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CONFERENCE ON SOCIALISM

Movement leaders open a dialog

Published May 19, 2006 9:20 PM

Whether during periods of political reaction or tumultuous mass upsurges, revolutionary organizers have the duty to step back from their daily tasks in order to take inventory of those social forces in motion at that moment—and those not in motion.

With this orientation in mind, Workers World Party (WWP) sponsored a national conference in New York City on May 13-14 entitled, “Preparing for the Rebirth of the Global Struggle for Socialism.” This gathering occurred only weeks after the immigrant rights demonstrations that recently swept the country, prompted by various repressive bills currently being debated in the U.S. Congress that seek to criminalize undocumented workers to one degree or another.

This conference was unique in that it consciously opened up a serious, ongoing dialog between WWP and important leaders and allies representing some of the most significant movements of the day involving oppressed peoples and the working class. These representatives included those involved in the struggles to win full rights for immigrant workers and to win justice for the survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Many of the conference speakers also reinforced the Marxist-Leninist view that capitalism is a bankrupt system that cannot be reformed and that—despite the collapse of the first attempt at socialism in the Soviet Union—only socialism can begin the process of sweeping away racism, war, poverty and other forms of inequality and oppression. A concurrent theme that generated enthusiasm throughout the conference plenary sessions was the revival of May Day 2006 in the U.S. due mainly to the intervention of the immigrant rights movement.

The opening panel of the first plenary on May 13 was chaired by Dianne Mathiowetz, an International Action Center organizer from Atlanta and a General Motors worker for 30 years. Her remarks included dedicating the conference to WWP members Pat Chin and Johnny Black, who died within the past year.

Prospects for reviving
global socialism

Berta Joubert-Ceci, a contributing editor of Workers World newspaper and a WWP leader based in Philadelphia, gave a rousing talk about the rising tide of anti-imperialist sentiment throughout Latin America and parts of the Caribbean. The main sparks for this development have been the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela led by President Hugo Chávez and the move by Evo Morales, the recently elected first Indigenous president of Bolivia, to nationalize the gas and oil industries of that country.

LeiLani Dowell, a managing editor of Workers World newspaper and a leader of the Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) youth group, spoke on the plight of young people and why they have no future under capitalism here and worldwide.

Fred Goldstein, contributing editor of WW newspaper and a WWP Secretariat member, cited some important points made in his pre-conference document, “Reviving Marx and Lenin.” Goldstein explained how capitalism is the main source of the world’s problems.

“The only way to replace a social system of production,” he said, “is with another social system of production. The antithesis of capitalism, which is based on private property and production for profit, is the system of socialism, which is based on social ownership by the workers and society as a whole and production for human need.”

Larry Holmes, WWP Secretariat member and Troops Out Now Coalition organizer, opened his remarks by reminding everyone of how much the world movement is relying on revolutionaries to help revive the struggle for socialism right here in the belly of the beast, U.S. imperialism.

Holmes lauded Che Guevara as the “most important internationalist of the last half-century,” personally trying to instigate the struggle for liberation in Africa, in Vietnam, in Latin America. “He refused to limit his perspective to revolution in one country.”

Holmes went on to emphasize how the May Day uprising must spread to other sectors of the working class that were not a part of it, including the Katrina survivors and anti-war activists.

Connecting the struggles

The second panel in the first plenary session focused on “Forging Class Solidarity; Unity with the Oppressed, Overcoming Fragmentation in the Movement.” It was chaired by Monica Moorehead, a WW newspaper managing editor and WWP Secretariat member.

Moorehead reminded the audience that May 13 marked the 21st anniversary of the bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia by the local and national governments as an act of racist terror.

“I propose that this conference go on record to extend our solidarity to our sisters and brothers in MOVE along with International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. One reason that Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent almost a quarter of a century on death row is because he defended the MOVE family against Philadelphia police brutality. Free Mumia! Free the MOVE 9! Free Leonard Peltier! Free the Cuban 5 and all political prisoners!”

