by Pete Brown
(CV #36, Sept. 2005).
Opening speeches- -welcome to reformism
The looming question: who to unite with?
General left politics and a debate over the Democrats?
Saturday night speakout and Sunday morning summation
Appendix: "Our Demands" from MWM
. The Million Worker March organization held a national conference in Detroit, May 14-15. Originally conceived as a founding conference for an ongoing organization, it was later changed to a "reportback" -- that is, to simply reporting on what MWM has been doing in different areas. MWM's national leaders opposed having any definite structure for MWM, and held that the organization should simply follow whatever they decided. And at the conference they gave time and effort to supporting the most reformist-minded activists, who were grouped around Workers World Party.
. MWM originated last year from some discontented union leaders of ILWU (longshoremen) from Local #10 (San Francisco). They called for a demonstration in Washington, D.C. last October 19 to emphasize the interests of working people that were not being addressed by the politicians during last fall's election. Some MWM statements denounced the Democrats bitterly and in ways that would certainly not appear in AFL-CIO statements. But their idea was to spark action and garner support from the leaders of other major unions. Instead, the AFL-CIO top leaders refused to support the demo and in fact tried to quash it. This created a certain rift among the bureaucrats.
. But the MWM leaders still placed their hopes in revitalizing the union bureaucracy. They wanted MWM to push it into action. We in CVO pointed out that "the MWM organizers posed the question of class independence, but dream of one day marching together with the traitorous AFL-CIO leadership." We pointed out that this split among the union bureaucrats was only partial and probably temporary, but we called for utilizing even small rifts, if they provided any opportunity to work with rank-and-file workers and activists attracted by the desire for class independence. We supported any positive step by MWM while continually pushing for a real stand of class independence, and we discussed the problems of orientation in MWM openly.
. CVO comrades in Detroit have been active in MWM-Detroit and in the struggle over the Detroit financial crisis, which MWM-Detroit is also dealing with. In our work we have sought to encourage every tendency to struggle by the workers against the demands for wage cuts and concessions. We have exposed both the capitalists and the leaders of Detroit city government (both mayor and city council), who are Democratic Party politicians. And we have denounced the treachery of the union bureaucrats who are opposed to a serious struggle and instead look to concessions and deals with this or that politician. But this didn't meet with the approval of the majority of MWM-Detroit. They make left-sounding appeals, but they refuse to tell the workers what the bureaucrats are doing. They also favor this or that liberal politician and close their eyes to those politicians' plans to impose cutbacks on the workers. They have not seen MWM as a way to encourage the building of a new and independent movement among the local workers, but as a way to spark action from the reformist groups of the past. This orientation has sapped the strength of MWM-D, which has declined further since the conference in May. And the conference revealed that something similar has happened to the national MWM.
. At the Detroit conference the politics predominated of trying to push the liberals and union bureaucrats into action. The present leadership of MWM is a loose coalition of the Local 10 ILWU leaders and WWP, which dominates a number of MWM's local branches. WWP even wanted to get the conference to endorse its plan for a National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities, where liberal politicians who have been demanding cutbacks from the workers, such as members of the Detroit city council, can present themselves as heroes of popular struggle.
. Supporters of CVO in Detroit attended the conference and worked to promote independent working class politics. Comrades there, some of whom have been active in MWM-D since last fall, distributed a special issue of Detroit Workers' Voice devoted to analyzing the direction MWM is heading (reprinted in this issue of Communist Voice starting on page 12). The comrades set up a literature table surrounded by militant posters carried in recent demonstrations. They spoke in conference sessions and tried to get the conference to consider the real obstacles in the path of workers' struggle and the ways to overcome them. These points by our comrades spoke to some unease among some delegates as to the path being taken by MWM, but no other delegates openly supported them. However, WWP did have to back down on its plan to get the conference to endorse the National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities.
. The Detroit conference showed that MWM has come to an impasse. But this is not the end to
rifts among the labor bureaucracy. There are already some new rifts developing, the most
dramatic being the recent split off from the AFL-CIO of the SEIU, the Teamsters, and other
unions of the Change to Win coalition. It's not clear whether these unions will do anything that
different from the AFL-CIO. But this split reflects a certain discontent that is developing among
the base of the reformist-led unions. Activists need to look for and encourage any striving for
struggle that appears in the unions without, however, having any illusion in the reformist
bureaucracy that dominates both sides of the split. The pro-capitalist union bureaucrats aren't
going to do the work of the class struggle for us. Even when they take part in a mass upsurge,
they do so to keep it within limits.
