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New Ground 65

July - August, 1999


  • DSA Selects a New National Director
  • The Kosovo Debate by Bob Roman
  • The WTO Must Be Stopped Now by Bill Dixon
  • DuPage Civic Fair by Gene Birmingham
  • YSU Center for Working Class Studies, 4th Biennial Conference by Harold Taggart
  • Other News compiled by Bob Roman
  • Anti-Sweatshop Campaign
    Pride Parade
    Clinton Protest
    Han Young Strikers Evicted
    DSA on the Web

    DSA Selects a New National Director

    After a long and extensive national search for a new director, the National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America has chosen Horace Small, a progressive organizer and activist from Philadelphia as its new National Director.

    "DSA, like most progressive organizations, is embroiled in a struggle with the Right to capture the moral soul of the American people." said Marsha Borenstein, a member of the National Political Committee and chairperson of the search committee. "In our search for a new Director, our challenge was to find someone with a long and extensive history of progressive activism... someone with extensive organizing experience, as well as someone who can work with all factions of the progressive movement with ease. We also were aware that we needed someone who could bring new blood into DSA, who can mobilize and inspire constituencies to take action, and help constituencies to chart a course for growth and development as we move to a new century. We believe we have that person in Horace Small. There is no doubt in our minds that he will do a tremendous job for us," concluded Ms. Borenstein.

    Horace Small has been a fixture in progressive social movements in the Philadelphia area for almost 25 years. As lead organizer with the Philadelphia Unemployment Project in the early 1980s, he played a critical role in organizing passage of the nation's only mortgage foreclosure assistance program in the Pennsylvania legislature for families faced with the loss of their homes due to unemployment or circumstances beyond their control. As Director of Organizing and Special Projects for the Philadelphia Anti-Drug Anti-Violence Network, he organized the nation's first gun buy-back program, as well as legislation through the Philadelphia City Council, banning the sale and ownership of assault weapons in the city of Philadelphia.

    Horace Small is the founder of the Philadelphia Community School, a training center for citizens and citizen leaders in the skills or organizing, fundraising and non-profit management. As senior consultant for Karant and Associates, a non-profit consulting firm based in Boston, he assisted organizations such as the Massachusetts Tenant Organization, the Edward Cooper Environmental Center, M-POWER, the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, South Bronx Ministries and several community development corporations throughout the East. He was a past President of the National Federation of Black Organizers, former National Vice Chair of the Board of the National Unemployed Network, and is President of the Black Men's Health Advocacy Project of Philadelphia. He co-teaches a course in Marketing and Fundraising at the New Hampshire College Graduate of Business Community Economic Development Program.

    "I am pleased and honored that DSA has chosen me as its new Director." said Small. "The Progressive movement in this country desperately needs a voice to promote an agenda that promises opportunity and hope to all of America's citizens. We must do a better job of communicating our message and our programs to the people of this country. We must do a better job of spending time educating communities of color and other minorities on our views and positions on issues that effect them, and we must empower and train citizens to organize to effect real change. I believe these principles to be my strengths and the reason why I was chosen for the position. I look forward to the challenge of building a movement where ultimately a real exchange or ideas on issues becomes a reality and not just wishful thinking." concluded Small.

    Although he will be working out of New York, Small will continue to reside in Philadelphia with his wife, Sue, and his 15 year old son, Brandon Jeremy.

    The Kosovo Debate

    by Bob Roman

    On Friday, July 9th, the Open University of the Left and Chicago DSA co-sponsored a debate, "The Kosovo War: Lessons for the Left". It was both a great success and a dismal failure.

    Held at Roosevelt University, some 90 people gathered to hear Mark Weinberg from Chicago DSA, Peter Hudis from News & Letters, Louis Paulsen from the Workers World Party, Robbie Bogarde from the Kosovo Task Force, Kevin Martin from Peace Action and Barry Romo address this topic. Kevin Martin was unable to participate due to illness and Carl Nyberg took his place.

