BY DAVID JONES
ST. PAUL, Minnesota - "What distinguishes my campaign is that it has no aspirations separate and apart from what working people need to do to fight for a decent living and for our rights." Tom Fiske, Socialist Workers Party candidate, was responding to my question on how he's different than the other candidates in the race for U.S. Senate in Minnesota.
"We are beholden to no big business profiteers or anyone else who benefits from exploiting the labor of workers and working farmers," Fiske said in an interview here October 10. "We tell the unvarnished truth about the ruling families' bloody wars for profits and domination abroad and their mounting assault on our standard of living and our democratic rights at home.
"And we explain that working people must rely on our own collective power, our unions, and mass actions in the streets to defend our interests as a class, and chart a political course independent of the capitalist parties. We need to fight for a government of workers and farmers to replace the government that acts in the interests of the billionaire families that run this country, and lead millions to join the struggle for socialism."
Fiske is running for the seat now held by Paul Wellstone, who is up for reelection on the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party ticket. Six years ago, Wellstone, formerly a professor in the Political Science Department at Carleton College, defeated Republican incumbent Rudy Boschwitz.
Boschwitz is the Republican standard-bearer again this year. Five other candidates for the Senate seat are on the ballot: Dean Barkley, Reform Party; Tim Davis, Grassroots Party; Howard B. Hanson, Resource Party; Steve Johnson, Natural Law Party; and Roy Esra Carlton, Libertarian Party. Barkley won more than 5 percent of the votes in 1994, enough to win "major party" status for his party in Minnesota.
"From the media and the candidates' ads one would get the impression the race is between `balance-the-budget' Boschwitz and `big spender' Wellstone," Fiske observed. "That, however, hides the agreement they have on major issues." Fiske noted that both Wellstone and Boschwitz immediately hailed President William Clinton's missile attacks against Iraq in early September. "Of all the candidates in the race," he said, "I'm the only one who joined picket lines to protest these brutal violations of Iraq's sovereignty. I helped get others to these protests, including a small group of Macalester College students I met while campaigning there. And I'm continuing to speak out against Washington's cruel economic sanctions and military threats against the Iraqi people."
In spite of this, a lot of activists, including protesters
against the bombings of Iraq are supporting Wellstone, I noted.
How do you explain this?
Wellstone supports antigay measure
"Many people back him because they think he's in the front lines standing up to the mounting assault on Social Security, Medicare, and other forms of public assistance," Fiske responded. "His campaign staff and the media have made a big deal out of his being `the only Senator seeking reelection to vote against the welfare bill,' which Clinton signed. The senator claims `I voted my conscience.' But I think this covers up how he is aiding and abetting the employers' assault on working people."
It was hardly a radical step for Wellstone to vote against the Welfare Reform Act this summer, Fiske said. In the Senate, 21 Democrats voted against the bill and 25 voted for it. In the House, 97 Democrats voted against it and 98 for it - nearly 50/50, even after Clinton's no-holds-barred public demand for congressional backing. Wellstone cast his vote on this legislation not under pressure from the working class, but in step with the top AFL-CIO officialdom and the Minnesota state labor council.
Fiske continued, "If you want a real litmus test of conscience I think Wellstone's votes in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act and the immigration bill are much more revealing. The former, which lets states refuse to recognize same-sex marriages by gays and lesbians in other states, is a flagrant attack on the right of privacy - a right working people have fought to defend and extend.
"Wellstone," the socialist candidate stated, "has put himself on record in support of the right of the state to intrude into the most personal matters between individuals and in such a way as to stigmatize a section of the population. This can only aid the employers' attempt to undermine solidarity among working people and pit us against each other."
It is hard to think of legislation more cruel and demeaning than a measure permitting the state to treat a certain section of the population - gays and lesbians in this case - differently from others in regard to elementary civil equality and access to government benefits, Fiske said.
"We should not forget that one of the consequences of this barbaric legislation is to deny federal entitlements to same-sex partners. This includes benefits that surviving spouses have a right to, including Social Security and veterans payments. The Defense of Marriage Act has to be seen as part and parcel of beginning the assault on the social benefits working people have fought for, paid for, and are entitled to. Wellstone's vote has helped encourage the ultra-rightists' `culture war' against working people and has helped grease the skids for deepening the attack on Social Security and other social benefits. So be it for the Senator's `conscience,' " Fiske stated.
"We should not be surprised to see Wellstone join attacks on
social benefits, including reversing himself on the question of
welfare. It's easy enough to see him backing off his tactical
stance on the welfare law this year. If Wellstone considers it
expedient to support a follow-up to this opening assault on
social security - in order to prepare to reverse it, he could
say demagogically, as other liberal Democrats did on the welfare
bill - he will certainly do so, pointing to his recent vote on
the Welfare Reform Act to establish his liberal bona fides."
Assault on immigrants
I asked what the connection is to Wellstone's vote for the Defense of Marriage Act and his September 30 vote for legislation restricting immigrant rights.
"The omnibus spending bill that the Senate adopted just before it adjourned and that Clinton signed on October 1 included severe new attacks on immigrants," Fiske stated. "It declares undocumented immigrants ineligible for most federal, state, and local benefits. Moreover, it denies `legal' immigrants access to most benefits except school lunch and some nutrition programs. The bill also subjects `legal' immigrants to deportation if they receive public assistance for 12 or more months during their first five years in the United States.
"This is another way the Democrats and Republicans are starting to chip away at the social wage. They target a particularly vulnerable group of people, stigmatize them, and start to win public acceptance for beginning to go after hard- won government entitlements.
