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Vol. 73/No. 26      July 13, 2009

Education, skills training
feature of conference
OBERLIN, Ohio—In addition to attending a wide range of classes, many of those attending the June 18-20 Socialist Education and Active Workers Conference participated in workshops aimed at increasing the skills needed by communist workers to get and hold jobs and carry out productive political work in a sharply contracting capitalist economic crisis. This challenge was a feature of the main political talks at the conference, which was sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialists.

The presentations also highlighted the importance of simultaneously carrying out systematic study of the political program and theory of the Marxist movement as it unfolded chronologically in world events as an inseparable part of strengthening of the movement. Carrying out these two aspects together will be central as the party moves forward.

In a report on the opening day of the conference, SWP National Committee member Norton Sandler explained that in the midst of a deep economic contraction and rising unemployment, having skills that the bosses depend on exploiting give politically active workers flexibility to get and hold jobs wherever opportunities in the class struggle present themselves. As workers respond to the bosses’ assault on their standard of living, being able to get to the heart of these struggles as they unfold will be crucial.

Garment and meatpacking workers attending the conference organized workshops on the skills needed in their respective industries. In the meatpacking workshop, workers from the United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand spoke about their experiences in building fractions of communist workers in this industry and how sharpening their skills has made this possible. Participants then broke up into groups where they learned to properly sharpen a knife and got hands-on practice with different cuts of meat.

At the garment workshop participants joined teams at sewing machines set up throughout the area to learn and practice skills needed in putting various parts of a garment together. The weekly sewing classes organized by the New York SWP headquarters branch were pointed to as an example to emulate. Participants there each learned how to make shirts and, as new operations were required on the job, these were practiced as well.

In the main conference hall a prominent display was set up illustrating the accomplishments of the weekly education series hosted by the New York branch. The display summarized the study syllabus that has been used over the past few years, beginning with a series on the two volumes of Revolutionary Continuity by Farrell Dobbs, a leader of the SWP and of the Teamsters union strikes in Minneapolis in the 1930s. The two books trace the history of the working-class movement in the United States up through the birth of the communist movement and its evolution in its formative years.

The syllabus then continues chronologically and takes up questions before the communist movement as they come up in their unique context, giving class participants an opportunity to consider these historic questions as part of a living continuity.

Brian Williams contributed to this article.
Related articles:
‘Courage and discipline’: traits of revolutionaries
Conference prepares socialists to act on political opportunities, build movement
Socialist conference extends support to Cuban Five  
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