Members of Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) went to Detroit
January 10th and 11th to discuss future alliances with the United
Steelworkers of America (USWA) in the wake of the November protests
against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle.
Even before the WTO protests, a portion of the Steelworkers
- or at least some of their leadership - had been pushing for
an alliance with student activists. After the successful collaboration
between unionists and youth in Seattle, these forces got the go-ahead
to set up a meeting with representatives of the student movement.
The Steelworkers, who represent nearly a million active and
retired workers, are one of the more radical unions in America.
They became radicalized by hard times in the 1980's, when they
lost nearly half their members as steel production moved overseas.
In recent years, they have become one of the strongest labor voices
against unrestricted free trade, and they have recognized the
need to move away from the protectionism and nationalism that
has traditionally characterized labor.
USWA reached out to the United Students Against Sweatshops
(USAS), and now seems eager to work with other student and youth
organizations. USAS has campaigned on campuses nationwide for
codes of conduct to prohibit their universities from buying sweatshop-made
products. They have risen to prominence in the last few years,
growing to 200 chapters and leading sit-ins. The most dramatic
demonstration was a ten day sit-in at the University of Arizona
in April of 1999, where students forced the administration to
implement disclosure and monitoring principles for overseas factories.
USWA's invitation was extended by USAS to other student groups:
the Young Democratic Socialists, the 180 Movement for Democracy
and Education, the Student Labor Action Project, the United States
Student Association, Jobs with Justice, and the Center for Campus
Organizing were also represented at the meeting. The Steelworkers
sent seven representatives of their leadership, including National
Rapid Response Coordinator Tim Waters and International Secretary-Treasurer
Leo Gerard. The groups came together in Detroit to discuss future
collaborations between students and Steelworkers.
The Steelworkers clearly wanted to tap into the energy of the
student movement to boost their own campaigns. The students, though
eager to work more closely with unions, were wary of allowing
their own political agendas to be subordinated to those of the
Both sides were eager to find ways for Steelworkers locals
and local student groups to work together. The emphasis was on
building partnerships on the local level. Many students had become
involved with unions through Jobs with Justice, growing up in
pro-union families, participating in the Union Summer program,
and some through work experience - current and former members
of the Teamsters, the United Auto Workers, and the Laborers were
It was pointed out that the leadership and rank-and-file of
USWA are not uniformly as radical or as open to working with students
as the national leadership is. Consequently, local partnerships
will have to be built on a case-by-case basis. However, the prospects
for forging alliances in Chicago are good, since the area has
a large number of USWA members, including locals that have been
engaged in strikes.
The USWA project that aroused the most excitement in the students
was the Rapid Response Network. Rapid Response uses a system of
local coordinators to quickly disseminate information and mobilize
the rank-and-file involvement around specific issues. It is an
action model admired for a variety of reasons, including its efficient
communication, rank-and-file involvement, and shop-floor political
activism and education.
For the YDS representatives, local partnerships and international
solidarity were among the most important concerns. Steelworker
locals obviously stand to benefit from gaining regular allies
in the student movement, who can support them in strikes and other
struggles. And by building institutional ties between student
organizations and unions at the national level, it becomes possible
for local contacts to be maintained, even after individual students
with good labor contacts have graduated.
YDSers also try to bring an internationalist perspective to
the labor movement. In addition to being important as a matter
of socialist principle, supporting strong unions in other countries
is in the pragmatic interests of American unions. In the past,
YDS has actively worked with foreign unions: by supporting the
efforts of Mexican workers to organize a Hyundai plant, for instance.
While recognizing that the primary job of American unions is to
protect the livelihoods of their own members, YDS argues that
the best way to protect American jobs is by raising labor standards
everywhere rather than resorting to protectionism. While international
solidarity work was only discussed briefly, the USWA representatives
made clear that they understand the limits of a nationalist strategy.
The only hints of contentiousness in the otherwise very friendly
meeting came when the discussion turned to China. USWA is focusing
their energy on keeping China out of the WTO: they believe that
it will be extremely difficult to fight for labor and environmental
standards in the WTO if China is a member. USWA's strategy is
to reform the WTO; they use the slogan is "fix it or nix
it." In Seattle, International President George Becker said
"...unless the WTO is fundamentally changed to include core
labor rights, human rights and environmental accords, we'll insist
that our government take whatever steps are necessary to replace
it with a set of global trading rules that work for working families."
