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Socialist gathering declares:

Occupy Wall Street opens new era of struggle

Published Oct 12, 2011 5:36 PM

Workers World Party conference.
WW photo: G. Dunkel

Under a banner that outlined the theme of the 2011 Workers World Party national conference, “Expand Occupy Wall Street, Shut Down Capitalism and Fight for Socialism,” activists of all ages and nationalities gathered at the Paul Robeson Auditorium in the South Bronx Oct. 8 and 9. They discussed the significance of the rapidly expanding Occupy Wall Street movement and the role workers and oppressed must play to bring a genuine anti-capitalist direction to this struggle.

The conference also included tributes to Che Guevara on the 44th anniversary of his death; to Troy Davis, who would have turned 43 years old Oct. 9; and to Workers World Party founder Sam Marcy, born 100 years ago in 1911. The vast majority of the plenary speakers were WWP members from various branches representing important labor, community and anti-imperialist mass struggles.

Conference participants like members of Steelworkers Local 8751, representing Boston school bus drivers, were in the house. So were postal workers and retirees from several cities, who brought their message of fighting back against the pending massive elimination of 200,000 jobs.

The audience included members of the Providence, R.I., Movement for a Peoples Assembly; youth, immigrant and labor organizers from North Carolina; community activists from the South Bronx; members of the Detroit Moratorium Now! coalition active in fighting foreclosures; and participants from the heroic occupations in Madison, Wis., whose struggle against union busting in February galvanized the country. Cultural presentations were performed by Myia X and Redd Welsh.

Participants from Occupy Wall Street as well as occupations springing up in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Tucson and Los Angeles all came to share their experiences. The leadership role of young activists was visible throughout the conference.

Rocio Silverio, with the South Bronx Community Labor Alliance, welcomed the gathering to her neighborhood. She noted that the South Bronx is the most impoverished urban area in the U.S., with the highest jobless rate in New York state. Silverio reported that 40 percent of its residents fear homelessness and 60 percent depend on food stamps. “As a community we have been able to survive what they’ve thrown at us, but we need to reach out. We thank Workers World for bringing the message of workers’ power to the Bronx.”

The first plenary, building on the central theme of the conference, was chaired by young Durham, N.C., member Cathey Stanley, who reported that as of that morning, occupations were happening in more than 420 cities. A single mother, Stanley discussed the difficulty of securing state-subsidized child care for her son with more than 600 children already on the waiting list: “The lack of support for child care shows that capitalism doesn’t work for children, and it definitely does not work for women.”

Speakers on this panel included Larry Hales, a leader of New Yorkers Against the Budget Cuts. Hales credited the movements in northern Africa and across Europe for inspiring the movement at home, noting that the global capitalist crisis that fueled these uprisings is intractable. “The system can’t rehire the 8 million unemployed nor can it absorb the hundreds of thousands of new workers entering the workforce every day. Conditions are going to get worse,” Hales said.

Teresa Gutierrez, co-coordinator of the May 1st Coalition for Workers and Immigrant Rights, stressed the need for unity between Occupy Wall Street and the immigrant rights movement, whose heroic mass marches in 2006 opened the way for the resurgence of working-class struggle in the U.S. “Occupy Wall Street has to not only welcome oppressed peoples,” Gutierrez stated. “They need to push forward their leadership.”

Peoples Assembly to counter G-20

Larry Holmes, a national organizer with the Bail Out the People Movement, remarked that watching the developments of Occupy Wall Street over the last three weeks is like witnessing elements of a fledgling revolution. “Imagine workers watching this who never thought about occupying their workplaces. Occupy Wall Street has opened space for that. While it started with white youth, it is getting more multinational and impacting the class struggle,” Holmes stated.

Calling for Occupy Wall Street to become “Occupy the World,” Holmes announced plans for a Peoples Assembly on Nov. 5 in New York that would serve as a counter to the G-20 summit in France Nov. 3-4. There, a gaggle of the billionaires’ and their politicians will gather to plan how to bail out the banks, in an attempt to save their crisis-ridden capitalist system, by forcing the people of the world into an ever-deeper economic depression.

