by Martine Duval / August 2005
HARTFORD, Conn.—The recent general strikes in Bolivia, the increased involvement of the masses in the Venezuelan process, and the startling theoretical response to these developments by Cuban journalist Celia Hart were the subject of a large public forum here on July 23.
Over 50 people crowded into a room at the Charter Oak Cultural Center to hear Socialist Action International Editor Gerry Foley report on his recent fact-finding trip to Latin America and to hear SA National Secretary Jeff Mackler explain recent Cuban contributions to the theoretical arsenal of
The audience had assembled at the same time that the U.S. government was seizing computers from the Pastors for Peace caravan bound for Cuba with goods prohibited by the U.S. embargo. It was thus especially eager to hear of the mounting resistance to U.S. attempts to maintain imperialist control over the economies of Latin America.
Simultaneous translation was provided for those recent immigrants in the audience whose 12-hour workdays had thus far prevented them from mastering English. The frequent admonitions to the speakers to slow their delivery for the interpreters became an exciting reminder that the internationalism proclaimed from the podium was being enacted in Hartford in new and exciting ways.
This fact was dramatized when the chair interrupted the question and answer period to bring to the microphone a group of young Mexican workers who were activists in the Hartford-based Latinos Contra La Guerra and the Ad Hoc Coalition for Immigrant Rights. The spokesperson for the group explained that they had just been fired by their Hartford employer for refusing, after only 24 hours notice, to get on a bus for a two-week job in North Carolina.
In order to force their compliance, the employer had withheld two-weeks back pay and then locked them out of the two-bedroom apartment that he rented to six of them. A quick collection for the legal and political fight to secure their back wages produced over $400, and numerous people in the audience indicated their interest in becoming involved in such a campaign.
The “Cuba! Bolivia! Venezuela!” forum was part of a two-day socialist educational conference hosted by the Connecticut Friends of Socialist Action and co-sponsored by Socialist Action and Labor Standard.
The joint sponsorship was a recognition of the growing collaboration between the latter two organizations on several fronts—including the fight to end the occupation of Iraq, the need for a socialist analysis of the split in the AFL-CIO, and the desire to popularize Cuban writer Celia Hart’s thinking on the road forward in Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela.
Panels with speakers from the three organizations focused on these topics, as well as on the interest of growing numbers of youth in socialist ideas.
The conference opened with a panel on the fight against the U.S. war on Iraq. A speaker from Labor Standard presented a short summary of the socialist tradition in the fight against war. She described the efforts of the World War II era “Bring the Troops Home Now!” movement—a series of protests organized by U.S. soldiers unwilling to remain mobilized as a weapon against the anti-colonial revolution emerging in Asia.
Christine Gauvreau, a leader of Connecticut United for Peace and Connecticut Friends of Socialist Action, focused on the contradiction between the growing antiwar sentiment and the unwillingness of the leaderships of United for Peace and Justice and International ANSWER to unite and to develop a mass-action perspective that can mobilize millions
independently of the Democratic and Republican parties.
As a cause for optimism, Gauvreau pointed to the increasing number of Arab-American, Muslim, and Palestinian organizations demanding a seat in the leadership bodies of the antiwar movement.
That the most vulnerable sector of post-9/11 U.S. society was showing a willingness to come into the streets to defend their civil rights and to strengthen the antiwar movement with their analyses of Middle East politics “is something to celebrate,” she said.
Gauvreau concluded by reviewing the ways in which the Call for a Unified Antiwar Movement campaign (see the statement on page 5) has opened up a deep discussion among the ranks of the antiwar movement about the kind of democratic decision-making bodies that the movement deserves.
All the participants reiterated their determination to make the Sept. 24 mobilization in Washington, D.C., and other cities the largest yet to occur.
Maria Herrera and Jason Cain of Connecticut Friends of Socialist Action led a discussion about the fight for immigrant rights. Herrera opened by reviewing a series of emergency demonstrations held in Connecticut to push back the organizing attempts of the racist anti-immigrant group, the Committee for Immigration Reform, and the decision of immigrant rights leaders to establish a network for repeated mass actions. Activists were especially enthusiastic, she reported, because the last demonstration, in Waterbury, CT, was sponsored by the Central Labor Council and built enthusiastically by the Carpenter’s union.
Pending immigration legislation, such as the Kennedy-Lieberman-McCain Senate bill, she argued, tempts immigration activists with provisions for reuniting a limited number of families. But, in the main, it aims at beefing up border security and establishing exploitative guest worker programs.
Cain explained that the U.S. government used 9/11 to reshape immigration procedures in dangerous ways and to propagandistically conflate fear of Mexican immigrants with the fears of inadequate border security and terrorism. The secret detentions and registrations of Arab and Muslim immigrants initiated after the 9/11 bombings are now available for use
against all immigrants.
It is no surprise, he said, that Connecticut is seeing Latino and Arab and Muslim immigrants coming together in meetings and demonstrations under the banner, “No Human Being is Illegal!” He concluded that the fight for immigrant rights will increasingly be a central component of the struggles to defend civil liberties and to rebuild the unions.
The challenges activists will face in the fight to rebuild the labor movement was the topic of a panel led by David Jones of Labor Standard. Jones is the author of the recent pamphlet, “Where is the AFL-CIO Going: The Leadership Debate and the Underlying Issues,” which characterizes the recent split of the Services Employees International Union and the Teamsters union from the AFL as the product of an inter-bureaucratic rivalry.
Neither faction, he said, has a real strategy to mobilize militant workers in a battle against corporate rule.
Nonetheless, Jones projected confidence about the inevitability of a fightback, recounting numerous anecdotes about the ways in which local officers and members come to learn that the fight is international, that chauvinism is a dead end, and eventually take steps to engage in real labor solidarity with the victims of U.S. imperialism abroad.
A panel on the growing numbers of young people interested in socialist ideas concluded the official conference. Mark Ostopiak from San Francisco recounted the role played by Youth for Socialist Action in abortion clinic defense. Milly Guzman-Young of Latinos Contra La Guerra and Connecticut Friends of Socialist Action inspired the audience with her stories of working as a counter-recruiter in high schools in the Hartford area.
Christine McNeal from Youth for Socialist Action and the Militant Madonnas in Duluth, Minn., explained their approach to organizing young working women into discussion groups on feminism and socialism.
Aaron Donny-Clarke spoke about the Canadian student strikes against tuition increases. Youth for Socialist Action member Lucas Dietsche told of winning a socialist campaign for student senate at the University of Wisconsin in Superior.
Mike Rogge described the fight that YSAers are conducting with the farmers of Douglas County, Wis., to stop an environmentally disastrous power transmission line.
The breath of activity and sophisticated analysis of these young socialist activists was a powerful combination, and at the conclusion of the conference, 11 activists decided to join Socialist Action and to found an SA branch in Hartford.