Tony Van Der Meer, professor of Africana Studies at the University of Massachusetts and co-chair of the Boston Rosa Parks Human Rights Day Committee, spoke on what it will take to unite the movements for Black liberation, for the rights of the undocumented and in opposition to wars and interventions, in order to strengthen the anti-imperialist struggle.

He went on to say, “Progressive and revolutionary white workers must challenge their white counterparts to encourage and support Black, [email protected] and all oppressed people of color to struggle among their own groups to develop themselves and their positions on policies that endanger their lives and those of all people.”

Larry Hales, a FIST leader and community and anti-war organizer from Denver, spoke on the need to broaden all the struggles of the workers and oppressed peoples from a Marxist perspective.

Hales raised some of the more prevalent issues in Denver, from organizing against a jail for youth to supporting Indigenous rights. “We must reject any attempts to compromise the movement by attempting to make it more vapid,” he stated, “or by pandering to sectors of either of the ruling class parties.”

Brenda Stokely, a leader of the Million Worker March Movement and New York Solidarity Coalition with Katrina/Rita Survivors, opened her talk by sharing a heart-wrenching story about having to go to court that morning to support a Katrina survivor living in New York who was accused of committing fraud. She connected this story to a general viewpoint of how the movement is ill-equipped to deal with these kinds of injustices.

Stokely then talked about the need for ongoing dialog with activists here and worldwide in order to have a “true honest discussion in dealing with imperialism, the government, racism and sexism.”

Saladin Muhammad, chairperson of Black Workers for Justice, a member of Black Workers League and a UE union organizer for Virginia and North Carolina from Raleigh, stated that part of the problem of the revolutionary struggle in this country is the failure to understand the national question and its relationship to the working class in the U.S., and how the ideology of white supremacy has made it difficult for white workers to break with national chauvinism.

Muhammad explained that supporting the right to self-determination means supporting movements for the right to self-determination and that it is incorrect to view Black nationalism as a reactionary tendency. He explained that what happened on the Gulf Coast during Katrina goes deep into the history of oppression suffered by Black workers and the U.S. government continues to make its racism clear toward African American workers.

Phebe Eckfeldt, from the Women’s Fightback Network and the Committee to Defend the Somerville Five in Boston, described the case of the five Black youth who were brutalized by police and then arrested on trumped up charges. She generalized this case, referring to the epidemic of racist profiling.

Immigrant rights
movement inspires all

The second plenary on May 13 entitled, “The Workers’ Struggles Have no Borders,” featured two panels. The first, on “The Signi ficance of the Immigrant Rights Movement,” was chaired by Teresa Gutierrez, a WWP Secretariat member, co-director of the International Action Center (IAC) and an organizer of the New York Free the Five Committee.

Gutierrez, a Chicana, said, “Last year, the Associated Press published a survey reporting that one Mexican laborer dies every day in this country due to abominable working conditions. They are impaled, drowned or crushed every single day. Remember the case of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant viciously killed by the NYPD? His only crime was that he was Black.”

Carlos Canales, a day laborer organizer at the Workplace Project, the only organization of low-income workers in Hemp stead, Long Island, told the audience how he was forced to swim with his daughter on his back to come to the U.S. A Salva doran, Canales was a member of FAPU, the political arm of the National Resistance, which was one of four organizations that made up the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).

Berna Ellorin, a Filipina activist with Bayan USA and Migrante International, spoke on the neocolonial relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines in terms of the immigrant rights movement. An estimated 3,000 [email protected] are forced to leave their country daily due to austerity measures imposed on the Philippine masses by the IMF and World Bank.

Chris Silvera, chair of the National Teamsters Black Caucus and secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 808, asked why, if capital knows no borders when it comes to exploiting the workers, then why should workers have to respect borders when it comes to finding a job.

Alejandro Murrieta Ahumada, president of the Inland Empire Association of the descendants of Joaquin Murrieta and a member of the March 25 Coalition, himself a migrant from Mexico, spoke on the developing struggle of immigrant workers in Los Angeles from March 25 to May 1 that shut down southern California. He emphasized the need for the movement to reject solutions short of complete rights for migrant workers.

