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Revive class struggle, strengthen international solidarity

Published Nov 18, 2009 6:55 PM

Two main themes ran through the 2009 Workers World Party National Conference: the revival of serious class struggle in the United States as the capitalist crisis brutally strips the workers and oppressed of their jobs, homes and health, and the need to strengthen international workers’ solidarity in the face of corporate globalization and increasing militarism and war.

No one took these huge tasks lightly. But the many speakers resonated with confidence that WWP, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, had the experience and the program to rise to the challenges.

Youth and veterans of the struggle for socialism
gather on stage to sing the International at the
closing of WWP’s 50th Anniversary Conference.
WW photo: G. Dunkel

“Don’t be afraid of hard issues,” said Secretariat member Larry Holmes in a summation of the conference. “Surviving through years of political reaction has made us tougher. We have what the workers need. Build a workers’ world!”

The conference was held on Nov. 14-15 in New York. Even more than in previous years, this one rocked with the input of those most oppressed: African American, Latino/a, youth, lesbian, gay, bi and trans, and immigrant activists, who spoke from the stage and from open mikes in the audience. The majority of speakers were women. The diversity reflected the party’s long history of applying affirmative action internally while fighting racism, male chauvinism, immigrant bashing and oppression of LGBT people.

The youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together detailed how the worst economic crisis since the Depression of the 1930s was devastating young people. FIST held a workshop so youth from different parts of the country could exchange ideas on how to coordinate struggles on campuses and in the communities.

WWP founding members from left:
Milt Neidenberg, Deirdre Griswold,
Jeanette Merrill, Frances Dostal,
Art Rosen, Rosie Neidenberg.
WW photo: Brenda Sandburg

Allies from different organizations and unions brought greetings to the conference and contributed to the discussion. A high point was a talk by Armando Robles, president of the United Electrical Workers local that carried out a successful occupation of the Republic Doors and Windows plant in Chicago, winning benefits the company had denied the workers when it summarily tried to close its doors and walk away. Dante Strobino of FIST, himself a UE organizer, introduced Robles. Jill White of Chicago WWP told of organizing a massive solidarity demonstration with the Republic workers.

Using Marxism as a weapon

In prepared presentations, WWP leaders again and again used the tools of Marxism and Leninism to define the problems facing the working class and oppressed peoples today and to chart a path of resistance.

In the opening session FIST leader Larry Hales reviewed the horrific statistics of youth unemployment and poverty, particularly in communities of color. Capitalism makes people “bruised, brutal and hurt,” said Hales, but there’s “a better world to fight for” and young people can be made into revolutionary fighters for socialism.

Teresa Gutierrez, a member of the party’s Secretariat who recently went to Honduras and then to a conference on migrants in Greece, called the waves of migration caused by lack of opportunity a “crime of capitalism” and saw the 200 million uprooted workers around the world as “an army in the making.” Gutierrez and later speakers focused on the role of migrants in reviving May Day as an international day of workers’ struggle.

Dispelling any notion that the present “recovery” will help the workers, Secretariat member and author Fred Goldstein went over the figures: more money in the pockets of the rich even as the job hemorrhage continues. Ford Motors got government subsidies but its sales are down and 53,000 Ford workers have been laid off. “The system of capitalist exploitation is reaching its limits,” he said, and reviewed Marx’s findings on how the bosses will destroy their own markets to increase profits. Just as in the 1930s, it’s only militant workers’ struggles that can bring about any relief from the capitalist government.

Larry Holmes dealt with the relationship between the big union federations and the Obama government. Why didn’t the unions bring hundreds of thousands to Washington to demand single-payer health care, he asked. Without that kind of mass pressure, the Democrats came up with “a compromise on health care reform that betrays women.” Holmes also urged the unions to help organize the jobless in their own interests—“Unemployment aids union busting and wage cuts,” he pointed out.

How militarism is deepening the economic crisis was addressed by Secretariat member Sara Flounders. Capitalism can’t live without the enormous Pentagon budget, but it’s dragging the system down. Even with all its weaponry and high-paid mercenaries, the U.S. can’t defeat the resistance in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world. Flounders also pointed out that the federal government seized four mosques in New York at the same time it imposed new sanctions on Iran. She called for solidarity with Arab and Muslim peoples.

Input from activists

The conference alternated prepared talks with an open mike for questions and comments.

Jen Waller, a young activist, saw no future for the world under capitalism, which exploits the land and the people. Julius Dykes, an autoworker with 25 years’ seniority, told of the anger and fear among workers regarding another upcoming layoff and how a friend had committed suicide. He praised the party’s work in the Pittsburgh Jobs March and Tent City, and urged a national jobs march.

An Iranian said the attack on Muslims is an attack on the working class. A young man shared that he was moving from anarchism to communism. An immigrant from Los Angeles said the prisons are full of the youth and homeless. A woman from Rhode Island asked for solidarity with soldiers’ families who live below the poverty level.