Opening speeches -- welcome to reformism
. The conference began with a series of speeches by MWM national steering committee members which set the tone of the conference. The first speaker was Leo Robinson, executive board member of ILWU Local 10, who made a few comments about the low turnout at the conference and especially the lack of youngsters. Robinson's comments about the need to train up young people in the ranks of protest movements were well received, but his pointed comments about the low turnout did not do anything to generate enthusiasm. Robinson suggested that the way to mobilize youth was to take up concrete demands of theirs like in the Fresno student strike in which students demanded more toilet paper in the schools.
. Next speaker was Brenda Stokely of New York AFSCME, who spoke about particular campaigns the MWM activists in New York have undertaken to reach young people: trying to organize a union of Starbucks workers, resisting military recruiters in the schools, etc.
. After her Larry Holmes of the Troops Out Now Coalition, which organized March 19 anti-war demos, tried to provide some overall perspective by addressing the leaflet distributed to conference attendees by CVO. This leaflet raised the question, "What path toward an independent workers movement? Build the rank-and-file struggle or illusions in the liberal Democrats?" Holmes had read enough of the leaflet to understand that it contained serious criticisms of the direction taken by MWM. Holmes confessed that the leaflet raised legitimate questions about working with politicians and union officials. He said there's a need to discuss these questions openly, frankly, and forthrightly. And he said it was a weakness of the movement in the past that it didn't do that. This was an interesting admission on his part since, as a leader of WWP and its various reformist coalitions, Holmes played a major role in these weaknesses of the movement. But after this Holmes immediately switched and started lecturing the activists that we must realize our leaders are under attack."We need to protect one another." Pumping himself up, Holmes declared our leaders are under attack because we are so very dangerous, such a big threat to the establishment! Under these conditions we must stay as united as possible and keep our criticisms within bounds. Thus Holmes ended up turning a big somersault in his speech; he began by pretending to be receptive to some criticism of the direction MWM is heading, but ended up calling on activists to rally around that direction.
. Next speaker was Clarence Thomas, another leader of ILWU Local 10. Thomas cashed out Holmes' general theme of "protect our leaders who are under attack" by citing the specific case of JoAnn Watson. Watson is a liberal Detroit city council member with whom WWP has been trying to build a coalition. WWP has concocted a new organization, the National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities (NCRC), based on an alliance with Watson and Maryann Mahaffey, the Detroit city council president. Thomas cited Watson as a leader to whom MWM activists should rally in support, saying she is under attack because of her solidarity with the working class.
. During city budget discussions last summer, Watson threw out some comment to the effect that city workers would be justified in going on strike against cutbacks, and this elicited some negative comments from some other city politicians. But afterwards Watson denied making any such comment and has tried to keep a low profile in further budget debates. Her main contribution to the discussion was to call a news conference last January at which she called for a 10% pay cut for all Detroit city employees. This was in response to Mayor Kilpatrick, who called for such a cut from unionized employees. Watson said this cut should be taken by all employees, including the mayor and his chief minions, some of whom are paid enormous salaries. Thus Watson extended Kilpatrick's call for a 10% cut into a campaign for "equality of sacrifice". But the point of that call was accepted by Kilpatrick, who in fact went ahead and imposed a 10% cut on non-union city employees. So now the only point of Watson's campaign is that she stands for exactly the same thing as Kilpatrick, for a 10% cut in pay for all city workers, including the unionized ones. Not exactly a radical or militant working class stand.
. Clarence Thomas mentioned that Watson has been a prominent leader of the NAACP, as if this were some kind of credential for a working class radical. But when was the last time the NAACP took a radical stand on anything? No, the talk about "attacks" on Watson was just a smokescreen to obscure the real import of Thomas' remarks, which was that he wants MWM activists to take a friendly attitude to Democratic political climbers like Watson. Thomas mentioned a meeting he had with Watson the day before, a meeting arranged by Detroit WWP leader David Sole. And he gave some friendly words of endorsement to Sole's special project, the NCRC coalition with Watson and Mahaffey.
