Globalization from Below

an International Union of Socialist Youth conference

This was originally published in New Ground 59, July — August, 1998.

by Bob Roman, Charity Crouse and Joan Axthelm

From May 28 through May 31, the University of Chicago Youth Section chapter of DSA played host to more than sixty delegates from the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY). The first two days of the event were devoted to a meeting of the American Committee of IUSY. Like most such meetings, its main utility was not so much in formal resolutions and organizational policy as in the exchange of ideas, experience and political information that takes place as a part of both the formal and informal proceedings. Given that the affiliates of the IUSY are the youth groups of the major left parties in their respective countries, there was probably at least one future prime minister at the meeting.

Arguing with the Right

One of the highlights of the week was a left-right debate on Thursday evening. Intended partly as an outreach to the UofC student community and partly as an exercise, nearly a hundred students crowded into the Ida Noyes library to watch Lisa Pelling, IUSY Secretary General from Sweden, and DSA Youth Section International Chair Daraka Larimore-Hall defend the affirmative of “Does Socialism Have a Future?” against a representative from the University of Chicago College Republicans and a representative from The Criterion. A severe ideological arsenal from the left was not called for, as the right thoroughly buried itself without any assistance from the socialists, but the University of Chicago’s Ida Noyes Hall resounded with the applause of many as the left challenged the right’s notions of equality in a capitalist system that thrives on disparity.

Globalization for the Rest of Us

Saturday and Sunday were devoted to an ambitious conference, “Globalization from Below”. The conference was held at the University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences Learning Center and it was cosponsored by the DSA Youth Section, IUSY, European Community Organization of Socialist Youth (ECOSY), and Progressive Challenge. The stated goals of the conference were to bring together progressives from all over the world and from many generations to talk about globalization; to help draw clear distinctions between their idea of internationalism and ours; to increase the public’s awareness of the connections between their lives and lives of people in other countries. Some 150 people registered for the conference, though many just sampled portions of it.

The conference format was the usual mix of plenaries and workshops, with the usual mix of strengths and weaknesses that such a format is prone to. Among the better plenaries were “Immigration and Organizing” on Saturday and “Global Unionism” on Sunday as both had speakers of particular interest.

Hector Torres, of the Latin Kings and Queens, spoke at the plenary on “Immigration and Organizing”. He spoke mostly about how what had been a street gang turned away from crime and toward political and community organizing with consequent increased problems with the police. Lefty gangs may be unusual today, but politicized gangs are not a new phenomenon, an early example in Chicago being Mayor Daley the Elder’s Hamburger Social and Athletic Club. They were not at all unusual during the 60s, when the ideology du jour was various forms of marxism-leninism. Mr. Torres’ presence brought to the conference several Hispanic students from the Chicago City College system. They reacted with enthusiasm to what he was doing in New York and with skepticism about its possibility in Chicago.

Elaine Bernard, of the Harvard Trade Union Education Project, spoke at the “Global Unionism” plenary. If you’ve never heard Ms. Bernard speak, you should take advantage of your next opportunity. She sounds a bit like Julia Child, but instead of recipes for French cuisine she provides, well, recipes for a union movement. Articulate, full of ideas and very much in touch with what seems to be working and what is not, Elaine Bernard’s presentation was quite the feast.

The workshops and training sessions at the conference might have been average for a conference but for the international participation. In this respect, participants from outside the States may have gained the most; U.S. politics often seems inscrutable to those outside of it. The workshops provided them with an in depth look at various aspects of it.

Organizing as Education

For members of UofC DSA, the conference provided exceptional experience in the behind the scenes aspects of organizing a large-scale event. Along with illustrating the necessity of proper outreach to national and local activists, the conference taught the imperative of respecting the democratic process in organizing and executing any sort of event.

Though most of the members of UofC DSA were preoccupied with the exhausting and mundane duties of administration, the conference was a great opportunity to expand one’s sights beyond one’s own borders and to truly challenge one’s ideas of socialism and solidarity. Few moments can compare with witnessing fifty Latin American socialists singing Spanish labor songs in chorus aboard the CTA train, or seeing people visiting America for the first time communicating whole heartedly with Chicagoans whose language many UofC DSA members cannot speak. If nothing else, the conference both forced us to re-evaluate our perceptions of ourselves as socialists in America and reminded us just how much about the world, our own homes and each other we still have to learn.

