Field Observations – USSF 2007, Atlanta, GA

Bridgette Portman




“Government as an Agent of Social and Economic Justice”



Organizer:  Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Young Democratic Socialists (YDS)


Date: June 28, 2007 (10:30 am)


Event Description: [From the USSF website] This workshop will examine how progressives frame the issue of government in their rhetoric about specific issues that involve an expanded role for government and in their conception of the importance of a robust, well-funded public sector. The workshop starts from the perspective that corporations have so much economic and political power as a result of thirty years of nearly uninterrupted right wing power that government must be re organized so that it is not simply neutral but weighted toward working people, unions, community based organizations etc. How do we advance the idea that government must have as an explicit part of its mission countering the destructive and disruptive effects of the so called “free market?”


Estimated # of attendees: 17


Composition of attendees (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, languages used, etc):


Attendees were polarized in age, with 7 individuals appearing older than 50 years, 9 younger than 30 years, and 1 in the 40 to 50 year range.  2 were black and 15 were white.  There were 6 females and 11 males.  1 attendee was Swiss-Venezuelan and visiting from Venezuela; the rest were American.  Of the latter, 6 were from the Atlanta area while the rest were from other areas of the US.  English was the only language used.  All but 2 of the attendees were officially affiliated with DSA and/or its youth branch, YDS.  1 woman videotaped the workshop with the intent to have it broadcast on TV or the internet.


Describe Panelists (name, organizational affiliation, union, country, etc):


Frank Llewellyn is a middle-aged white man from New York.  He has been the National Director of DSA for the past 4-5 years.


Emahunn Campbell is a young black man from the University of Virginia at Wise, where he is leader of the Black Student Union and YDS club.


Will Emmons is a young white man from Brown University, where he is affiliated with the Student Labor Alliance, Students for a Democratic Society, and YDS.


Summarize speakers’ main points and any debates that arose during the event.


Frank began the session by talking about the role of government in achieving progressive change.  There is not a consensus among activists about whether government is good or bad, and he hopes we can have a dialogue about it here.  His opinion is that corporate power is an “enormous elephant with its foot on the world” and is too strong for social movements to combat without the help of state power, especially now that the U.S. labor movement has been so weakened.  Instead, “We need to harness the power of the state to control the activities of corporations.”  We need a government that is not just “neutral” between business and labor, but one that actively governs in the interest of the people.  As examples of how government can be a progressive force, Frank mentioned civil rights legislation and the Great Depression.  Unfortunately, we have had a “pretty rotten government” since the 1960’s, and this had led the younger generations to distrust government, with some even calling themselves anarchists.


Emahunn spoke next.  He said that we cannot depend upon our current government, but must organize and try to change it.  He made references to both Antonio Gramsci and Martin Luther King, both of whom knew they had to change the status quo.  He also said that more black people need to be involved, but that they have seen government fail to keep its promises to them and this has generated skepticism among them about the role of government.


Will spoke of the need for a society where everyone can develop to his or her full potential -- this is his definition of socialism.  However, “history has proven” that the old socialist theories of central planning and a state-run economy are not good; instead, we need to use government to regulate the market.  Although anarchists disagree and think the state is always bad, Will argues that the state can be a force for good.  It is a mechanism of class oppression but it can be used to “repress” bourgeois forces.  There is also a danger in propagating a paternalist view of the state as something that simply gives us what we need -- it is necessary to find ways to use the state to empower people.  He mentioned the example of having the government give tax credit to worker-owned businesses.


Question/Discussion Time:


After the panelists’ presentation, the session was opened up for discussion.  An older white man asked how we can talk to people about government as a positive force when so many people are cynical and distrustful of it.  A woman agreed that this is difficult, and suggested that perhaps we might only get through to people when economic inequality becomes greater.  She said that although she was influenced herself by anarchist thought, she believes that some kind of representational system is necessary.  A young man suggested giving examples to people of situations in which the government can help them, such as providing universal healthcare (an example repeatedly brought up) and grants and loans for tuition.  The woman controlling the video camera gave the example of farmers’ markets on city-owned land, as well as railroads in France and Germany that provide good travel.  Telling these “little stories” about when government worked can help overcome people’s misconceptions.  Emahunn pointed out that conservatives use personal anecdotes like this, and the left should be able to do it too.


An older white woman admitted feeling “fairly frustrated” about the pace of change, and asked the young man from Venezuela “how you got your revolution.”  He replied that the opposition in the United States is stronger than it is in Venezuela, because although many people in the U.S. are poor, they are not in conditions destitute enough to rouse them to revolution.  The discussion later returned to Venezuela and other Latin American countries.  Frank noted that nine of these countries have leftist governments, and argued that we as Americans have an obligation to make sure our government does not try to impact these states in a negative way.  Several participants said that we can learn a lot from the left in Venezuela.  One young man, however, warned that we should not “fetishize” other countries, and should recognize that America will need to work out its own socialist future.


A slight controversy came up when one man argued that we should heed Engels and be careful not to reify the state.  This also generated a brief discussion about what the world “reify” meant, for the sake of the people who might watch the recorded session online.  The man who brought it up said that he meant we should not make the state into something godlike and beyond human beings.  He argued that we should not forget the importance of the people in the movement, who will need to organize and help themselves.  He also argued that we need an analysis of class that includes more than just workers and capitalists, as there are many other economic gradations.


Several young people commented about how government can help students.  A young white man from Michigan noted that the price of education has been going up drastically, and the government could help by investing more in public universities.  A young black woman described the poverty surrounding her school in Virginia -- students there desperately need more funding and better education; many of them do not even know the meaning of “socialism.”  Emahunn Campbell, also from Virginia, agreed with her that more funding is necessary.


Another issue brought up was military spending.  Frank argued that we need to cut back on the military budget in order to increase funding for social programs.  When these programs lack the necessary funding, they are perceived to have failed, further reducing people’s confidence in the government.  Corporations also profit off of war spending.


Were plans for specific actions or future campaigns discussed?


In the beginning of the session, Frank introduced the initial draft of a document, “Toward an Economic Justice Agenda,” that is a project of DSA.  According to the document, “Our hope is that this project can lead to a consensual economic justice program that a broad coalition of left and progressive groups will eventually coalesce behind.”  This is still an evolving document, and Frank invited us to give our comments and feedback on it.  The specific goals listed in the Agenda include a single-payer national health insurance system, increased funding for education, and stronger rights for workers in the workplace.


Were any cross-movement or transnational networks or coalitions discussed?


They were not directly discussed; however, one man suggested to the Venezuelan attendee that DSA should invite a group of Venezuelan workers here to the U.S. to talk about their experiences in the worker cooperative movement.  The Venezuelan young man responded that they were already thinking about having such exchanges.


Describe any evidence of networking you see among attendees.


No contact sheet was passed around, but in the beginning of the session all of the attendees took turns briefly introducing themselves, giving their names and group affiliations.  Frank then urged us to give out fliers to people at other sessions, and told us about DSA’s staffed table, and about DSA’s publication, “Democratic Left,” which has a special issue about the Social Forum.  He also encouraged those who were not members of DSA or YDS to join up, and told us about a party planned for Saturday night.  In addition, there was a list on the table of all the events in which DSA was participating or organizing at the Social Forum.





There was no discussion of the USSF/WSF process itself.  The focus was on reformist change in that although the panelists and participants had an explicitly socialist and anti-capitalist perspective, they did not advocate achieving that change through revolution, and they seemed to envision socialism as a kind of market arrangement in which the state would act as regulator to restrict corporate power.  Indeed, it was difficult to see how this vision differed from a stronger version of welfare-state capitalism.  They saw a positive role for government, while acknowledging that the current government, including the Democratic Party, is not progressive enough, and that any use of state power must rest upon a foundation of social movement organizing.  There was no real discussion of international institutions or organizations, although the Economic Justice Agenda document does contain a section about this.  One woman did mention that she thought the U.S. needs to start negotiating trade agreements with other countries that protect the environment and labor rights.


Although 6 of the attendees were from the Atlanta area, the discussion did not seem to be much influenced by the location in the U.S. South.  Emahunn stated that cooperation and coordination at the national, state, and local grassroots level is necessary for the changes we need.  In addition, one of the points made by several of the attendees was that we in the U.S. can learn from the experiences of other countries, particularly those in Latin America, such as Venezuela.  There was a sense that these people identified as part of a movement that is larger than the U.S, perhaps even global in scale.



Frank Llewellyn (left), Emahunn Campbell, and Will Emmons (speaking)

“The US Working Class and Socialist Perspectives”



Organizer:  Solidarity


Date: June 28, 2007 (1:00 pm)


Event Description: [From the USSF website] SOLIDARITY will serve as the lead organization for a panel and discussion (two-hour session) to include representatives from publications and organizations that have longstanding involvements in the U.S. working class movement -- broadly defined to include trade union movements but also rank and file organizing, workers centers and social movements around issues that affect working people. Panelists will include representatives of the publications AGAINST THE CURRENT, the magazine sponsored by Solidarity; INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST REVIEW, published by the International Socialist Organization; and DEMOCRATIC LEFT, published by Democratic Socialists of America. (Other magazines are being solicited for participation, with responses pending at the time of submission.) Initial presentations will be structured to take no more than 40-45 minutes in total (divided equally among the panelists) to be followed by a brief follow-up exchange and then contributions from the floor. Speakers in the discussion period will be limited to three minutes to ensure maximum participation. The chair will have discretion and be positively encouraged to give priority to women, youth and peopled of color in calling on participants in the discussion. Panelists will have brief wrap-up statements. This panel will represent a diversity of views and strategic perspectives on important questions, while sharing a common view that rebuilding a class movement in this country -- a movement that embraces the liberation of women and oppressed people and resists imperialist wars, as well as fighting for economic justice -- is central to defeating the right wing and breaking the stranglehold of reaction on politics in this country. The presentations will take this framework as the starting point for an exchange of ideas on the openings and the obstacles to this effort.


Estimated # of attendees: 27


Composition of attendees (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, languages used, etc):


About 9 of the attendees appeared to be older than 50 and 6 younger than 30, with the rest in the 30-50 range. Two thirds (18) of the individuals were male and one third were female. The attendees were overwhelmingly white, with the exception of 2 women who appeared to be of possible Latino origin. One young man was Swedish while the rest of the individuals were from the United States; a majority were from outside of Georgia. Many of the attendees were affiliated with socialist and progressive groups. About 13-15 reported being involved or having been involved with trade unions. English was the only language used.


Describe Panelists (name, organizational affiliation, union, country, etc):


Dianne Feeley is a white woman appearing to be in her 60’s; she is on the editorial board of Against the Current.