Fred Goldstein, author of “Low-Wage Capitalism,” concluded this panel by noting that people’s consciousness is finally catching up with their material conditions of poverty and exploitation. “Like the bubbles just under the surface when water is heated, that we can’t see until they surface as steam, the movement is heating up as people’s awareness surfaces.

“Twenty-first century capitalism’s productive apparatus is driving skill levels down, destroying public education and promoting the education-to-prison pipeline to absorb the excess of unemployed workers. We have to remind the Occupy Wall Street protesters that it’s not just the 1 percent against the 99 percent, it’s the working class and oppressed against capitalist exploitation,” Goldstein concluded. Gutierrez, Holmes and Goldstein along with Sara Flounders, Monica Moorehead and Deirdre Griswold all spoke at the conference as WWP secretariat members.

Before the session ended, Sister Pam Africa, Minister of Confrontation for the MOVE organization and founder of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, addressed the gathering to tell youth in the room: “You are in the right place.”

Afternoon sessions of the conference included a panel on the “Global youth rebellion against capitalism,” with speakers Monserrat Alvarez, Ben Carroll, Salvatore Cipriano, LeiLani Dowell, Julie Fry, Mike Martinez and Caleb Maupin. The “Fighting imperialism and building international solidarity” panel featured Abayomi Azikiwe, Sharon Black, Sara Flounders, Jerry Goldberg, Judy Greenspan, Berta Joubert-Ceci, Steve Kirschbaum, Steve Millies, John Parker and Gloria Verdieu.

There was ample opportunity for conference participants to engage in open mike and workshop discussion. A dynamic labor and community discussion was held during the lunch break. The gathering brought together nearly 100 union and community activists to address how to respond to the crisis that is sure to emerge if the U.S. Postal Service proceeds with plans to lay off upward of 200,000 workers and close more than 8,400 post offices, primarily in rural and poor urban communities.

International solidarity

A special afternoon plenary dealt with building international solidarity. Speakers included Bernadette Ellorin, chairperson of BAYAN-USA; Fallou Gueye, RTA/S (Union of African Workers Senegal); Charles Jenkins, second vice president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and member of Transport Workers Union 100; Mick Kelly, editor of Fightback, Freedom Road Socialist Organization; Ray Laforest, International Support Haiti Network; Joe Lombardo, United National Anti-War Coalition; Lucy Pagoada, Honduras USA Resistencia and Latin American & Caribbean Solidarity Committee of the International Action Center; and Simin Royanian, representative of Solidarity Iran.

This panel also included Victor Toro, the Chilean revolutionary fighting deportation and co-founder of La Pena del Bronx, who said the conference was taking place just blocks from his home.

After the concluding sessions on both days, participants went together to participate in Occupy Wall Street.

The Oct. 9 session included more open mike discussion and a final plenary panel, chaired by Maggie Vascassenno and Debbie Johnson, on “Building a revolutionary party.” It also included a tribute to Troy Davis by Dianne Mathiowetz, a Workers World member in Atlanta who helped organize the Sept. 16 International Day of Solidarity with Troy Davis. Sharon Eolis honored Arthur Ross, a founding member of WWP, who recently passed away.

Panelists presented special tributes to WWP chairperson Sam Marcy, who would have been 100 years old in 2011. Moorehead spoke about Marcy’s consistent revolutionary vision and his unique boldness in anticipating world developments with such theoretical writings as “Perestroika” before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gavrielle Gemma, noting the importance of viewing the crisis from a worker’s perspective, recalled that Marcy “would remind us to put on our ‘class glasses.’” Joyce Chediac showed how Marcy’s interpretation of Lenin’s “Imperialism” is relevant today to fighting imperialism, especially in the Middle East. Other speakers included Jefferson Azevedo, Andy Koch, Bryan G. Pfeifer and Gary Wilson.

Deirdre Griswold, a founding member of Workers World and editor of this newspaper, raised that millions of people see that capitalism is the enemy and will eventually come to the realization that the answer to capitalist crises is socialist revolution.

Excerpted remarks of many of these speakers will appear in subsequent issues of Workers World newspaper, and podcasts of their talks will be on workers.org.