    As a meeting, the event was a great success. A great deal of credit must go to Kathleen DeSautels from the Eighth Day Center for Justice, who was a superb moderator. Within the constraints of a seven minute time limit, Mark Weinberg did a good job presenting both the official DSA position and the range of opinions within DSA. Likewise, the other speakers made articulate, mostly, and sometimes impassioned presentations for their positions. The audience was mostly well behaved and their participation was generally reasonable. All things considered, this should count as a real accomplishment.

    But as a debate about the lessons of Kosovo, the meeting was a nonstarter. At best, there was something of a consensus that Kosovo shows "something is wrong with the left". Unfortunately, the specific diagnosis for what is wrong generally seemed to be that others on the left did not agree with whatever position was being articulated. Certainly there was no attempt to define a future political agenda to which most might agree regardless or in spite of any ideological disagreements.

    Maybe this was inevitable. The title of the debate presupposed that there is a single "left" within which there is enough agreement over values, philosophy, politics, etc., for a fruitful debate to be possible. It may also be simply true that "what we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history".

    Those of you in Chicago who missed the event will have an opportunity judge for yourself. CATV Cable Channel 19 will broadcast an abridged version of the meeting on Saturday, August 14, at 2 pm and 7 pm.

    The WTO Must Be Stopped Now

    by Bill Dixon

    As the World Trade Organization's Third Ministerial Summit meets in Seattle from November 30th through December 3rd, trade ministers and other responsible folk from all corners of the globe will gather and produce the customary rhetoric. Expand the markets; get government out of trade, and, at long last, let capitalism be capitalism! Or at least, that is what you'll hear if you get past that other international event taking place nearby.

    Which might not be easy, since tens of thousands of the WTO's opponents will be loudly demonstrating against the summit throughout its proceedings. They will demand an end to globalization as we know it; they will call for a more democratic, solidaristic, and ecological path toward world development. Among them will be environmentalists, union members, and consumer, farm, and public health activists, as well as progressive leaders from the US and around the world. Keenly aware that globalization comes to public view only too rarely in the form of tangible targets, the anti-WTO forces hope to hijack some of the meeting's publicity and turn the event into a lightening rod for protest.

    Ironically enough, the summit's media intensive PR focus may make the occasion more productive for the activist opposition than for the actual participants.

    WTO vs Social Justice

    But considerably more than symbolism recommends the WTO as a worthy target. For so long as the WTO itself remains in force, social justice will be the road not taken in the global economy. By its essential design, the World Trade Organization pits the most radical standard of market sovereignty against virtually anything which might diminish the rights of multinational capital to maximum profits.

    Simply put, the sole aim of the WTO is to turn the planet into one big marketplace, with a single set of pro-business rules binding all nations, rich and poor alike, at all times, at all costs. Until the work of the WTO is stopped, poor and working people across the globe will be officially tied to the ever expanding control of a strange new capitalist order, one perversely dependent upon a strict system of rules and an elaborate bureaucratic administration.

    Rosemary's Baby

    The World Trade Organization is a recent creation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. GATT was first negotiated after World War II by the major economic powers in order to strengthen the strategic interests of the capitalist West through reinvigorated international commerce. For the next forty years, GATT negotiations, called "rounds", proceeded to open markets by eliminating tariffs and import quotas slowly and selectively among countries within US and European influence. In 1986, however, GATT members began the Uruguay Round, which carried trade liberalization to historic new heights.

    At the Uruguay Round, in large part thanks to the Reagan / Thatcher axis, negotiations went far beyond tariffs and turned instead to the broader category of "barriers to trade". This rubric can include any policies, laws, or even cultural or religious customs which seem to interfere with the natural workings of supply and demand. Backing up this aggressive new approach to capitalist expansion is the WTO, established with the ratification of the Uruguay Round in 1994.

