New Ground 67 Chicago DSA


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New Ground 67 Chicago DSA

  1. 1. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America About Home New Ground Events Debs Dinner Links Join DSA Audio Email us CDSA Your contribution is appreciated but, because of our advocacy work, not tax deductible. New Ground 67 November - December, 1999 Contents: More Than Gore at the AFL-CIO Convention by Bob Roman Jubilee 2000 and the Crisis of Debt by Bill Dixon Campaigning for Better Health Care by Harold Taggart One Year After Shepard by Ben Doherty Mumia Rally a Lesson in Guaranteed Rights by Harold Taggart Mumia sidebar Cornel West Speaks at DePaul by Eugene Birmingham Chicago's Voice of Labor by Will Kelley sidebar: Labor's New Voices A Future for Progressivism? by Gene Birmingham Whatever Happened to Socialism: a Preview by Harold Taggart Other News compiled by Bob Roman Detroit DSA October 22 Coalition Socialist Party Nomination Illinois Labor History Society Globalization Conference Cancelled City-Wide Sweatshop Coalition 1 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  2. 2. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America More Than Gore at the AFL-CIO Convention by Bob Roman When the AFL-CIO Convention met in Los Angeles this last October, most of the press reports covered the Convention's endorsement of Al Gore's candidacy for President. It is understandable. The sight of hard nosed labor leaders twisting their faces into smiles for a gentleman who has periodically knifed them- well, it does make a story, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it means that some of the more important and more interesting developments at the AFL-CIO Convention were not widely covered. The labor federation continues to develop a multi-faceted strategy for building both the AFL-CIO as an organization and building the labor movement as a social movement and as a political movement. It might not pay off next year. But there is a real potential here for a radical change in U.S. politics, even if it is something so modest as our politics coming to resemble the European industrial democracies. Labor as a Social Movement The AFL-CIO continues its effort to make workers' rights the civil rights campaign of the new century. There are a number of elements to this, but one of the more important is developing links between the labor movement and the religious community. One of the activities surrounding the Convention was touted as the "first-ever joint conference" between religious and union activists. This conference cosponsored by Chicago's National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. In fact, it was not the first such conference but another step toward scaling up the scope of an ongoing project. (See November - December, 1997, New Ground #55, Page 8, "Jobs with Justice 10th Annual National Conference"). Indeed, Chicago has served as a laboratory for much of this work. The Chicago Federation of Labor, for example, has made the "Labor in the Pulpit" project (See July - August, 1997, New Ground #53, Page 1, "Connecting Faith and Work") its Labor Day activity for some years now. Each Labor Day, labor speakers are invited by congregations of all faiths to speak on how work and justice are connected. Now this practice is spreading across the nation. This building of the labor movement as a social movement is also the reason for the prominent role played at the Convention by the AFL-CIO's "constituency" organizations such as Pride at Work, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, etc., as well as programs such as Union Summer. And if the language of "working families" doesn't quite have the same intellectual appeal as the "labor theory of value", it does have very much the same appeal to justice. Not All Politics as Usual While most of the media attention was focused on Gore's endorsement, the AFL-CIO was holding its "Third Annual Conference for Union 2 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  3. 3. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America Members Holding Public Office". Union members have held elective office for almost as long as there have been unions in the U.S., but it is only recently that Labor has begun to systematically track just who these people are and, more importantly, bring them together. In this way, even though these are people elected on all manner of ballot lines, the labor movement is taking steps toward actually functioning as if it were a political party. These are still baby steps. The AFL-CIO is planning to boost the number of union members in office from 1,500 to 2,000 in (of course) 2000. Yet this is still a very small number. Consider that in Illinois alone there are well over a thousand units of local government, most of which are governed by officers that are elected rather than appointed. But it is a project that could snowball. Look for individual state federations to start holding similar conferences. Organizational Development The AFL-CIO's New Alliance project is among the more obscure aspects of its strategy for the new century. It certainly doesn't make for a good story. But when the AFL-CIO re-emphasized organizing and political action, it found that the very institutions one might expect to coordinate and maintain these efforts, the state and especially the county central labor bodies were often just barely functioning. Aside from the usual bureaucratic stuff us lefties love to whine about, local central labor bodies are frequently quite poor. There is the almost universal problem of not all unions in a locality actually affiliating with the central body. Not all AFL-CIO union locals in Chicago, for example, are members of the Chicago Federation of Labor. And then there are some places were the 1950s merger between the AFL and the CIO was never quite finished on the county level. The AFL-CIO intends to "remap and revitalize" its state and local federations, and it has set up a fairly detailed process by which these institutions will be reformed. On institutional and staff levels, it seems to be a very participatory process intended to result in local labor federations that are at least big enough to support three full time staff and have the affiliation of basically all the AFL-CIO union locals in its jurisdiction. By itself, this organizational reform would not amount to much. But if the other aspects of the AFL-CIO's strategy work reasonably well, including yet another increase in the resources devoted to organizing, the federation will have in place the institutional framework to maintain and amplify these successes. Sounds Like a Plan The AFL-CIO is also continuing to develop projects in job training, in coordinated "social investment" of union pension funds, in education, in communications and research. None of these programs directly challenge the primacy of Capital, but all of them are to some degree subversive of it. For a good overview of the 23rd Convention, go to the AFL-CIO's website: Jubilee 2000 and the Crisis of Debt by Bill Dixon 3 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  4. 4. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America As a rule, abrupt and dramatic changes in U.S. foreign policy do not usually bode well for Third World countries (just ask anyone living in Panama, Iraq, or Sudan). But for once this rule was happily broken on September 30 when President Clinton pledged the U.S. to total debt-forgiveness for many of the world's poorest nations. The movement for Third World debt-relief has gained enormous prominence recently, in large part thanks to a shrewd and visionary campaign mounted by Jubilee 2000, an international coalition of religious, aid, and human rights groups devoted to the issue. With active organizations in fifty countries in Latin America and Africa as well as in Europe and the United States, Jubilee 2000 has proven that grass-roots activism can indeed make an international impact, even against the high powers of the IMF and the G7. Batteries Not Included The fight for debt-relief is far from won. Clinton's pledge must still be approved by Congress, and the rest of the world's major economic powers have yet to commit to total debt-forgiveness, let alone follow through. Still, the heady success enjoyed to date by Jubilee and its millions of supporters across the globe raises important questions about what comes next. Sooner than we may dare hope, the question may well change from whether there should be a new multilateral program of debt-relief to how it comes about and with what strings attached. Jubilee's greatest achievement so far has been in transforming the issue of Third World debt from a faraway economic abstraction into a real-life morality play. Jubilee's biblical symbolism, made all the more powerful by the involvement of thousands of religious activists, obviously plays a crucial part in this message. The turn of the millennium marks a "Jubilee Year" in which, according to the Old Testament, all slaves should be set free, all land returned to its rightful owners, and all debts forgiven. But the Judeo-Christian rhetoric would hardly resonate so forcefully were it not for the brutal facts of the debt burden. Many countries spend nearly half of their GDP on servicing their foreign debt, money which should be used on vital needs like education, health care, and food. In Mozambique, debt payments exceed the entire health budget. One study by UNICEF estimates that debt-driven cuts in medical funding resulted in the deaths of over fifty million children during the 1980s. The UN reports that if the money currently spent on debt payments were instead put directly into aid programs, seven million children would be saved from disease and malnutrition within a year. This obscene process, which demands that poor countries cut back on their poorest citizens in order to pay banks and wealthy foreign governments for loans that can never be repaid, has been at work throughout the developing world for the better part of twenty years. The difference now is that public consciousness in the North has awakened to this outrage, prodded by formidable organizing and some very high-profile endorsements, including the Pope, who apparently has made the campaign a political priority for the Vatican. The international scope of the campaigns themselves has also been crucial to Jubilee's success. In the U.S., on Good Friday of this year, more than a hundred demonstrators surrounded the offices of the IMF in Washington, D.C. In Britain last year, seventy thousand people formed a human chain around a G7 meeting in Birmingham. In Brazil last August, more than a million protesters took to the streets to protest the IMF's debt policies. In Africa last month, finance ministers from seventeen debtor countries signed a demand for debt-relief and endorsed the Jubilee campaign. 4 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  5. 5. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America Offer Void Where Prohibited As the consensus builds for writing off the debt, larger questions loom ahead for the future of poor countries under globalization. Two leading lights of world capitalist opinion, the London Economist and the London Financial Times, for example, both hail the cause of debt-relief but insist that there must be a catch. Noting that much of the debt was accrued through corruption, bad policies, and rampant military spending, the Economist wants some way to "lock-in good behavior" before new loans are given and old loans are forgotten. Forget about the complicity of European and U.S. banks and governments in said corruption, arms races, and economic mismanagement. Debtor countries by definition cannot be trusted. The Financial Times goes further. Debt-relief should happen only if debtor governments agree to set in stone free-market reforms and keep governments out of the way of foreign investors. Otherwise the debt burden should stand, in order to force uncooperative states into submission. This is more or less the same idea behind the IMF's Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program, which extends some debt-relief in return for strict, market-driven reforms. Jubilee as a whole is critical of the HIPC program, but divided on how to change it. So, Jubilee focuses on general principles instead of specific policies, such as greater power for debtor countries in international lending decisions, greater transparency and accountability for the IMF, etc.... Confronting the Power of Capital These are excellent principles. In order for them to become realized in practice, however, the powerful coalition and commanding moral legitimacy that Jubilee has amassed internationally must somehow survive the success of the campaign for debt-relief. The movement must then turn toward the more complex and concrete issues of globalization. How can Third World nations organize aid, investment, and trade without folding to multinational corporate profiteering, a major cause of the debt crisis in the first place? If Jubilee 2000 can make this leap, then the movement stands a fighting chance of shaping the millennium well past Y2K. Campaigning for Better Health Care by Harold Taggart The Campaign for Better Health Care is capitalizing on the latest public outcry for responsible and affordable health care. CBHC, a coalition of nearly 300 grass roots Illinois organizations including Chicago DSA, has several town hall meetings, events and legislative contacts planned over the next several months. High on the CBHC list of objectives is meetings with Dennis Hastert. CBHC would like anyone who lives in the 14th Congressional District, which 5 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  6. 6. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America includes DeKalb County, Aurora and Elgin, to urge Hastert to hold a local meeting(s), and if possible accompany CBHC members to any meetings. Several town hall meetings have been scheduled, all of them on a theme of "Let your Voice be Heard! Medicare Reform (Not Deform)". The first meeting was on Thursday evening, November 4th. It was co-hosted by UAW Local 588 and held in their union hall at 21540 Cottage Grove Av in Chicago Heights. Another town hall meeting is scheduled for November 12th from 2:00-4:00 p.m. at the Fairview Heights Public Library at 10017 Bunkun Rd in Fairview Heights. On November 11th, CBHC is holding an "Ask the Candidate" forum at the Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Av. in Chicago from 7:00 -9:00 p.m. Invited speakers are candidates for the 1st Congressional District, Congressman Bobby Rush and State Senators Barack Obama and Donne E. Trotter. For Nov. 15, CBHC has scheduled a meeting with the Illinois Department of Insurance to learn more about the Department's role in regulating health care plans. The meeting will be held at 160 N. LaSalle St. room N-505 and begin at 10:00 a.m. CBHC urges everyone to join the rally on Tuesday Nov. 9th. CBHC is one of numerous co-sponsors organizing the event that will center around the need for a national health care plan to replace the current national health care plan which is "Don't dare get sick!". The rally begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Kluczynski Federal Building on Dearborn between Adams and Jackson. CBHC will celebrate its 10th anniversary at its annual conference December 2nd and 3rd. The meeting will be at the Congress Hotel. Movie and TV director, author and social commentator Michael Moore will be one of the guest speakers. For further information on any of the above events or to register a complaint about your health care experiences, call 312-913-9449. To ask questions about health care, call the CBHC Helpline at 888-544-8271. The goal of CBHC is to get an affordable, responsible, high-quality health care system for the United States. However, its leaders believe that objective probably is in the distant future. Consequently, it is concentrating on a grass-roots step by step steep climb to a national health care plan. The U.S. health care system is a gold mine for the pharmaceutical, insurance and provider corporations. It costs over $1 trillion per year, more than twice that of any other nation. An exorbitant 25% goes to administration. Another amount estimated up to 25% goes to fraud and unnecessary procedures that do nothing but enrich the doctors or clinics that recommend and perform them. These corporations are not going to give up their wealth source without a sickbed to sickbed struggle. We must unite to overwhelm them now or face a long exhausting battle that they could win. Again. One Year After Shepard 6 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  7. 7. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America by Ben Doherty On October 8th, segments of Chicago's gay communities participated in the largest political demonstration since the days of ACT UP and Queer Nation in the early nineties. The Chicago Anti-Bashing Network (CABN) organized this march and rally to coincide with the anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a white gay college student, in Wyoming last year. The demonstration was endorsed by Chicago DSA. CABN Fever CABN was formed in 1998 after a well-publicized rash of bashings on North Halsted Street in Lakeview, the commercial epicenter of Chicago's white gay community. The organization has given support in similar crises to other communities: the killings of LaTonya Haggerty and Robert Russ; the lynchings and attempted murders of Jewish, Asian, and black women and men by avowed fascist Benjamin Smith. CABN's attention and actions have been focused not only on drawing attention to the problem of hate crimes but also to the lack of enforcement of the laws that would stiffen penalties against offenders who commit them. The organizers of CABN have found that Chicago police officers are sometimes reluctant to consider a crime as a hate crime in their reports, even if the victim explicitly states that she believes that the crime was motivated by hate. Worse still, some police officers refuse to report the crime at all, as in the case of a woman who was assaulted at the Argyle CTA train stop in Uptown in early October. The march and rally on October 8th was the culmination of over a year's worth of organizing around these problems. A Hierarchy of Victimhood? Of course, there was resistance to the march from within Chicago's own gay communities. A group of Latino activists best summarized the general contrary opinion of the march in letters to the editors of the major LGBT publications in Chicago. First, they claimed, the march was not inclusive of queer women, transgendered individuals, or people of color. Similarly, they objected to the event's location: Boystown. More importantly, however, and probably their strongest objection to the march was the fact that it seemed to be motivated by the death of Matthew Shepard. They claimed that this reinforced a "hierarchy of victimhood" where a problem captures the attention of the media and more importantly the mainstream (white and mostly male) gay community only when the problem affects one of their own, such as a gay white male like Matthew Shepard. The way these claims were presented, however, was problematic. CABN had been having weekly open meetings for over a month when these activists came out with