. The concluding speaker of this opening session was Keith Shanklin, another ILWU leader. Shanklin came out with some sharp words of criticism against the Democrats, noting that they passed NAFTA and FTAA under Clinton, and said the Republicans were just puppets of the more dangerous Democrats. This sounded the note of political independence that had originally won the support of activists for MWM's march in Washington last October. But Shanklin did not directly address the issue of Democratic politicians like Watson or the NCRC.
. So what was the overall effect of the conference's opening session? Activists were told that they
should concentrate on concrete issues, especially among the youth. The speakers who addressed
this ignored general political interests and political questions on young people's minds; instead
the focus was on economic issues. These are certainly worthwhile and pressing issues, but the
question of political orientation is also important to young people. Who do you unite with when
you take up a struggle for toilet paper in the schools or trade union representation at Starbucks?
Who can be relied upon to help you? What forces will be sympathetic to your opposition to
imperialist war in Iraq? Larry Holmes said it was OK to consider those questions, but when all
was said and done we should simply unite with "our leaders." Clarence Thomas then clarified
who was included in "our leaders": politicians like Watson and Mahaffey who have any
reputation for liberalism. Shanklin threw in a general qualifier, to be wary of jumping on the
bandwagon of the Democrats, but still the impression was left that activists should hook up with
any establishment politician who makes a show of support for popular causes.
The looming question: Who to unite with?
. After this there a series of reports from local areas: Detroit, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the Bay Area. Activists from these localities reported on actions they have been involved in. Detroit: against budget cuts, March 19 anti-war. Baltimore: March 19, lead in water, funding for schools, police brutality. L.A.: saving inner-city hospital, May Day. Bay Area: schools funding. In all of these reports there loomed the question of how to build a movement and who to unite with to do it. The Detroit report mentioned that the question of relating to city council members had been debated there. And the activist who reported on Detroit advocated that MWM should work on building a new political party independent of the Republicans and Democrats. He said the Labor Party had failed because of opposition from the AFL-CIO and because it was reluctant to run candidates in elections, and that MWM should not make the same mistakes. The reporter from Baltimore said they had tried to get SEIU involved in community issues, but SEIU leaders were reluctant. So there was a question of how to relate to the SEIU labor bureaucrats. The reporter from Los Angeles talked about building a coalition with religious organizations and what he called "the better part of the Democratic Party." The reporter talked about trying to put a labor face on political issues by getting union leaders involved, such as those from USLAW. His conception was that MWM should act as a kind of local steering committee directing unions to participate in community issues, but he's had limited success getting unions involved. The reporter from Bay Area also complained about the lack of activity of local public sector unions in the struggle for schools funding.
. Looming in all of these reports was the question, how to build local coalitions to fight on various issues. It's clear that there's no shortage of issues for activists to address, both local and national. For example, right at this time the pension bust at United Airlines was much in the news, and many activists at the conference were concerned about trying to address this issue somehow. But how do you "link up" to it? How do you "draw people in" and get enough of them involved so that you can actually have an impact? The solution many activists were looking for was calling on already established alleged "community leaders", which in many cases means AFL-CIO leaders and Democratic Party politicians. These activists are not used to the idea promoted by CVO of building an independent movement that's engaged in actual struggle rather than a public relations group bent on promoting reformist politicians and trade union bureaucrats.
. The partial rift in the union bureaucracy that MWM expressed originally excited many activists. After the October 19 march, MWM activists from various local areas tried to consolidate themselves as organizations and find issues they could work on that were related to MWM's list of demands (see Our Demands on page 11). In the midst of Bush's capitalist offensive, of course there's no shortage of issues facing the working class and poor. The question is how to organize: do you go directly to the rank and file workers and people in the community, or do you rely on already established organizations headed by Democratic politicians and trade union officials? This is the issue that CVO has made a subject of debate inside Detroit MWM, and it turned out to be the major question facing MWM's national conference.