"The bills Wellstone voted for," Fiske continued, "will authorize 1,000 additional border cops per year until the year 2000, roughly doubling the force to 10,000. It will also streamline the process for verifying eligibility and documents and for detaining and deporting immigrants."
"Again Wellstone's `conscience' has helped reinforce ultrarightists and fascists like Patrick Buchanan," Fiske stated. Buchanan is the rightist politician who ran in the Republican primaries against Robert Dole. "In fact, Buchanan, in response to the adoption of the immigrant legislation, crowed, `Bill Clinton and Dianne Feinstein [U.S. Senator in California] now are echoing Pat Buchanan on immigration. It's a total victory.' While this is undoubtedly an exaggeration, it gives a sense of the effects of approving these latest attacks on the rights of working people from other countries."
"I've been talking to a lot of immigrant workers and know that deep anger is developing against these new legislative attacks, the stepped-up INS raids of plants hiring immigrant workers, and the employers' increased confidence in assaulting immigrants," Fiske said.
"I've been down to Worthington in southern Minnesota talking
to union-organized Mexican workers at the Monfort turkey
processing plant who are fighting to get their union to take on
the company's abusive treatment. I've also done a lot of
campaigning at the Northern Star potato chip factory in
Minneapolis talking to Latino and African workers about the
recent INS raid there and trying to get some of them interested
in going with me and others from here to the October 12
immigration rights march in Washington, DC." Fiske is a member
of the International Association of Machinists Lodge 1037 and
works as a machinist at Eaton Corporation.
Wellstone's admiration for cops
"It's not surprising that Wellstone would vote for beefing up the border police," the socialist candidate explained. "Backing the cops is one of his calling cards. Every background article on Wellstone I've read describes his admiration for cops.
"It was totally in keeping with his record to vote for substantially increasing the repressive apparatus of the government by voting to spend $1 billion in the next year `to fight terrorism,'" Fiske said.
This legislation, adopted by the Senate on April 17, would also restrict the habeas corpus rights of prisoners and increase the restrictions on foreigners entering the United States. Wellstone also voted for a provision to allow multipoint wiretaps in so-called terrorism cases when a suspect uses many phones, the socialist candidate noted. This undemocratic measure, however, didn't make it into the final bill signed by Clinton on April 24.
I pointed out that one of Boschwitz's campaign themes is to attack Wellstone as "a throwback to a different era, to the '60s" when the last big additions to the federal entitlements that began to be won in the 1930s were enacted.
"I think that's dead wrong," Fiske said, "Wellstone is not a throwback to either Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. There has been a shift to the right in capitalist politics and in both the Democratic and Republican parties. This is the result of the bipartisan drive to raise profit rates and defend the dollar by promoting economic and social austerity measures at the expense of working people."
In the early 1970s the curve of capitalist development began a downward slide, Fiske said, registered in the first worldwide capitalist recession in 1974-75. Since then, the bipartisan imperialist foreign policy consolidated under Harry Truman's administration in the 1940s, has been mirrored by an increasingly bipartisan domestic policy. The declining rate of capital accumulation for the U.S. rulers continues to shift to the right the boundaries of their assault on the social wage won by labor and its allies.
"Along with this, a `culture war, ' as the fascist demagogue Buchanan has put it, is being waged as the political rationalization for the rightward march of both parties," Fiske said. "It is the boundaries of this assault on the working class that circumscribes Wellstone's liberal policies, not the boundaries of some other era. In this context, I don't think we can stress too much the support Wellstone has given to the cultural war's rationalizations by his support to the Defense of Marriage Act and the immigration bills.
"It's also in this framework we must see the Kennedy-
Kassebaum Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
that Wellstone voted for. Highly publicized as a measure to give
workers a little more medical security when they change jobs, it
doesn't guarantee they can get insurance at reasonable rates and
doesn't include some 40 million workers. It converges with the
attacks on social benefits in the welfare act rather than being
an antidote to them."
An `environmental' senator?
In a recent radio interview, I said, Wellstone stated that by definition a senator from Minnesota is "an environmental senator." What do you think about this? I asked Fiske.
"I'm not sure why anyone from Minnesota would necessarily be more or less for environmental protection than any capitalist politician from another state," Fiske stated. "Wellstone's record isn't actually so good. In the ongoing debate over whether or not more of the Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness should be opened to motor boats and motorized vehicles, the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party here is divided with liberal congressmen taking opposite stands.
"In an attempt to not alienate potential voters, Wellstone is
waffling on the issue and has been a strong proponent of federal
mediation. Those favoring opening up these wilderness areas tend
to be resort owners in northern Minnesota. Unfortunately, trade
union officials in northern Minnesota have been supporting this
stance too on the basis that workers there need to have the
opportunity to use the areas for recreation. I think that
working people can and will think more broadly about the social
necessity of preserving the environment, including places for
recreation for all working people. Most workers know that
degradation of the environment and hazardous conditions at work
are very much interconnected."
Unclogging illusions on liberalism
I pointed out to Fiske that he spent a lot of time on Wellstone's campaign.
"It's important to do so," Fiske explained. "I've been reaching a lot of people, especially youth - talking to them on campuses, at soap box rallies , and at plant gates. Many are attracted to some of the positions I'm raising but have illusions that Wellstone is better than Boschwitz and, even though imperfect, he's a buffer against the rising wave of rightism in Congress.
"What I've explained should help to unclog some of these illusions. Nobody else is doing this. Barkley, for example, is promoting reform of campaign laws and a `flat tax' as his main themes. He doesn't offer any road forward for working people any more than Boschwitz and Wellstone."
The Socialist Workers campaign, Fiske concluded, offers a
working-class alternative to Wellstone, Boschwitz, and the rest
of the capitalist candidates for U.S. Senate.
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