Milt Tambor is a white man in his 50’s or 60’s; he is chair of Atlanta DSA. He also attended the 10:30 DSA workshop just prior to this one.


Ashley Smith is a middle-aged white man on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review.


Summarize speakers’ main points and any debates that arose during the event.


Dianne started out with some brief comments about the potential power of the working class in the United States.  If workers decide to unite and put that strength to use, they can paralyze the economy.  She gave several examples, including a recent protest by airline workers, the immigrants rights march in spring 2006, and a strike by Detroit bus drivers.  The idea that the U.S. working class has no power is false.


Milt, who has spent 30 years in the labor movement, discussed neoliberalism and its results -- the weakening of unions and the public sector, the increase of the power of global corporations, the undermining of the values of liberty, equality and fraternity, the mantra that there can be no alternative to a market economy.  He gave out some statistics about the deteriorating condition of the working class in the United States.  In order to reverse this, 4 things are important (these are from DSA’s Economic Justice Agenda): Restoring progressive taxation policies and cutting defense spending, establishing universal health insurance, strengthening the right to organize, and regulating the global economy to protect labor, environmental, and human rights.  The socialist message is that “The I exists only in the We” -- people need to care for one another.


Ashley explained how 9/11 resulted in a rollback of the “radicalization” of the working class that had been in progress in the late 1990’s.  The Bush administration, “with the willing cooperation of the Democratic Party,” took advantage of the aftermath of 9/11 to put reactionary pro-corporate measures into effect.  Since then, an international resistance to the US, particularly in Iraq, has helped to shake this “9/11 consensus,” and we have entered a period in which people are becoming more radical again.  However, difficulties remain, and we need to continue to try to educate and unite people.  Mass grassroots movements are still lacking; the left is still small.  Ashley said that much of the left was disheartened following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 -- even though it was good to get rid of the “bogeyman of Stalinism.”  What is needed now is to create grassroots networks of leftist movements, including the anti-war movement and immigrant rights movement.


Dianne spoke forcefully about some of the challenges still faced by the left: Workers have misconceptions about their rights, and “there’s not one voice in Congress” willing to help workers against the power of corporations.  Even unions are not much help, as they are too willing to make concessions and are not democratic enough.  Corporations use a strategy of “management by stress,” pitting workers against one another to keep them from uniting.  We need to focus on the issues that unite people in order to build a new, stronger movement.


Discussion/Question Time:


One debate that came up concerned the attitude of activists toward the Democratic Party and toward unions.  One woman complained about the lack of a party or candidate that really represents the working class, and thought that a third party is needed.  She also thought that the leadership of the labor movement might need to be altogether replaced.  Another woman claimed, “In no way will I lift a finger to help the Democratic Party” and criticized the AFL-CIO for not being close enough to rank-and-file workers.  Milt, however, contended that it is important to work within the Democratic Party, not as an exclusive strategy, but as one tactic.  He also to some extent defended unions, pointing out that they are sometimes put in difficult situations that require compromises.  Ashley did not think that the Democratic Party could ever be a workers’ party because it is too tied to corporations, but said that many of the people who support it do so for the right reasons and that we need to be patient with them.


Another interesting debate centered around the use of the term “socialism.”  An older woman wondered whether it is to use that term when people have so many misconceptions about it.  “Don’t say it,” one woman responded.  She thought that the working class is not radical enough to hear about socialism yet, and that activists should focus on concrete issues instead of getting “hung up” on the idea of socialism.  Another woman disagreed, arguing that people are interested in knowing what socialism means.  Later in the discussion a man expressed the same idea, arguing that it is important to connect specific issues to a larger vision.  He thought that the leftist movements in the 1960’s and 1970’s failed for just this reason -- they had no vision beyond specific issues to keep them together.


Were plans for specific actions or future campaigns discussed?


Milt, who had also been present at the DSA meeting earlier today, brought up the four pillars of the Economic Justice Agenda, listed above.  This was probably the closest thing to a specific campaign that was discussed.


Were any cross-movement or transnational networks or coalitions discussed?


No official coalitions were discussed, but other movements did enter the conversation.  Ashley, who has worked with Iraqi Veterans Against the War, mentioned the US anti-war movement and immigrants rights demonstrations as expressions of a regalvanized left, and argued that we need to build networks of leftist movements, particularly with these two.  It is noteworthy that both of the movements he mentioned -- anti-war and immigrant rights -- were framed as class-based movements.  He argued that the idea of “class struggle” needs to be expanded to include issues beyond the workplace.  He also argued that international organization is necessary and lamented that international resistance to capitalism and imperialism has declined in the last few decades.


Describe any evidence of networking you see among attendees.


No contact sheet was passed around, but in the beginning participants briefly introduced themselves, giving their names and organizational affiliations.  There was informational material provided and Milt invited us to share it with others to help educate people.  He also told us about an upcoming party hosted by Jobs for Justice.  In addition, Dianne made an announcement about a group of Iraqi trade unionists at the USSF and encouraged us to hear them speak. 




A middle-aged man complained that most people at the Social Forum are not connected with the labor movement.  The demographics of the people in this room (mostly white and middle-aged) do not reflect those of the rest of the Social Forum, which is largely young people and people of color.  He wondered how we can make this discussion relevant to their experiences.  A young man responded by saying that he had been to a workshop on minority unions, and the demographics there were very different, very young and diverse, but he agreed that socialists have not yet made their ideas relevant enough to a lot of people.  Other than this comment, the USSF/WSF was not discussed.


The goals of this group seemed to be somewhat radical, in that they expressed a definite socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal perspective, but there was no discussion of radical means to achieve it, and the change they seemed to be looking forward to was a gradual one.  When one man asked how we can build a revolutionary workers party, Ashley responded by urging patience, not to expect too much too fast, and that workers cannot become revolutionaries overnight.


As described above, participants had mixed views about the usefulness of the Democratic Party and trade unions under their current leadership.  Dianne stressed the need to make unions more democratic.  International organizations or institutions were not discussed, other than Milt’s mention of the need to reform NAFTA so that it includes labor and environmental protections.


For the most part, the issue was framed as a national one -- the struggle between labor and capital in the United States.  The location of the Social Forum in Atlanta did not seem to leave much of an imprint on the discussion -- Hurricane Katrina and its devastating effects came up several times in the discussion, but there was not overall a focus on the U.S. South.  There was the sense that some participants -- Ashley expressed this most clearly -- saw themselves as connected to a broader, perhaps even global, leftist movement -- although not necessarily to the Social Forum itself, which for the most part did not come up in the dialogue.


 “The Struggle of Workers in the Rust Belt”



Date: June 28, 2007 (3:30 pm)


Event Description: [from USSF website] A workshop on "The Struggle of Rust Belt Workers" will address the devastating effects of U.S. trade policy and technological change in the Midwest. It will start with comments by a group of workers from the Midwest, who will describe how their industries were hit by job loss, and the effect this has had on life in the Midwest. We hope to have the participants in the workshop come away with a deeper appreciation of how profound the effects of globalization and technological change have been. We will describe how computerization has affected not just industrial jobs, but large numbers of jobs in the service and entertainment industries as well. We also want those attending to leave knowing that there are people urgently grappling with how to respond to this challenge. The workshop relates directly to the Cross-Cutting Themes of the U.S. Social Forum, in that the workshop will show the devastating effects of free trade and globalization. The biggest challenge we face is creating a new union movement to respond to a vastly changed environment. Our alternative is to empower the members of our union by educating them. Our strategy is to hold schools, develop a website, and use every challenge that the union faces as a teaching opportunity.


Estimated # of attendees: 24


Composition of attendees (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, languages used, etc):


A majority of the attendees were middle aged; 5 or 6 appeared to be in their 50’s, 8 younger than 30, and the rest in the 30-50 range.  None appeared to be older than 60.  About 13 of the attendees were white, 4 were black, 4 were Latino, and 1 was Asian.  Roughly one third (9) of the individuals were female.  English was the only spoken language used, although fliers were available in both English and Spanish.


Describe Panelists (name, organizational affiliation, union, country, etc):


Noel Beasley is the International Vice President of UNITE HERE.  He is a middle-aged white man from Chicago.  Noel provided opening comments, introduced each of the panel speakers, and answered and fielded audience questions.


Kathy Hanshew is a white woman appearing to be in her 30’s.  She is currently a union representative in Cincinnati and was president of a UNITE local in northeastern Ohio.


Jacquie Chapman is a middle-aged black woman who has also worked in the auto parts industry. She is currently a member of a local in Cincinnati organizing workers in the Liz Claiborne distribution center.


Kenny Harrison is a middle-aged black man involved in organizing workers in the Redcats garment industry.  He is president of a local in Indianapolis.


George Long is a middle-aged black man; he is president of a local in Columbus, Ohio that organizes workers in a Xerox distribution center.


Margarito Diaz is a young Latino man involved in organizing workers of 5-Star laundry in Chicago.


Paula Lenchan is a middle-aged white woman; she is president of a local that organizes casino workers in Southern Indiana.


Summarize speakers’ main points and any debates that arose during the event. Include discussions of problems facing workers, strategies for social change, etc.


Noel Beasley began the event by introducing UNITE HERE, an affiliation of unions that represents both industrial workers and workers in the service industry -- including laundry, food service, hotel and casino workers.  Many of their members have moved back and forth between the two sectors.  He stated that they came to the USSF to exchange ideas about the problems facing workers in both of these sectors in the “Rust Belt” (the upper Midwest).


Kathy Hanshew spoke about her experiences organizing workers in an Ohio auto parts shop.  The shop started out in the 1940’s.  In the beginning they made their own rubber and made it into auto parts.  They were a “Tier-1” supplier, but later they became a “Tier-2” supplier after NAFTA was enacted.  This means that everything began to be “piecemealed out” and the workforce was reduced.  They stopped producing their own rubber because the company they supplied to began to get rubber from a source using cheaper labor.  When the shop closed last December, the workers had nowhere to go.  Some of them had been working most of their lives.  This part of Ohio there was no other work for them.


Jacquie Chapman also worked in auto parts manufacturing; she described her work for Ford Motor Company starting in the late 1970s.  She described layoffs in the 1980s as Ford contracted to cheaper labor overseas.  She claimed that now workers in this industry are even worse off; she lamented that workers today make less than what they earned in the 1980s and that layoffs and plant closings in the auto industry have affected the whole region.  Part of the problem facing unions is that many workers don’t understand the benefits that unions can bring, even those that are members, and are afraid of the repercussions of speaking out.  “They don’t want to lose what they have, but they don’t want to fight for what they could have.”