Some Next Steps

The range of youth leadership brought together by the Globalization from Below conference made it an ideal opportunity to discuss the creation of an “EU of the Americas”. In a meeting held after the Conference officially ended, representatives of the MERCOSUR countries, ECOSYS, the United States discussed how an open dialog between our countries is important as our economies become global. In order to begin and to further facilitate a dialog between the countries of the Americas, it was decided that a representative from ECOSYS, the Mexican PRD, and DSA (our own Daraka Larimore-Hall) would create a publication that would facilitate the exchange of experiences and ideas concerning the world economy. This publication would then be discussed at the next American Committee meeting of IUSY.


Progressive Challenge Exceeds the Beltway, But Can It Reach Escape Velocity?

There is a constituency of lunatic conservatives who will tell you, sincerely, that the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are members of DSA. The main basis for this fantasy is a fraudulent post on a conservative web site, but this article, from New Ground 58, May — June, 1998, provided additional support, provided one ignores what the article actually says.

Progressive Challenge Exceeds the Beltway, But Can It Reach Escape Velocity?

by Bob Roman

On the evening of Monday, April 21, the Progressive Challenge came to Chicago. Starting off with a town hall style meeting that brought together about 150 people in the UNITE hall at 333 S. Ashland in Chicago, the meeting was structured to present testimony from representatives of various local organizations to local Congressional members of the Progressive Caucus.

DSA was particularly well represented by the testimony of the Youth Section’s International Secretary, Daraka Larimore-Hall. Daraka Larimore-Hall gave an impassioned, coherent presentation that linked the various aspects of DSA’s agenda with the project at hand. He also pointed out that the attitude on campus is not so much conservative or apathetic as practical. Ideology is not enough if it is not accompanied by useful politics.

Congressmen Jesse Jackson, Jr., Luis Gutierrez and Danny Davis attended the meeting, though only Representative Jackson was there for the entire program.

This initial outreach / organizing meeting of the Progressive Challenge in Chicago was organized and hosted by Chicago Jobs with Justice Committee for New Priorities as one of their monthly forums.

The Progressive Challenge is an effort to link the Congressional Progressive Caucus with the larger left grass roots network of single issue, constituent, labor and ideological organizations. The Institute for Policy Studies is very much the keystone organization of this project, which has brought together some 40 organizations including DSA, Americans for Democratic Action, United Electrical Workers, NETWORK, National Jobs for All Coalition to name a few. No one of these groups is a major player inside the Beltway, but together they have captured the attention of the Progressive Caucus and contributed to its growth.

The Progressive Challenge began with a conference on Capitol Hill in January of 1997. The conference was followed by a year of public briefings, working groups and brain-storming which resulted in the Fairness Agenda (see side-bar). The Fairness Agenda was unveiled at a Progressive Caucus State of the Union on January 27 of this year.

What brings the Fairness Agenda one step beyond political rhetoric is that each of the eight points have been accompanied by one or more pieces of legislation introduced by members of the Progressive Caucus.

But the Progressive Challenge is still very much a creature of the Beltway. If it is to be significantly useful to the participating groups and to the Progressive Caucus, if it is to make a difference in politics and in life, it must expand beyond this central if narrow venue. This is the central purpose of this meeting in Chicago in addition to other meeting planned or being planned in Atlanta, the Bay Area, Detroit, New York, New England, New Orleans. Meetings have already been held in Sand Diego, Maine and Boston. The DSA Youth Section is exploring the possibilities of a Youth Progressive Challenge with the Center for Campus Organizing, U.S. Student Association and Student Environmental Action Coalition.

In a very real way, the Progressive Challenge and the Fairness Agenda is the first fruit of the 1997 DSA National Convention. The focus of conversation and debate at the Convention was building a broader left. The Convention Resolution on Building a Broader Left called for a discussion among the democratic left on means for strengthening the progressive community, and it explicitly endorsed the Progressive Challenge as a venue for such a discussion, stating: “The Progressive Challenge represents a key center for this discussion in the context of its economic justice and equity agenda.”

