The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 25           July 10, 2006  
Socialist Workers Party 44th convention
marked by ‘irreversible strengthening
of working-class movement’
Scope and speed of mass working-class actions
for immigrant rights caught U.S. rulers by surprise
(front page)
OBERLIN, Ohio—The massive proletarian actions for the legalization of immigrants in the last three months “represent an irreversible strengthening of the working-class movement,” Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, told delegates and guests June 17 in his summary at the close of the party’s 44th Constitutional Convention.

The speed and power of these protests caught the U.S. rulers by surprise. It was the most important of a number of defining moments in a year in which developments in the working class changed broader politics, Barnes said.

The social disaster in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was among them. In face of the utter indifference by the wealthy rulers and their government, it was the initiatives and organization of working people in New Orleans that became decisive in preventing more deaths from occurring.

Then with the New Year, the wave of deaths in the coal mines began posing sharply the life-and-death question that unionization is for the working class.

The convention was stamped by the involvement of members of the SWP and the Young Socialists, together with their co-workers, in these working-class actions and other mass work. In the process, socialists made advances in discipline and programmatic clarity needed to build a revolutionary workers party.

Over the past year socialist workers took steps that strengthened their political work in factories, mines, and mills where the bosses’ offensive on wages and conditions, and workers’ resistance to it, has been the sharpest. They transformed the Militant even more into a paper seen by a growing number of militants as the voice of the working-class vanguard. And they made progress in winning young people to the communist movement and training them politically.

The three-day event drew 425 people—about 30 more than last year’s convention. Nearly 40 were attending their first national SWP convention or conference—up from 25 last year.  
Trade union work
In a report titled “Defeating the Bosses’ Counterassault at C.W. Mining,” Alyson Kennedy, who was a leader of the union-organizing fight at the Co-Op coal mine near Huntington, Utah, summarized the accomplishments of coal miners in a three-year battle to organize a local of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) at the mine and then against a retaliatory lawsuit filed by the company (see coverage in last three issues).

Jacob Perasso, organizer of the party’s Trade Union Committee, presented a report to the convention on the socialists’ work in the labor movement. Perasso noted the close relationship between the successful efforts to expand the readership of the Militant among workers and the strengthening of the party’s trade union work. He pointed out that 432 people signed up for subscriptions to the Militant in the spring circulation campaign in the region of Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska—many of them packinghouse workers.

“The party has a qualitatively different relationship to the union and this region of meat packers because of this subscription base,” Perasso said. “It’s not uncommon for us to go with the Militant to, say, Worthington, Minnesota, or Storm Lake, Iowa, and find out from workers about a job action that has taken place in one of the large slaughterhouses there.”

The Socialist Workers Party will continue to concentrate its trade union work “in the industries where the employers’ offensive is the sharpest,” Perasso said, explaining why the party organizes units of its members—industrial union fractions—to carry out trade union work in coal mines, meatpacking plants, and garment and textile factories.

Today, he noted, the big majority of socialists in these industries are working together in fractions of two or more members in a given workplace. A year ago, most were working alone in different plants and mines.

The party’s fractions in the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and UNITE unions held meetings here on June 14, the day before the convention began, where socialists drew a balance sheet of their work and elected steering committees to guide the implementation of their decisions.  
‘Workers took ownership of struggle’
Perasso pointed to a statement made by Bernie Hesse, the legislative director of UFCW Local 789 at a May 27 public meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, to celebrate the Co-Op miners’ victory against the bosses’ retaliatory suit. Hesse said that in the battle at Co-Op and an earlier one at Dakota Premium Foods, a beef slaughterhouse in St. Paul where workers led a successful union-organizing campaign, the struggles were defined by the fact that from the beginning “the workers took ownership of their struggle.”

That’s a useful political observation, Perasso said. In both of these fights workers launched the organizing battle first and then went to local union officials for help. “Taking ownership of their struggle” is what gave these organizing fights their strength and made them stand out from many other strikes or unionization efforts in recent years. That’s why communists have their eyes on the ranks of the working class, organized or unorganized.

In his political report and summary to the convention, Jack Barnes said that there are no signs of a coming stabilization of capitalist politics, which is marked both by the employers’ offensive at home to shore up declining profits and by imperialist wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. This capitalist world disorder will continue to underlie fights like the two Hesse singled out, he said.

