May 1998, and analyzed the crisis in light of the impact of NAFTA,
economic globalization, and the potential internationalization
of the labor movement.
The forum also served as the lead-in for a protest of a local
Hyundai dealership, scheduled for the next day as part of an International
Day of Action to support the Han Young strikers. The DSA Youth
Section (as part of the International Union of Socialist Youth)
held events in New York, Boston, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and
On Friday, October 30, thirty folks, mostly from the University
of Chicago, picketed Quality Hyundai at 92nd St. and Western Ave.
in Chicago. Chanting "Hyundai, Hyundai, respect labor rights!"
and "Hyundai Motors, we'll cut you down to size, unless you
respect the right to unionize!", the protesters received
support from honking motorists during rush hour traffic.
The dealerships' management was clearly irritated, and one
staffer informed us he would definitely notify Hyundai headquarters
of the action. The highlight of the day: a prospective car buyer
talked with protesters and then opted not to shop at Hyundai.
"Keep up the good work," he shouted as he drove away.
The October 30th National Day of Action in support of Han Young
workers was not the first this fall. On Saturday, September 19th,
the Campaign for Labor Rights coordinated a similar effort. The
DSA Youth Section planned its day of action on October 30th because
a number of its chapters, including the University of Chicago,
did not begin their academic year until after September 19th.
The Chicago action was coordinated by the Chicago Jobs with
Justice Cross Border Organizing Committee and the Nicaragua Solidarity
Committee Labor Rights Task Force. Some 40 people, including 9
DSA members mostly from the UofC Youth Section and Greater Oak
Park DSA, turned out for a picket line outside of New Rogers Pontiac-Hyundai
at 27th and Michigan in Chicago. The management there was more
than irritated, but after a Donald Duck tantrum, the afternoon
In other cross border action, the Dana Workers Alliance, along
with the AFL-CIO, Canadian Labour Congress and the National Union
of Workers in Mexico, has filed complaints under the side agreements
to NAFTA against the Dana Corporation for firing union supporters
and brutalizing employees at its Echlin brake plant in Itapsa,
Mexico. In the States, the UAW, Steelworkers and Paperworkers
represent some 12,000 Dana workers. Other members of the Dana
Workers Alliance include the Teamsters, Canadian Auto Workers,
UNITE and UE.
The railroad industry has become increasingly international
as well. As a consequence, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers,
Maintenance of Way Employees, and STFRM (the Mexican rail union)
have formed an alliance to share information and coordinate action.
U.S. and Canadian railroads have long owned lines across the
northern border, but Mexico has recently privatized its railroads.
Organized into several regional monopolies, the privatization
law requires majority ownership by Mexican investors; however,
all but one of the regional lines are dominated by U.S. railroads.
U.S. staffing practices are spreading south of the border, resulting
The internationalization of the U.S. rail industry has spread
beyond Mexico. The Kansas City Southern, for example, not only
has a 49% stake in Mexico's northeastern railway, TFM, but also
runs Panama's railway. The Wisconsin Central also runs the freight
service in New Zealand and Britain.
by Bob Roman
On Friday, October 9, the Campaign for Better Health Care held
its Second Annual Meeting in Chicago at the Spertus Institute
Conference Center. The event combined a Candidates' Forum, presentations
on healthcare legislation at the local, state and federal levels,
a discussion on future strategies, and an evening fundraising
Many of the 100 people who attended the Annual Meeting came
to attend the Candidates' Forum. The forum was focused on candidates
for U.S. Senate and Illinois Governor. It didn't go well; none
of the candidates attended. Democrats Carol Moseley Braun and
Glen Poshard did recruit campaign representatives to attend. Republican
George Ryan did try to send a representative but Peter Fitzgerald
did not bother to respond. The sessions were moderated by Chicago
Reporter Editor Laura Washington.
