Monthly Archives: October 2009

Stella Strikers’ Open Letter to Ohio Workers

The Stella D’oro strikers have asked CHALLENGE to print excerpts from an open letter from Stella D’oro Workers in the Bronx to Lance Workers in Ashland, Ohio:

Dear Workers at Lance:

We work at the Stella D’Oro bakery in the Bronx in NYC. Many of us have worked for the company for as many as 30 years.

In 2006, a private equity firm, Brynwood Partners, bought Stella D’Oro to squeeze out a higher rate of profit for its investors. In 2008, Brynwood’s demanded that the assembly line workers accept a 25% wage-cut, as well as a reduction in health benefits, sick days and vacation time. Our union offered to negotiate but Brynwood said, “Take it or leave it,” and imposed the new terms.

Lance managers will tell you that we were greedy. But how could we accept a 25% wage-cut? Our rents and mortgages weren’t going to be reduced, nor were food prices, or college tuition payments for our children! It was the greed of the multi-millionaires who run Brynwood Partners that forced us to strike.

For eleven months we existed on unemployment insurance, but not a single person crossed the picket line. Then word of our struggle began reaching people throughout the city. Transit workers, teachers and professors, postal workers, students and others came to our picket line. Thousands came to plant rallies, union members throughout the state donated money to support us, and thousands of customers refused to buy Stella D’Oro products during the strike.

At the end of June, the NLRB ruled that the company had to take us back and bargain in good faith. We thought we had won. But only a few days later, Brynwood announced that it planned to close the plant in October, in a city with 10% unemployment.

You know what happened: Brynwood sold the Stella D’Oro name and plant machinery to Lance, which plans to make some of its products in Ashland. We know that unemployment is high in Ohio, as companies have moved better-paying jobs to low-wage areas. That’s what Lance is doing here! It has no intention of giving you the same wages and benefits we had won through years of struggle. It will pay you a fraction of our hourly wage, give you an inferior health plan, and provide fewer sick days and vacation time. And we bet it won’t bring all 135 jobs to Ashland, just as it didn’t rehire all the unemployed Archway workers when it took over your bakery.

We want you to know that we don’t blame you for what’s happening. We also want you to know that we’re not going down without a fight. We can’t afford to lose our jobs. There will be rallies throughout NYC demanding that Stella D’Oro stay in the Bronx.

The owners want to keep us separate, pit the Ashland and Bronx workers against each other. But every gain for labor has come when working people united and fought together for things they needed: a shorter work-week, pensions, health care, social security. In these rough times, our unity is more important than ever. We ask you to understand our position and offer whatever solidarity you can.

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Workers Unite to Battle Racist School Closings

Hundreds of black, Latino and white workers rose in unison, fists pumping, to chant “RESIGN NOW” and “NO SCHOOL CLOSINGS” at the entirely black and Latino school board of a southern city during a mass community meeting.  Roused by speeches of anti-racist community activists and friends of PL, more than a thousand people, led by black workers, forced the school bosses and their hand-picked “community” advisory committee to cower in their seats.

This was the sixth in a series of meetings to let the community blow off steam regarding the proposed closings of a third of the city’s public schools, including the only high school in the historically black East Side. But school bosses underestimated the intelligence and anger of the working class. Over the course of earlier meetings, workers exposed and challenged the school board’s effort to pit neighborhood against neighborhood, Latinos against blacks, by letting the “community” pick among alternate plans, each one cutting someone else’s schools.

At an earlier meeting, a speaker exposed the fascist war machine’s goal to turn schools into jails. At every meeting, a Latina woman who had led struggles against school closings two years earlier, challenged the district’s history of divide and conquer. She pointed out that even neighborhoods not under direct attack would be harmed by overcrowding and the threat of future school closures. At the third meeting a school teacher finally labeled the board’s actions for what they were: RACISM! A gasp was heard from the hundreds at that meeting.

Activists from groups including PTAs and opponents of earlier school closings, returned repeatedly to community meetings to fight back and reject the call that working-class parents and students pick their own poison. Organizers circulated petitions, went door-to-door and spoke in churches to bring workers to protest school closings. Parents repeatedly defied commands to limit comments and to choose one of the proposals for school closings.

Following these meetings, the superintendent suggested he would delay closing high schools in the areas of the greatest protest, though many other schools will be shuttered. But there is a contradiction embedded in thinking this a victory and even in the chant “Resign Now!” Hundreds of the most militant anti-closing fighters believe that the hiring of a new superintendent or the election of “better” school board members will allow power to be shared and bring long-lasting improvement. In fact, some honest community activists served on the task force that created the school closing plans out of a desire to create a fairer district. As they worked under the direction of hired experts to frame school closings and to meet funding cuts that economic crisis and war brought, they were used to provide cover for the ruler’s exercise of state power.

Despite hating the superintendent and his plan, many do not realize that the real rulers, the capitalist class, are using the layers of elected and appointed community members of all “races” to create the illusion that real, permanent reform and improvement is possible. A new superintendent will not change the ruling class’s need to cut school funding in the face of economic crisis and war. The rulers never share power. Right now, their needs to bail out the banks and to continue oil war in the Middle East mean the rulers have to reduce education, lay people off and foreclose houses.