. Activists looking towards MWM might expect that the conference would provide answers to
these questions of organization and orientation. But the national leaders of MWM were reluctant
to discuss the burning questions, and this set the tone for the conference. When they did discuss
such questions, the answers they provided were not exactly novel or inspiring. For example in the
discussion of local reports Clarence Thomas commented that there are too many business
unionists in leadership positions in the unions, and this is the problem. True enough, but instead
of calling for independent organization Thomas said the whole idea of MWM is to push the trade
unions to "do the right thing." But what if the existing unions with their bureaucratic leaders are
reluctant to be pushed? This is the question faced by MWM activists who are calling, writing,
e-mailing AFL-CIO leaders in their local areas, trying to get them involved in community issues
and trying to get themselves involved in labor issues. The bureaucrats are mostly not interested in
independent political work outside Democratic Party electoral channels, nor are they interested in
recruiting activists for help in trade union issues, which they want to keep in their own hands.
Even when they make an effort to do something political, as with the Labor Party and USLAW,
the union bureaucrats try to keep things bottled up in their own bureaucratic channels and avoid
getting the masses involved.
. After local reports the conference organizers allowed a short period of open discussion during which anyone could address the conference. This allowed two supporters of CVO to take the floor and explain their opposition to the direction MWM is taking. The CVO-affiliated workers harshly criticized MWM and especially its Detroit organization. One of them bitterly recalled the history of concessions in the auto industry and castigated MWM for conciliating the plan to impose concessions on Detroit city workers hatched by local Democrats and union bureaucrats. The other CVO speaker mentioned Clarence Thomas' endorsement of NCRC and his warm words for JoAnn Watson, and said these were mistakes.
. Two members of MWM-Detroit jumped up to defend its conciliatory stand. The first was Abiyomi Azikiwe, who is affiliated with Pan African News Wire and is also a leader of the WWP-dominated anti-war coalition MECAWI (Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice). Azikiwe declared that Black politicians such as Watson are not the problem, the problem is the banks and corporations. Azikiwe did not bother explaining what attitude to take toward those Black politicians who are carrying out the program of the banks and corporations, such as demanding cuts in pay and benefits from Detroit city workers.
. WWP activist David Sole also took the floor to defend NCRC and the policy of conciliating the Democratic Party politicians. Sole said it was wrong to characterize NCRC as being led by the liberals Watson and Mahaffey. In fact, Sole insisted, NCRC was initiated by me (Sole), and the work of NCRC is all being done by us (MWM/WWP activists). The Democratic liberal politicians are simply on board for the prestige they can lend NCRC. Amazingly enough, Sole regarded this as a defense of NCRC, that it's based on unprincipled opportunist alliances. But this is the method WWP uses in all of their major organizing work, attaching themselves to some "prestigious" name like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, John Conyers, etc. and riding that "prestige" to the organization of demonstrations. Some of these demonstrations are in fact quite large. But the fact that they are based on an alliance with the liberals means that the demonstrations mostly disappear when they're no longer convenient for the Democrats, as during John Kerry's election campaign. During the election campaign Jackson and Sharpton used the prestige they had acquired as anti-war activists to deliver votes for pro-war Kerry, leaving the anti-war forces high and dry and forced to rely on their own efforts to try and keep the protest movement going. But for activists trained to rely on "prestigious" Democrats this is disorienting, which is why the numbers at WWP-led demos dropped off drastically.
. Sole also ridiculed the idea that there was such a thing as a union bureaucracy and gave a meandering defense of the Detroit city union leaders, who have mostly hung back from any protests against cutbacks. He tried to excuse their inaction by saying they have grown up and taken office during a quiet period in the labor movement and so don't know how to fight. He made no attempt to portray them as militant, in fact admitted they are acting as do-nothing wimps; but instead of seeing this as a point of criticism, he waved it aside. Who cares if union leaders use their positions to defend the workers? Who says they're in office to defend the workers' interests? It's more important to respect their "prestige".
. Besides, Sole argued, the city union leaders aren't the only wimps. Look at the UAW leaders. They too have no ideas. They too have never taken a stand against concessions. True enough, but instead of seeing this as a reason to denounce the union bureaucrats Sole sees this as a reason to conciliate them. Since the bureaucrats don't want to fight the bourgeois offensive, Sole's advice was "don't be afraid to make alliances with the liberals." Since the union leaders won't authorize any struggles at this time, the best thing activists can do is work out alliances with liberal politicians.