Although some in the Steelworkers' leadership believe that reform
will prove impossible, they believe that adopting this position
gives them the "high ground".
Students pointed out the possibly nationalist and racist turn
a campaign against China could take. They also worried that the
USWA position legitimized the idea that the United States should
use its strength to impose standards. But USWA's commitment to
reforming the WTO makes it necessary for them to oppose the admission
of a large and powerful country like China that would resist the
introduction of core standards. Students also worried that focusing
on China would take attention away from broader, more radical
critiques of the WTO.
Detroit was seen by many as the "initial schmooze"
at the beginning of a long relationship. As a result, contentious
issues were skirted. Cultural clashes are inevitable. Issues concerning
feminism, sexuality and racism were on the minds of many but they
were not extensively addressed in a formal setting. One of primary
weaknesses of the meeting, which was commented upon by the participants,
was the lack of racial diversity. This was hardly surprising,
given the historic whiteness of both union leaderships and the
anti-corporate student movement. Still, the racial homogeneity
was striking. All but a few of the 30 or more attendees were white.
The meeting in Detroit represented the first major attempt
to extend and solidify the new alliances labor forged in Seattle.
But the handful of union leaders present did not (and could not)
represent the diversity of opinions among the rank-and-file, which
will complicate efforts to form local alliances. And the differences
of opinion expressed by the two sides underscored the need for
students to take a critical, independent stance towards unions
and not to be overly optimistic about their radical potential.
But on the whole, the meeting was very encouraging and the
possibility of future labor-student alliance is an exciting one
for student activists. USWA was clearly excited and eager to work
with students in the future and they took the meeting seriously
enough to send their second-in-command. Our experiences in Detroit
with the Steelworkers left some of us asking ourselves and others
"whose millennium - theirs or ours?"
Fast on the heels of the Seattle WTO protests, the next big
fight for the fair trade movement has already begun over trade
with China. The disastrous implications of Clinton's China deal
present its opponents with a defining challenge. Either labor,
progressives, and the activist Left will deepen their internal
unity and broaden public support for reorganizing US trade policy,
or China will enter US markets on terms bad enough to make even
NAFTA look good.
Since the late seventies, Western investors have seized on
hints from Beijing that China might once again open up to international
capitalism. China's billion plus population is the emerging market
to beat all emerging markets, and that single glaring fact has
for the past twenty years spurred on a strange courtship involving
Big Business, the top levels of China's Communist leadership and
our very own State Department. Both Europe and Japan have sometimes
cut in but the main drama has always been between the US and China.
Things looked bleak indeed last April when President Clinton
rejected intensive Chinese efforts to secure US approval on entry
into the WTO. But all was eventually patched up before the Seattle
WTO Ministerial in late November when US Trade Representative
Charlene Barshefsky made an emergency trip to China for last ditch
negotiations on foreign access to China's financial sector. By
all reports, Barshefsky played it tough. The crucial issue was
whether foreign firms would have the right to compete with Chinese
banks in providing a broader range of American-style financial
services. Barshefsky apparently had her bags packed and was waiting
for her ride to the airport before China's negotiators decided
to budge and break the impasse.
We'll never know whether Barshefsky's moxie could have moved
China on human rights, or basic protections for Chinese unions,
or minimum environmental standards. Unlike the question of how
best to maximize profits for Western banks, those issues simply
weren't a serious part of the agenda. Clinton's China agreement
mainly benefits US business interests and the entrepreneurial
wing of China's ruling elite. It threatens the livelihood of both
skilled and unskilled American workers along with the majority
of Chinese active in small agricultural production (who will soon
become obsolete in the face of imports from foreign agribusiness).
The prospects for American job loss are staggering. One report
by the Economic Policy Institute's Robert E. Scott estimates that
the US could suffer a net loss of more than six hundred thousand
jobs, many of them in high tech industries. Protecting American
jobs has never been an entirely comfortable position among progressives,
who worry over American hegemony over the developing world. But
there is also such a thing as justified economic self-defense.
In rallying opposition to Clinton's China deal, the image of American
jobs hemorrhaging across the Pacific should take center stage
right alongside China's brutal human rights record.
