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New Ground 69

March - April, 2000


HMPRG Emerging Issues in Correctional Health

Students and Steelworkers:

Building Bridges

by Peter Frase and Tyler Grosshuesch and Amy Traub

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 unions.

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 there.

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?"

China in the WTO? No Deal.

by Bill Dixon

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...

Chicago DSA Recommendations for the March Primary Election

by Robert Roman

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 recommendations:


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 Obama.

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 Silva.)

Has the Revolution Begun?
by Harold Taggart

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 clrchicago@mindspring.com.
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 should miss.

Genocide in Kosovo?

by Harold Taggart

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.

Other News

compiled by Bob Roman

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 HMPRG@aol.com, or go to www.HMPRG.org.

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