But the afternoon discussion of strategy was the more important
and the more interesting portion of the annual meeting. The discussion
began with a panel discussion moderated by Ms. Carmen Velasquez,
Executive Director of the Alivio Medical Center. The panelists
were Tom Balanoff (SEIU Local 73), Tom Wilson (Access Living),
Sue Clark (Illinois Nurses Association), Rev. Richard Bundy (Interfaith
Committee on Worker Issues), and Dr. Warren Furey (American College
It should be no surprise that beyond a common agreement in
favor of a universal health care system, the panel did not represent
a real consensus. At some point, a consensus will be necessary,
but for now this lack is not a problem. This minimal agreement
for a universal system translates into a broad, enthusiastic support
for the proposed "Bernardin Amendment" to the Illinois
Constitution. Named for the late Cardinal Bernardin, this amendment
would require the state legislature to enact an unspecified universal
health care system by the year 2000.
Furthermore, a consensus was not the point of the panel; rather,
it was intended that the panel and the audience would generate
ideas for actions during the upcoming year. And for this purpose,
the panel's diversity generated ideas like a dog breeds fleas.
Sorting out this harvest will be the task of a meeting in December.
But the discussion was notable for its lack of any sense of
enemies. Everyone allowed as to how the healthcare industry is
an obstacle, and it was roundly condemned for its domination of
public policy and its inhuman values. But there was no suggestion
that this is inherent to the nature of our society.
In this way, the campaign for health care reform is something
of a populist movement, and in fact, the current changes in the
health care industry do resemble somewhat the changes the U.S.
economy at the end of the 19th century when the populist movement
was at its peak. It would be easy to make too much of this, but
it is likely that the nature of the discussion will change as
the transformation of the industry is consolidated.
Never in Germany's post-war history has the ruling party ever
taken such a beating as the CDU-FDP coalition took in September.
Although the CDU had been ruling since 1982, they attempted
to make the ridiculous claim that they were the party of reform
and new ideas. German voters did not buy it. Double-digit unemployment,
Kohl's inability to make eastern Germany a "blossoming landscape"
as he promised before re-unification and Kohl's dismantling of
an adequate safety net caused German voters to dump Kohl and the
CDU in historic numbers. I generally don't like to bore readers
with facts unless it's to add insult to injury, so here goes.
The CDU did not gain one single Wahlkreis or voting
district in Germany. In fact, the CDU lost over 115 voting districts
to the SPD. This translates to an additional 46 SPD seats in Germany's
parliament for a total of 298 seats. The CDU now has 245 seats,
the Greens were reduced to 47 seats, the FDP lost three seats
and are at 44 and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) picked
up 5 seats and enters the parliament for the first time with 5%
of the total vote.
Moreover, the CDU lost 2.4 million of its voters to other parties:
1.6 million to the SPD, 14,000 to the Greens and 275,000 to the
PDS. Overall, a majority (52.7%) of Germans voted for left parties:
SPD, PDS and Greens. The SPD only lost votes to the PDS (321,000).
The far right in Germany, however, was not able to muster even
the 5% of the vote needed to gain entry to the German parliament.
I always like to see that the most dangerous country of the 20th
Century is keeping the overt fascists out of Parliament. The SPD
appealed to a wide variety of voters. Women, students, unemployed
and Protestants made up the bulk of the SPD's voting block.
American media treated the victory of the SPD and its candidate
for Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, with a quick glance. The general
feeling was that he was a Germany Clinton/Blair hybrid and that
there really wasn't going to be much change. Schroeder's and the
SPD's campaign was "We're the new middle". And Schroeder
ran a vague campaign of promised economic growth without cutting
welfare benefits and even increasing some. As the campaign moved
further forward, Schroeder stayed in the middle: there should
be some sort of tax reform, and perhaps there should be an increase
in the gas tax.
His number one promise, was to fight high unemployment. With
a few weeks left in the campaign, the immensely powerful Deutsche
Gewerkschafts Bund (DGB), the German equivalent of the AFL-CIO,
weighed in with the SPD saying that they were the party which
could best fight unemployment. Kohl was surprised and outraged.
The DGB had been running a year long media campaign about addressing
the unemployment problem and this raised national consciousness
about it. If Schroeder can't deliver, the DGB could make things
very uncomfortable for Schroeder and the SPD.
Two days after the elections, Timothy Garton Ash, Professor
of History at Oxford summed up the general feeling about Schroeder
and the SPD: "Germany will not change. The only question
is whether Schroeder will be in a position to complete the dismantling
of the German welfare system."
