The meeting was part of a special weekend hosted by the SWP that included participating in actions against racist attacks in San Francisco and in Berkeley the next day.
Two dozen party members and supporters were in Oakland from around the country to take part in a meeting of the party’s Walmart trade union fraction.
The featured speaker was Dennis Richter, a member of the SWP’s National Committee and organizer of the SWP branch in Los Angeles. Also speaking was Mary Martin, SWP candidate for mayor of Seattle and a participant in the fraction meeting.
“We were out in the streets today. We debated and discussed, found agreement and disagreements, as we stood with the anti-racist protesters,” said Richter. “We introduced them to books by Jack Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters, leaders of the Socialist Workers Party, and to the Militant newspaper. We sold 20 copies of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Barnes, which is the best explanation of the struggles of the working class, the roots of racism and the history of the Black nationality.”
Richter noted that President Donald Trump had given a pardon the previous day to the hated and recently convicted former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona.
There is no rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. working class, said Richter. Arpaio is disliked widely for his anti-immigrant attacks and abuse, particularly directed at Latinos. He is infamous for incarcerating arrested immigrants in tents in the sweltering Arizona desert.
Richter said several participants had argued with him at the protest earlier that racism is on the rise among working people. “I pointed out that over 200 working-class counties that Barack Obama won in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections went for Donald Trump in the last election,” Richter said. “Did those workers just become racist? I don’t think so. There were a total of 500 racists who joined a national march in Charlottesville, Virginia. That’s the best they could do.”
Richter pointed to the 40,000 people who turned out to march against racism in Boston a week earlier, responding to the events in Charlottesville. This was a serious protest, he said, describing how it was in continuity with the mid-1970s battles that took place in Boston to desegregate the city’s schools. Richter explained that he joined marches in Boston during that struggle and the SWP was part of its leadership.
Racism has declined sharply
The working-class mobilizations led by African-Americans that overthrew Jim Crow segregation changed things forever in U.S. politics, Richter said. Racism has declined sharply and workers have found it much easier to work and fight together.
Richter called attention to the attractive seven-panel display at the side of the room. The displays had first been used to help amplify political points in talks by Barnes, Waters and Steve Clark at the SWP’s Active Workers Conference in June. They detail how the working class bears the brunt of the consequences of the world capitalist crisis, said Richter.
“Donald Trump called it carnage and he’s right on that,” he said. “But the ruling rich, the meritocracy and broad layers of professionals are doing quite well. That is not the case for tens of millions of working people.”
The fraction meeting of Walmart workers discussed how workers there need a union to lead the fight against how the bosses are foisting the crisis of their capitalist system on workers’ backs. Mary Martin explained how their meeting was recessed so they could join in the anti-racist protests in San Francisco.
“We’ll do the same thing tomorrow,” she said, “so we can be at the Berkeley protest.”
More U.S. troops to Afghanistan
A few days before the public meeting President Trump told the nation the government is increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. “On a world scale U.S. imperialism remains the world’s strongest military power, but we see it’s being forced to retreat,” said Richter. “The U.S. rulers have been unable to win a war since the first Gulf War in 1991. Trump has no strategy to win a war in Afghanistan. The propertied rulers are trying to come up with a strategy of how not to lose the war.
“It’s the working class who are the soldiers who are the cannon fodder. The response to their deaths and maiming will lead to protests, and their families and young people will be part of them, much like those turning out across the country at these anti-racist protests,” Richter said. “Trump’s no more a war monger than Hillary Clinton, actually less. He inherited this. He’s doing what any chief executive of the U.S. imperialist government would have to do.”
Richter hailed the not guilty verdicts for Richard Lovelien, Steven Stewart, Eric Parker and Scott Drexler, who faced frame-up charges for going to the ranch of Cliven Bundy in Nevada to join the fight against the government’s seizure of Bundy’s cattle after he refused to pay federal grazing fees. Two were acquitted and the other two acquitted on most charges.
“The government owns over 80 percent of the land in Nevada. The Bundy’s have been ranching there for 100 years,” said Richter, who had attended the first day of the Las Vegas trial in solidarity with Bundy and all the defendants. “Other ranchers have been driven off the land by the federal government, but the Bundys have refused. Hundreds of people stood with them in defense of their grazing rights.”
During a lively discussion period one participant said he disagreed with Richter. “I take issue that there is no rise in white supremacy,” he said. Another said he thought the Bundy family was racist.
“How do you explain that no other political organizations on the left are interested in the Bundy fight other than the Socialist Workers Party?” another asked.
“We went to talk to workers at their homes in a neighborhood of Latinos, Blacks and Caucasians in Las Vegas. They knew about the restrictions ranchers face from all the agencies of the federal government today. The ranchers call it ‘federal overreach’ when the government prevents you from making a living off the land,” Richter said. “There’s an identification there that’s deep by workers who face all kinds of red tape, taxes and tickets from local, state and federal governments. They appreciated information about the ongoing trial in Las Vegas and expressed support for the defendants. Workers and farmers need to organize together against the dictatorship of capital.”
Mary Martin detailed her experience covering the Portland, Oregon, frame-up trial against the occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan and others were acquitted there. “The jury didn’t buy the government’s version,” she said.
When supporters of the Bundys came out of the courthouse in Portland, a Black Lives Matter march was passing by. John Lamb, a chicken farmer from Montana, joined their march. Some of the participants tried to stop him, saying, “If you support the Bundys, you are a white supremacist!’” Martin said.
“Lamb said, ‘No, I am not,’” Martin said. “’We have people of many races in our group, including African-Americans and Native Americans. I’m against what the government and police are doing to Black people just like I’m against what they are doing to the ranchers and the Bundys. He was welcomed in the protest.”
Richter invited those at the forum to join the SWP in continuing to speak out and march against racism, and in going with party members to discuss politics with workers on their doorsteps.
“Race is controversial. We are all workers,” Ysenia Gavila, a 21-year-old receptionist at a fitness center, said in the informal discussion after the meeting. “The common ground we all have is that we’re all workers in whatever industry we work in.”
“I do like how everyone here is organized,” said Brian Chavez, 22, a member of the Glazier’s Union. “The SWP has a good way to get people together.”
Norton Sandler from the Oakland SWP, who chaired the meeting, made a fund presentation that netted $1,150. Sandler thanked those in the room who had housed 25 participants from out of town over the weekend and who had cooked the fine meal that was enjoyed before the program.
Socialist Workers Party: ‘Protest racist attacks!’
Liberals, ‘antifa’ combine to deal blows to political rights
SWP builds protests, takes discussion to working class
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