their disputes. Their problem with the location borders on cliché these days. Any queer demonstrative action that takes place in Boystown is deemed a sort of privileged gay white male form of "acting out", of parading their having "arrived" politically and socially and especially economically. Yet all of the diverse and inclusive Queer Nation and ACT UP marches that these activists and other complainants hold in hopeless, nostalgic esteem were located in exactly the same place years before when the climate was slightly different, less apathetic. Instead of bringing these issues to the leadership of CABN or attending a planning meeting for the march, they chose to attack the march from without and to offer no suggestions for remedy. Since their platform was not against the fact of the march happening at all, their criticisms were merely antagonistic rather than constructive. The issues they raised point at a need to build coalitions with other queer communities of color, but these activists took no initiative of their own to force that to happen while openly admitting that they were in a position to do so. 7 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  8. 8. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America The Rally The march and rally was a success, but a smaller one than CABN had predicted. Estimates put the attendance around 1,000, but expectations were twice that. Very little media outside of the gay press covered the event. Most of the participants were white and male although there was a significant presence from black communities and quite a few women. The lack of women at the event can easily be attributed to other events for queer women that happened elsewhere in Chicago at the same time. The speakers at the rally showed a good attempt to be representative of victims of queer bashings: two transgendered women, one African- American, the other white; a state representative, Larry McKeon; a pornographic film star; and a handful of other men of various colors. What would have had to be done to make this an more inclusive and diverse march? Perhaps the people who felt excluded by the scope of the march needed to be courted and wooed more strongly. Maybe they wanted a larger role in the formation of the march from the very beginning, from the point at which the march was conceived. Hopefully next time when queer people need to employ direct action to have their demands heard, those who feel excluded, but not so excluded that they are not informed, will seize that opportunity to change the scope of queer politics as they happen rather than whine, stay at home and do nothing. Mumia Rally a Lesson in Guaranteed Rights by Harold Taggart The plan called for a three-pronged march to the Federal Plaza at Adams and Dearborn. It didn't quite go as planned. The march was a protest against the death sentence against Mumia Abu-Jamal who was convicted of killing a cop in Philadelphia. Mumia, an award-winning journalist and former Black Panther, has been on death row since 1982. Mumia's defenders claim he was denied the right to choose his own attorney, witnesses against him were bribed and intimidated and friendly witnesses were threatened or concealed from the defense. Judge Sabo, historically partial toward the police they claim, ran the trial like a kangaroo court. Saturday, September 25th, was a perfect day for a march. The sun was shining and the temperature was in the sixties and lower seventies. The State and Lake prong was comprised of middle-aged to older protesters, all white. The protesters marched in a circle outside ABC studios, chanting and passing out flyers. A Chicago Police Department patrol wagon was parked visibly and ominously a few yards away in the center of State St. facing south. Soon after the 11am appointed rally time the number of protesters doubled then doubled again. A speaker criticized an ABC news report that claimed Mumia had only a small cult following. The report ignored vocal support from unimpeachable sources like Amnesty International and individuals like Nelson Mandela. After the speaker enumerated the infractions of justice in the Mumia case, the protesters embarked on the first leg of their assigned march route south on State Street to Adams Street. 8 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  9. 9. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America As the group neared Adams Street, it encountered the 11th and State Street prong. The 11th and State Street prong largely consisted of very young, zealous and loud marchers. In their youthful enthusiasm, they broke ranks, spilled out into the streets and ran toward the more sedate group. They urged everyone to move into the streets. The youths made the mistake of believing the cherished Constitutional First Amendment right of "... the people to peaceably assemble," meant they had the freedom to assemble "and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Foolish youth. The Chicago police live by another law or not law. Like rats from flooded sewers, dozens of police swarmed from their lurking places, forced those in the streets back on the sidewalks and began bullying and threatening anyone who tried to step back into the streets. Seeing the need to demonstrate that freedom actually is conditional, they pounced on several youths, handcuffed three of them and drove them away in a patrol car. No Miranda Rights were given according to those near the incident. By now, the march route had no perceivable direction. The momentum of the two groups merging, turned the march back north on State Street and away from its destination. The police intervention turned it again so that it was headed east on Monroe toward Michigan Avenue. At this point, parade organizers and the police got together and decided to cooperate. To the credit of the police, they began doing what they do best: control traffic. There were about 300 marchers at this point and the number seemed to increase constantly. Perhaps the police decided the better part of valor was to get this crowd to its destination as quickly as possible. Adrenaline was flowing now and the chants were louder. The piercing, yet melodic alto and soprano voices of the young women rose distinctly above the hubbub of all the other chanters. Finally the wayward group was united at the Federal Plaza with the third prong that had originated at Van Buren and Clark. Nearly 400 people listened to various speakers plea for justice in the justice system, elimination of the barbaric and shameful racism and discrimination that pervades our society and a cessation of police brutality. A roll call revealed that over 20 organizations were represented at the rally. Mumia Sidebar Mumia Abu-Jamal has exhausted the legal process at the state level, and Governor Ridge has signed his death warrant. Governor Ridge signed this death warrant knowing full well that Mumia would be filing for a new trial in a matter of days, and the death warrant would be stayed. This is the same thing he did in 1995 when he signed a death warrant just before Mumia filed a petition for a new trial in the state courts. It is a political step designed to mislead people and pressure the courts. Up to this point, all hearings have been in the Pennsylvania state court system and presided over by Judge Sabo. Sabo routinely 9 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  10. 10. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America denied motions for discovery and denied subpoenas for key witnesses sought by the defense. While Judge Sabo's actions were reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Mumia supporters have not considered that venue much more friendly that Judge Sabo's court. Thus a hearing in federal district court be Mumia first real opportunity to have the evidence heard and reviewed. It will also be Mumia's last opportunity to present the evidence and witnesses denied by the Pennsylvania court system. After the federal district court, all higher federal appeals courts will only review transcripts; they will not hear any new evidence. Mumia Abu-Jamal's case has been assigned to federal district judge William Yohn, Jr. Judge Yohn is not required to grant Mumia a hearing. He could simply read the Pennsylvania trial transcripts and issue a ruling. In fact, the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act is specifically designed to discourage federal courts from reviewing and overturning death sentences handed down in the state courts. For this reason, Mumia's defenders are encouraging people to write letters to Judge Yohn on Mumia Abu-Jamal's behalf, requesting that new hearing be held. They are asking that the letters be sent in care of Mumia's lawyers: Mr. Leonard Weinglass, 6 W. 20th St, Ste 10A, New York, NY 10011. Regardless of what judge Yohn does, it will be appealed by one side or the other. And the process will move much more quickly in the federal courts than in the state courts. based on a Prison Radio internet post by C. Clark Kissinger Cornel West Speaks at DePaul by Eugene Birmingham A standing room only crowd of hundreds, mostly De Paul University students, heard DSA Honorary Chair Cornel West deliver the 2nd Annual Frederick Douglass Lecture at St. Vincent DePaul Church on October 14. Entitling it, "Race, Justice, and Freedom in the 21st Century", he described the obvious problems of racism, market mentality and class division. Wealth in so few hands will lead eventually to social collapse. West illustrated his points by tracing the history of Afro-American struggle, including the roles of Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and George Washington Carver. Not so obvious are the issues he called tradition and what it means to be human. People live in their own worlds, choosing the tradition which defines for them what it means to be human. Lacking is a sense of life as a whole, in which all participate. The question demanding an answer is whether or not our understanding of being human has what it takes to deal with classism and racism. The challenge is to become race transcendent, by which he means not denying racism, but working through it to moral connection at the human level. Our tradition of choice must be put second to becoming human. He did not define "human" in a few words, but left the implication that it means what all people have in common, practiced by a sense of self-respect and self love which allows us to give and receive respect and love to and from others. That is a challenge for both the 10 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  11. 11. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America powerful and the powerless. West concluded that he is neither optimistic or pessimistic about the future, but hopeful. If enough of us reject the tradition based on race, class and other personal goals, and choose instead the tradition of a common humanity, emphasizing equality, respect and love, there is hope for its achievement. The past tells us it is never easy, but always possible. The lecture was, in part, sermon, preaching hope to the choir: hope that a human future is possible, though not inevitable, for those willing to dedicate themselves it. Chicago's Voice of Labor by Will Kelley WCFL: Chicago's Voice of Labor, 1926-78. by Nathan Godfried, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997. 390 pages, $19.95 softcover cartoon Even before moving to Chicago I was aware, albeit vaguely, of the existence of WCFL-AM. Then one day in the late 1970s, while I was scouring the record bins of resale shops, I found a gem: WCFL's Big 10 Summer Gold. With a sticker that said STEREO, and announcing that "WCFL is Chicago," it was a gold mine of top forty hits from the mid- to late sixties: The Turtles ("Happy Together"), Tommy James and the Shondells ("I Think We're Alone Now"), The Soul Survivors ("Expressway to Your Heart"), The Association ("Cherish"), Sam & Dave ("Hold On, I'm Coming'"), and more! With photographs of the air staff, including Joel Sebastian, Dick Biondi, and others, all wearing sweatshirts that prominently featured the WCFL logo, it was a product of a time and place that deserved to be remembered. I've never had the heart to get rid of it. It was only later, when I was doing research that involved broadcast radio, that I discovered that WCFL stood for Chicago Federation of Labor. It was staggering to realize that the Federation had once owned a broadcast outlet but then unloaded it at about the same time I was buying the record. How could a labor organization, with so few outlets for disseminating the message of the labor movement, have neglected such an outlet and eventually have abandoned it? Now, at last, Nathan Godfried's WCFL: Chicago's Voice of Labor, 1926-78, has appeared to try to answer the question. There are two distinct approaches to histories such as these; first, as documents that are concerned to set the record straight, and second, as readable narratives. As a document, WCFL is invaluable, and for everyone who is interested in the history of media it deserves a place right next to Susan Douglas's Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922. Taken as a narrative, its value depends on whether the reader is involved in one of the constituencies that might find valuable lessons in the debates that are described in the text. For those who have a little patience, WCFL will be tremendously useful; for everyone else, it might be better to let someone else take what needs to be learned from the text, and go from there. As a narrative WCFL risks being boring. Nearly three-fourths of the narrative is given over to the founding of the station, the years from the initial idea in the early 1920s to the consolidation of a new radio format a decade after the death of Edward Nockels in 1937. 