But the SPD and Schroeder are not Tony Blair or Clinton and
Germany is not England or the U.S. Schroeder grew up poor and
a solid member of the working class and makes no apologies for
it. He had been part of the SPD's far left in the 1960s and 1970s.
He admitted that, at that time, he was a Marxist. In other words,
he was no Tony Blair. He was the first person to speak in Parliament
without a tie. (If you know how Germans are sticklers for decorum
then you'll know what a big deal this was.) He was vocal during
the political outbursts of the time. As he slowly moderated he
views, he made his way up the SPD party ladder.
As to what his real ideas are for Germany, we'll slowly see
that unveiled. The SPD is in coalition with the Green Party. This
is a coalition which will be fragile when the time comes to weigh
job creation versus environmental impact. But for now, the Greens
appear ready to heel. The Greens backed off of a massive gas tax
hike to a moderate SPD hike. Also, the Greens will have 4 key
cabinet posts: Health, Environment and Vice-Chancellor Foreign
Minister. The rest of the cabinet will be SPD members. Most interestingly
enough, Schroeder may face the greatest fight from one of his
cabinet members, Oskar Lafontaine, Finance Minister and de facto
head of the SPD.
Lafontaine is an immense power in the SPD, a dedicated socialist
and a shrewd tactician. Lafontaine ran for the SPD Chancellorship
in 1990 saying that the cost of reunification would be dangerous.
He was right. Five years later he mounted a putsch to wrestle
the SPD Chairmanship away from a moderate. After Schroeder and
the SPD won in September, Lafontaine said, "I want to thank
the voters for trusting Gerhard Schroeder and me."
Already there are questions about who's actually running the
coalition. A recent German magazine cover depicts Lafontaine as
the puppet master and asks "How Long Can Schroeder Stand
Up?". In the recent coalition negotiations with the Greens,
Lafontaine lead the fight against the "new middle" making
sure that his economic and finance ideas were the basis for any
Also on Schroeder's left are the dark horses from eastern Germany,
the PDS. The PDS is the remnants of parts of the former Communist
Party of East Germany. For the first time in the PDS' eight year
history, they have achieved the 5% of the national vote needed
to be a party in Parliament.
Under the Chairmanship of the controversial Gregor Gysi, the
PDS unashamedly ran as Socialists, promoting the rights of gays
and women, the right to abortions, workers' ownership of production,
anti-fascism, anti-capitalism and the dismantling of neo-liberalism.
The PDS pulled in 19.5% of the vote in eastern Germany and 1.1%
of the vote in the west. The PDS has doubled its vote total since
1990. The PDS also won 24% of the vote in a state election in
a northern German state.
On election night Gysi said, "We are the left opposition."
Gysi further stated that the PDS can be counted on when conservative
SPD members will not vote for a certain law. The PDS, however,
will be a thorn in Schroeder's left side if need be. Asked why
the PDS achieved such massive gains in the east, Gysi replied,
"When one does not know if one has a job next year, or if
they can pay for their house, then a wonderfully renovated train
station is no replacement. The PDS understands that. Kohl didn't."
Gysi and the PDS believe that their party will grow. They are
already forming an informal caucus with other left parties in
Europe. The PDS also hopes to gain seats in the European Parliament.
Germany is at a historic crossroads for Germany and Europe.
Germany can decide to put together a block of left European countries
to counter a failing neo-liberalism. England, France and some
eastern European countries could be major players in such a block.
Firm rules on currency speculation and strengthening of a European
Charter on workers' and communities' rights could be proposed,
if nothing else.
But we are at an unprecedented time in history where the left
controls many governments in Europe. They have the power to propose
changes which could support the masses of workers who elected
them to office rather than put a nicer face on the dismantling
of social structures. Such a stance could make its way over to
America and infect workers and politicos here. It's would be a
shame to pass it up.
by Bruce Bentley
People and Folks: Gangs Crime and the Underclass in a Rustbelt
City by John M. Hagedorn. Lake View Press, Chicago, 1998 2nd
Edition, 320 pages, $ 29.95 Cloth; $17.95 paper
Every day we hear of gang violence whether it is from the news
media or in the urban experience of our communities and schools.