The course workers at Dakota and Co-Op followed stands in sharp contrast to that of the top labor officialdom, who in face of the bosses’ offensive have focused on collaboration with the employers, not on organizing workers to resist these attacks, said Barnes. He pointed to the capitulation to demands by the auto barons for wage and benefit cuts by the leadership of the United Auto Workers reflected at the UAW convention and recent statements by UNITE president Bruce Raynor that the union is not targeting manufacturing for organizing, where jobs are supposedly “outsourced” abroad, but service workers. “Our goal is to move service-sector workers into the middle class,” Raynor said.

This weakening of the labor movement, while motion toward rank-and-file action continues, is one of labor’s central contradictions today, Barnes said, and will only be resolved through a course like that Hesse put his finger on.

The huge protests demanding legalization of all immigrants strengthen mightily the prospects for the workers movement to move in that direction, Barnes said. These were working-class political actions to make demands on the government, actions in which all who took part, not just immigrants, were welcome.

A number of delegates pointed to large numbers of workers being involved in meetings to organize the protests for immigrant rights. Frank Forrestal, a meat packer and delegate from Des Moines, Iowa, said some 200 people, largely workers, took part in such a coalition meeting in that Midwestern city leading up to an April 9 action. More than 50 workers participated in another such meeting prior to the May Day events.  
Character of ‘Militant’ changes
The character of the Militant has changed more in the past 12 months than in any 12 months of its history, Barnes said in his opening remarks. The socialist weekly has become “more and more the voice of militant workers.”

Barnes, as well as a number of delegates who spoke during the discussion, pointed to the special issue the Militant published in February with the banner headline “Unionize the mines! Build the UMWA! No miner has to die.”

The campaign to sell that issue greatly increased the paper’s base of subscribers in the West Virginia and Kentucky coalfields, said Ryan Scott, a coal miner and a delegate from Pittsburgh. More workers say they need the Militant because they identify it with a certain course of action for labor, he said.

“When you begin to concentrate readers in an industry, a region, a plant, you’re also putting enormous responsibility in your hands,” Barnes said. “It is a pledge to those workers that you will cover their struggles in the paper.”

Last year the party had projected a modest fall subscription campaign. By the midpoint of that effort, the response to the paper among working people was such that the subscription goal was doubled and more than 3,000 new readers signed up for introductory subscriptions. A similar demand for the paper was seen in the winter subscription renewal effort and spring circulation campaign.

Political work in the labor movement is an integral part of the irreplaceable work of building the communist movement, Barnes said. He noted the significance of the modest increase in recruitment of workers to the party in the past year and the development of leadership among the youngest recruits to the movement.

At the opening of the convention, Barnes introduced the members of the Welcome and Recruitment Committee. In addition to working with those attending their first convention, the committee was charged with “going out and winning as many Young Socialists and candidates for membership in the party as possible,” he said. By the end of the convention, as participants were laying out plans to launch socialist election campaign efforts and teams to introduce the Militant to workers, 10 people had joined the Young Socialists or the Socialist Workers Party.  
Leverage of propaganda work
“I know of no other book we have published that has gotten such a broad response, and has led us to so many new forces as has this book,” said Mary-Alice Waters about Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution, published by Pathfinder Press this year. Waters, a member of the party’s National Committee, gave a report titled “Africa, Cuba, China, the U.S.: The Leverage of Communist Propaganda Work.”

She said a public launching of the book will be held at the Chinese Historical Society in San Francisco September 9. Speakers at it will include Waters and Ling Chi-Wang, a prominent professor of Asian-American studies at the University of California in Berkeley.

Waters stressed the importance of this type of mass work for building a proletarian party. The response to the new book has provided opportunities to broaden knowledge about the Cuban Revolution among Asian-Americans and others, and to extend the reach and attraction to the communist movement in such circles, opening doors previously closed to it.

Waters also reviewed three other experiences that register the increasingly effective use of books and other revolutionary literature in building the communist movement.

Young Socialists participated along with 15,000 other youth from 144 countries in the World Festival of Youth and Students last August in Caracas, Venezuela. The political activity and conduct of the Young Socialists leading up to and at that gathering, which drew many different political forces, was a “master class” in mass work, Waters said. A majority of the Young Socialists today were not members of the YS then, and many were recruited through this campaign.