11 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  12. 12. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America There is a reason for this, though. It turns out that WCFL was a fluke, a product of stubborn men who insisted that labor be given a place at the table and were not shy about demanding what they thought was their due. John Fitzpatrick and Edward Nockels, President and Secretary of the Chicago Federation of Labor, were not afraid of doing what they thought best on behalf of the Midwest's working men and women. Even at that, they were able to pull a chair up to the table at the last minute of the brief period in which the broadcast spectrum was being carved up and served to those who could make a claim to being a diner. It took a lot of gumption to insist that WCFL be allowed to exist. A great deal of the narrative describes, in detail, just what that gumption consisted of. Nockels, in particular, struggled to fend off mendacious mushmouth coming from the National Association of Broadcasters, actions of the federal government that would have crippled the station, and the insidious effects of commercialism. This made it possible for WCFL to be, by 1930, one of two "alternative" radio stations in the nation. Even then, though, WCFL was making compromises in order to survive. Then Nockels died. Fitzgerald himself had other, more pressing concerns. The result was a shift in emphasis and, after World War II WCFL became a cash cow. As Top 40 radio rose WCFL took advantage of this to draw down money for the Federation. Then when, as a result of the rise of FM radio, the cow ran dry, the Federation sold it. And that was the end of the Voice of Labor. The lessons that can be drawn from Godfried's work point in a number of different directions, and come mainly from the wealth of historical ironies that flow from the narrative. Nockels argued that the electromagnetic spectrum should not be considered private property but a valuable public resource. This is an argument that has yet to be won. Just a few years ago the Cato Institute prepared and published a paper arguing that the electromagnetic spectrum could, and should, be apportioned like real estate. Congress has been sympathetic, and at this time the FCC treats licenses like private property in all but name. Nockels also argued that labor could not rely on stations owned by private enterprise to provide labor an outlet for its message. History has shown this to be nothing but the bitter truth. Nockels further argued that stations could only provide the necessary independent voice if they made themselves free of commercial influence by depending on the voluntary contributions of listeners and supportive institutions. Judging from the history of WCFL, there is a lesson here for every "public" station engaged in abandoning its heritage in the name of "enhanced underwriting" that does everything but permit explicit product comparisons and "calls to action" or, in the terms of broadcasters, is only a hairsbreadth away from simply "buying time." There is a lesson, too, for anyone who has been watching with concern as the Pacifica Foundation, once known as "first amendment radio," has increasingly fallen under the control of social elites who seem to have been so long in the company of MBAs that they think like financial analysts rather than the directors of an institution with a mission. It appears that the only not-for-profit commercial stations to withstand the insidious effects of commercialization are those, like WFMT, where the mission of the institution is intrinsically connected to the content of the programming. 12 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  13. 13. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America Finally, Nockels argued that ordinary people were better served by a large number of small stations, which would then be forced to respond more directly to their communities, than by a small number of large stations. As recent industry mergers have increasingly homogenized the mass communications media, in many places virtually eliminating local content, this claim also appears to have the weight of history on its side. Now, though, the only ones left to carry the message are a scrappy lot trying to revive "community radio." They have been having a terribly difficult time having an impact because, aside from occasional coverage on public radio or a column in the newspaper, they can't find an outlet for their voices. No voice means no constituency and no organizational resources, and that means no political power to affect legislation or regulation. At least with the rise of the internet they can post their positions for anyone who has access to it. The use of the internet by advocates for "community radio" raises, then, the last lesson to be learned from WCFL: are the same mistakes going to be repeated all over again? All in all, then, a worthwhile book. There is one point where the reader might be warned to be careful. The AFL is cast in an almost entirely negative light. There might not be enough sensitivity on the part of Godfried to the delicate position in which the AFL found itself in the crucial years of the 1920s. That question, though, should be left to readers who have enough historical memory to make up their own minds. It does not detract from the overall value of the book. sidebar: Labor's New Voices At a time when corporations are once again fighting over the best way to carve up a new communications technology, will labor be able to do more than play catch-up? Several unions, such as the CWA, already have