Kenny Harrison was part of an effort around 5-7 years ago to organize workers in an Indianapolis distribution center for ladies’ garments.  The parent company was based in France, and this was an international organizing effort that involved trade unions across Europe and was ultimately successful.  Kenny, the president of the local in Indianapolis, described how company managers and supervisors hostile to unions have made the organization of workers “a fight and struggle every step of the way.”  He believes that the parent company in France is still bitter about the concessions they were forced to make.  He stated that his supervisors try to keep a watch on him as he goes about his business, and that they were even opposed to giving him a place to store union contracts and other items.  He claims that it’s also sometimes a struggle to convince fellow workers that their strength lies in uniting.


In introducing the next speaker, Noel discussed how UNITE HERE has made efforts to unify the significant immigrant workforce in the upper Midwest around the struggle for immigrant rights and respect for diversity.  George Long then spoke about challenges involved in organizing immigrant workers in a Columbus, Ohio Xerox distribution center.  Some of the workers’ lack of English proficiency creates safety and worker relations problems.  George claims that the company actually benefits from this because it prevents the workers from uniting.  There is a very high turnover rate -- the company hires new workers for several months, just until they start to understand and feel more confident, and then they are replaced.  “It seems like the company is exploiting the workers, turning the regular workforce against the immigrant workers.”  Long thinks this is a nationwide problem -- corporations benefit by keeping workers disunited.


Margarito Diaz spoke about the problems facing workers for the 5-Star laundry company in urban Chicago.  They are mostly immigrants -- 90% Hispanic (mostly Mexican) and also Eastern European and African.  Although the shop is unionized, challenges remain.  Most of the Mexican workers do not understand unions and have little experience with them.  The union is trying to educate workers about the issues relevant to them.


The final speaker, Paula Lenchan, spoke briefly about workers in Ceasar’s Casino in Southern Indiana.  Although there is generally a good relationship between the union and the management, they “still have to fight a lot for every little thing.”  Some of the workers are still low-paid and overworked.


Noel concluded the panelist portion of the session by reiterating that workers in the upper Midwest are facing a period of major transition.  Although the Midwest used to be a region that offered job security and a good standard of living for workers in manufacturing, now “there is nothing called stability.  There is nothing called job security.”  Cities like Detroit have been thrown into chaos.  He mentioned Michael Moore’s documentary “Roger and Me” as an accurate depiction of what job loss can do to a community.


Question/Discussion Period:


A number of questions were taken from the audience in the second half of the session.  Noel was the main panelist to answer, but sometimes the others joined in.


Much of the questions and discussion focused on UNITE HERE’s training programs for workplace leaders.  Noel described their “3 ½ Day” schools that use documentaries and guest speakers to educate workplace leaders from a wide geographical range.  They offer four or five of these schools per year, each training 20 to 25 workplace leaders.  A Latino man and woman who were involved with these schools elaborated on them.  These schools are also conducted in Spanish for immigrant workers.  Many workers that come from Mexico and Central America do not understand unions and do not want to be involved -- these schools help show them what the labor movement is and what it has achieved.  Noel noted that it is an “extremely difficult period in which to be a workplace leader of a union” and that these leaders are often being recruited and trained in “conditions of retreat.”  The union has a website, and many of the workplace leaders are able to use this as a resource for more educational material.  The use of video and DVD in these schools is very useful -- for example, they used a film about the Civil War and Reconstruction to give workers some background about racism; they also have shown “Unprecedented” and “Bowling for Columbine.”  Education “is the engine that pulls the train.”


While Noel was positive about these training programs, he was critical of traditional union meetings, which he said are really only perfunctory. Workers don’t want to come to them. The best way to really meet with workers is in the workplace itself.


The Latino man who spoke earlier about the training program argued that we need to have a debate about the future of work in America.  Noel agreed and discussed the declining strength of unions in the United States.  While a big section of the trade union movement wants to maintain the status quo, and another section wants to “go back to the good old days” neither of these options are possible.  “The question is what comes next.”  We need to decide what we want the future of collective bargaining to be like in America -- will it be strong, or will we go the way of Columbia, where unionists are persecuted?


Another topic that arose was how to go about educating average workers about what unions can do for them.  Jacquie replied that we need to talk to people one-on-one and inform them of the positive things about unions, to counter negative preconceptions, e.g. “they only take our dues.”  Noel added that the use of video and DVD as educational tools has been very successful.  Workers can be shown films during their lunch breaks or given DVDs to take home.


Were plans for actions or future campaigns discussed?


Several specific campaigns were mentioned.  Just before the panelists opened up the session to questions, a representative from Ontario, Canada talked about his union’s struggle against American Eagle outfitters, a company that is trying to stop its workers from organizing.  His union is calling for a boycott of this company (which they are calling “American Vulture”).  The representative passed out stickers and fliers, told about their web site, and urged us to fill out cards pledging that we would not purchase from American Eagle.


Also, during the question/discussion period a young man passed around a petition to “Repeal the Carolina Bargaining Ban.” A North Carolina law bans collective bargaining for public sector workers, which violates international law as established by the ILO.  The petition is part of an effort to pressure the state legislature to repeal this law.


Were any cross-movement or transnational networks or coalitions discussed?


There was no discussion of cross-movement networks.  Although the struggle for immigrant rights was a theme, this was framed in terms of a challenge for the labor movement.  The only discussion of transnational networks emerged in the context of the international struggle against the France-based garment company, which involved European trade unions, particularly French, in addition to Kenny’s union.  At another point, Noel mentioned sometimes bringing Columbian trade union leaders to his meetings, which helped put current struggles in perspective for American workers.  In Columbia, unions are persecuted and belonging to one can be a death sentence.


Did you notice any networking happening among attendees?


I did not notice any networking in terms of exchanging personal information, other than the petition that was passed around and the pledge cards for the “American Vulture” boycott.  One woman also spoke up and advertised a documentary about workers and globalization that her group was distributing, and provided a web address where it could be found. 




There was very little discussion of the USSF/WSF process itself.  In the beginning, Noel stated that UNITE HERE came to the USSF to exchange ideas.  However, near the end he also said that -- at least regarding the issue of resources for returning war veterans, one topic that came up -- we need to start coming to some conclusions at these forums and are at the point where we need to develop a practical program.  He did not elaborate on this. 


The session emphasized reformist goals -- although globalization and neoliberal trade laws were identified as the key causes of job loss, no one expressed explicitly anti-capitalist attitudes.


The role of government was not a major theme in this session.  When it did come up, it was presented as at best a possible tool to help workers, and at worst part of the problem.  Noel was critical of the Bush administration’s lack of accountability and expressed regret that Congress was unable to pass its latest attempt at an immigration reform bill.  While Noel did not support the legislation itself, he thought that it was good that Congress was discussing the issue.  He also mentioned that the struggle for universal healthcare is currently his union’s main political fight.  Overall, the attitude toward politics expressed here seemed to be one of engagement, but without illusions.  The only international institution mentioned was the ILO, in the context of the petition against North Carolina’s anti-union law described above.


All of the participants seemed to identity strongly with the labor movement and there was no clear evidence of identification with other social movements, a global left, or the WSF process itself.  This session focused explicitly on the upper Midwest and issues were generally framed as regional concerns, although there was an attempt to connect them to nationwide problems -- for example, the declining strength of unions in the U.S. as a whole.  One woman explicitly asked about UNITE HERE’s level of organization, and Noel explained that organizing campaigns and decision making is mainly done at the state level via state councils because workers primarily identify themselves with the (sub national) region they belong to.  Although globalization was mentioned as a cause of job loss, there was little direct talk about global-level processes -- the focus was primarily upon how workers in the Rust Belt are affected.



“There is an Alternative: Economic Democracy”





Date: June 29, 2007 (10:30 am)


Event Description: [From the USSF website] Another world is possible?  We keep repeating these words, but what exactly would that world look like?  More specifically, what might be its underlying economic structure?  Since the Reagan/Thatcher days, TINA has been the mantra: there is no viable alternative (to capitalism.) In Thomas Friedman’s words, “There’s only free market capitalism or North Korea.”  David Schweickart and Michael Albert will propose two contrasting models of Economic Democracy, both economically viable, ethically desirable alternatives, not only to neoliberal capitalism but also to the kinder, gentler social democratic versions of capitalism.  David Schweickart, author of the books 'Against Capitalism' and 'After Capitalism,' will discuss market socialism featuring worker-self-management of enterprises and social control of investment.  David Schweickart will lay out the model, argue for its viability, and show why it is far superior to capitalism with respect to inequality, unemployment, poverty, democracy and its impact on the environment.  Michael Albert, author of 'Parecon: Life After Capitalism' and most recently 'Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism' and 'Remembering Tomorrow: From SDS to Life After Capitalism,' will describe participatory economics, or parecon, a classless economic alternative to both capitalism and what Albert calls coordinatorism (including market and centrally planned socialism).  Albert will argue for the viability and merit of parecon, and also clarify some of its implications for current activist practice.  This panel will touch on many of the cross-cutting themes, including imperialism, internationalism, neo-liberalism: most importantly, what a viable, system-alternative to capitalism would look like.


Estimated # of attendees: 100


Composition of attendees (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, languages used, etc):


This was a popular workshop among young people; as high as 60-70% of the attendees appeared to be under the age of 30.  The number of males and females was roughly equal. The large majority were white; nonwhite attendees comprised roughly 15% and included black and Latino individuals.  One young woman videotaped the event.  The workshop was conducted in English, but a Spanish interpreter was provided for one (or perhaps several) Latino individuals on the far side of the room from where I was sitting.


Describe Panelists (name, organizational affiliation, union, country, etc):


David Schweickart is a middle-aged white man and author of several books, including After Capitalism.  He is a philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago.


Michael Albert is a middle-aged white man and has also written several books, including Parecon: Life After Capitalism.  He is founder of Znet and co-founder of Z Magazine.


Carl Davidson, one of the editors of, was the moderator of this session. 




Summarize speakers’ main points and any debates that arose during the event.


This was a highly structured workshop: The two panelists gave their arguments and then several questions were taken from the audience.  Carl Davidson began by introducing the session and the two speakers.  The first to speak was David Schweickart.  David started out by stating that he and Michael Albert agree on several things: Capitalism is flawed and must be replaced; Soviet-style centralized planning is not the answer; participatory democracy is a must.  They disagree, however, in their attitudes toward the market.  While Michael thinks that all markets must be abolished, David thinks that a competitive market for goods and services is okay -- it is only the capital and labor markets that are destructive.  In his proposed system of “economic democracy,” firms would be democratically run through worker councils that appoint the management, but these firms would still be able to compete in a market.  In addition, there would be a flat tax on all enterprises that would be invested back into the economy, generating “social control of investment.”  According to David, this sort of system would abolish the destructive aspects of a market system while preserving its good elements, creating “a democratic order genuinely responsive to human needs.”  Other elements of this system include a living wage and guarantee of full employment, a permitted small business sector, and “socialist protectionism” that shields workers from competition from cheap labor overseas -- with the caveat that proceeds from tariffs should go back to those poorer countries.  David believes that this system could come into effect easily, perhaps initiated by a progressive political party.  Of Michael’s vision of the future, David calls it “obsessively egalitarian” and nonviable, and claims that it ignores the problems with information and incentives that will occur in the absence of a market system.