    The WTO enforces GATT and settles trade disputes between member nations. These executive and quasi-judicial functions distinguish the WTO drastically from the pre-Uruguay GATT rounds, which allowed members exemptions from many provisions and kept enforcement powers to a minimum. The WTO arbitrates conflicts through special panels. The panels act like judges, hearing complaints that one member's practices violate GATT against the interests of another. If the panel rules against a member, it may authorize punitive sanctions against the guilty party or force it to eliminate the practice in question. Before Uruguay, GATT members had to unanimously vote for any action to be taken against a member. With the WTO, such action happens automatically with the panel's ruling.

    The dangers of this process are difficult to overestimate. First, there are the WTO reviews themselves. The panels are composed of career trade officials and business experts drawn from a bureaucratically appointed roster, leaving the process wide open to influence peddling and conflicts of interest. The panel's deliberations are closed to the public and the press but not to select advocates from the private sector. The standards of evidence, especially in cases involving public health, are lax at best and often arbitrarily disregard expert testimony and recognized scientific data. The standards for legal consistency and precedent aren't much better. Typically, WTO rulings rest on precious little in the way of actual law. In crucial respects the GATT text itself is often ambiguously worded, and WTO panels regularly ignore other multilateral agreements, particularly those involving environmental and labor issues.

    Even more frightening than how the panels function is what they actually do, as shown by some of the high profile WTO cases. In the United States, the WTO has boldly struck down portions of the Clean Air Act, allowing Venezuelan gasoline to pollute US air at levels of toxicity deemed appropriate by Venezuela. Likewise, the WTO also supports US efforts to force the European Union to accept US beef from cattle treated with dangerous levels of bovine growth hormone. The WTO has also challenged a Massachusetts selective purchasing law which boycotts the military regime of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) on the grounds that human rights standards are really just protectionism in disguise. And recently, the WTO ruled in favor of the US-based Chiquita company, declaring that the European Union may not promote Caribbean agricultural development by giving preferential treatment to Caribbean owned banana exporters. US companies Dole, Delmonte, and Chiquita together control forty-two percent of the EU banana imports. So far, this near cartel of giant agribusiness has successfully used the WTO to defend its dominant position in the market and threaten small producers - all in the name of fair competition!

    WTO Reform

    As might be expected, sensational cases like these have provoked heated controversy, raising important questions within the WTO about how it should do business. Many countries have set forth serious if conflicting proposals for WTO reforms, such as more accountable and open enforcement procedures, greater respect for democracy and national sovereignty, real environmental standards, labor rights, and so on.

    At Seattle's Ministerial meeting, these issues among others will be taken up but only in general terms. Ministerial Summits meet every three years to assess progress and deliberate over the broad outline for the WTO's future internal negotiations.

    Blocking any real progress on any of these issues, however, is a kind of ideological wall beyond which WTO debates will never go. It rests on the grand assumption that market led growth through multinational corporate profit seeking can by itself sustain more or less equitable prosperity for the vast majority of the planet.

    Now, this is a whale of a premise, even for confirmed capitalists, but the alternatives (more international regulation, coordinated aid, investment, and planning) somehow escape serious mention in even the most heated WTO disputes. Yet once you accept that markets always know best and that governments can't be trusted with their own economies - let alone the world market - plausible arguments for "democratizing" the WTO or whatever become scarce indeed.

    That's why the WTO's reform talk always gets lost in the ideological glare of this defining consensus, which over the years has eerily advanced to the point of sheer fanaticism. Opponents call it "trade uber alles", referring to the corollary notion that all of the social complexities of globalization should be reduced to the single goal of enlarging markets. Unfortunately, because the WTO is constructed exclusively for the purpose of putting this very idea into practice, the WTO's range of opinion will always be handicapped by nothing less than its entire reason for being.

    Never has this bizarre impairment been more obvious than during the WTO debates over the Asian crisis. Not so long ago, after all, international investor panic nearly sunk the West along with most of the Third World into a deadly recession. "Stability" was restored only through massive intervention in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout packages and makeshift, band-aid style banking reforms. Even so, for most in the WTO the lesson of the Asian crisis is that, amazingly, global markets are not yet powerful enough! Blame for the Asian crisis goes instead to Asian backwardness, not to the investment markets where reckless speculation made disaster merely a matter of time.