Another such experience was registered last October, when an international team of volunteers staffed Pathfinder’s booth and participated in the first book fair ever held in Equatorial Guinea. The former Spanish-ruled colony in Central Africa, on the Gulf of Guinea, is in U.S. imperialism’s sights today largely because of its oil reserves, Waters said.

As a result of cumulative work over decades and the changes in politics worldwide, a noticeable change was registered in the response to titles promoted by Pathfinder at the last book fair in Havana, Waters said. “This was especially registered in the response to the presentation around issues 6 and 7 of Nueva Internacional,” Waters said, referring to the Spanish version of the most recently published editions of that magazine of Marxist politics and theory.

Waters pointed to the place of the work of some 200 party supporters in formatting, printing, and helping to promote the books published by the communist movement and to a reorientation of that effort. Steps have been taken, Waters reported, to train all who volunteer and expand the number of supporters active in the work of the Printing Project, as it is called.

Convention delegates, elected by party branches in 16 cities, voted to approve the reports by Barnes, Perasso, and Waters along with two documents that had been discussed by party members before the convention, “The World Crisis of Imperialism: The Contradictory Dynamics of the Labor Vanguard” and “Consolidating Our Political Progress and Recruiting to the Communist Movement.”

Convention delegates elected a new National Committee, the body charged with carrying out convention decisions and leading the work of the party between conventions.  
Educational conference
Alongside the convention sessions, an educational conference was organized for all participants. Eight classes were offered on themes often taken up by delegates and in the documents before them. The classes included, “The Struggle for a Proletarian Party and the Organizational Character of the SWP,” by Olympia Newton; “The Case of Leon Trotsky: The Answer to the 1936-37 Moscow Frame-up Trials and the Fight to Continue Lenin’s Communist Course Against Stalin’s Counterrevolution,” by Bernie Senter and Dave Prince; and “The Black Struggle and the March to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the Americas,” by Steve Clark, James Harris, and Gabriela Moreano.

Other classes were presented on “The Jewish Question: The Danger for the Workers Movement of the ‘Israel Lobby’ Conspiracy Theory,” by Sam Manuel; “Communism and the Internationalization of the Working Class, from Marx, Engels, and Lenin to Today,” by Martín Koppel and Ross Hogan; “Women’s Liberation and the Line of March of the Working Class to Power,” by Betsy Farley and Chauncey Robinson; “Trade Unions: Their Past, Present, and Future,” by Paul Mailhot and Julian Santana; and “Cuba’s Internationalist Foreign Policy,” by Sara Donaldson and Ben O’Shaughnessy.

Party supporters participating in the Printing Project held workshops the day after the conference concluded. A meeting of Young Socialists and other youth was also held the same day.  
Closing rally
The international gathering concluded with an evening rally on June 17. A panel of speakers outlined plans to build on the successes registered at the gathering.

“Campaigners for the SWP ticket in New York State are going out of this convention to offer a working-class alternative to the Democrats, Republicans, and other capitalist parties,” Róger Calero, SWP candidate for U.S. Senate from New York, told the enthusiastic audience.

Ross Hogan, a member of the Young Socialists in New York, described the successful launching of the Socialist Summer School in that city as well as in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and St. Paul, Minnesota. He noted the advances the Young Socialists have made in recruiting to the organization and consolidating a cadre.

Greetings were read to the convention from Dagoberto Rodríguez, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., who sent the message on behalf of the Communist Party of Cuba; the Pro-Independence University Students Federation (FUPI) in Puerto Rico; and the Workers Party of Korea.

Panelists presented plans for a summer subscription renewal effort to increase the Militant’s long-term readership, strengthening the work of the Printing Project, and deepening the party’s trade union work. Delegates and guests signed up to join a team to introduce the Militant to miners and others in Harlan County, Kentucky, where the socialist paper has received a good response because of its truthful reporting on the killing of five coal miners on the job in May and the response by working people to the disaster. A team of four volunteers sold 16 subscriptions and 150 copies of the Militant in Harlan Country June 22-24, bringing the total there to 31 subscriptions and 500 copies over the last month.

Dave Prince, organizer of the party’s capital fund committee, announced that $163,500 was raised in capital contributions from nearly 30 contributors during the three-day gathering. Those present responded to an appeal to help build the SWP, contributing nearly $29,000.
Related articles:
Huge working-class actions affect recruitment
Message to Communist Party of Cuba
Socialist Workers Party National Committee  
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