Michael spoke next, introducing his vision of “parecon,” or participatory economics.  It is imperative, according to Michael, to create a classless society where people will not have opposing interests, and in which people do not have the incentive to be selfish.  He calls himself a “market abolitionist” and is certain that in 50 or 100 years people looking back on the present day will see markets as highly destructive.  Instead of markets, he foresees a form of planning in which worker and consumer councils will cooperatively decide what needs to be produced.  This is not centralized planning but a democratic, cooperative process.  This would avoid the adversity between buyers and sellers that is inherent in market systems, and ensure that goods are allocated not on the basis of happenstance or inborn skills and talents, but according to how much and how hard people work.  It would also avoid the harmful effects, such as environmental damage, that come with making decisions on the basis of profit.


Question and Answer Period:


The last 40 minutes of the session were devoted to questions from the audience.  This was also very structured.  Many people raised their hands with questions, and Carl chose nine who went up to the microphone in turn and directed their questions to one or both of the panelists.


One of the subjects that came up was the process of economic planning.  One man talked (rather at length) about Mao’s approach to planning and argued that there does need to be some form of centralized planning, in order to ensure that society is moving toward certain overarching goals.  He asked the panelists to respond to this -- what would be the relationship between planning on a local level and planning at a more central level?  Michael’s answer was that better results are achieved when planning is done in a democratic and participatory way, because it is the people themselves who know their preferences and what is best to produce.


Several questions dealt with the transition from the current system to the new one.  One man said “I hate to sound like a Marxist, but…” and asked about what sort of crisis could serve as a trigger for bringing this new system into existence.  Michael’s response was that we do not need the transition to be a “crisis” -- we would be more likely to end up with fascism than anything else if that happened.  Both he and David agreed that the transition should be a gradual one.  People cannot become radicalized overnight, but must be gradually persuaded of the advantages of an alternative society.


Another topic that came up was education.  After a woman asked about changing the university system, David remarked that it needs to be made more democratic.  Michael said that the university system as it now exists trains 80 percent of its graduates to be obedient workers who do not participate in making decisions -- and this needs to change.


Finally, one young woman challenged Michael by describing what she felt was an example of a successful market system, one created by a Buddhist movement in Thailand.  In this market, goods are community-made and the sellers do not make a profit.  Michael said he sees nothing wrong with this, as it is an example of taking a market and adapting it according to the values about which he himself was talking.


Were plans for specific actions or future campaigns discussed?


The closest to this came when David mentioned some specific reforms that should be fought for as a starting point.  These included more worker cooperatives, a capital asset tax on corporations, more job security in capitalist firms, and fair trade policies.


Were any cross-movement or transnational networks or coalitions discussed?


David and Michael both agreed that numerous leftist social movements needed to be involved in the transition to a new society.  In response to one woman’s question, David said that structuring the economy in a new way would not be enough to ensure a just society -- the actions of groups like environmentalists and anti-racists will be crucial as well.  Michael said that a leftist alliance should be formed, encompassing feminist, environmentalist, cultural, and other movements.  In this alliance, each component should recognize the importance of the others and realize that their own victory depends on the victory of all.


Describe any evidence of networking you see among attendees.


A contact sheet was passed around the large audience.  In the beginning, Carl invited us to visit SolidarityEconomy’s tent, and to pick up a brochure that had information about theirs and other related workshops. 




The Social Forum itself was not discussed.


Both of the panelists seemed to be moderately radical, judging by their visions of a new society; Michael’s was undoubtedly the more radical, as he called for the abolition of markets altogether.  At one point Michael talked specifically about the idea of reform; he said that reforms are not bad things, because they make people’s lives better. “If the left is critical of or rejects reform it means we’re callous and uncaring in the short term.”  However, he said that we are not simply “reformists.”  We want more than that.


The role of government was not extensively discussed.  David did mention that he thought a leftist-leaning government could help initiate the transition toward his new society, and Michael’s comments about reforms suggest that he probably agrees with this.  However, Michael had some closing comments that were highly critical of government -- or at least its current leaders.  He said that politicians lie about their objectives and do not follow through with their promises, even liberals like Clinton and Obama.  According to Michael, “the most rational [people] are the ones who don’t vote.”


One woman asked specifically about the scale on which these new models of society should operate.  Michael said that his model works best on a large scale -- the U.S. or the world -- but that it can be initiated on a small scale as a starting point.  David did not specifically say whether his model could operate on a world scale.  Neither of them talked specifically about the U.S. South.  Both men seemed to identify with a broad leftist movement, although not necessarily with the Social Forum itself, which neither of them mentioned.




Michael Albert (left) and David Schweickart
 workshop:  An audience member asks a question as the panelists listen and Carl (at podium) moderates



“Envisioning Socialism in the 21st Century”



Organizer:  Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)


Date: June 29, 2007 (1:00 pm)


Event Description: [From the USSF website]  Our organization's strategy is to build and organize a progressive majority, which would be the broadest possible coalition of progressive forces united around a minimum common program.  It would be a coalition of left and center, capable of defeating the right wing and launching the country on a path to peace, justice, and equality.  Our members are impelled by a vision of a socialist world, free of exploitation.  We should like to share our vision with the participants in this session.  Each presentation in the panel will be participatory.


Estimated # of attendees:  36


Composition of attendees (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, languages used, etc):


There were 16 women and 20 men in attendance.  The majority of the individuals were white, with 7 black and 2 or 3 Asian individuals.  14 of the attendees were younger than 30, 4 appeared to be in their 60’s or older, and the rest appeared to be in the 30-60 age range.  The workshop was conducted in English.


Describe Panelists (name, organizational affiliation, union, country, etc):


Ira Grupper is a white man who appears to be in his 60s.  He is a retired factory worker from Kentucky and is now on the National Coordinating Committee of CCDS.


Carl Bloice is a middle-aged black man from San Francisco, and is a member of the National Coordinating Committee of CCDS and editorial member at


Mildred Williamson is a middle-aged black woman.  She is a social worker and activist from Chicago and is also on the National Coordinating Committee of CCDS.


Jim Campbell is a middle-aged black man.  He is an educator who has worked in the Northeastern USA as well as in Tanzania, Africa.


Bill Chandler is a white man probably in his 60s.  He is Executive Director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA).


Summarize speakers’ main points and any debates that arose during the event.


Ira introduced the session and CCDS.  Although neither he nor the other panelists envision full socialism in the 21st Century, he thinks that socialism “remains a powerful vision for much of humanity.”  In this session he wants to have a discussion about how it relates to concrete issues.


Carl spoke about the global divide between the rich and poor, using the metaphor of “Richestan,” where rich people live, versus everyone else.  Globalization has created this gulf.  Although some people argue that it is inequality that fuels progress, this is false and we need a new economic system.  All workers should have economic stability, housing, and education.  He gave some statistics on poverty and inequality in the United States.  He recounted how he caught a “breath of fresh air” last week in Berlin, when two socialist parties came together.  Together they have 12% of the vote in Germany, which would make them the third largest party in the country.  This shows that the idea of socialism is still alive.  Throughout his presentation he quoted from several articles to help make his points.


Mildred spoke next, focusing on healthcare.  She made the disclaimer that a good healthcare system does not necessarily require socialism -- it is something we can fight for right now.  She framed healthcare as a human right.  It is part of a social safety net, including Medicaid and Medicare, that has eroded in the United States.  Local provision of healthcare is suffering too -- she related how in Chicago, where she is from, budget cuts have led to clinics closing down and eliminated training programs for doctors.  She supported the idea of single-payer universal healthcare, where insurance companies are cut out.


Jim spoke about education.  He said that the world is now experiencing a “second globalization,” the first being the slave trade, in which human beings were commoditized.  Today, government officials and corporations are having a negative impact on education.  There is an attack on the idea of education as a public good, with pushes to privatize schools.  The idea is propagated that schools must prepare students to meet the needs of the global economy, rather than to be participants in a democratic society.  Schools are beginning to use the language of the market, speaking of students as “consumers.”  Some schools are financially supported by businesses.  Jim argued that we should push for education as a civil and human right.  He described a group, the Young People’s Project, that is involved in the fight for quality education in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere.  He ended by giving us references to publications we can consult if we are interested in learning more.


Bill spoke about immigrant rights.  He argued that it is unjust that capital can move freely across national boundaries, while workers cannot.  He argued that immigration laws in the U.S. have always had a racist foundation.  He recounted an experience he had when he was 13 and saw the Border Patrol round up Mexican people in a movie theater.  He also mentioned a strike he was part of in 1967, in which American workers cooperated with Mexican farm workers.  It was “one of the first international demonstrations of solidarity.”  He stressed the need for workers and unions to cooperate internationally, and to resist the anti-immigrant racism used to divide the working class.  He said that his and other immigrant rights groups opposed the recent immigration reform bill in Congress because it was designed to benefit corporations that use immigrant labor.


Question/Discussion Time:


There were about 30 minutes devoted to discussion.  Michael Kaufman, the West Coast Regional Coordinator for CCDS, made an interesting comment at the beginning of the discussion period.  He said that even though some people might have come to this workshop expecting to hear about a vision of socialism, CCDS “is not interested in utopian blueprints about what might happen in the future.”  Instead, they want to focus on “the road to be taken to get there” and on the current issues people are fighting for.  This reminded me of the debate in one of the workshops yesterday about whether socialists should talk about long-term visions or stick to concrete issues.


One of the people in attendance was Carl Davidson, who had been moderator in the SolidarityEconomy workshop (see previous report).  He described his effort to build a “high-tech high school” in Chicago that would prepare students for well-paying jobs after graduation.  This project involved cooperation with a group of companies that would train teachers and provide equipment to the school.  He asked Jim what is wrong with this.  “We could not have done this with an anti-corporate strategy.”  Jim suggested that this might be some kind of mixed or transitional form.  Mildred agreed; since we are still working under capitalism, we do need to deal with corporations.  However, it is another thing for a school to have a corporate sponsor and be “wholesale bought off.”