This upsurge in gang activity, particularly since the early 1980's,
has affected most citizens in some way. Is this merely a phenomenon
of alienated youth? A growing crime problem based on the deterioration
of values? Is it a consequence of the culture of poverty? Is the
increase due to the economic conditions of globalization? What
is the cause for the increase in gangs and how does this relate
to the increase in prison population? What and who defines a crime?
What is the voice of the gang member?
John Hagedorn, a criminologist at the University of Illinois
at Chicago, sets out to examine these questions and obtains some
answers in the second edition of this work. In Milwaukee, Hagedorn
seeks to examine the socio-economic conditions that has led to
the explosion of gangs in the 80's and whether the gangs were
an autonomous local development or as some claimed, "exported"
from the gang organizations in Chicago.
In his methodology, Hagedorn includes the variables of race,
class, gender and age. In the tradition of the Chicago School
he sets out to obtain community based data, but expands the methodology
by utilizing collaborative research via interviews with gang members.
His objective is to counter the dominance of the law enforcement
paradigm which tends to see gangs as a "crime problem",
hence the solution of increased laws, criminalization and incarceration.
This inadequate response contrasts to Hagedorn's cogent thesis,
namely that the rise of gangs and the drug economy in larger and
smaller cities in the 80's was due to the economic restructuring
of the 1980's which in turn increased the urban underclass. By
the same token, the rise in gangs has a direct correlation to
the rise in prison population. This thesis is the strength of
Hagedorn's work as a point of social analysis as well as his objective
to influence public policy toward a program of jobs and education,
the re-examination of the values of our consumer society, and
the transformation of gangs into political organizations as advocates
of progressive change in poor urban communities.
Hagedorn argues that the modern gang, particularly Black and
Hispanic, increasingly female, including adult members, has adapted
to these economic conditions differently than the traditional
gangs of Thrasher and Yablonsky where the member eventually matured
out of the gang by obtaining an industrial job. Instead, the modern
gang is becoming "institutionalized". It is also clear
that the drug policy of incarceration is a failure and that the
incarceration of gangs members has inadvertently led to the recruitment
and solidification of gangs in and out of prisons. Thus DSA's
Prison Moratorium Project would benefit from the work of Hagedorn
as well as a possible opportunity for coalition work.
Let's examine Hagedorn's work more closely. The book's first
seven chapters focus on gang formation, structure and organization.
In this second edition the only addition is chapter 8 which includes
follow up interviews with male and female gang members. They discuss
their past experience in gangs and their present activities, employment,
First, in regard to gang formation, for Thrasher gangs are
a sub-cultural ethnic response to create social order in an disorganized
community in order to assimilate to the socio-economic conditions.
This type of gang was essentially a corner "play group."
These gangs were "transitory" structures with an interstitial
function: between adolescence and adulthood; between a disorganized
community to one of stability; and between a stage of delinquent
conduct to a maturing out process where there was access to a
low skill job market. In contrast, Hagedorn argues the modern
gang differs in that they are primarily Black and Hispanic and
consequently gang formation is augmented by racism, joblessness
and blocked access to structures of power.
Hagedorn comically exhibits through interviews with gang members
how police inadvertently augmented gang identification and organization
by making statements to 'corner groups' or breakdance groups "hey
you are the 1-9's right?" Subsequently the group identified
themselves as the gang called the 1-9's. Sometimes the gang leadership
structure was created in the same manner when police would identify
so and so as the leader. In sum, Hagedorn explains that Milwaukee
gangs formed according to the classical model of Thrasher which
is premised on unique local conditions.
It is dubious that gangs can be exported; however, Milwaukee
gangs tend to follow the cultural traditions (i.e. slogans, gang
etiquette & structure) from the Chicago gangs. This was influenced
by gang members moving from Chicago to Milwaukee. In fact, members
resented any reference that their origin was Chicago based, thus
local conditions are primary. Moreover, the modern gang has become
a seemingly 'permanent' or institutionalized structure into adulthood
in which the informal drug economy has replaced the vacuum of
In regard to gang structure, Hagedorn argues that gangs are
not organized crime structures as law enforcement contends. Milwaukee
gangs are organized primarily by age division.