While the Progressive Challenge has made a brave and hopeful beginning in Chicago and elsewhere outside the Beltway, it may be too early in the season for it to prosper immediately. In Chicago, at least, the Progressive Challenge lacks an institutional base and resources. It resembles the early days of Jobs with Justice in Chicago, before the local union movement made the commitment to provide the resources for office and staff. This is not so much a comment on the project’s prospects as a comment on just how far its organizers have to go.

The Fairness Agenda

I. Enact a Fairness Budget for America

America’s abundant resources must be used to build a decent society. We propose cutting military spending and corporate giveaways and reinstating progressive taxation, while redirecting revenues to invest in human resources, such as schools and health care, and in infrastructure, such as mass transit.

II Ensure Jobs, Living Wages, Benefits and Worker Rights for All

Our nation depends on a vigorous and innovative workforce that is assured basic rights. We propose government job creation, especially in areas of high unemployment; laws requiring profitable companies to compensate workers and communities affected by job cuts; elimination of tax breaks for companies that provide excessive executive compensation; and stronger protections against labor rights violations and all forms of discrimination.

III Ensure Equality for All

Despite recent progress, there is still widespread discrimination in this country based on race, gender, disabilities, age and sexual orientation. Wage gaps by sex and by race and de facto segregation still exist. Two means of addressing these problems include sufficient funding for agencies that administer anti-discrimination laws and reinforcing affirmative action while exploring the integration of class-based criteria into such programs.

IV Promoting a Just and Sustainable Global Economy

Free trade agreements and World Bank / IMF structural adjustment programs have increased inequalities at home and abroad. We propose an international dialogue to develop alternative trade and development initiatives that encompass the protection of worker and women’s rights, environmental standards, and food security, and tackle the issues of immigration and the need to reduce inequalities.

V Support Demilitarization, Human Rights and a New Internationalism

We propose: cutting military expenditures; negotiating to eliminate all nuclear weapons; shifting R&D priorities toward pressing domestic needs; stopping NATO expansion; banning landmines; ending subsidies for arms exporters and arms transfers for dictators; banning covert operations; shifting from unilateral military aid and U.S. controlled peacekeeping missions abroad to multilateral responses; and promoting real human rights abroad, which includes political, economic, social and cultural rights.

VI Guarantee Sustainable Communities and Environmental Justice

We propose: distribution of more no-strings federal funds, especially to poor communities; revisions in trade agreements to allow communities to enact strong environmental and labor laws; and retargetting federal insurance, subsides and loans for community development. On environmental justice, we propose: promoting the right to a clean environment and replacing subsidies for polluters with subsidies for ecologically sound products and services. We also support a shift to more sustainable agriculture that supports rural communities and a safe food supply.

VII Provide Adequate Social Investment

We propose: preserving Social Security and protecting it from privatization, remaking economic security structures to address the needs of the poor, offering universal access to affordable quality healthcare, protecting and expanding Medicare eligibility to people of all ages and income, creating a bill of rights to protect health care consumers, increasing funds for low-income housing assistance, and providing adequate funding for quality public education.

VIII Limit Private Money in Politics

Public outrage is increasing over the abuse of campaign finance loopholes, systematic influence-peddling, and political favors granted to special interests. Candidates who reject contributions from private sources, accept spending limits, and run shorter campaigns should have the options of receiving clean, disinterested money for their elections. Such a voluntary system would provide an alternative to private fundraising, create a financially level playing field and tighten loopholes.

Bye Bye M.A.I.?

Well, Not Quite…

The Trans Pacific Partnership was not the first “free trade” agreement to bite the dust. Back in 1998, Chicago DSA was part of a campaign to defeat a proposed “Multilateral Agreement on Investment”. My commentary on the defeat was published in New Ground 57, March — April, 1998.

…Well, Not Quite

by Bob Roman

While the Clinton Administration has concluded that an agreement on the MAI is unlikely by the OECD’s self-imposed April 28 deadline, and while representatives from the European members of the OECD are resisting U.S. attempts to extend the deadline, the proposed pact won’t be dead until negotiators officially give up.

If the negotiators realize that the political realities are not auspicious, the concepts behind the MAI retain a powerful attraction. If MAI itself is unlikely, the ruling wealthy elite is still actively seeking ways of accomplishing the same, half a loaf or less at a time. Working people may have dodged the MAI asteroid, but the stones keep falling.