. The interesting thing about Sole's speech was the deep pessimism that came out, underneath WWP's constant drivel about how the movement is surging forward here, there, and everywhere. That is the superficial view one gets from reading WWP's newspaper. But underneath that, when questioned about the value of all of their numerous coalitions and establishment alliances, WWP leader Sole in essence admits that their policy is an act of desperation. The bureaucrats they promote really don't want to do anything. And the liberal Democrats, Sole admits, really don't stand for anything much -- but they're all WWP has, they represent WWP's hopes for building big-time, prestigious events. So WWP activists must devote themselves to cultivating these relations, even if they know they're going nowhere. All of this is based on the analysis given by Sole that the rank and file are totally inert and cannot be roused to struggle.
. Sensing the pessimistic impression his speech was creating, Sole ended with a rhetorical
flourish about "the insurrection" that MWM will someday lead. This got a round of applause, and
the open mike was them quickly shut off as the conference moved into another session of
General left politics and a debate over the Democrats
. The next session featured internationalist speeches, but no questions or comments from the floor were allowed. One man, a political refugee from Colombia, spoke about the right-wing death squads murdering trade unionists there. He promoted a boycott of Coca-Cola, which has a bottling plant there. His speech was generally pro-labor and internationalist, which was good, but didn't provide any new information about Colombia beyond what is generally available in the news. No mention of FARC or other leftist guerrilla groups and how they're doing.
. Another speaker had recently visited Cuba and talked about Cuba sending doctors to Venezuela. His speech condemned the neo-liberal policies of the U.S. government and promoted Latin American presidents like Castro and Chavez as the alternative. He neglected to mention that Castro has been overseeing the building of a state-capitalist, not socialist, system in Cuba for decades, and has periodically extended capitalist relations through privatization and imperialist investment. While Castro has differences with the U.S., and the U. S. maintains a brutal imperialist boycott of Cuba, Castro's policies inside Cuba hardly represent the alternative to neo-liberal capitalism.
. Another speaker talked about the rights of immigrants in the U. S. Like the others, this speech expressed some generally left sentiments without going into specifics.
. The most notable of this session's speakers was Baldemar Velasquez, another MWM national steering committee member and a professional organizer for FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Committee). FLOC has won some victories in Ohio and is now concentrating efforts in North Carolina. Velasquez described working conditions among "illegal aliens" in North Carolina, FLOC's progress in organizing them, and along the way threw out a variety of comments about his overall perspective. Velasquez said there are 500,000 undocumented immigrant workers (mostly from Mexico) in North Carolina, and 150,000 of these work in agriculture. FLOC is gaining contracts for many of them in major sections of agriculture, where the workers face particularly harsh working and living conditions. Velasquez mentioned some grisly deaths of Mexican farm workers that the employers tried to cover up and noted that every year about 365 Mexicans die in industrial accidents in the U. S. Velasquez noted that FLOC has succeeded in organizing where previous efforts by AFL-CIO unions have failed, and explained why, asserting that the AFL-CIO chieftains don't understand that solidarity requires sacrifice. The AFL-CIO chieftains, he said, are fat and self-satisfied. Union organizers need to make long-term commitments, be prepared to sacrifice, and practice internationalism, not chauvinist self-centeredness.
. Velasquez' speech was generally well received because FLOC has actually organized a number of undocumented farm workers. Some of his views were more controversial even in this conference, for example his promotion of American patriotism and Christianity. Velasquez also argued that he wasn't interested in fighting for socialism, only in fighting against the gross exploitation of a specially oppressed section of the working class.
. Meanwhile, outside the meeting hall, an informal debate over the Democratic Party politicians was taking place. Some conference participants were standing outside taking a break, and among them Leo Robinson buttonholed one of the CVO supporters who had spoken earlier and demanded that he justify his denunciation of the Democrats. Robinson elaborated the MWM leaders' perspective to everyone around: "You have to judge politicians concretely, not just by their party affiliation. . . . We have no permanent friends, just permanent interests. . . . It's all about the demands. If a politician agrees with us on some of our demands, we ally with them and support them in so far as they support our demands." Robinson went so far as to say that if the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan came out in support of some of MWM's demands, it would be fine to work with him on those issues. This appeared to be a momentary exaggeration on Robinson's part, to make a point; but the same sort of point was made the next day in a more formal setting by another ILWU leader, about Nazis. So this seems to be one of MWM's pet notions, that you simply ignore other organizations' past histories and basic orientations and tell activists to approach politics from a naïve standpoint. But this is just the same backward idea of "trade union neutrality" that the AFL-CIO chieftains have been peddling since the days of Samuel Gompers.