Youths join gangs initially between the ages of 13-16 (juniors)
by "hanging out" on a corner, centering around activities
as alcohol, marijuana, and delinquent acts. Eventually group cohesion
is solidified in the gang through "conflict" (Coser)
with other gangs and the police.
The second tier is age 18+ (seniors) where the focus of activities
is on survival needs. Drug selling is done on an individual street
level, not an organized activity. The two tier structure of juniors
and seniors is not a single organized structure, but does have
a formal and informal relationship. Hagedorn notes that law enforcement
has a vested interest in the criminal definition that gangs are
"organized crime" because they receive federal grant
funds to support gang units.
Besides deindustrialization, Hagedorn found that the social
and economic institutions that assisted the early immigrants to
adapt and assimilate in urban centers are disappearing. Thus gangs
and the drug economy are filling this void. Hagedorn builds on
the work of William Julius Wilson who showed that prior to the
'60's, there was social organization in cities which created a
sense of community. Wilson claims urban centers have been hurt
by the increase in the young poor and that the Black middle class
has fled the inner city. Wilson argues that this has led to a
In contrast, Hagedorn asserts that poor communities are not
disorganized, but have adapted to the socio-economic conditions
with illegal social and economic organizations such as gangs and
the underground drug economy. Furthermore, Hagedorn points out
that urban violence is a method to regulate the drug industry
and that most gang violence is intragang related.
Hagedorn's research does not answer why there has been a rise
in female gang members. Nevertheless, he poises two interesting
questions: Is increase in female gang members an adaptation to
the liberated working woman? That is, she is as tough and violent
as men? Or has economic change reinforced traditional and oppressive
gender roles for women too?
In summary, Hagedorn argues that it is necessary to understand
the gang phenomena not as a crime problem, but as a segment of
the underclass and where public policy must focus on jobs and
education instead of prisons.
The major contribution of People and Folks is theoretical
and methodological. The strength of the work lies in Hagedorn's
thesis that the rise of gangs in the '80's is related to urban
deindustrialization and how this led to law enforcement defining
gangs as a crime and drug problem and therefore the institutionalization
of gangs, criminalization and incarceration. Thus how crime is
defined determines its solution or social policy. Hagedorn's collaborative
method of interviewing gang members directly is sound. Although
Hagedorn warns that the method of interviewing gang members is
filled with dangers on its reliability, etc., at times he appears
to cross the boundary of neutrality which can skew objective research.
The use of words like "police tactics of repression,"
"hustling" (that is, petty crime, which is not mere
"hustling" if your kid was mugged), the use of
the pejorative term "white boys", are not going to build
bridges with community agencies or policy makers. Hagedorn was
surprised that the police, schools, community agencies rejected
his analysis. It may not be the analysis, but the use of language.
Although we have our point of view, if we want to influence policy,
language should be utilized for clarification of conflict and
to enhance dialogue in order to obtain consensus for change.
Hagedorn is correct about the negative affects of the consumer
society. The culture of consumerism was addressed by Erich Fromm
who warned of its dehumanizing effect and referred this as the
"sickness of culture". However, the corollary is that
sub-cultures do not escape the sickness of the macro culture.
The politicization of gangs must be approached with extreme caution.
Paulo Freire emphasized that the sub-cultures of the oppressed
must become bastions of prosocial culture, transformation and
politicization. When working with gangs there is the danger that
the worker wants to be "hip", romanticizing gangs as
well as the quagmire of cultural politics.
Along with deindustrialization, I think there are some deeper
issues that have led to the rise of gangs. The culture of consumerism
ties directly into the central mirco issues of adolescent psychology
which include: "dependency" and "power." Consumerism
feeds into the dependency crisis of early adolescence where the
youth must successfully separate from parent (i.e. increase independence).
The consumer culture creates a trap for parents and where the
overindulged or spoilt child runs rampant. Objects weaken kids
since they depend on the object for their meaning and essence
versus developing and trusting one's inner capacity for creativity
and power (Fromm). In addition, kids are a commodity whether in
the forms of sex abuse or of corporate profiteering from teen
hospitalizations, incarcerations and medications. My experience
in schools shows this to be a cross class and race phenomena.