Progressives should be upfront about the desirability of some
kind of agreement with China but demand that the deal provide
a clear benefit to American workers and significant, concrete
progress on the part of China toward democracy and union rights.
Clinton's China deal doesn't even go so far as NAFTA-style side
agreements in those respects. (But then, since this is about entry
into the WTO, labor and environmental accords are forbidden anyway.)
Free-trade has never been popular with the American public,
and it has never been less popular than now. Neither the White
House nor the Republican Congressional leadership seem exactly
eager to identify with the deal. No candidate on either side of
the primary race with the exception of Gary Bauer has made an
issue of the China agreement. Gore made waves a while back when
he backed off from his earlier support of the deal and privately
promised the AFL-CIO, in a closed door session, that he would
re-negotiate it for stronger labor and environmental standards.
But then the very next day Gore reversed himself again in public
after an outcry from business and the White House. Interestingly,
Big Business has pulled out all stops to pass this deal. Lobbyists
have even bluntly threatened members of Congress, saying that
this could cost them millions in campaign donations if they don't
go along quietly. Is that eagerness or panic?
Either way, there's good reason for business to panic. Clinton's
long awaited China deal is obviously in trouble. If only the same
coalition which turned Seattle upside down in order to trash the
WTO were to now turn its sights on the less visible but more dangerous
agreement with China...
At the tail end of the December CDSA membership meeting, we
decided not to endorse any candidates in the Illinois primary
elections but instead the Executive Committee would make recommendations
about candidates with which members and friends could do as they
please - as if they would do any differently in any case.
For the most part, it was not a terribly difficult task, one
made easier because a great many good incumbents face no opposition
or token opposition. Willie Delgado, Julie Hamos, Jessie Jackson
Jr, Luis Gutierrez, Jan Schakowsky and Danny Davis, for example,
will all have easy nominations being essentially unopposed. At
the February Executive Committee meeting, we voted the following
For the 1st Illinois General Assembly District, we recommend
Sonia Silva. Sonia Silva faces a very tough challenge from the
same forces which she only narrowly defeated last time and which
knocked our progressive Senator Jesus Garcia out of Springfield.
She has been an outstanding state legislator, strong on education,
workers and women's rights and a real fighter for her community
and all of us. Her recent appointment to head a task force on
day labor has already resulted in two public hearings and the
introduction of legislation which will help protect the rights
of one of the most exploited groups in her (and many other) community.
Her campaign has put out a call for volunteers and we need to
stir ourselves to see that she gets them. To volunteer, call Jack
Knight, 773 372 4900 or 773 761 1771. Contributions may be made
to Citizens for Sonia Silva, 2500 S. St. Louis, Chicago, IL 60623.
For the 4th Illinois General Assembly District, we recommend
Cynthia Soto. The issues in this district are similar to the First
District, above, except that Cynthia Soto is not the incumbent.
Those of you even somewhat familiar with Chicago politics will
remember that Cynthia Soto made a credible effort at unseating
1st Ward Alderman Jesse Granato. Cynthia Soto is also challenging
Granato for his position as First Ward Democratic Committeeman.
To volunteer, call 312 492 7391. Contributions may be made to
Citizens for Cynthia Soto, 830 N. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60622.
For the 17th Illinois General Assembly District, we
recommend Claude Walker. Claude Walker has been a participant
in "independent", good government, liberal politics
in the 49th Ward for a long time. While it has not been a particularly
radical tradition, "lake front liberalism" is worth
preserving. To volunteer, call 773 973 6729. Contributions may
be made to Claude Walker for State Representative, PO Box 269173,
Chicago, IL 60626. Also see www.claudewalker.com.
For Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, we recommend
Joe Moore. Joe Moore has been the Alderman of the 49th Ward for
many years now. While he has sometimes lost his balance between
community groups and developers, he's generally been one of the
better aldermen in the City Council. We think he'll be a superior
clerk. To volunteer, call 773 761 4949. Contributions may be made
to Citizens for Joe Moore, 1431 W. Fargo, Chicago, IL 60626.
For Congressman of the 1st Congressional District, the
Executive Committee was faced with two very good candidates. As
we are not making endorsements but merely recommendations, we
felt no conflict in recommending both Bobby Rush and Barak
Bobby Rush is the incumbent Congressman. He was also a candidate
for Mayor of Chicago in the last municipal elections, endorsed
by Chicago DSA. While he hasn't always been the ideal Congressman
from a left perspective (being a cosponsor of the "NAFTA
for Africa" bill, for example), he's generally been quite
good. To volunteer, call 773 264 7874. Contributions may be made
to Citizens for Rush, 514 E. 95th St., Chicago, IL 60619.