a significant presence on the World Wide Web, with a full and easily accessible, if somewhat bland-looking, array of material to help educate anyone who might direct their web-browser to the spot. Even the AFL-CIO has a reasonable site, even if it does seem to have been pitched at the level of a high-school student. There is plenty of information out there, at sites like Unionweb, the IGC's Labornet, and Union International Systems. Just providing information, though, isn't enough to keep labor from another "me-too." This is where may help. The AFL-CIO has contracted with iBelong to establish a program designed to give everyone affordable access to the internet. The AFL-CIO and iBelong have projected that internet services and payments for a home computer, with financing extended by the AFL-CIO, should cost no more than a total of $30 per month. By trying to establish an independent present on the internet, it looks like the union movement will not only help people who might otherwise not be able to afford access to the internet, it is also trying to secure for itself the kind of stable access to members that it has never been able to guarantee through the corporate-controlled print, broadcast, and cable media. But as a communications will this be any different than the monthly magazine that union members often toss directly into the trash today? Perhaps. The AFL-CIO expects to establish an ability for families to easily take action on-line, with links to legislators, regulators and others. Interactivity may make a real difference. Any one interested in contacting may submit a form through their web site or call 800-826-8288. 13 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  14. 14. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America --Will Kelley A Future for Progressivism? by Gene Birmingham The Future of American Progressivism, An Initiative For Political and Economic Reform, by Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Cornel West, Beacon Press, Boston, 1998. Unger is professor of law; West, of philosophy, both at Harvard University. The book emphasizes three main points: what is right with America, what is wrong with America, and a proposed direction for progressives. What is right is called the American religion of possibility, with its corollary, the willingness to experiment. What is wrong is the limiting of these qualities to the world of the individual and private business. If Americans were to apply the religion of possibility to their collective life, along with their willingness to experiment, basic problems could be solved. Three periods of American history illustrate the possibility of progress through public experimentation: the foundation of the Republic, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the New Deal. All were born of public crisis. Once those crises were resolved, in however limited fashion, America returned to a private approach to possibility, as both recent conservatism and neoliberalism so painfully illustrate. The religion of possibility has been poisoned by racism and classism, by a narrow-minded conception that public morality springs almost entirely from self-reliance and self-improvement, and by a reluctance to experiment with its institutional life similar to its experimental approach to private life. "It is not enough to rebel against the lack of justice unless we also rebel against the lack of imagination," say the authors. The challenge for progressives of any stripe ("socialism" is not mentioned) is not to do battle with capitalist assumptions, but to be willing to confront "the anti-experimentalist attitude toward the institutional arrangements of the United States. Such a confrontation is precisely what American progressivism must achieve today if it is to address the unresolved problems of the country." Two quotations will challenge socialist thinking: "The work of American progressivism today is to democratize the market economy and energize representative democracy.... It rejects the simple contrast between governmental activism and free enterprise, not because it wants to have a little of each, but because it insists upon having more of both." The final chapter, titled, "American Progressivism Reoriented", lays out seven experiments which suggest concrete ways of applying progressive thought and action. One that sets socialist minds to spinning is the advocacy of a consumption tax, "as through the so-called comprehensive, flat rate, value-added tax" to be preliminary to a second stage, steeply progressive tax. Does that get our attention? The challenge of Unger and West for socialists as I see it is whether we push for a program defined as socialist, or whether socialism itself really has become more a spirit of human equality and fairness, looking for new methods and means to achieve its goal. Unger and West call for the latter, creative thinking to address a world which has concluded that socialism in any form is simply out of date. 14 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  15. 15. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America Whatever Happened to Socialism: a Preview by Harold Taggart The failure of Socialism can be attributed to the right and the left according to James Weinstein. Weinstein, founder and publisher of the progressive Chicago periodical In These Times, addressed an overflow crowd October 17 at the Ethical Humanist Society in Skokie. The left claimed that Russia represented socialism, according to Weinstein. The right agreed that Russia represented socialism and asked if anyone wanted that type of life. The failure of Socialism thus can be attributed to the blind dogmatism of the left as much as to the ceaseless assaults from the right, Weinstein believes. He is elaborating on this theme in a book he is writing tentatively titled Whatever Happened to Socialism? He is having difficulty constructing the final chapter, he admitted, when asked for his predictions about the future of socialism. Based on the questions and comments that followed, the audience was composed largely of socialists or socialist sympathizers. There were non socialists in the crowd, however. One example was a gentleman who commented that capitalism was a prerequisite to democracy. Weinstein quickly refuted that claim. By coincidence, he responded, capitalists were attempting to shatter the static feudal system at the same time Enlightenment democratic movements were attempting to break the same rigid system. There is no connection between democracy and capitalism, Weinstein emphasized. Weinstein astutely fielded all types of questions and demonstrated a broad and deep knowledge of socialism and its history. He retired some months ago from his positions at In These Times. His book should be a valuable tool for all leftists. Other News compiled by Bob Roman Detroit DSA Detroit DSA's Douglass/Debs Dinner, held Sunday October 24 at UAW Local 1264, was a rousing success. 