    This same circular logic drives the WTO's current quest for expansion into China. The Chinese, to their credit, are understandably reluctant to accept US and EU demands that China open up its financial sectors to precisely those Western investors whose blind profiteering all but destroyed the economies of China's Asian neighbors.

    Cult Capitalism?

    It's anyone's guess the WTO's weird dogmatism explains some of the other portentous events of recent months, such as the revolt of Third World members in the bitterly contested WTO leadership election or the intensified conflicts between the US, Japan, and the European Union over bananas, beef, and steel. For the moment, these dangers are boxed off as incidental obstacles to the ultimate mission of making markets "work", now no longer a strategy for growth so much as an end-in-itself. And so in the eyes of elite opinion worldwide, the WTO remains brightly affirmed as a more or less obvious measure of world-historic progress, rather like the Olympics or the Internet; problematic at moments, sure, but all in all a healthy sign of modernity on the march.

    One way or another, that sunny capitalist delusion will come to an end. Globalization will never be the natural, frictionless process of markets - making - markets which the WTO was designed to quietly administer and enforce from on high. On the contrary, the transformations at work in the international economy are profoundly social, with implications that run far beyond the laissez-faire catechisms so carefully hardwired into the operational foundations of the WTO.

    The WTO Must End

    The question is, will the failures of the WTO result in new movements, programs, and institutions capable of challenging global capitalism itself? Or will the planet instead be condemned to a new era of capitalism at its worst, only now larger than ever, and overseen by authorities who mistake catastrophe for success?

    DuPage Civic Fair

    by Gene Birmingham

    Chicago DSA was one of 109 political and social service agencies and other non-profit groups that participated in a Du Page County Civic Fair on July 10, 1999 at the Odeum, a sports complex and convention center in Villa Park. Keynote speaker was Ralph Nader, who fired up a crowd of several hundred people to get involved in local citizen action and take back control of the country from corporate ownership.

    The fair sponsor was the Citizens Advocacy Center of Elmhurst, one of Nader's inspirations. Theresa Amato, Kate Millett, and Terry Pastika are a staff of three lawyers, working under a board of directors, who fulfill Nader's dream by encouraging and training people for citizen action. A few months ago Chicago DSA held a Membership Meeting at the Center and provided a showing of the Michael Harrington video. Free use of the facility is offered to any non-profit group.

    The Center staff decided that a Civic Fair would be a good way to celebrate the Center's fifth anniversary. A Steering Committee for the event included Steve De La Rosa, Donn Schneider and Gene Birmingham of West Suburban DSA. At a reception following the Fair, Nader congratulated those who are willing to get involved. A number of people were awarded framed certificates for a variety of community services.

    Attendance outside the exhibitors was spotty, drawn mainly by Nader's appearance. However, DSA male co-chair, Harold Taggart, his nephew, and DSA members, Mark Weinberg and Ralph Suter, who staffed the DSA table, found the effort worthwhile. Each group received two copies of a Directory of all participating groups, and had opportunities to get acquainted with one another.

    Besides display tables, breakout groups heard panel discussions by leaders in the areas of community organizing and media usage, suburban sprawl, suburban housing and health care. Best known of the panelists was single payer health care advocate and DSA member Dr. Quentin Young.

    In spite of its location in Du Page County, the only Republican presence was a table promoting a candidate for a judgeship. Democrats had five tables. Beside DSA, Left political groups included the Socialist Party, Green Party, Labor Party and Communist Party, and a number of Left issue oriented groups. One white supremacist group provided a contrast. It seemed to be ignored for the most part. About 490 people attended, and everyone agreed that this was a good enough basis for another Fair next year.

    YSU Center for Working Class Studies, 4th Biennial Conference

    by Harold Taggart

    Approximately 200 people, mostly academics, attended the 4th Biennial Working Class Conference held June 9-12 at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. The theme of the conference was Class, Identity and Nation.