The most recent attempt in the U.S. was HR 1432, the “African Growth and Opportunity Act”. The bill was introduced by Illinois’ very own Phil Crane. HR 1432 was touted as a way of increasing trade with and investment in Sub-Saharan Africa; however, the bill had a specific ideological and imperial agenda. Participation was limited to those African countries that could be “certified” as making progress toward having a “free market” economy. The U.S. Information Agency would have been mandated to disseminate propaganda in support of these reforms.

The bill was defeated, 193 to 224. I’m happy to say that DSA member Major Owens voted against the bill (Dellums did not vote), but many otherwise good, liberal Representatives such as Abercrombie, Gutierrez, Waters and Yates voted for the bill. And why not? Absent any ideological alternative that illuminates the class dimension of bill’s costs and benefits, the consequences of such legislation are unclear.

Not all these initiatives are originating in the U.S. On March 11, the European Commission of the E.U. unanimously proposed to open negotiations with the U.S. to form a “New Transatlantic Marketplace”. While the proposal is hardly more than an idea at this point, the intent is to eliminate all industrial tariffs by 2010.

Given the primitive state of our labor legislation, the E.U. would probably suffer from this pact more than we would. The proposal, in resembling the AFL-CIO’s suggested “North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement” alternative to NAFTA, could easily cause another split among U.S. progressives. Absent class analysis, special interest rules.

And if all this were not enough, the North American Free Trade Agreement threatens to metastasise. On April 18, the “Summit of Heads of States of the Americas” will be meeting in Santiago, Chile, with the specific intent of coordinating efforts at expanding NAFTA to all the Americas.

The choice of Santiago is symbolically appropriate. When Allende nationalized Chile’s telecommunication industry in 1973, William F. Buckley ominously rumbled that this was not a “purely internal” matter because it was theft. When the generals destroyed Chile’s legally elected government that fall and began a program of slaughter and terror, many conservatives explained that freedom of speech and assembly were unimportant if you were unable to move your money where ever you please. Property rights uber alles.

So while it is vital that people mobilize against these proposals, mobilization is not enough. People need and politicians need to understand both the material costs and benefits to these proposals and their consequences to future society. Ideas matter.

Jobs & Living Wage Setback

Payback Time in 99

Spoiler alert: Chicago did eventually get a Living Wage Ordinance of sorts. The instructive part of this episode is that a majority of the City Council had signed on as co-sponsors of the ordinance. This was originally published in New Ground 54, September– October, 1997.

by Bob Roman

Everyone thought the deed had been done a week earlier. That was when the Chicago City Council Finance Committee voted, 8 to 17 with 10 “no shows”, to recommend against passage of the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance.

Conventional wisdom said that was the end of it. The measure would be buried at the next Council meeting, July 30, probably without even the dignity of a formal consideration or a roll call. Reporters wrote their stories in advance around the other business of consequence, the Ethics Ordinance; this is, after all, the City that Works, though for whom is a question rarely asked.

Conventional wisdom reckoned without the Chicago Jobs and Living Wage Campaign. Organized by Chicago ACORN under the auspices of Chicago Jobs with Justice, the Campaign brings together some 80 labor, political, advocacy and service organizations including Chicago DSA.

On Wednesday, July 30th, the Campaign brought together over 200 people at City Hall to demand an accounting. The City Council was scheduled to meet. Some 36 of the 50 aldermen had signed on to supporting the Ordinance. It should pass if considered honestly.

But 200 people in the lobby and the hallway outside the Council Chambers must have seemed like the start of the French Revolution to the Establishment in City Hall. They quickly barred the doors to the Council, without even the traditional courtesy of packing the Chamber with City employees; the Chamber was nearly empty.

The rabble wasn’t having it. “Open the dooooor, Richard!”, the crowd sang, and they pounded upon the doors and the walls of the Chamber in time.

The police were not amused. John Donahue, Madeline Talbott, Maggie Laslo, Diane Lovett, Jon Green and Mike Stewart were arrested. This was news! Reporters went scrambling to revise their stories.