. And just as with the AFL-CIO, the ILWU leaders' promotion of political neutrality is equipped with a good portion of hypocrisy. Robinson was challenged on this by another CVO supporter present: If MWM only unites on the basis of demands in the workers' interests, then why is it promoting councilperson JoAnn Watson, who in fact opposes the workers' interests in the current budget battle in Detroit? MWM should be actively opposing Watson in so far as she opposes the workers' interests, calling for a 10% wage cut, etc. Robinson was stymied in answering this, but tried to maintain the bluff that Watson somehow represents workers' interests.
. Other interesting informal discussion took place when the long session of prepared speeches
finally ended. CVO supporters had a friendly exchange of views with a supporter of Solidarity, a
Socialist Party activist, and a Labor Party organizer, among others. Prominent in these
discussions was a review of activists' histories, what organizations they had been involved with
in the past, and some discussion of Communist Voice's series on Trotskyism.
Saturday night speakout and Sunday morning summation
.After the long day of speeches and a break for dinner, the conference held an evening "labor community speakout". This attracted more people from the Detroit area, and some other local activists were allowed to speak. Also a few of the same prominent leaders of MWM gave speeches. This time the speeches had more of a mass appeal, trying to rouse people to oppose the rich and support MWM. As the culminating point of the evening, MWM brought in JoAnn Watson as the last speaker. Watson spoke for just a couple of minutes and made only the most generalized of comments, saying Detroit is a town full of organizers and activists, and that's good. She made no mention of the city budget crises, MWM's demands or even any mention of MWM.
. The next day a final session of the conference was held to sum up the previous day's events and to talk about plans for the future. This was a serious roundtable discussion in which two CVO activists participated, and the issues they raised -- softness to the Democrats, alliance with councilperson Watson, the blind liberal alley of the NCRC, the need for political independence, etc. -- were addressed by various of MWM's national leaders. It seemed apparent that MWM's national leaders had decided they could not simply blow off CVO's comments and criticisms; they had to be dealt with. On the other hand, it became apparent that they had also decided to not budge an inch from their reformist positions. The MWM national leaders also addressed the questions of structure and organization that had been raised by other Detroit activists, who noted the weaknesses of MWM's preparations for the national conference.
. Clarence Thomas led off with anti-communist remarks, that communist organizations are "divisive" while MWM is "unifying" and "beyond indoctrination." Thomas repeated Leo Robinson's mantra, "We don't have permanent friends, just permanent interests. We ally with those we have things in common with, we criticize them on points we differ." On organizational questions, Thomas gave a succinct reply to Detroit activists complaining about structural problems: "We have no structural problems." Thus he dismissed the call for MWM to develop a nationally centered, democratically-controlled organization.
. Following Thomas, Brenda Stokely dismissed any criticism of MWM leaders as the work of "outside agitators." (Yes, it's true; she used the same shopworn phrase union bureaucrats use to blow off any criticism, completely ignoring that the criticisms voiced at the conference came from activists inside MWM). In response to MWM's softness on the Democrats such as JoAnn Watson, Stokely said that MWM only makes principled political alliances based on the issues: "Anyone who works with MWM must address the issues, stay on point," she said."If a politician stands outside our meeting hall, they can say anything they want. But when they enter our meeting hall, they must address our demands and stay on point."
. Thus Stokely invited MWM activists to be deceived and duped by the Democratic politicians. From her point of view, a politician can pursue any anti-working class politics so long as they are willing to lie to the workers at left meetings. The fact that Watson didn't even have to pretend to support the struggle against concessions at the Saturday night speakout further exposed Stokely. Watson made no attempt whatever to stay "on point" when she spoke the night before, yet the MWM leaders still insisted on maintaining their alliance with her.
. Larry Holmes then discussed the issue of NCRC which CVO activists had criticized. Gone now were Holmes' previous admissions about the need to discuss issues frankly, forthrightly, etc. Now he opposed discussion of controversial issues, saying, "Don't analyze things, the important thing is to work together." He called on activists to support the NCRC project without thinking about it.