    Participants came from states ranging from California to New Hampshire, and five countries including Great Britain, Australia and Russia. Professors, scholars, students, union leaders and novice artists presented papers, readings and theater acts. Germany contributed a complete working class art show. Attendees ranged from Paul Lauter, senior editor of the Heath Anthology of American Literature, to Ohio Valley businessman Bill Rosenberg. Several DSA members attended including at least three from the Chicago area.

    The keynote speaker was Paul Lauter, Professor of English at Trinity College. He emphasized identity in the working class. The big problem is that identity is defined from outside. The working class needs to determine who it is and define itself. The interests now telling the working class who it is and what it stands for have selfish, ulterior motives.

    Thursday night's keynote speaker was Stanley Aronowitz, Professor of Sociology at City University of New York. A prolific writer, this relatively young scholar has published 17 books including False Promises: The Shaping of Working-Class Consciousness. Aronowitz emphasized the changing nature of the working class. Professionals such as doctors have begun to form unions in addition to or in place of their professional organizations in response to expanding and tightening corporate control of their professions. Consequently, the face of the union movement is undergoing constant change. Historically, Aronowitz claimed, when it comes to promoting class consciousness, trade unions have been the problem more often than the solution.

    Panelists' papers addressed a wide range of issues. Movies like Good Will Hunting and Joe were analyzed and discussed for their portrayals of the working class. Carol Quirke of City University of New York Graduate Center analyzed Life magazine and its purported slant toward the common people. She discovered that working people frequently were depicted sitting or lying down at home and on the job or standing around in threatening and menacing groups. Corporate managers, on the other hand, nearly always were portrayed as industrious, thoughtful and concerned.

    Daylanne English of Brandeis University presented a paper on one of the US's more shameful eras titled: Cleaning Up America's Trash: The Eugenic Family Studies, 1877-1926. Her research revealed that nearly 70,000 Americans were sterilized under the program. It causes a person to stop and ask if Hitler was really that much different from his contemporary leaders around the world.

    More in tune with the theme of the conference, several speakers stressed the manipulation of the working class by the privileged class. Upward mobility in this society is permitted for an individual. Group efforts at upward mobility are ruthlessly crushed. Not only does the ruling class define everyone else, it selects and limits the language. One example cited was the term: "saving Social Security." The speaker, Stanley Aronowitz, pointed out that this is a rich nation that has abundant amounts of money to bail out Savings and Loans and sponsor military adventures around the world. It also has an abundance of money that not only could save Social Security but also could greatly expand it. As long as the privileged class is allowed to define who and what everyone and everything is and restrict the language of the debate, the condition of the working class can only deteriorate.

    Youngstown State University claims to be the only University in the United States with a full-blown working class studies program. YSU's CWCS has the full support of its administration and, judging by the participation, all the other departments on campus. Professors John Russo, who had a prominent part in the documentary Michael Harrington and Today's Other America, and Sherry Linkon are co-directors of CWCS and the driving forces behind the biennial event.

    During the early days of the conference, the visibly exhausted Russo and Linkon mentioned several times that this probably would be the last conference. However, after the singing, dancing and reveling at the farewell party, they shouted that they would see us again in two years.

    Other News

    compiled by Bob Roman

    Anti-Sweatshop Campaign

    Nike has been a prime target for the international campaign against sweatshops. The publicity has made Nike squirm, but they've kept their production in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and China, where collective bargaining is not allowed.

    To keep the street heat on, Chicago Jobs with Justice Cross Border Organizing Committee organized a demonstration outside Niketown on North Michigan Avenue on Saturday, June 26th. Some two dozen people turned out to hand flyers to shoppers and waive picket signs intended to educate consumers about Nike's sweatshop labor practices. Reactions ranged from determinedly oblivious to occasional outrage. One shopper exclaimed, "I paid $110 for these shoes, and they're getting a dollar an hour?!", followed by a less printable judgment on the situation. Chicago DSA members made up about a third of the demonstration.