Barak Obama is serving only his second term in the Illinois
State Senate so he might be fairly charged with ambition, but
the same might have be said of Bobby Rush when he ran against
Congressman Charles Hayes. Obama also has put in time at the grass
roots, working for five years as a community organizer in Harlem
and in Chicago. When Obama participated in a 1996 UofC YDS Townhall
Meeting on Economic Insecurity, much of what he had to say was
well within the mainstream of European social democracy. To volunteer,
call 773 846 2262. Contributions may be sent to Obama for Congress
2000, PO Box 497987, Chicago, IL 60649.
For Democratic 29th Ward Committeeman, we recommend
Danny Davis. This particular race is an extension of last year's
fight for Alderman of the 29th Ward, which the left lost in the
run-off. Now the new incumbent, Alderman, Isaac Carothers, is
moving to consolidate his position by seeking election to this
position. To volunteer, call 773 626 8481. Contributions may be
sent to Citizens for Davis, 5641 W. Division, Chicago, IL 60651.
For Democratic 15th Ward Committeeman, we recommend
Ted Thomas. This contest is the converse of the 29th Ward. In
this case, the New Party's Ted Thomas, newly elected as Alderman
of the 29th Ward, is seeking to consolidate his position against
the allies of the former incumbent, Virgil Jones, who is now in
prison. To volunteer, call 773 434 8025. Contributions may be
sent to Neighbors for Ted Thomas, The New Party, 650 S. Clark,
2nd Floor, Chicago, IL 60605.
(Thanks to Bernice Bild for her contribution regarding Sonia
The Battle of Seattle in November-December 1999 revealed that
a large cross section of people view Capitalism as a negative
force on workers, the consumer and the environment, and that they
were willing to do something about it. Where that momentum goes
in the next few months will determine if major changes can be
expected. If not, the large corporations that dominate most of
the world economy and governments might withdraw for a short time,
then sally forth to reassert their dominance and continue on their
road to greater global control.
Much of the energy and determination behind the success of the
Battle in Seattle and a driving force for this year's upcoming
May Day activities comes from young adults. Many are virulently
anti-Capitalist. They have witnessed the cruel and contradictory
nature of Capitalism. They are aware of the sweatshops around
the world used by the corporations to exploit youthful workers
to generate exorbitant profits. They saw the humiliation and embarrassment
of their hard-working parents or their friends' parents who were
down-sized so that idle stockholders could increase their profits
from 20% to 30%. Contrary to Capitalist claims, hard work often
is punished while idleness is rewarded. Capitalism deifies property
and devalues people.
Several protest actions are planned for the next few months culminating
in a massive worldwide protest on May 1st. Chicago will be a pivotal
site for these actions. It is extremely important that everyone
who possibly can, participate in these protests and demonstrations
so that a clear message can be sent to the WTO, World Bank, IMF
and their backers, including national and local politicians, that
a world dominated by profit-driven, unfeeling, unprincipled capitalists
will not be tolerated. The choice is a few large battles, which
we can win, or many skirmishes, which we will lose.
Protests in Washington D.C. will kick off the next round of demonstrations.
A Jubilee 2000 march to demand forgiveness of Third World debt
will take place on April 9. On April 16, a protest, which planners
expect to be Seattle-size, will be held to oppose meetings of
members of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Dubbed
the Spirit of Seattle, bus and car caravans will take people from
Chicago to Washington D.C. for either or both events. For further
information check the Internet sites www.a16.org for national
news and www.chicagomayday.org for Chicago events, or call Emily
LaBarbera-Twarog at 773-252-6413 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On May 1st, cities across the United States and around the world
will hold a loosely coordinated protest against global capitalism.
So far, 14 U.S. cities and 10 foreign cities are known to be making
plans. London promises to be one to watch, and Chicago could be
the center of attention-ground zero.
Chicago is unique because May Day, the international day that
honors workers who sacrificed, suffered and died so that we could
enjoy lives filled with more prosperity, more leisure, better
health and retirement in our twilight years, originated in Chicago.