People representing various struggle groups took the mike to thank WWP for its support.

Pam Africa of International Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal acknowledged the party, and particularly Secretariat members Monica Moorehead and Larry Holmes, for their work in Millions 4 Mumia and in building a massive Madison Square Garden solidarity meeting for the imprisoned revolutionary journalist.

Brenda Stokely of the Million Worker March Movement raised the need to bring the working class together for a strong May Day demonstration and the importance of education on the history of class struggle.

Ignacio Meneses of the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange called WWP “a point of reference for the struggle in the U.S.”

Shafeah M’Balia of Black Workers for Justice in North Carolina brought greetings from her group on behalf of “the oppressed working class of the Black nation.” She told of the many programs BWFJ has initiated to bring together women, workers and youth.

Representatives of Freedom Road Socialist Organization and the Vancouver Mobilization Against War and Occupation were invited to the stage to deliver solidarity statements. Both groups have worked with WWP in a number of struggles. Bernadette Ellorin expressed greetings from BAYAN-USA.

Community organizer Rosie Bonds, aunt of baseball great Barry Bonds, told of homeless women sleeping under freeways while luxurious officers’ quarters go vacant at the nearby closed Alameda Naval Air Station. She is now distributing Workers World newspaper in Berkeley, Calif.

Fight imperialism, build the party

Other plenaries covered the global flashpoints of U.S. imperialist aggression and WWP’s 50 years of struggle guided by its Marxist analysis.

Monica Moorehead spoke on the task of a workers’ party to build solidarity within the broader political movement, especially defending the right to self-determination for oppressed nations. She explained the need for a workers’ party to build unity among its ranks if it hopes to win over the most class-conscious fighters.

Support for Palestine was covered by Bill Doares and Judy Greenspan. Doares recalled how back in the 1960s, when most progressives here refused to criticize Israel, WWP demonstrated in support of Palestine during the June War. Joyce Chediac talked about the struggle of Palestinians in Lebanon and the Lebanese people, who are represented by Hezbollah. All three speakers had been to the Middle East in the past summer.

Berta Joubert-Ceci, fresh from a solidarity delegation to Honduras, told how the people are struggling to take back the wealth stolen by the oligarchy and U.S. transnationals. “The coup started when President Zelaya raised the minimum wage by 60 percent,” she reminded everyone. The Honduran struggle is part of a popular upsurge in all of Latin America. A message to the conference from Juan Barahona, leader of the Honduran Resistance, was read.

Abayomi Azikiwe of the Michigan Moratorium NOW! Coalition and a contributing editor to Workers World newspaper traced the connection between the struggle for jobs and homes in Detroit and the mass dislocation and poverty in Africa caused by imperialism. Another dynamic speaker from the coalition was Sandra Hines, who called Detroit, with nearly 30 percent unemployment, “a Katrina without the water.”

Another Detroiter, Jerry Goldberg, spoke of building the party when the Midwest was a stronghold of organized labor. Autoworker Martha Grevatt of Cleveland reported how GM, Ford and Chrysler have abandoned Detroit, creating a disaster that is not “natural.” But Chrysler workers rejected recent concessions by a vote of 3-1, presaging renewed struggle in this vital industry.

LeiLani Dowell spoke of the party’s contributions to the struggle for women’s and LGBT rights, and later on Bob McCubbin introduced Stonewall rebellion participant Sebastian Pernice.

Sharon Black of Baltimore stressed how crucial Black-white unity was in building the Pittsburgh Jobs March.

John Parker of Los Angeles commended the party’s courage and commitment in fighting against foreclosures and heading off attempts to divide the working class.

Julie Fry gave examples of WWP’s long history of support for the Cuban Revolution.

China’s tremendous importance in the world was stressed by Secretariat member Deirdre Griswold, who reviewed the political struggles there and their impact on revolutionary movements. She reminded everyone that Sam Marcy, who founded Workers World in 1959, had written as early as 1950 on the profound significance of the Chinese Revolution for the world class struggle.

Tribute was also given to legendary party founders Dorothy Ballan and Vince Copeland, as well as to those founding members still living whose 50 years of experience in the party continue to enrich it today.

At a session on party organization, labor militant Steve Kirschbaum of Boston urged everyone to contribute to the WW national fund drive, while Kris Hamel of Detroit stressed getting Workers World newspaper into the hands of workers with regularity and consistency. Richard Kossally of New York and Mike Martinez of Miami stressed the importance of political education.

It wasn’t all speeches. There was revolutionary music and poetry that spoke to the heart, thanks to Miya Campbell and Nana Soul.

So many solidarity messages came from popular organizations and communist parties all over the world that only excerpts could be read.

Workers World newspaper will publish the highlights of many of the speeches in this and coming issues. Video podcasts of the plenary presentations will be available at www.workers.tv.

The energy and optimism that flowed at this conference will surely be felt as Workers World Party organizes new struggles in the year to come. Hold onto your hat!