Another question to Jim came from a black woman from Kentucky, who described the inequality in educational opportunities between whites and blacks and asked how we can make the school system more just.  Jim replied that racism is a problem everywhere in the U.S. and that parents and communities need to become more political, because decisions made about schools are really political decisions.  Carl Bloice made the point that the political climate itself needs to change.


The other main topic that came up was immigration.  One man thought it was ironic that the U.S. stole land from Mexico and how we “have the nerve” to demand that Mexican immigrants speak our language.  Another man discussed the history of the region that is now Texas, and how at one point Mexicans actually freed black slaves in the U.S.


Were plans for specific actions or future campaigns discussed?


Most of the discussion was about more general goals rather than specific campaigns.


Were any cross-movement or transnational networks or coalitions discussed?


Bill mentioned the importance of international organizing.  He also said that the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus has been a strong supporter of his group MIRA’s efforts to defeat anti-immigrant legislation.  As more Latinos come into Mississippi and South Carolina, he hopes that they will ally with blacks and create a powerful political force.  Jim described CCDS as an organization “bringing together disparate groups in the context of ideological diversity and forming a broad-based radical coalition.”


Describe any evidence of networking you see among attendees.


A contact sheet for a mailing list was passed around in the beginning of the session.  The panelists urged us to take the literature provided on the table.  Ira told us about CCDS’s “educational modules,” or study groups, and encouraged anyone interested in starting a local one to talk to him after the workshop.




Carl Bloice complained that the media is not paying sufficient attention to the Social Forum.  He thinks this was a political decision, not a journalistic one.  Leaders of this country are afraid that another world is possible.  Apart from this comment, the USSF/WSF was not directly discussed.


Anti-globalization and anti-capitalism were strong themes.  One man asked specifically about CCDS and its position on whether socialism will come about through reform or through revolution.  Carl Davidson said that they are a “pluralist organization” and have people on both sides of the debate.  Carl Bloice said that it is not possible to state a position of CCDS on this, but he believes that in the advanced capitalist countries, socialism will come about through elections and building political power.  This, combined with his comments about socialist parties in Germany, suggests that he sees government and political parties as being important agents of change.  No international organizations or actors were discussed.


The discussion focused on the United States, but panelists framed the struggle against capitalism as a global problem whose solution will involve workers around the world.  There was not a strong focus on the U.S. South, although Bill’s presentation did focus on immigrants in the South and much of the discussion focused around immigration.





Ira (left, checkered shirt) speaks at the CCDS workshop




Audience members applaud at the CCDS workshop




“Domestic/Household Workers Organizing in the US



Date: June 29, 2007 (3:30 pm)


Event Description: [From the USSF website] This session will be a multi-media, collaborative presentation of domestic workers organizing across the US. Domestic/household workers representing organizations in New York, Los Angeles, SF Bay Area and Washington DC will present on the conditions facing domestic workers in their regions, the strategies they have been organizing with, and the victories and challenges that have emerged. Some important recent campaigns that will be highlighted include campaigns to end diplomatic immunity for abusive domestic employers who are diplomats, and the NY Statewide Campaign for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Some important and innovative methods for organizing that have developed in this sector will also be highlighted including the targeting of individual employers, workers rights and leadership training programs, housekeeping cooperatives and negotiation trainings. Participants in the session will leave with a picture of domestic worker organizing nationally, as well as a sense of how domestic workers local conditions are tied to a broader political economic context of neoliberalism and migration.


Estimated # of attendees: 100


Composition of attendees (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, languages used, etc):


Most of the attendees were nonwhite, mostly Latino with some black individuals, including a group of 15-20 young African Americans wearing orange T-shirts advertising “Worker Memorial Day.”  A large majority were women.  There were a large number of young attendees -- it looked as though at least half of the audience was under 30 -- including several young children who played in the back of the room.  This was a bilingual presentation – some of the panelists spoke English and some spoke Spanish.  Headsets with earphones were available for attendees who were not bilingual.  When the headsets were turned on, attendees could hear an interpreter translate the panelists’ words.


Describe Panelists (name, organizational affiliation, union, country, etc):


The panelists were all women, mostly Latina.  They spoke for a short time each about the groups they represented.  Altogether there were 12 different organizations represented: Mujeres Unidas y Activas, POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), Women’s Collective of La Raza Centro Legal, CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles), Filipino Workers Center, La Senoras de Santa Maria, DWU (Domestic Workers United), Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, Damayan, Andolan Organizing South Asian Workers, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, and Unity Housecleaners of Workplace Project.


Summarize speakers’ main points and any debates that arose during the event. Include discussions of problems facing workers, strategies for social change, etc.


This was a very lively session with the atmosphere of a rally; audience members often clapped and cheered for the speakers, and several times broke out into chants of “ain‘t no power like the power of the people” and “si se puede!”  It seemed like the attendees came to the session as much to encourage one another to continue their struggle as to exchange ideas.

Jocelyn, a Latina woman and domestic worker, introduced the session.  The majority of domestic workers are immigrant and minority women, and include housekeepers, nannies, caretakers for elders, and others who work in the home.  Jocelyn discussed the problems facing domestic workers in the United States.  Since they are not considered “employees,” they are excluded from many of the legal rights and protections offered to other workers, including health and safety standards, the right to organize, federal minimum wage, and laws against discrimination based on age, race, nationality, sex, and disability.  She likened the condition of domestic workers to slavery.  Many domestic workers face mental and physical abuse and have very little recourse.  Globalization and neoliberalism has forced many of these workers to migrate in search of work and they constitute a growing population within the United States.  Domestic workers need to organize so that they can gain the power to secure workplace rights.


The next speaker, Alexis, from the Committee of Women Seeking Justice, discussed how the USSF not only allows domestic workers to stand up and be counted, but also to meet each other and learn about organizing taking place in other areas of the country, and talk together about what needs to be done in the future.  She listed the names of all of the organizations represented at the workshop, punctuated by applause from the audience.


During the remainder of the workshop, panelists gave short presentations on the work being done by their organizations.  Panelists were grouped regionally, beginning with San Francisco.  Two women representing Mujeres Unidas y Activas, POWER, and the Women’s Collective of La Raza Centro spoke about these organizations’ activities, including surveying domestic workers about the abuses they had suffered in their jobs, conducting workshops to teach them about their rights, and bringing a bill before the state legislature.  (The women spoke in Spanish, and even with the translation equipment it was a bit difficult to catch which of them represented which of the three organizations.)  A computer presentation was then projected on the wall, with images and voices of the women involved in the Day Labor Program of the Women’s Collective of La Raza Centro.  The group organized to teach domestic workers about their labor rights and how to report violations.  They want their work to be recognized and valued.  In addition to training programs, the group does outreach work to get people involved, as well as some protest events.


The panelists from New York included representatives from Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, CAAAV, Damayan (representing Filipina workers), Unity Housecleaners, La Senoras de Santa Maria, Andalon, and Domestic Workers United.  Each spoke for 1-2 minutes about their organization’s goals and accomplishments.  The woman from Domestic Workers United showed a brief film clip.


The presenters from Los Angeles included a woman who argued for the use of the term “home workers” rather than domestic workers because the former is a broader term; many people do not realize how much these workers do in addition to things like simply cleaning houses.  They are often cooks, nannies, gardeners, or companions to elderly people.  A representative from the Filipino Workers Center shared the case of Nana, a Filipina woman who immigrated to the U.S. because of the lack of jobs in the Philippines.  She was hired by an executive to care for his sick mother, but she ended up locked in their house, forced to do cleaning and take care of their dog.  After enduring constant verbal and physical abuse, she finally escaped and found the Filipino Workers Center.  She was able to file a lawsuit against her employer, which she won.  A Spanish-speaking woman from CHIRLA described how her organization presented a bill to the California state legislature in 2001.  The bill was vetoed by the governor, but the group is continuing to work toward its goals.


The final presentation came from Alexis, who spoke about the Committee of Women Seeking Justice, a group organizing domestic workers in Washington, DC.  This was accompanied by a slide presentation.  Alexis discussed how domestic workers are often told lies to keep them from reporting abuse and rights violations, such as that Americans are violent and dangerous, that other Latinos are untrustworthy, or that Immigration will find them if they try to leave their places of work.  Some women have literally been imprisoned in the houses where they work, and this group has physically gone in to rescue them.  One of the group’s goals is a worker cooperative where women can own their own businesses and be their own employers. They are also advocating a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights,” for which they have been fighting for 3 years.  They presented this bill to the county council and it is scheduled to be introduced this summer.


Following a song performed by four of the women, there were several questions/comments taken from the audience.  One woman brought up the immigration reform debate in Congress and the proposed guest worker program.  Alexis said that we need to make sure guest workers have same rights and protections as any other worker -- and that they will not be afraid to stand up for their rights for fear of losing their visas.  Several other panelists also commented on this topic and were critical of the guest worker proposal.


Were plans for specific actions or future campaigns discussed?


This session seemed focused more on educating one another about past and ongoing campaigns than about planning future ones.  One of the more specific campaigns mentioned was the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, advocated by the Committee of Women Seeking Justice.  Alexis also mentioned that tomorrow the groups involved in the National Domestic Worker Convention (see below) will meet to talk about how to collectively work together and move forward.


Were any cross-movement or transnational networks or coalitions discussed?


Most of the coalitions discussed were those among the domestic worker organizations themselves.  For instance, all of the groups represented in the session today are part of a larger meeting, the National Domestic Worker Convention, that gathered at the USSF to share experiences and ideas.  Although these groups largely represent immigrants, there was little discussion of transnational networks or organizations in other countries.  An exception was the representative from Damayan, who stressed the importance of connecting issues facing domestic workers in the United States to issues back home (Philippines).  Damayan is involved in supporting the movement for democracy in the Philippines, as well as the anti-war movement in the United States, believing that war is a tool the U.S. uses to enforce its exploitation of workers from poor countries.  Also, a woman in the audience mentioned a workers group in Peru that is connected to the U.S. group she is involved in.


Did you notice any networking happening among attendees?


There was a lot of talking going on in the audience throughout the event, especially in the back of the room.  It is possible that people were exchanging information informally, although I was not able to catch anything specific.  A contact sheet was passed around with spaces for name, organization, email, and phone number.  There were also a large number of fliers and pamphlets on a side table in the room, providing information about the groups for anyone interested.  One panelist from Domestic Workers United urged everyone to bring these materials to their communities, worker centers, and churches to educate people.





There was little discussion of the USSF/WSF process.  Alexis stated at the beginning that the USSF was a good opportunity for domestic worker groups to make themselves heard, share ideas, and learn about the work being done around the country by similar groups.  The rally-type atmosphere in the workshop leads me to believe that a key part of why these groups came to the USSF was to gain encouragement and inspiration from one another’s stories of struggle and success.