In numerous discussions since then, the points raised by communists and their friends hope to move the discussion from the specific reform plans proposed by the bosses to the context of system-wide crisis that spawned these reforms. These discussions are urgent because capitalism cannot be reformed — it must be destroyed and replaced with a system run for and by the working class of the entire world. As we deepen our understanding and win more friends, we can also develop plans for even more militant actions, like walk-outs in schools or occupations of school board offices, which would help us learn even more and become better fighters for revolution.

The rulers’ plans depend on racist and fascist attacks on working-class people. But the rulers sometimes underestimate the power of the working class to learn from experience and from communist leadership — even in a short reform battle that likely cannot be won. This power of the working class is also very weakly understood by the workers themselves nowadays. But participating in these battles and making friends for the lifetime battle for communist revolution strengthens our class’ understanding of its power and the ability of PL to grow and guide the working class to revolution.

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LA School Compact ‘Racist attack on students…’

LOS ANGELES, September 22 — An emergency informational teachers’ union meeting here discussed a proposed “Compact” between the union, the LA Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, the Universities and the Schools Board. If this “Compact” passes, the union leadership will be enforcing the education reform agenda of the main section of the ruling class to reorganize schools on the cheap for the bosses.

The Compact would expand so-called peer review, determine No Child Left Behind intervention, expand charter and “iDesign” schools (where the teachers partner with a corporation to compete with charters and end up unwittingly helping do the bosses’ job for them). The goal is to make the school system cheaper and more adept at teaching minimum levels of math and English with lots of patriotism so students join the military and/or work in war plants for low wages.

When a comrade roundly condemned the Compact, he was heartily applauded by the teachers. He declared: “I’m a communist, not a democrat or a socialist. Socialists can’t make up their minds. This LA Compact that our leadership has brought us is a racist attack on our students. The fact that this union’s leadership would work with the Mayor, the School Board and the Chamber of Commerce on this should tell us it’s not in our interests.

“This Compact comes in the context of capitalist crisis and widening war. It represents a fascist reorganization of public education to meet the needs of the rulers, not our students. Fascism comes through dividing the working class and attacking one section more fiercely, and through racism. Our students are mainly black and Latino. The bosses are cutting education and health budgets but not the war budget. We must fight these attacks, including those on substitute teachers, with a united strike.”

PLP showed that the whole “compact” is a fascist assault on students and teachers. Others opposed the compact for each individual attack but concluded that it could be okay if it didn’t take away from “community organizing.” Our comrade argued that during an era-defining economic crisis and two wars, collaboration between the union leadership and the bosses would attack the students, on the road to fascism. He called on teachers to oppose the social-democrat/social-fascist union leadership and build for mass actions towards a political strike against the Compact, the cuts and the war.

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Reformism A Trap to Maintain Bosses’ Power

MEXICO — In recent years, many very militant movements have arisen, producing problems for the ruling class. These include the mass struggle of APPO and teachers in Oaxaca; the miners in Pasta de Conchos in the state of Coahuila; the peasants in San Salvador Atenco in the State of Mexico; as well as the very militant movements of the Ford workers, and the recent struggle among the taxi drivers who put the transportation bosses in check (including the local government).

All this demonstrates the immense potential of the working class. However, it also shows a lack of sufficient organization and above all the understanding that to truly liberate ourselves from the bosses’ yoke, we will have to struggle for a real communist revolution.

In these struggles we’ve fought for crumbs, even though workers made the whole cake. No sooner do we win small wage increases (reforms), they take them away by raising prices on basic products, speed-up, layoffs and even jailings and death. We need to take the means of production away from the bosses. We don’t need them because we’re the ones who produce everything. Yet the bosses live like kings without working.

If we fight under the bosses’ laws, we’ve already lost, since capitalism’s laws are designed to protect the interests of capital. When someone goes against the bosses’ interests, we’re repressed by the bosses’ police and sentenced in the bosses’ courts, accused of “terrorism,” drug trafficking or whatever other crime they can invent.

Government branches that supposedly “defend” workers’ interests — the Department of Labor, the Congress of Labor, human rights groups, etc. — are regulated by the capitalists’ government. We workers will always lose under the bosses’ laws; all our efforts get turned around.

Given the treadmill of reform, the working class needs to build a long-term struggle — participating in reform struggles but understanding that workers need to be politicized and consciously see the nature of the reform struggle, to understand how capitalism functions. We must primarily recognize that racism, nationalism, sexism and religion are ideological tools manufactured and used by the ruling class to keep dividing our class and subject us to the bosses’ interests.

Even if momentarily we win some crumbs from the bosses, as the taxi drivers here who formed a cooperative, sooner or later the bosses and their government will end up controlling the movement through their laws, or corrupting the leadership as has been the case in other movements.

It’s not that we distrust these workers, but it’s our obligation as a Party to warn about how
capitalism functions. Such analyses can prevent the capitalist system from co-opting us, from allying ourselves with one or another branch of the ruling class, which doesn’t help our class in any way.