450 people jammed into the hall to honor Nate Gooden, Director of UAW Region 1, and Saul Wellman, legendary Detroit activist. Bill Fletcher, assistant to John Sweeney, was the featured speaker, pinch-hitting for Barbara Ehrenreich, who had to cancel due to a schedule conflict, and Horace Small spoke for DSA. Jerry Deneau, Secretary-Treasurer of the Graphic Communications International Union, presented the award to Saul Wellman. Clips were shown from the "Passing the Torch" film Judy Montell is making about Saul, including an amazing interview with the prosecutor who 15 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  16. 16. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America put him behind bars in the "Michigan Six" Smith Act Trial in 1954. The program chairs were Elizabeth Bunn, UAW vice-president and DSA member, Gerald Bantom, UAW Region 1A director, and Detroit City Council member (and DSA member) MaryAnn Mahaffy, who presented a testimonial resolution to Gooden and Wellman. David Green, Detroit DSA chair, led off the program with a detailed statement about why DSA and socialism remain relevant today. --Ron Aronson via DSANet October 22 Coalition The October 22nd 4th Annual National Day of Protest to stop police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation brought to together between 300 and 400 people for a noon time rally and march. As is typical of lunch hour downtown demonstrations, maybe half again as many people participated in total. The demonstration was endorsed by Chicago DSA and a small delegation of us attended. It was a lively, orderly, well planned event. Participants were predominantly young and people of color. The protest may have been satisfying as a cry of pain, but it's not clear that it had much to do with the actual politics of the situation. Socialist Party Nominations At its national convention in mid-October, the Socialist Party USA nominated David McReynolds for President and Mary Cal Hollis for Vice-President. David McReynolds, of course, is a peace activist long associated with both the socialist movement and the pacifist War Resisters League. He was the SPUSA presidential candidate in 1980. Mary Cal Hollis was the party's presidential candidate in the 1996 election and is a special education teacher in Colorado. David McReynolds is advocating a four point campaign, consisting of comprehensive healthcare for all citizens, a maximum wage of four times the minimum wage, an end to the policy of imprisonment for non-violent crimes, and peaceful spending priorities starting with an immediate 50% cut in the U.S. defense budget. The SPUSA, although still quite small, has doubled its membership in the past five years and has a number of new locals. In 1996, Ms. Hollis was on the ballot in 5 states. This year they are hoping to be present in 20. For more information, go to Illinois Labor History Society The Illinois Labor History Society's annual dinner is Saturday, November 13th. At this dinner, they will be inducting Joyce Miller, the first woman to sit on the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO, into their Union Hall of Fame. It is particularly apt this year as the Coalition of Labor Union Women had its 25th anniversary this year and they had their annual convention here in Chicago this past Labor Day. The Society's Dinner will be 16 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  17. 17. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America held at the Midland Hotel For additional information, call the Illinois Labor History Society at (312) 663-4017. Globalization Conference Canceled The Preamble Center was planning upon holding a conference in Chicago from November 12 through 14. It was intended to help develop some degree of coordination between the various campaigns challenging corporate globalization. They canceled the conference. In the words of Reverend Terry Provance, the Director of the Preamble Center's World Economy Project: "Several considerations led us to make this change. First, although we have received very positive support from many persons and organizations with which we have had contact in the past several months, we interpreted that support as interest and commitment to attending the conference. Unfortunately, we do not have enough representatives coming to the meeting to make it a cooperative strategy discussion among campaigns and constituencies. "When we began our planning in the spring, we did not anticipate that the World Trade Organization gathering in Seattle would become so important and popular. Many people are planning to attend the WTO Ministerial and can not attend another meeting two weeks prior. Perhaps a strategy meeting after Seattle would be better suited for many purposes." The video which the Preamble Center had hoped to premier at the conference, "Global Village or Global Pillage?" will still be available by mid-November. Copies cost $25 and are available from the Preamble Center, 1737 21st St NW, Washington DC 20009. For more information call Matt Siegel at (202) 234-0981. City-Wide Sweatshop Coalition After a slow start, indeed after some false starts, the City-Wide Sweatshop Coalition (CWAS) is getting in gear. A coalition of several Chicago groups, including the UofC Young Democratic Socialists and Chicago DSA, CWAS has made its focus a campaign against sweatshops in Chicago. Among their first actions will be a "Car Caravan Against Sweatshops". This will begin at 1pm on Saturday, November 13th, from the Jewel - Osco parking lot at Milwaukee and Ashland in Chicago. A rally is being planned for shortly after Thanksgiving. For more information, call Joan Axthelm at (773) 684-0736 or email or call Harold Taggart at (847) 676-8530. Add yourself to the Chicago DSA mailing list (snail mail and email). 17 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM
  18. 18. New Ground 67 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America Back to top. 18 of 18 9/24/2009 9:52 PM