The demands of the groups did not sound radical -- although there was discussion of globalization and neoliberalism as a root cause of immigration and workers’ problems, there were no explicitly anti-capitalist views presented.  For the most part, the issue was framed as one affecting domestic workers in the U.S. at a national level -- the representatives from different cities across the country helped to underscore this.  The representative from Damayan did the most to connect issues facing domestic workers in the U.S. to global issues of neoliberalism and U.S. imperialism, which she considered the root of the problem, but other panelists focused exclusively on problems facing domestic workers in the United States.


The role of government was mentioned mainly in the context of bills submitted to state or local governments; the groups seemed to think that government could potentially play a positive role in protecting domestic workers’ rights.  Indeed, what they are seeking are the same protections for domestic workers that the state ensures for other kinds of workers.  International organizations were not mentioned apart from the World Bank and IMF, which the representative from Damayan mentioned critically.


I did not see evidence that participants identified with the USSF/WSF itself.  They seemed to share a strong identity with each other as domestic workers and as immigrants -- one that spanned racial, ethnic and national boundaries -- but not necessarily with any other social movements.  Although all of the panelists and the majority of attendees were women, there was no discussion of independent women’s or feminist movements.  The workshop was in general very closely focused around the single issue of domestic workers’ rights.



A panelist speaks to the audience at the Domestic Workers United workshop



 “Revolution for a Cooperative New World and Strategy to Achieve it”



Organizer:  The League of Revolutionaries for a New America


Date: June 30, 2007 (10:30 am)


Event Description: [From the USSF website]  This workshop will discuss revolution for a cooperative new world and the path to achieving it.  This workshop has the following goals:

  • To share our analysis of the economic and political situation – the technological revolution and the rapidly transforming economic realities: polarization of wealth and poverty and development of a “new” class of workers pushed down and out of the production process transforming the historical relationship between capital and labor within capitalism; and the political response of the ruling class – war, fascism and intensifying repression against every sector of society in struggle; in short social destruction in every aspect of social life.
  • To discuss the social response happening throughout U.S. society and globally to these crises, repression, and social destruction.
  • To talk about political strategy for developing a cooperative society and the relationship between the growing popular movement and the revolutionary process; and what are the tasks of revolutionaries in this historic moment.

The world today is in the throes of epochal economic revolution.  Transformation from industry requiring human labor to digitally controlled production requiring little or no human labor is the determining content of our time.  Electronic production makes possible an economic paradise of abundance for all.  Under capitalism, however, it fastens the chain of poverty ever more tightly upon the worker.  Electronic production is creating a new class of workers everywhere, ranging from the structurally unemployed to the destitute.  The new class cannot solve its economic problems without the public ownership of the socially necessary means of production and the distribution of the social product according to need.  Global unity is the condition of its emancipation.  A new fascist state form, the naked rule of corporate power, is arising to oppose the developing social motion.  Revolutionaries must unite on the practical demands of the new class and bring the people a vision of the new world.  Society must take over these corporations or these corporations will take over society.  Format will be short presentations and dialogue with League organizers and workshop participants


Estimated # of attendees:  50-60


Composition of attendees (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, languages used, etc):


There were more people at this session than there were room for; some people were crowded almost out of sight of the panelists.  The majority of the attendees were middle-aged, with about 7 younger than 30 and several appearing older than 60.  Roughly two thirds of the attendees were white; the nonwhite individuals included about 12 black, 1 Hindi, and at least 1 Latino and 1 Asian individual.  Approximately two thirds of the attendees were men and one third were women.  All of the attendees who introduced themselves at the beginning of the session reported that they were from the United States, although considerably more individuals joined the workshop as it progressed and did not report their location.  At least one was from out of the country (India).  Of those who introduced themselves, the majority had come from outside the Atlanta area.  The workshop was conducted in English. One woman recorded the workshop with a video camera and a man recorded it with a microphone.


Describe Panelists (name, organizational affiliation, union, country, etc):


The panelists were all members of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America.  Kimberly King is a middle-aged black woman from Los Angeles.  John Slaughter is a white man in his late 60’s from Atlanta.  Beth Gonzales is a middle-aged Latina woman from Chicago.  Marian Kramer is a black woman appearing to be in her 60’s; she is from Detroit.


Summarize speakers’ main points and any debates that arose during the event.


The atmosphere of this workshop was markedly different from that of the other sessions I attended.  It was more tense and conflictual, with a sense of frustrated urgency among many of the audience members that I generally had not seen prior to this one.  I would describe this as a session where the audience members nearly “took over.”  They seemed unsatisfied with the panelists’ statements and eager to have their own voices heard.  The audience members who raised their hands to speak often sounded passionate, intense and angry; some even came to the point of near shouting.  All of the speakers got applause and there was often laughter, but the sense of tension seemed to persist.  I think one thing that may have contributed to this was the format; instead of having all of the panelists make their presentations, followed by a general discussion period, the panelists’ presentations were divided into three sections, EACH followed by questions from the audience.  This gave the audience members more of an opportunity to speak, and may have contributed to their frustration because they had not yet heard the rest of the panelists’ presentation.  The other thing that probably contributed to it was the nature of the workshop itself: It seemed to draw in people from various ideological standpoints that were united only in being “revolutionary,” while the panelists themselves adhered to a more specific ideology.  One of the panelists whom I talked to in the beginning of the session would not give me a straight answer about whether the organization was socialist/communist, although it became clear during the course of the session that it was.


Kimberly King introduced the workshop and said that it was to be divided into several sections -- the first would focus on an analysis of the current economic and political situation in the United States.  Then John spoke about the changes that capitalism has gone through in his lifetime -- from manual labor to an industrial stage to the electronic, automated stage we are in now.  This stage eliminates the need for human labor; it is “wageless production in a system that’s based on wage labor,” and has pushed millions of workers out of the workplace.


Following this, a young man from India spoke up, asking why no one has talked about the shift of production to the Third World -- it is workers there, not in America, who suffer the most from capitalism.  Marian Kramer replied that capitalism is a global problem and pits workers from different countries against one another.  John Slaughter agreed, stating that globalization creates a “global class of poor” that spans racial and nationality lines; this class needs to be united in order to combat capitalism.  A man from the audience who spoke later agreed with this: “It’s one big solution that we’re looking at here.”


The next section was to deal with the response by popular movements to this situation.  Marian spoke about the poverty in Detroit, where she is from; people are losing jobs, schools are being closed, young people are joining gangs.  She thought that there needs to be a new political party to represent the working class.  A black man from the audience asked about the struggle against racism and white supremacy, which are props of capitalism.  Marian replied that in Detroit, nationalism is an even bigger problem than racism, and that corporations use both racism and nationalism to divide workers: “It’s a class question that we are facing.”  The audience member was not satisfied with this answer.  John added that “racism is an artificial division” created to keep the working class divided, and that we need to work to build unity across color lines.  Another black man from the audience then asked about imperialism, and whether workers are divided based upon their location in the world economy (he used the term “core of the world system.”)  Beth Gonzales steered him away from this topic, replying that they (the panelists) want to talk about a general approach and how revolutionaries can create change, rather than which specific issues are important.


The third section was to be about the role of revolutionaries and strategies to achieve political power.  Beth said that society has now “caught up” to the idea that a revolution is possible and we now can start to talk about strategies.  We need a vision of what kind of future we want and how to achieve it.  Specifically, the working class needs to unite and obtain political power. 


By this point the audience seemed to be a little restless, and when Kimberly asked whether they wanted to open the session up for discussion, several of them responded yes.




Many hands were raised; everyone seemed eager to speak.  The speakers sounded passionate, and the rest of the audience often interjected with encouragement or comments.  The atmosphere seemed to become more intense as the discussion went on.  What struck me was the variety of different ideologies the attendees seemed to possess. 


The first to speak was a black man who said that we need to stop giving corporations our money, and that we need to stop arguing with one another and sit down together and get something done.  He seemed to come from a religious perspective, making reference to “our Creator.”


Another black man asked how much we need in order to say that we have achieved our goals.  Is it okay if the rich have more than the rest of us, or do we need absolute equality?  When will it be enough?  “When the working class has seized state power,” said Marian.  When everyone has enough food, health, leisure, and education.  Speaking forcefully, she made it very clear that she was fervently against capitalism: “To hell with giving them [the capitalists] anything.  I don’t want the rich to have sh*t.”  This was followed by applause from some of the audience.


One woman asked about what specific goals revolutionaries should have, besides simply uniting people.  What is the next step?  Beth said that we need to raise the consciousness of the movement and help it get political.


One young white man declared “I’m a communist.  Plain and simple.”  This declaration was followed by applause.  He urged people to read Marx, and quoted from him:  “It is not the consciousness of man that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”  This means that we need to focus on educating people, just as others before us have done, including Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers. 


Other suggestions for tactics included holding house parties with members of the community, calling on politicians to change laws, and creating community and worker cooperatives.


One intense young white man who seemed to be an anarchist stood and expressed disagreement with the audience member who had suggested using boycotts as a method of resistance to corporations.  “If it’s useful property, steal it,” he said; “if it’s not, f***ing destroy it.”  (This was followed by some applause.)  We don’t want “kinder, gentler laws,” we want to overturn capitalism.  He said he was not advocating armed revolution, but holding signs in the streets does not accomplish anything.  He would prefer that people undermined capitalism through building autonomous communities.  A woman later responded to this, saying that boycotts CAN work -- if we all withheld our money from corporations, the effect would be huge.


The young man also accused the panel of attempting -- through worker assumption of state power -- to replace one oppressive mechanism with another.  John took exception to the idea that the working class would become the new oppressing class.  “What else has it been historically?” the young man asked.  John maintained that it would not be like the Soviet Union -- we are seeking not a new dictatorship but a genuinely democratic and equal society, the end of class rule altogether.  Beth agreed with this, stating that economic conditions in the world are different today from what they were at the time of the Soviet Union.


One of the audience members was Carl Davidson, who had been present at the CCDS workshop yesterday.  He argued that we should move AWAY from the idea of class conflict.  Not all capitalists have to be our enemies -- there are some who can be allies, like those he worked with on his high school project.  Marian warned him that the very people he had counted his allies would ultimately become his enemies -- it is still one class against another.  (Someone in the audience said “Amen.”)


Perhaps the most passionate speaker was an Indian man, who stood up near the end of the session and warned people with fervent urgency that within the next 5 years martial law will be declared in the United States.  Our rulers have been setting up a police state since 9/11 and there is no time to lose.  “We need to understand that here at this forum, and we need to communicate that to the world!”


The last speaker was a black woman who very passionately stressed the need for affordable and subsidized housing.