Supporters on the City Council were also active. While (predictably) the Ordinance itself did not come to a vote, a motion to table the motion to discharge the Ordinance from Committee was voted upon. Supporters succeeded in having a roll call vote, losing 17 – 31 – 2.

Because the Committee report was never actually voted upon, the Ordinance haunts the Council agenda. As New Ground goes to press, another demonstration is planned for the next Council meeting, September 10. In a counter move, the initial hearing for those arrested July 30th was rescheduled to September 10. And the Living Wage Campaign is suing the City for violating the Open Meetings Act.

In the mean time, two more cities have joined the ranks of those municipalities having a Living Wage ordinance: Duluth and Boston. And in Chicago, it ain’t over ’til we win.

Welfare Reform One Year Later

This was first published in New Ground 54, September — October, 1997.

by Bob Roman

On August 22nd, some 400 people gathered outside the Klucynski Federal Building in downtown Chicago to protest the signing, one year ago, of welfare legislation that is having a devastating effect on millions of poor, disabled and immigrant Americans. The crowd represented a coalition of over three dozen social service, advocacy, religious, political and labor organizations, including Chicago DSA.

The speakers at the demonstration included notables, such as Congressman Danny Davis and State Representative Jan Schakowsky, but victims of the dissolving safety net were also there to tell what these new policies mean in concrete terms.

The demonstration demanded real welfare reform: safe and accessible living wage jobs for all; equal access to public benefit programs for all, regardless of immigration status or previous needs; adequate food for all; quality health coverage for all; quality, accessible, subsidized child care; quality and accessible public education and training for people of all ages.

After the speeches, the demonstration marched through Chicago’s financial district to the plaza outside the Board of Trade where they symbolically voided corporate welfare checks totalling billions of dollars. There the demonstration was regarded with not so much hostility as with amazement by the decompressing traders and their gophers. They found the marchers too implausible to be threatening.

Win Some, Lose Mostly

President Clinton signed the “welfare reform” bill with the promise that the reform itself would be substantially reformed in the coming year. Naturally enough, the Administration claims success in this effort, but any such claim reflects a pretty dim view of what is possible.

It’s true that some of the most egregiously unfair provisions of the “welfare reform” bill have been modified. In general terms, legal immigrants already in the country are essentially restored to the Social Security system, but they are not restored to the Food Stamp program. Future immigrants are left in the cold, reflecting the conservative hallucination that it is our “generous” welfare system that draws immigrants to our shores.

There are other technical modifications to “welfare reform” that can be counted as good. There are no longer provisions encouraging the privatization of the states’ administration of these programs. There is a considerable amount of money for welfare-to-work transition programs, though most of this will probably end up being pocketed by private employers for jobs that would have been created anyway. And there are modifications regarding education being applied to work requirements and, more significantly, broadening Medicaid eligibility for disabled children. But the system is still engineered to encourage a race to the bottom, particularly if there is an economic downturn.

This Is Victory?

Considering the ideological rigidity of this Congress, these modest changes might seem a success, but there’s even less here than meets the eye.

First, conservatives can only carry immigrant bashing so far before it comes back at them on election day. For we are still a nation of immigrants, not just from the Americas, Asia and Africa but even still today from Europe. If the immigrants are not voters, their children and relatives often are.

And second, in a classic example of good old American horse trading, the wealthy and well to do received something in return: a substantial cut in the capital gains tax and, for the somewhat less well off, a modest $400 per child tax credit. Those earning less than $18,000 per year need not apply.

Consider that this is being done at a time when, by the Federal Reserve’s own Survey of Consumer Finances, the top one percent of our country’s population has increased its share of the wealth from 30% to 36%, in just three years, from 1992 to 1995.

Back to the Future?

The truth is: nobody much liked the “system” as it existed in 1996, not even the recipients that allegedly benefited from it. The benefits were rarely enough to live on without cheating, and as the rules were written for an imaginary “deserving” victim of circumstance, they often discouraged attempts to leave the system.

The destruction of this system, as deadly an event as a forest fire, at least gives us the opportunity to build something new- an opportunity, but only just an opportunity.

The demands of the August 22nd demonstration could be implemented as the core of a “social wage” policy which enables people to work when they are able and supports them when they cannot. The European social democratic experience can be a guide to the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach, but only a change in the balance of power within our country will give us the chance for change.