Among the 42 people attending the event at the MECA Community Center were co-workers of SWP members, friends of the party from the Rio Grande Valley, party members from Atlanta and Miami, supporters from Austin and one from Mexico. Eleven came from Asamblea Popular de Houston, a group involved in the fight to hold the Mexican government accountable for the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico.
Deborah Liatos, organizer of the Houston SWP, welcomed everyone, urging them to look at the displays on the rich political history of the party in Texas.
“We received a phone call one morning in 2002 telling us that Róger Calero never made his flight returning to Houston from a Militant reporting trip to Cuba and Mexico,” said Steve Warshell, a long-time leader of the SWP in Houston. “We found that Calero was being held by immigration cops at their infamous Greens Road Detention Center.” La migra intended to deport him back to Nicaragua, where he was born.
One of the reasons Calero was released 10 days later was because he immediately began interviewing his fellow inmates and reporting on lockup conditions for the Militant.
The SWP launched an international campaign to stop the deportation. After a six-month fight, international pressure forced immigration authorities to declare Calero “not deportable.” By 2004, Warshell said, he was running as the SWP candidate for U.S. president.
Propelled by opposition to the pending anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner bill, which would have branded all undocumented workers as felons, immigrant workers here and nationally began to prepare for massive outpourings April 10 and May 1, 2006, Warshell said. Party members threw themselves into building the actions, including working with others on the job to participate, and have continued to join in May Day actions and other protests against deportations since.
“We can join in increasing labor resistance today,” Warshell said, “like the strike by Steelworkers in area oil refineries and widespread proletarian struggles against police brutality. There are new openings for communists today to build our movement and recruit.
“We’re leaving Houston and closing the branch here,” he said, “but as the class struggle deepens and the party grows, we will be back.”
The SWP and Young Socialist Alliance in Texas grew out of the fight against Washington’s war against Vietnam in the 1960s, said Joel Britton, an SWP leader from Oakland, California. Party branches were built in both Houston and Austin.
As a result of the party’s growing public presence, it became a target of the Ku Klux Klan, as were Black rights’ fighters, anti-war activists, and KPFT, the local Pacifica radio station.
“Houston’s KKK operated with true impunity, tied in with the police force, the sheriff’s department,” and other parts of the so-called justice system, Britton said.
“One of the high points in the fight against Klan attacks was when Debbie Leonard, SWP candidate for mayor in 1971, debated a top Klan leader — not once but twice,” Britton said.
“We were not pushed out — we campaigned for public office, reached out with the Militant, organized Militant Labor Forums, won people to our movement from the anti-war movement and our engagement in the Chicano struggle,” Britton said. The SWP publicized and worked with the independent La Raza Unida Party, which was based among working-class Chicanos and Mexicanos.
New developments in working class“By the mid-1970s the party was looking to new developments in the working class and union movement,” Britton said.
“The steel bosses in Houston and elsewhere didn’t take kindly to the formation of Steelworkers Fight Back, led by Ed Sadlowski, a leader of the union in Chicago, to fight to oust the conservative, class-collaborationist misleaders of the union nationally,” he said. Neither did the Klan, which attacked Sadlowski supporters.
Party members in Houston working in the large steel plants here jumped right into the fight, Britton said.
Britton also pointed to the role of SWP members in Houston in the 11-year campaign that won legal residence for Hector Marroquín in 1988. Marroquín had come to the U.S. after facing death threats in Mexico for his socialist politics. He got a job in a factory here and joined the SWP.
“This case chillingly reminds you of the 43 disappeared students in Mexico and how important the fight is to get to the truth behind their disappearances,” Britton said.
“The 45 years of accomplishments described in the presentations have strengthened the work of the Socialist Workers Party nationally,” said Calero, a member of the SWP National Committee.
He described his experiences participating in the Havana International Book Fair and related activities in February in Cuba that showed how the leadership example and political maturity of the Cuban Five is making a big impact there.
New generations in Cuba want to hear what they have to say. They want to learn about the Five’s internationalist assignment working in the U.S. to ferret out plans by counterrevolutionary paramilitary groups with a record of attacks in Cuba and against supporters of the Cuban Revolution, as well as how they conducted themselves in the U.S. class struggle when they were framed up and imprisoned for about a decade and a half.
“Their example of selfless dedication to workers and youth in Cuba and around the world — including in the United States — is the kind of leadership we need,” said Calero.
Libertad Miguel, from the Asamblea Popular de Houston, was one of many who stayed after the program to socialize, read messages sent to the meeting, study the displays and look over a table full of Pathfinder books on special sale. She was impressed with how the talks explained the class struggle. “You can’t just reform or transform capitalism, you have to overthrow it,” she said.
Henry and Alma Cooper first met the party in 1998 at protests against the police killing of Pedro Oregón, a 22-year-old Mexican immigrant who was shot 30 times, nine in the back.
“While the SWP will be missed here, we will continue to point to it as the best example we have of how to fight and at the same time win others to socialism,” Henry Cooper said.
“I never imagined the party had done all of this. What a history,” said Lara Canales, who traveled from Mexico to be at the meeting. She bought a stack of books, including extras for friends in Mexico. Some 200 books were sold.
A collection for the work of the party nationally raised $1,013.
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