Were plans for specific actions or future campaigns discussed?


The audience was divided, as it was on many things, on the kinds of specific actions that revolutionaries should take.  They ranged from boycotting companies to supporting the Farm Bill in Congress to forming worker cooperatives and autonomous communities.


Were any cross-movement or transnational networks or coalitions discussed?


The panelists seemed to see other movements, such as that against racism, as subservient to or manifestations of class conflict.  Not all of the audience seemed to agree; one young man pointed out that even if we get rid of capitalism, we will still have an industrial society and hence will still have environmental destruction.  The panelists also saw the U.S. working class as part of a larger, global working class that needed to work together. 


Describe any evidence of networking you see among attendees.


I saw two women exchanging business cards at the beginning of the session.  A sign-in sheet was passed around, and Beth invited everyone interested in more information about the League to take pamphlets and their newspaper, Rally Comrades, and talk to the panelists after the workshop.




The Social Forum was generally not discussed.  One white man did complain that “the vast majority of Atlanta is not here, is not at this Social Forum.”  He said there are many people who are outside of these social movements and ignorant of our ideas.  He is tired of seeing “the same people talking to each other.”  It is not enough to say that people should be united.  The left remains very divided and ethnocentricity is still a problem.


The attendees seemed to all have radical views, but not necessarily the same ones.  The panelists supported what was clearly a radical socialist perspective that entailed the seizure of state power by workers.  The audience members were more divided.  The Indian man and the young reader of Marx proclaimed themselves to be communists, while the young anarchist was very radical, but skeptical of any use of state power.  Carl seemed more reformist, in that he did not want to talk about class conflict.


Their attitude toward current political parties was negative.  One man said that he did not trust the Democratic Party.  Marian and Beth said that we need a new political party that represents workers.


The issue of creating a new society was framed as one that involves the world; the participants (particularly the panelists) seemed to identify as members of a global working class that is all exploited by capitalism.  The discussion did not focus around the U.S. South.  One woman did bring up the issue of Katrina and asked why the government did not respond they way it should have to that disaster.  Kimberly’s response was to tie this into capitalism in general, which at this stage in its development does not need those people in New Orleans. 


This was a loud, animated and altogether very interesting workshop session.  The impression I came away with is that the radical left is still very disunited, despite the desire by everyone to unite, but that the process of at least beginning to talk these things out is being facilitated here at the Social Forum.


From left to right:  John Slaughter, Kimberly King, Marian Kramer, Beth Gonzales





An audience member speaks at the League of Revolutionaries workshop

“Revolutionary Answer to Divisions Among the Oppressed”



Organizer:  Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)


Date: June 30, 2007 (1:00 pm)


Event Description: [From the USSF website]  The proletariat is an international class -- it is highly socialized and more connected than it has ever been -- yet the ruling class works overtime to keep the masses of proletarians from seeing their common interest and their mission as a class.  They create desperate conditions in the communities and force the masses to compete against each other for jobs and survival.  They spew out racist ideas that lie about people’s cultures.  They try and conceal what proletarians from different nationalities have in common and the real strength that exists in their differences.  Potentially they are the grave diggers of capitalism -- but this potential is concealed, both from society at large and even from the multinational proletariat itself.  Historical and continuing national oppression and sharp conditions of inequality, along with constant ideological barrage of white supremacy have given rise to real national divisions within the US proletariat.  Combating this is a crucial part of the revolutionary struggle.  Travis Morales and Carl Dix will discuss revolutionary strategies in overcoming these divisions. How does the multinational proletariat build the struggle against national oppression and bring forward emancipators of humanity?


Estimated # of attendees:  19


Composition of attendees (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, languages used, etc):


Attendees were 7 women and 12 men.  8 individuals were younger than 30, 1 appeared to be in his 30s, and the rest were middle-aged.  There were 14 white, 3 black, and 2 Latino individuals. One young man was from Argentina; the rest were from the United States.  Of the latter, 6 were from the Atlanta area.  Panelists were prepared to provide a Spanish interpreter, but none of the attendees needed this and the workshop was conducted in English.  Copies of the RCP newspaper were available in English and Spanish, and a bilingual DVD was offered for sale.  One woman filmed the event.


Describe Panelists (name, organizational affiliation, union, country, etc):


Carl Dix is a middle-aged black man and a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party.  He was one of the “Fort Lewis Six” who spent 2 years in a penitentiary for refusing to go to Vietnam.  He is the co-founder of the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality.


Travis Morales is a middle-aged Latino man from Houston; he is also a member of the RCP and has been involved in fighting against police brutality and the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border.


Summarize speakers’ main points and any debates that arose during the event.


This workshop was devoted to talking about how to bridge divisions among the working class, particularly how to unite black and Latino immigrant workers.  For the first 15 minutes, an excerpt from a DVD was shown projected on the wall.  This was a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, who spoke about colonialism and imperialism.  He touched on historical events like the slave trade, Spanish conquistadors, the U.S. war on Mexico, and the Cherokee Trail of Tears, as well as recent issues like the establishment of maquiladoras on the U.S.-Mexican border and the exploitation of Mexican workers.  The capitalist world economy, dominated by the U.S, has forced people to immigrate here in search of work.  Here they are exploited, persecuted, and treated as outsiders.  Throughout history, imperialists have attempted to keep the oppressed classes divided, but now it is time to get them to unite and overthrow the capitalist system.


Travis Morales then spoke about police brutality during the May Day immigrant rights demonstrations; he said that it reminded him of how black demonstrators were treated during the Civil Rights movement.  Unfortunately, a tension exists between Latino immigrants and African Americans.  Many blacks have fallen for the lie that immigrants are stealing their jobs, while many Latinos believe that blacks are lazy and want to rob them.  He said that he has shown the DVD of Avakian’s talk to black people, and that it has changed their thinking about immigrants.  Similarly, part of the DVD deals with the history of black oppression in the U.S, and showing it to Latino immigrants has enlightened their understanding of black people.  People must be educated so that they understand that capitalism exploits both blacks and Latinos, and that they have a shared interest in achieving a new world.  Blacks, Latinos, and whites should all struggle together for revolution, united with the international proletariat.  “Another world is possible, and another U.S. is necessary, and we need a revolution to get there.”


Carl Dix became a revolutionary in prison, after he refused to go to Vietnam.  He urged us to oppose the Iraq War now, which is another unjust war.  He thinks that “now is a very crucial time to be forging unity among these two important sections of people,” the black and the immigrant populations.  He related the stories of two woman:  Susan, an African American, and Maria, a Mexican immigrant.  They both lived in the LA projects near each other, but each had heard the lies and stereotypes being propagated about the other race.  Susan’s family had come to the region to look for work and had only been able to find temporary jobs as farm workers.  Susan was now unemployed.  Maria’s family had been Mexican farmers forced off their land by competition from large agribusinesses; they had come to the U.S. looking for work.  Although these two women both had histories of exploitation, neither realized how much they had in common.  They finally learned about each other during one of the “unity picnics” that Carl and others organized for blacks and Latinos in LA, where they brought traditional foods and learned about each other’s cultures.


Question/Discussion Time:


One young white man asked why this discussion was limited to only blacks and Latinos.  Carl replied that exploitation is not limited to these groups, but that they are two very significant parts of the population and their division is a problem that is particularly intense.


Much of the discussion focused around immigration.  One man asked for the panelists’ opinions on legalizing illegal immigrants.  Carl said that this is a just demand.  People are not illegal; things like preemptive war and torture are illegal.  Travis was a bit more cautious and said that we must be careful not to end up with a “legalized class of slaves.”  If we legalize immigrants we must make sure that they have full rights and access to social services.  A black woman in the audience agreed and said that the border exists only to serve capitalism.  National boundaries are “illusory.”


A young man wondered how we can best make this argument to skeptical people who still harbor anti-immigrant feelings.  The black woman said we should make the case that people are not illegal, the border is illegal.  We should make them realize the benefits that U.S. citizens receive from the work done by illegal immigrants.  She also pointed out that the law is made by the powerful, and just because a law exists does not make it morally right.  Carl agreed:  If a law is bad “then you have the responsibility to become an outlaw.” 


Travis discussed the struggle at Smithfield, a large meat-packing plant in North Carolina with a black and Latino immigrant workforce.  It has been a struggle to organize these workers because the company has tried to sow divisions among them, telling the blacks that the Latinos are taking their jobs, and telling the Latinos that they work harder than the blacks.  This is an example of the kind of thing we are dealing with. 


A young man from Argentina said that we need to emphasize to people that immigrants are forced to come here to the U.S.  They come because there is no way to succeed economically in their home countries.  They come not because they want to, but because they must.  This was his own experience.


A young white man commented about the strategic use of fear by the Bush administration -- Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and now immigrants stealing our jobs.  They benefit from this “divide and conquer” methodology.  Carl agreed and said that this has a long history.


Were plans for specific actions or future campaigns discussed?


No really specific actions or campaigns were discussed, other than legalizing illegal immigrants.


Were any cross-movement or transnational networks or coalitions discussed?


The session was focused on uniting blacks and Latino immigrants, but both Travis and Carl portrayed this union as part of a larger struggle against capitalism that would involve people of all races and in different countries -- a “struggle of humanity for liberation.”  The struggles of black people and of immigrants were both framed as ultimately class issues. 


Describe any evidence of networking you see among attendees.


A contact sheet was passed around.  Carl invited people to get on the mailing list if they want to know more about RCP’s program.  Travis made an announcement about a Venezuela workshop being held later today.  He also urged us to buy the DVD and set up showings for people in our organizations, schools, and communities.




One man noted that many workshops at the USSF have dealt with overcoming division, and asked whether this session was saying the same thing or something unique.  Travis replied that he supports the other sessions and that they are all united on the theme “Another world is possible; another U.S. is necessary.”  But he said that what this session brings is basis around which people can unite -- the need for revolution and a communist future.  Some of the other workshops have not done enough to emphasize the common cause that people have.


The panelists were for radical change; anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and the need for revolution were strong themes.  They did not discuss through what specific means this revolution would take place.  The panelists and attendees were very critical of the Bush administration, but it was not entirely clear what role they thought government itself should play in creating a better world.  International institutions like NAFTA were brought up only in the context of how they contribute to exploitation.


Although 6 of the 19 attendees were from Atlanta, there was not a focus on the U.S. South.  One man did bring up the issue of Katrina and complained that even some progressive groups bought into the anti-immigrant arguments in the aftermath of the hurricane.  He suggested a public works program to rebuild the Gulf -- this would ensure jobs for all and undercut the sense of competition between blacks and Latinos there.  Part of Carl’s response was that there are places all over the U.S. that also need rebuilding -- the sense was that he felt we should not focus on this one region.  The struggle against capitalism was framed as a global issue -- we are ultimately after a new world, not just a new U.S. or any one area within it, and the panelists seemed to identify with a global exploited class.