WWP leader John Parker, West Coast coordinator of the IAC and an organizer for the May 1 immigrant rights march in Los Angeles, said, “Black people in this country share the immigrants’ experience of racist targeting of people as criminals, denying basic freedoms that most in society enjoy, including the right to be able to live with your family and children.”

Sharon Black, a WWP leader in Baltimore and an All-Peoples Congress organizer, spoke on the leadership role of women in the immigrant rights movement. David Hoskins, a FIST leader and WW reporter from Washington, D.C., spoke on the plight of coal miners.

An injury to one is an injury to all

The second panel in the second plenary focused on the “Changing Character and Conditions of the Working Class.” Minnie Bruce Pratt, a well-known lesbian author and poet and a contributing editor to WW newspaper, chaired the panel and used her experiences as a participant on a recent march from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans, organized by Katrina survivors and anti-war veterans and their families, to discuss the changing character of the working class in the U.S. South.

Ruth Vela, a FIST leader and immigrant rights’ organizer in San Diego and Tijuana, spoke about what she sees almost every day living on the U.S./Mexican border. “I drive by strawberry fields where people pick the produce by day and sleep in a cave at night.”

Steve Gillis, vice-president of Steel Workers Local 8751 in Boston, introduced Frantz Mendes, the newly elected president of the same local. Mendes, who is Haitian, said, “Local 8751, the Boston School Bus Drivers, represents over 800 workers--95 percent from Boston’s communities of color. We are Haitian, Cape Verdean, African American, Asian and white—the majority from Boston’s immigrant communities. For nearly 30 years we have built a proud record of struggle for justice.” He said his union, led by the rank and file, fights “100 percent for every grievance, every contract” and is united with the “communities in the struggle against poverty, racism and war.”

Leslie Feinberg, a Workers World newspaper managing editor, transgender author and lesbian activist, explained why communists must view lesbian, gay, bi and trans oppression as part and parcel of the overall struggle to liberate humanity. According to Feinberg, “Fighting all forms of oppression defends lives. And it also helps build unity in the struggle by revealing to the entire working class the social and economic inequalities that are built into the capitalist system.”

Martha Grevatt, UAW member and autoworker and organizer of Pride at Work, AFL-CIO, from Cleveland, spoke on what the Delphi workers’ crisis means for all of labor: “The fight is on, and workers aren’t waiting for the top union leadership’s permission. Since Delphi, the former GM parts division, declared bankruptcy, the rank and file has formed Soldiers of Solidarity, engaging in work-to-rule slowdowns.

“Even from a legal standpoint,” she added, “the workers have the right not only to strike but to seize the plants.”

Peter Gilbert, Raleigh FIST organizer and former union organizer, spoke on the struggle to organize workers, including immigrant workers, in North Carolina, an anti-union, right-to-work state.

Solidarity with world struggles

The “Fighting Imperial ism and Building Revolu tion ary Inter nation alism” panel was the third plenary session, held on Saturday evening. Cheryl LaBash, long-time Detroit city worker, organizer for the May 20 Hands off Cuba and Vene zuela demonstration and a WW newspaper writer, chaired.

Nellie Bailey, a leader of Harlem Tenants Council and the Troops Out Now Coalition, spoke of the threats to the infrastructure of the cities.

Sara Flounders, WWP Secre tariat and co-director of the International Action Center, spoke on the impact of imperialist globalization on worldwide immigration and how it leads to globalizing the resistance to U.S. imperialism, which is already bogged down in military adventures, including in Africa.

Ardeshir Ommani, a founder of the American-Iranian Friendship Com mittee, spoke on the imperialist threats against the sovereign country of Iran. Joyce Chediac, a Lebanese-American activist and WW newspaper contributor, explained why the Palestinian struggle is central to liberating the entire Middle East from U.S. domination.

John Choe, a Korea Truth Commission representative, emphasized that from June 4-9, there will protests in Washing ton, D.C., to demand U.S. troops out of Korea.