Yet the United States is one of only three industrialized nations
that does not celebrate it. That omission is glaring proof of
the contempt held by businessmen and politicians for working people.
There is not even a proper memorial in Chicago dedicated to our
brave laboring ancestors. We should demand and accept nothing
less than a multi-million dollar museum and labor/industrial park
which recreates buildings and housing demonstrating the working
and living conditions endured by those whose sweat and blood built
our national wealth and bequeathed to most of us a financially
comfortable life. Such a park and museum would reveal to visitors
and students what their world would be like had our ancestors
not demanded something better. It also would demonstrate what
their world will be like if organizations like the WTO, IMF and
World Bank are not stopped.
May Day events in Chicago are being coordinated by a coalition
of over 100 organizations, unions, Non-Governmental Organizations,
religious and community groups. Currently, the plan is for multiple-prong
marches from several sections of the city to converge early May
Day afternoon or late morning in the financial section of the
city. Each prong and organization is welcome to plan its own activities
such as street theater, puppets, carnivals, music and its route
to the central meeting place. Each can emphasize its particular
project. For details, see the Web site mentioned above. This promises
to be a once-in-a-lifetime event that no one in the Chicago area
For months, European newspapers have been reporting that the
allegation made by the United States and its NATO allies of massive
genocide in Kosovo can not be substantiated. A crack U.N. forensic
team went into Kosovo to verify the mass killings. It inspected
most of the sites picked up by satellites and reported by refugees
and combatants. Less than 3000 bodies were found. Not all those
deaths could be linked to Serbian soldiers.
In true cover-up fashion, the U.S. media did not report the
story. One exception was the Wall Street Journal. In its
December 31st issue, it carried a story by reporters Daniel Pearl
and Robert Block titled: "War in Kosovo was cruel, bitter,
savage; Genocide it wasn't." That doesn't make the WSJ the
voice of a free press even if it was the only major American newspaper
to carry the story. It probably was no coincidence that the story
was featured on the last day of the millenium when nearly everyone
was preoccupied with Y2K anxieties.
In a related story, the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy
in Reporting, has been challenging the New York Times to
publish its findings on the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in
Belgrade. Several European newspapers carried a story citing a
half dozen sources including a couple high-level NATO officers
that the bombing was intentional. They reported that the Chinese
embassy allowed the Serbian army communications command to move
into the Chinese embassy after their other stations had been bombed.
The U.S., knowing European nations, France in particular, would
object, took the initiative and bombed the embassy without consulting
its NATO partners. Then the U.S. invented the absurd story that
it had used outdated maps. Since embassy property is considered
to be the sovereign territory of the nation residing there, the
bombing was equivalent to an invasion of China.
To its credit, DSA's National Political Committee went on record
opposing the intervention in Kosovo. It was not a unanimous decision,
and everyone had reservations about standing by when innocent
people were being slaughtered and uprooted from their homes. But
the propensity of the U.S. National Security State to distort
and fabricate conditions and facts for its own perverse ends is
far too common to reach a judgement based on information from
that source alone.
In a debate held last summer featuring leaders of several local
non-profit organizations, former CDSA co-chair Mark Weinberg ably
defended DSA's position. With the benefit of hindsight, and Noam
Chomsky's work on the subject titled "The New Military Humanism:
Lessons from Kosovo" a follow-up debate will be held on February
29, 6:30 p.m. at the HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo in downtown Chicago.
Mark Weinberg will serve as moderator for the debate.
The Young Democratic Socialists'
national Spring Conference, "The Fightback! Students Labor
& the Struggle Against the Corporate Agenda", will be
held at the UofDelaware on April 14 - 16. Cosponsored by several
national student groups, it is intended to provide a broad forum
for advice and assistance among student groups involved in labor
support and anti-corporate activism. Transportation will be provided
to the April 16 IMF - World Bank demonstration. For more information,
call Daraka Larimore Hall at 212 727 8610 or email daraka @dsausa.org.
Also see www.dsausa.org/youth/fightback.html.
The Health and Medicine Policy
Reseach Group has organized an all day conference on health
care issues in prisons: "Emerging Issues in Correctional
Health". The conference will be held on Monday, March 13,
at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The conference is not
free: $90. For more information, call HMPRG at 312 922 8057, email
or go to www.HMPRG.org.