Carl Dix speaks at the RCP workshop




“Blue-Green Alliances: Labor Unions Do Work with Environmental Groups”



Organization:  United Steelworkers (USW), Sierra Club


Date: June 30, 2007 (3:30)


Event Description: [From the USSF website] Historically labor unions and environmental groups have disagreed with and distrusted each other.  While unions worried about losing jobs, environmental groups were perceived as wanting to shutdown polluting plants above all else.  But things are changing.  Misunderstandings from the past are being resolved as labor unions and environmental groups learn to work together.  Labor unions are learning to see the importance of a clean environment for the health of workers and for economic prosperity.  Environmental groups know that workers are the first and most exposed to toxic chemicals, and are realizing the value of collaborating with workers from polluting facilities.  Our interests can often coincide and especially in the current political environment, we must work together.  This is why the United Steelworkers (USW) and the Sierra Club have formed the Blue-Green Alliance nationally and locally in certain states to create “Good Jobs, A Clean Environment, and A Safer World.”  The Blue-Green Alliance has worked on various joint projects, including, for example, a test case to curb the trade of certain products made from illegally logged timber because it violates international environmental standards and undercuts the U.S. paper industry.

Our presentation will highlight an environmental and worker-health issue we are working on locally and nationally.  With other environmental, labor and community groups, USW and Sierra Club are working to pressure the DuPont company to phase out a toxic chemical known as the Teflon-chemical or PFOA.  While pushing for the clean up of waterways and drinking water contaminated with PFOA, our combined pressure on the company will also protect USW workers who work with PFOA-related products.  What’s even more interesting is that the coalition understands that labor issues also exist at DuPont and the groups have come together to draw attention to pension and retiree issues that on the surface seem separate from environmental concerns.


Estimated # of attendees: 25


Composition of attendees (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, languages used, etc):


There were 12 women and 13 men at this event.  Roughly half of the attendees appeared to be under 30, with the rest middle-aged.  Four were Latino and the rest were white.  Two of the participants, a man and a woman, were French Canadian and spoke with French accents; everyone else who spoke sounded American.  Many of the attendees were affiliated with either labor or environmental organizations.  The workshop was conducted in English.


Describe Panelists (name, organizational affiliation, union, country, etc):


The presenters were Amy Dreeke, a young white woman affiliated with United Steelworkers, and Joshua Low, a young white man affiliated with the Sierra Club.





Summarize speakers’ main points and any debates that arose during the event. Include discussions of problems facing workers, strategies for social change, etc.


Due to transportation problems I arrived at this workshop about 30 minutes late, and missed most of the panelists’ presentation.  Amy fortunately provided me with a PowerPoint version of the presentation that she said she and Josh followed very closely.  What follows is a summary constructed from the PowerPoint slides.


United Steelworkers (USW) and Sierra Club presidents, Carl Pope and Leo Gerard, recently came together to sign a formal agreement creating the Blue-Green Alliance, committed to working toward fair trade, clean energy, reducing global warming, and reducing toxic chemicals.  USW is the largest industrial union in the United States and Canada, and the Sierra Club is the largest and oldest grassroots environmental organization in the U.S.  Recently the Alliance has worked together in New Orleans to reduce toxic metals in the soil following Hurricane Katrina, and sponsored “Stop Outsourcing our Future,” a series of town hall meetings in Iowa dealing with ensuring good jobs and environmental protection. 


Prior to this time, there was a tension between unions and environmental groups that has prevented them from working together.  Each has been focused on its particular goal -- jobs or the environment -- without concern for the other.  Environmental groups have sometimes sought to close plants without taking into account the workers there, while workers have stereotyped environmentalists as elitists.  Fortunately this situation has changed, as both sides have realized the importance and benefits of working together.  It allows for both more political power and the protection of two values -- good jobs and the environment -- that are BOTH important to American workers.  Unions can help environmental groups by providing information about where pollution is, as well as resources like money, networks of activists and organizational experience.  Reciprocally, environmental groups can help unions by informing workers about exposure to potentially harmful chemicals about which the company itself might not have told them.  For example, workers at several DuPont plants did not know about their facilities’ emission of harmful dioxin until the Sierra Club informed them.


The Teflon-chemical campaign is one example of the work that the Blue Green Alliance has done together.  Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is one of the chemicals used to make Teflon and other household products.  It has been shown to cause birth defects, and likely cancer, in humans.  When it was discovered that PFOA was contaminating the water around DuPont plants, the Alliance worked together to call for investigations and bring attention to the issue.


Question/Discussion Time:


Following the panel presentation, the session was opened up for discussion.  April first asked the audience what difficulties they foresee in getting labor and environmental groups to cooperate, and much of the discussion focused around this.  A middle-aged Latino man stated that he thought the issue of new plant construction could be a difficult one for consensus formation; in Houston, where he is from, a new PVC plant is being built and while environmentalists are opposed to this, unions think it means new jobs.  A young man who was a USW member replied that unions are more interested in plants where they already have members, not in new ones.  He went on to say that the AFL-CIO and the International are “very very serious” about labor-environmental coalitions and are constantly involved in trying to educate members about environmental issues.  A French Canadian woman spoke up about the conflict between labor and environmentalist groups in the Quebec wood industry, lamenting that “so far there’s no answer.”  What is lacking is thought about long-term economic alternatives.  An older woman described how her husband worked for years in a plant contaminated by PVC, and how when the union complained, the company hired temporary workers rather than cleaning up their act.  She pointed out how plants can move to Mexico or other places overseas to escape environmental standards in the U.S.  She believed that we need to seriously challenge the ability of companies to do whatever they want. 


One point that came up is the need to think about long-term strategies, like alternative energy and sustainable development, because some production processes simply cannot be made “clean.”  A middle-aged man from Kentucky spoke very expressively about the coal industry in central Appalachia.  “There’s no such thing as clean coal,” he argued, because no matter how we try to clean up the process, even if we make “marshmallows” come out of the coal stacks, the process of mining is fundamentally dirty and destructive.  Discussions like we are having now are “very needful.”  So far the coal workers’ union, United Mine Workers of America, has not been very willing to cooperate with environmental groups because they are afraid of losing jobs.  A woman pointed out that some activities, like mountaintop removal, are simply not sustainable and need to be replaced by development that is sustainable, which will require long-term planning, rather than simply thinking about how to clean up a single plant today.  Josh mentioned that the Sierra Club has been working in Minnesota on energy issues, seeking to create alternatives so that we can have renewable energy sources rather than having to rely on dirty things like coal.


Another discussion question that April asked was what sort of language or approach is best to use to enlist workers in environmental campaigns.  How do we persuade union members that they will not lose their jobs?  One young man suggested giving workers examples of places where environmental protection efforts were successful, but where workers did not end up losing their jobs, to show them that this is possible.  A young woman suggested getting mothers involved; they would be most likely to be concerned about the effects of pollution on children in the community.  Another young woman thought the issue could be framed in terms of the future -- pollution now is going to compromise our ability to create future jobs.  A common theme was the need to frame environmental degradation as a community problem that affects workers both on and off the job.


Were plans for specific actions or future campaigns discussed?


The Teflon-chemical campaign was one specific campaign that was discussed.


Were any cross-movement or transnational networks or coalitions discussed?


Apart from the Blue Green Alliance itself, upon which the session focused, there were some mentions of other movements.  The theme of a clean environment as a community issue was repeatedly mentioned, and one woman suggested making alliances with community groups.  Another woman explicitly asked whether there were any alliances between labor and movements like “a right to our city” that deal with community development issues like affordable housing good transportation.  One man replied that labor is often involved through community development corporations, but a young member of USW countered that workers rarely have much involvement in these things.  Another man in the audience mentioned being a member of a coalition involving labor and environmental as well as human rights groups.  One woman brought up the problem of environmental racism, pointing out that black communities often suffer the most from pollution, but no explicit links to African American or minority advocacy groups were discussed.


Josh of the Sierra Club mentioned that he would like to work with other unions besides the Steelworkers, such as UNITE HERE and service worker unions.


No transnational networks were discussed.  One woman did describe how she went to a worker forum in Venezuela and liked how they had control over their plants and made decisions based upon the needs of the community.


Describe any evidence of networking you see among attendees.


A contact sheet was passed around near the end of the session.  The Latino man from Houston asked attendees to sign a petition to have the government investigate cancer-causing chemicals near a local school.  The same man had earlier spoken about a PVC plant being built in Houston, and Josh asked him if he had ever worked with the Sierra Club and invited him to talk after the session about possibly building a partnership to take action on things like the plant.  There were also several fliers available with information about the Blue Green Alliance.




There was no discussion of the USSF/WSF process.


The attendees seemed to want reformist change and none of them seemed explicitly anti-capitalist.  The most radical may have been the woman who visited Venezuela, who argued that workers should have more control over their plants and that decisions should be made on the basis of what is best for the community, rather than what will make the most profit.  It would be interesting to know whether unions and environmental groups more radical than the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club would also be as willing to work together.


The roles of government and international institutions were not discussed.  The International of the AFL-CIO was brought up several times; the point was made that it lacks the power to force local unions to do anything, so that even if the International were to take a progressive environmental stance, it would not mean that local unions would be as willing to cooperate with environmental groups.


Both the local and the national seemed present in the discussion.  Attendees often talked about the particular geographical areas they were from, and seemed to agree that environmental protection and ensuring good jobs were issues in which local communities needed to be involved.  Much of the discussion centered around coal and the Appalachia region, but it was not limited to the US South and no one who spoke indicated being from Georgia.  At the same time, they also seemed to think it was a national (or perhaps even international, given the presence of the two French Canadians) issue that involves long-term thinking about alternative kinds of production, and that it is not enough to focus on cleaning up any one single plant.  The Latino man from Houston at one point suggested that environmental organizations should form a hierarchy on a national level, like the unions under the AFL-CIO, and that the AFL-CIO should invite national environmental groups to sit on its board.  This suggestion drew a little chuckle, and one man responded that environmental groups are too different from each other to follow such a model.  A woman then contended that it’s the same for unions under the AFL-CIO (they are different too).


I heard no evidence that participants identified with the WSF itself or with a global process or movement.  They seemed to identify with the labor and/or environmental movements, and perhaps with movements around human rights and community development, but nothing necessarily on a larger scale than that.



Joshua Low (red shirt, under the painting), Amy Dreeke (to his right), and others listen as a participant speaks during the workshop discussion period.