Ignacio Meneses, co-coordinator of the National Network on Cuba, a co-founder of the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange and UAW Local 174 member, spoke on how the Cuban government, led by President Fidel Castro, has deepened its roots among the masses on the island.

Meneses stressed the revolutionary obligation of the U.S. movement to defend Cuba and Venezuela by supporting an upcoming Pastors for Peace caravan of goods to Cuba and the May 20 demonstration in Washington, D.C.

Vannia Lara, a Dominican organizer from New York City who recently visited Venezuela, reminded everyone about the 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic by U.S. Marines. In response to a meeting sponsored by the U.S.-dominated Organi zation of American States, a people’s alternative counter-summit is being organized in the Dominican Republic from June 4-6 by anti-imperialist activists. It will include discussions on the impact of globalization on Latin American and Caribbean economies.

Arturo J. Perez Saad, immigrant rights organizer and IAC activist in New York, spoke on Puerto Rico’s rich history in resisting its status as a direct colony of the U.S. and the economic crisis that is galvanizing mass protests throughout the island.

Bryan G. Pfeifer, a contributing editor of WW newspaper from Boston, spoke on the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion of the Irish people against British colonialism led by the Irish
revolutionary James Connolly.

The need for a
revolutionary party

Rachel Nasca, from the Boston Rosa Parks Human Rights Day Committee, Women’s Fightback Network and an AFSCME union member, chaired the fourth and final plenary session on “Building a Revolutionary Party.”

Deirdre Griswold, editor of WW newspaper and a WWP Secretariat member, reviewed the Party’s long history of support for the self-determination of oppres sed nations within the United States, quoting the Party’s founder, Sam Marcy, on why this is a necessary condition for uniting the working class in a revolutionary movement capable of defeating imperialism and beginning the transition to socialism.

Richard Kossali, a WWP leader in New York City, spoke on the need for a revolutionary newspaper and why it is important to get that paper into the hands of the workers, the oppressed and progressive movements.

Susan Farquhar, a Detroit Action Network for Reproductive Rights organizer, spoke on why working class and poor women must have a stronger voice in renewing this movement.

Yolanda Carrington, a FIST leader in Raleigh, remarked, “I am an African Ameri can queer woman who is poor. I understand that I’m part of the larger global struggle of oppressed people. I’m proud to be part of the 90 percent struggling against the 1 percent who rule the world. I’m proud to be part of a party that works to get working people to own their creations.”

She went on to say, “We need a revolutionary party dedicated to socialism in the triangle area (that includes Raleigh) that talks to homeless, single mothers in the welfare office. We need a movement that can deal and navigate through the bureaucracy of social service agencies. We need a movement that places the oppressed at the head of society and WW works toward that. Class oppression affects my life daily. I have to worry about how to put food on the table for me and my sisters. And, we need to put the struggle against gender oppression at the head.”

Carrington announced to the conference that she recently became a candidate to join Workers World Party.

John Catalinotto, WW newspaper managing editor, spoke on efforts to build close ties with international working class formations that are fighting for real social change in their own countries.

Larry Holmes made closing remarks to the conference, followed by the audience singing the International.

Among the solidarity messages sent to this socialist conference were ones from parties and organizations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Brazil, Netherlands, Senegal, Italy, Puerto Rico, Spain, Portugal, Pakistan, Palestine, Germany, Venezuela, Japan, Denmark, Belgium, France, Britain and elsewhere and from international organizations.

Cultural performances during the conference were provided by MC Aygee Cannibal from San Diego FIST; Pam Parker, an anti-war and union activist from Washington, D.C., and Urban Essence Dance Performance Collabor ative from Boston. Casandra Clark Mazariego from Urban Essence and the Boston Rosa Parks Human Rights Day Committee made a special presentation at the conference on the role of culture in promoting social consciousness among youth.

Besides plenary sessions, discussion groups were held on domestic and world issues and struggles, including pre-conference documents written by Larry Holmes and Fred Goldstein. Meetings were held by FIST and lesbian/gay/ bi/ trans organizers in-between plenary sessions.

Go to www.workers.org/conf2006/ to hear audio podcasts of the conference plenary talks.