A constant theme is abandonment from father and the mother
who violates generational boundaries and uses the kid to be her
"little man" and "friend." Kids do not want
adults to be their friends because that is the function for peers.
Teens want the experience of strong authentic adults who exhibit
their "internal strength and power" to love, to guide
and to "challenge."
The rise in gangs reflects this crisis of "dependency",
that is, one is dependent or a follower of the group versus confidence
in one's internal experience of self. Frequently in our school
I see students who "want" to go to prison. This seemingly
irrational behavior has a rational objective. It frees one from
the responsibilities of independence and it is an escape from
freedom (Fromm). Thus once again as Hagedorn pointed out, law
enforcement inadvertently reinforces these adolescent behaviors
Failure to establish a degree of independence in early adolescence
(12-14) triggers the problems of mid teens (15-17) such as: gangs,
hospitalizations, prisons, drugs, alcohol, pregnancy etc.
These are maladaptive forms of dependency. These problems get
exacerbated by issues of abuse, poverty, severe learning problems
and an educational system that does not meet their unique educational
and social needs.
On a deep level these teens know that they are not strong and
rather than face one's internal sense of inferiority and self
hate, they reach out for forms of false power and identity (Adler).
We have to be "somebody," why not be a gangbanger or
criminal since it's a symbol of power. Teens use aggression to
control adults via fear, who then misconstrue and label this behavior
as sociopathic or psychopathic. Thus the prisons, hospitals and
drug prescriptions overflow. Under this mask of pseudo power is
a scared and hurt kid. Teens want strong adults to model, teach
and provide an environment where they can develop a "sense
of identity based on one's experience of self as the subject and
agent of one's powers" (Fromm).
If Hagedorn and other researchers synthesize this type of macro-micro
analysis it would negate the trap of being caught in a false dichotomy
and be a formidable and palatable analysis for policy makers.
Compiled by Bob Roman
All of you have probably read the general results of Tuesday's
elections, but there is some news that hasn't generally been published:
All of the 55 members of the Progressive Caucus running for
reelection won their races. Of the three who retired (Furse OR1,
Stokes OH11, Torres CA34) all were replaced by progressives who
should be encouraged to join the Progressive Caucus (Wu OR1, Tubbs
OH11, Napolitano CA34).
In addition, the increase in numbers of Democrats in the House
was due to the election of Progressives. These include: Tammy
Baldwin (WI2), the first open lesbian to be elected to Congress
and a strong progressive; Rush Holt, an environmentalist from
NJ12; Jan Schakowsky, a consumer advocate and women's rights supporter
With these elections the Progressive Caucus can continue to
grow and become a powerful force in Congress. Call, fax, write,
e-mail your member of Congress and encourage them to join the
Progressive Caucus (if, of course, they are progressive). Urge
current members of the Caucus to play a leadership role. For more
information, contact me Chris Riddiough at email@example.com
or Karen Dolan of the Progressive Challenge at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite the rain, several dozen people formed an informational
picket line outside Niketown on north Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
This action was part of an international effort to pressure Nike
to pay a living wage at its production facilities around the world.
The picket line included a contingent of DSA members from the
University of Chicago and elsewhere. The Chicago action was organized
by the Chicago Jobs with Justice Cross Border Organizing Committee.
Chicago DSA helped mobilize for the event through its labor support
list and, at the UofC, through the Anti-Sweatshop Coalition.
The fall series of public forums on Economic Democracy has
gone very well, the last of the series being held just as New
Ground goes to press. Between two and three dozen people attended
each session. Generally, the presentations were stronger than
the question and comment sessions, and one was left with the impression
that there are bits and pieces of new (and not so new) ideas that
are just beginning to come together.
Senator Jesus Garcia and Bernice Bild from the Committee for
New Priorities addressed a joint Chicago DSA / Illinois Committee
of Correspondence forum on the 1998 elections. Senator Garcia
gave a technical, electoral perspective on the outcome. Bernice
Bild provided a look at the outcome from more of a policy perspective.