BY NAOMI CRAINE
Pathfinder is appealing to its supporters for the capital funds needed to carry out an essential new stage in increasing productivity and lowering the costs of producing the books and pamphlets needed by workers and farmers engaged in struggle.
Since December, Pathfinder's printshop has been using computer-to-plate (CTP) technology to eliminate the skilled, labor-intensive prepress work that was necessary before. Decisive to increasing productivity and cutting costs in a sustainable way, however, is taking steps forward in the organization of labor in the shop.
The next capital improvement will be to qualitatively upgrade the temperature, humidity, and dust controls that are crucial to high productivity and high-quality printing. This step will end the physical separation between those operating the sheetfed presses, where the text and covers of Pathfinder books are produced, and the web press used to print the Militant. Above all, this will advance the organization of a single press department, with operators trained to run all three presses and the computer-to-plate equipment.
When the printshop acquired its two state-of-the-art Heidelberg sheetfed presses in 1993, an enclosure was built to protect them from the dust produced by the web press and paper storage on the main press room floor. This was intended as a temporary measure, and left many issues unresolved. Resolving them is now a crucial element in sustaining a smaller shop.
Nell Wheeler, who heads up the shop's press department, explained, "We're organizing the steps needed to end the physical separation of the press department as quickly as possible." Fundamentally, this means installing new dust and climate controls. "From there, with the enclosure removed, we'll move on to add windows that let in the sunlight, more professional industrial lighting, and a new floor that is safer and can be kept clean."
These steps are important for improving quality and productivity on both the web and sheetfed presses. "The most important reason," she said, "is to advance the labor-saving, cost-cutting methods of work of the human beings who run the presses and produce quality printing."
This means continuing to expand the cross-training of web and sheetfed press operators. Every press operator is also learning to prepare digital files and run the CTP platemaker; there is no separate department responsible for making plates. These steps, together with the labor saved by eliminating prepress, are making it possible to have a shop staff that is nearly a third smaller, freeing up more socialist workers to carry out political work in the trade unions.
$250,000 needed for Capital Fund
The project of upgrading a single press room, from start to finish, will cost about $250,000.
Since July, supporters of the communist movement have contributed more than $700,000 to the Pathfinder Capital Fund, needed to purchase the $350,000 CTP system and meet related expenses to renovate the printing factory. This tremendous response makes it possible to confidently project raising the additional $250,000.
An important part of the fund has come from industrial workers contributing production and "profit sharing" bonuses, many of which originate in concession contracts. Other contributions ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 have come from windfalls such as bequests, accident settlements, and trusts. The success of the appeal depends on two components: continuing the many contributions from $1,000 up to several thousand dollars, and contributions from those in a position to give tens of thousands from larger capital sources. Both will be essential in this next stage.
Rapidly collecting outstanding pledges to the fund is also necessary to meet current obligations.
The advances of the last few months in the shop are reflected not only in the production of Pathfinder books, but an upturn in the commercial work produced in the shop. Commercial sales, which are essential to maintaining the shop, both financially and in terms of skills, had suffered a serious drop in recent months, which is now in the process of being reversed. Continuing this reversal will make it possible to soon end the necessary deferral of capital funds to meet operating expenses because of the drop, and for the shop to begin to regenerate this capital.
The pipeline is flowing
At the same time, more than 100 volunteers around the world have been working to put every Pathfinder book in digital form - from text to photographs and covers. Each month since December, this special brigade has turned in to Pathfinder five complete books, ready to be printed in the shop - a big step toward their monthly goal of 10. There is now beginning to be a steady pipeline of books coming into the shop to be printed.
The night before this issue went to press, Nouvelle Internationale no. 6 was completed and shipped to workers in France who will immediately begin reading and selling it. It is the new French translation of New International no. 11, featuring "U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War" by Jack Barnes.
In addition to the just-released Capitalism's World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium, 10 Pathfinder books or pamphlets are in various stages of production in the shop this month. These include reprintings of Feminism and Marxism, Leon Trotsky Speaks, Women and the Cuban Revolution, The Last Year of Malcolm X, and New International no. 11.
Pathfinder and its printshop need to be able to produce books like these rapidly, and in small runs. That way resources aren't tied up in extra stock, but more copies of any particular title can be ready in a matter of days when the political need arises. And new books, like Capitalism's World Disorder, can be on bookshelves less two weeks after editorial work is complete. More than 1,000 copies of that book have been sent to distributors to fill initial orders.
Bindery: backbone of the shop
The other shop department, the bindery where books are bound and shipped, is key to having a pipeline of books delivered each month. Gerardo Sánchez is a member of the committee that organizes the bindery. He runs the folder, the first stop for a Pathfinder book after it comes off the presses. Sheets printed on the sheetfed press are folded into 16-page signatures, which are then collated, bound, and trimmed.
Sánchez explained the importance of rapid training, which new volunteers coming into the shop begin getting in the bindery. The socialist cadre who work in the printshop put in a stint of about three years, on average. Several experienced workers who had been in the shop well over that length of time have recently been released, and new volunteers are coming in at an accelerated pace. "We need to have people with a month or two training to meet - and surpass -production rates that are standard in the printing industry," Sánchez noted.
Meeting this challenge brings out workers' imagination and capacities. "We learned a lot together about how to produce large books working on Capitalism's World Disorder," said Sánchez. One example he gave was collating the 32 signatures that make up the 516-page book. "We needed a better method for this particular book," to save time on this labor-intensive task. "We decided to set up the signatures on both sides of the table, instead of just one." That way each person put together a full book walking each way around the table.
Sánchez and another folder operator also worked out a more efficient way to fold the text for Pathfinder books, where there are a lot of signatures in small quantities. Instead of a single operator doing the job, as had been common, one loaded the signatures onto the folder and the other inspected them, keeping the machine running. For some other jobs, where there are a few signatures of a much larger quantity, one person can run the machine more efficiently.
Capital Fund committee keeps up work
The Capital Fund Committee, made up of eight workers from across the United States, is continuing its work to raise the sums needed to advance this transformation of the printshop.
To find out how you can make a contribution, write to the Capital Fund Committee, 410 West St., New York, NY 10014.
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