. Keith Shanklin followed this with a call for MWMers to get active in local politics. Gone now was his previous criticism of Democrats. Just "get involved, like the LaRouche-ites." Shanklin encouraged activists to work with politicians who agree with us on any issue. Echoing Robinson's comments of the day before, Shanklin said we should ally with anyone who agrees with us, even Nazis. This was met with howls of derision from the great majority, and Shanklin had to back off this absurd notion.
. Leo Robinson clarified what "political independence" means for him and the other MWM national leaders."We never said we were against the Republicans and Democrats," he said, just "separate" from them. For Robinson one can advocate political independence for the working class without taking a stand against the Democrats. Robinson also scoffed at the idea of rank and file organization which had been raised by CVO supporters as the alternative to reliance on the Democrats and union bureaucrats. Robinson said, "The rank and file don't know how to organize. They get misled by ideologically driven people who haggle about intellectual things and don't know how to lead." This was in the same anti-communist vein as Clarence Thomas' remarks.
. It should be noted that a number of Detroit MWM activists aside from CVO supporters complained about the organizational defects of MWM. These became strikingly apparent in the weeks leading up to the conference. There was very little communication between Detroit MWM and the national leaders, and what communication did exist was monopolized by WWP leaders who used it to spin things their way. The national leaders promised to improve the national website and to make the national press organ more accessible, but aside from that they rejected the idea of responsible national organization with formal ties to local organizations. It was apparent they were opposed to rank-and-file oversight of their national steering committee.
. This one-way communication continued after the conference. At the conference a number of
suggestions were given for fall actions that MWM could participate in: a big anti-war march, the
50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott, a march on Wall Street, etc. MWM's national
leaders opposed any binding votes on these proposals, instead said they would "take under
advisement" the suggestions and come up with a decision. In June the word came down that
MWM's big event for the fall would be participation in the Millions More March, the tenth
anniversary celebration of the Million Man March. No reason was given for why this event was
more significant than the other proposals. Nor was there any explanation of what makes the
Millions More March so important other than that it will be a large event attended by many Black
workers. This is probably true, but what about the political content of this event headed up by
Louis Farrakhan? But MWM's national leaders seem determined to continue down the reformist
path of alliances with "prestigious" names. <>
-- A national living wage that lifts people permanently out of poverty.
-- Protection and enhancement of Social Security immune to privatization.
-- Guaranteed pensions that sustain a decent life for all working people.
-- The cancellation of all corporate "free" trade agreements, including NAFTA, MAI and FTAA.
-- An end to privatization, contracting out, deregulation and the pitting of workers against each other across national boundaries in a mad race to the bottom.
-- For workers' right to organize and for a repeal of Taft Hartley and all anti-labor legislation.
-- Funding public education in a crash program to restore our decaying and abandoned schools with state of the art school facilities in every community.
-- Funding a vast army of teachers to end functional illiteracy in America and unleash the talent and potential of our abandoned children and adults.
-- Launching a national training program in skills and capacities that will enlist our people in rebuilding our country and putting an end to both the criminalization of poverty and the prison-industrial complex.
-- Rebuilding our decaying inner cities with clean, modern and affordable housing and eliminating homelessness in America with guaranteed housing and jobs for all.
-- Progressive taxation that increases taxation on corporations and the rich while providing relief for the working class and poor.
-- An end to the poisoning of the atmosphere, soil, water and food supply with a national emergency program to restore the environment, end global warming and preserve our endangered eco-system.
-- Creating efficient, modern and free mass transit in every city and town.
-- Repeal of the Patriot Act, Anti-Terrorism Act and all such repressive legislation.
-- Slash the military budget and recover the trillions of dollars stolen from our labor to enrich the corporations that profit from war.
-- Open the books on the secret budgets of the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies in the service of corporations and banks and the pursuit of imperial war on the poor everywhere.
-- Extend democracy to our economic structure so that all decisions affecting the lives of our citizens are made by working people who produce all value through their labor.
-- An aggressive enforcement of all civil rights and a national education campaign and mobilization against all racist and discriminatory acts in the work place and in our communities.
-- Amnesty for all undocumented workers
-- Increase in federal funding for the Arts in public schools -- For a democratic media that allow labor and all voices to be heard and oppose monopolization and union busting of media workers.
(From the Million Worker March Movement website at www. millionworkermarch. org. ) <>
October 15, 2005.