    Chicago Jobs with Justice, Nicaragua Solidarity Committee and UofC Young Democratic Socialists are among the groups helping to organize a Citywide Antisweatshop Coalition. It is a modest beginning at present, being mostly an amalgamation of grouplets, but with increasing resources becoming available in Chicago for organizing around these issues, this could change radically over the next year. Call Anne Statton at 773-772-0327 for more information.


    Pride Parade

    It was a modest start, almost shy in a wild setting, but for the first time in several years Chicago DSA had a contingent in Chicago's annual Gay Pride Parade. Braving heat and torrential downpours, the DSA banner was supported by a small group of 3 to 5 marchers. While there were a few cat calls, most of the reactions (when there was any reaction at all) were positive. If you're interested in helping the Chicago DSA Gay Lesbian Bisexual Commission in doing further actions, call GLBC organizer Ben Doherty at 773-275-9561.


    Clinton Protest

    While a considerable number of Chicagoans and DSA members gathered in Hyde Park to protest NATO's mid-life crisis and Clinton's quest for immortality as opposed to immorality, the UofC Young Democratic Socialists took the lead in organizing a coalition of graduating seniors to protest at the commencement ceremonies.

    Since the bombing of Serbia had substantially stopped by the time Clinton spoke at the UofC graduation on June 12th, the coalition of graduating protesters agreed to wear stickers that said "Fair Trade Not Free Trade, I Signed the Pledge". Joan Axthelm made all the stickers, big and very visible on the graduation robes. While about 20% of the graduating class signed the pledge to consider the social and environmental impact of any job they took after graduation, most people backed out when it came to wearing stickers. The University had warned that any sign of protest would be dealt with by exclusion from the ceremony, thus only about 9 graduating students wore them.

    Nevertheless, we made a good impact. Clinton himself acknowledged our message, although he tried to co-opt it by insisting that we could have trade that was both fair and free. Overall his speech was pro-market but leftish within that framework, more left than he's actually been throughout his presidency, with a welcome endorsement of debt relief for poor nations and a mention of the problem of sweatshops.

    The protest and pledge were mentioned in the June 13th Chicago Tribune article on the graduation and on several TV stations. (Thanks to Amy Traub for most of this report.)


    Han Young Strike Evicted

    The strike at the Han Young maquiladora plant in Tijuana, Mexico, has taken a turn for the worse. On July 1, the strike was forcibly evicted from the plant by ministerial, special forces and municipal police on orders from the state government of Baja California. Baja California is controlled by the conservative opposition party, National Action Party (PAN). The plant makes truck chassis of the Hyundai Corporation, and the workers have been on strike since 1997 after the independent "October 6th" union won a representation election.

    The election is precisely the core legal issue. The state government has used every conceivable excuse to rule that the strike does not legally exist. The Han Young company even moved its plant. These maneuvers have been so specious that the Federal government has over ruled them, forcing the state labor board to concede that there may indeed be a strike.

    As part of its ruling, the 15th Federal Circuit Court in Mexicali ordered the state labor board to review its previous decision. The labor board cleverly held its hearing at the original Han Young plant somehow neglecting to inform the striking union. Finding no strikers and an empty building, the labor board found no strike and the Federal judge revoked the strike's federal protection orders.

    The state government took immediate advantage of the ruling and cleared the factory using overwhelming police force. Further, the state government is continuing to pursue trumped up criminal charges against union officials.


    DSA on the Web

    At the page http://findanisp.homepage.com/top100/by/category/politics.html you will find that, this week at any rate, the DSA web site is ranked as the 36th most often linked to "political" website in the world. This includes all those who link to us, so we are benefiting from the several dozen conservative pages linking to the Progressive Caucus pages in the DSA website. The DSA site is located at http://www.dsausa.org/.

    The rankings are accompanied by an indication of how they changed since the last ranking was produced.

    Chicago DSA has not been on the World-Wide Web for a while now, but the CDSA 1999 Membership Convention has formed a task force to remedy this lack. The Internet Task Force has already begun work on this project, and we hope to have a site up on the web by Labor Day. (Thanks to J. Hughes for most of this report.)

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