As we participate in these class struggles, we workers must make our main priority building the Progressive Labor Party, with mass CHALLENGE networks, so that we can continue giving leadership to the international working class. Our goal is building a communist society that liberates us forever from all the misery of capitalism.

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Lesson of Harper’s Ferry Raid

Working-Class Violence: A Key to Revolution

In mobilizing the October 17 Harper’s Ferry march to commemorate the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid and to finish the job, two keys to revolutionary change stand out: revolutionary violence and multi-racial unity.

Revolutionary Violence

The government of a capitalist society enforces the exploitative and racist oppression of the working class by any means necessary, including violence by the cops at home and the military abroad. The capitalist state asserts a monopoly on the right to use violence, and uses it whenever workers and rebels threaten the bosses’ rule — on picket lines, in community rebellions against racism or in insurrections threatening bosses’ investments worldwide. The working class has no choice but to meet this capitalist violence with organized mass violence of its own. Failure to do so guarantees defeat.

Consider the Garrisonian abolitionists in the 1830s and ‘40s. They felt that with “moral suasion” slave-owners would eventually surrender their slaves. But “morality” will never trump the economic advantage of exploitation by elite classes, be they slaveholders or capitalists. The battle in Kansas (see CHALLENGE, 9/30) and the raid on Harper’s Ferry brought home that truth, and the ensuing Civil War demonstrated most certainly that only great violence could end the exploitation of chattel slavery.

Slavery was violence. The capture in Africa, the leg irons and imprisonment of the Middle Passage across the Atlantic on slave ships, the whip of the overseers to enforce interminable backbreaking work, and the master’s branding iron, jail cell and noose maintained slavery. The federal government guaranteed the legitimacy of this daily violence in Article IV of the U.S. Constitution and supporting laws, and used its armed might against both Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion and the 1859 Harper’s Ferry Raid.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 restated the Constitution’s provision making it illegal to aid escaped slaves but now required citizens of Northern states to actively assist their recapture whenever asked by private slave-catchers and/or federal marshals. Refusing to help could mean six months in prison or a $1,000 fine, even if the person seized had never been a slave at all! No trial by jury was allowed in such cases, since Northern juries would not generally convict someone who opposed slavery. No supposedly escaped slave could ever testify.

The 1857 Dred Scott Decision deepened this tyranny. The Supreme Court ruled that no black person, slave or free, was a U.S. citizen and had no right to bring a case to court. This essentially legalized slavery nation-wide and officially endorsed racist doctrine.

Racist Laws Still Exist

Similar practices continue today! The U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staffs checkpoints on roads leading north from Mexico (sometimes hundreds of miles above the border), randomly stopping and searching vehicles, particularly those containing people who “look Latino.” Those who cannot prove their citizenship or produce documents showing they’re legally in the country are jailed and deported. ICE has employed similar tactics in raids on factories, movie theaters and wherever Latino workers are concentrated.

Similarly, the police beat and kill African American and Latino workers with impunity across the country.  No jury trial for them, just cops acting as judge, jury and executioner!  Killer cops are rarely indicted and virtually never convicted. Such state terrorism is designed to keep workers docile, divided and intimidated, echoing chattel slavery.

And so our class faces a violent, mighty foe. We must not shrink from what must be done today, organizing in factories, in the military and on campuses, not merely to resist but to turn the guns around on the world’s most violent ruling class. But such violence must be based in the masses.

Consider John Brown’s trip east after the January 1859 battle in Kansas. During this journey, his band of 15 helped 11 slaves escape and confronted and defeated 60 government soldiers trying to capture them. He fought and moved about with confidence since thousands of anti-slavery activists backed him wherever he went. In fact, when the Kansas governor demanded, via telegraph, that the U.S. Marshal at Springdale “capture John Brown, dead or alive,” the marshal responded with great irony, “If I try to capture John Brown, it’ll be dead, and I’ll be the one…dead!”

Similarly, Brown boldly declared that since President Buchanan had offered $250 for his capture, Brown would give $2.50 for the safe delivery of James Buchanan’s body.

A massive, militant anti-slavery movement existed, powerful enough to markedly limit federal government action. It had grown from the thousands who escaped from slavery and from their supporters. John Brown did not march on Harper’s Ferry to create a movement, but to put that movement on the offensive, just as he’d done in Kansas.

The Progressive Labor Party has mobilized against hundreds of demonstrations and attacks by the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and Minutemen. Only the presence of hundreds of cops prevented the fascists from being torn apart by anti-racist fighters led by PLP. Similarly, it was only the power of the federal government to enforce laws that protected the slave-owners from being crushed by enslaved workers and their allies.

As the communist movement grows once again, we must prepare to defeat ruling-class violence with mass, working-class violence that sweeps away all capitalist institutions and bosses. Nothing short of this will enable us to rebuild a society based on equality, collectivity and sensible management of the planet’s resources for the needs of the working class, now and in the future. J

(Next issue: The Importance of
Multi-Racial Unity

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