The meeting was also the launching of the campaign of Samantha Kern, 21, a national leader of the Young Socialists, for U.S. Senate in New York. Kern pointed to the growing number of workers on strike here in the financial center of world capitalism--from longshoremen on the picket lines at Domino Sugar to workers at the Museum of Modern Art to janitors in Manhattan fighting for a union.
Kern described her participation in a labor rally 10 days earlier, sponsored by the New York Central Labor Council, against the the city's antiunion "rat" employers. It attracted a number of workers from around the city involved in fights for union rights and dignity, who were reaching out for support and extending solidarity to each others' battles, she explained. Nearly a dozen giant inflatable rats, adorned with posters of targeted employers, were on display at the Union Square rally site. "These are definitely the most popular rats in the city," observed Kern.
Four years ago Kern was won to the Young Socialists after attending a meeting for socialist candidates. She announced that the YS has endorsed the SWP campaign and will be in the forefront of organizing ongoing support for the socialist candidates nationwide. Young activists will be joining up with other campaign supporters to spearhead petitioning brigades to place the party on the ballot here in New York in July and August and a number of other states around the country.
In addition, the YS is conducting weekly summer school classes to study what a number of speakers referred to as the "essentials" of the campaign, which includes Changing Face of U.S. Politics, Capitalism's World Disorder, and New International no. 11 with the feature article "U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War." Kern said the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial will be one of the main ways the socialist candidates and their supporters introduce the campaign to working people and young fighters.
'Gravediggers of capitalism'
"The brutalization of workers by the bosses goes hand in hand with the attack on social security, the scapegoating of Blacks, immigrants, women, and welfare recipients," stated vice presidential candidate Trowe. "It goes hand in hand with the increase of police brutality, use of the death penalty, and U.S. military aggression against our brothers and sisters in other countries.
"But that is not the end of the story," continued the socialist candidate. "The brutal drive of the capitalists for profit is producing something in addition to profit. It is producing the gravediggers of capitalism, right there in the plants, in the mills, in the mines, and in the streets of New York and other cities."
Trowe pointed to the recent sit-down strike at Dakota Premium Foods in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the ongoing fight by workers there for a union as part of the "cumulative impact of a series of struggles in Minnesota and elsewhere." She described the reaction of one young woman who works a knife job at the plant. "We didn't actually intend to have a strike," she told Trowe. "We just wanted to sit in the cafeteria until the boss slowed the line down."
Both candidates hailed the internationalization of the working class in the United States, with immigrant workers a growing component of the American working class. Workers born in other lands--from Latin America, Asia, and Africa--who now live and work in the United States bring with them invaluable class-struggle experiences that help to strengthen the fighting capacity of the entire labor movement. In Minneapolis, among those helping to lead the strikes at a number of area hotels are workers born in Somalia who travel in flying picket squads from hotel to hotel trying to stop cars from entering.
"Many workers born in this country are finding to their immense satisfaction that the very people they were told were stealing their jobs and driving down their wages," said Trowe, "are taking the moral high ground and are among the leaders in the fight for dignity, for the right to organize a union, and to make them real fighting organizations."
The struggles today are a result of the relentless drive by the bosses against working people, Trowe said. They have increased the intensity of labor, lengthened the work day, set aside safety and work rules, and driven down pay in industry after industry. The increasing competition between the imperialist powers means that their very successes drive the capitalists to push even harder. "They are threatening our lives and limbs," Trowe said. "Workers are saying, 'Enough!'"
Trowe emphasized the fact that socialist workers who are now running as candidates, have been part of struggles across the country, putting forward a fighting working-class revolutionary alternative to the parties that uphold and defend capitalism. "We'll keep doing the same after the election as well," stated Trowe. "But we don't let the capitalists monopolize the electoral arena. We run for office as the tribune of the people, as the voice of the fighting, revolutionary vanguard of workers and farmers."
Meat packers fight for a union
This was a striking feature of the meeting. A large number of the participants were union fighters deeply involved in the resistance of workers and farmers, among them Socialist Workers candidates from around the country. They represented several generations of activists with experience in a wide diversity of struggles.
Joe Swanson, a union fighter and socialist from Des Moines, Iowa, spoke about how the resistance we see among working people in the Minnesota area is spreading. He reported that five days earlier two-thirds of the sanitation workers employed at the IBP packinghouse in Perry, Iowa, also sat down in the cafeteria and said that they were not going to work if they do not get a pay raise. He pointed to the attractive displays prepared by campaign volunteers that highlight through photographs important struggles by workers and farmers. "A good chant for this campaign is that of the St. Paul meat packers, Si se puede! (Yes we can)," he said, leading the chant which was repeated several times during the meeting.
Reporting from the ongoing United Mine Workers of America picket lines out West in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and Gallup, New Mexico, Jan Miller, a coal miner from Ft. Collins, Colorado, said these strikes, which have been going on for more than a month, remain solid. "The socialist campaign will be quite attractive to a number of these miners," stated Miller, who reported that through the course of their experiences these UMWA members are realizing that their fight is tied to the struggles of other workers around the world.
Both Swanson and Miller reported on the interest in the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial among these fighting workers, as well as Pathfinder books that take up central questions in world politics today. A socialist perspective gets a serious hearing among a layer of these workers engaged in struggle, Miller said.
Rollande Girard, the Socialist Workers candidate for mayor of Miami/Dade County, described how Miami is like the rest of the country where working people are involved in stepped-up resistance to the bosses' attacks on conditions on the job and democratic rights. Workers at RC Aluminum, many of whom are Cuban-American, are conducting a fight for union recognition, for example. Socialists campaigners, noted Girard, are also finding a more open response in south Florida among these workers and others throughout Florida to the Militant, Perspectiva Mundial, and Pathfinder literature.
To rousing applause Girard announced that because of a recent change in the electoral law, the Socialist Workers presidential ticket will be on the ballot in Florida for the first time.
Girard in turn introduced Argiris Malapanis, the SWP candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida. Malapanis, who works at a nonunion garment shop, read a message of solidarity 13 workers there sent to the meat packers at Dakota Premium Foods in St. Paul, Minnesota, fighting for union recognition. "Your fight encourages us to do the same here. We wish you victory," the letter stated in part. "Many workers sense we're on the verge of organizing drives that will pose questions for workers that we haven't seen in a long time," said Malapanis.
The SWP senatorial candidate from Texas, Lea Sherman, works as a meat packer in an unorganized plant. She spoke about the variety of activities in which campaign supporters there have been participating. These include a speaking engagement with a neighborhood group in a colonia on the outskirts of Rosenberg, Texas, where residents are fighting for clean drinking water; setting up a Pathfinder literature table at a statewide immigrants rights rally in Dallas; and joining the protests outside the prison in Huntsville against the execution of Gary Graham.
Elvidio Mejia, who works in the Pathfinder printshop in New York and is a leader of the garment district branch of the SWP in the city, pointed to the invaluable role of Pathfinder books in getting the lessons of the working class movement into the hands of fighters resisting the bosses' offensive today. He described how every Thursday afternoon immediately after the Militant is printed, socialist campaign supporters are out on the streets of New York with the new issue of the campaign newspaper and Pathfinder literature, discussing with workers and students the big political issues of the day, as well as participating in labor protest actions.
Attractive photographs illustrating the labor resistance from striking coal miners in the West to a workers' general strike in South Africa were on display outside the meeting hall. A lively reception with a delicious food spread organized by supporters of the SWP before and after the event became a place for nonstop political discussion.
Pointing to the rank-and-file resistance by workers defending unions or fighting for union organization, and struggles by working farmers, presidential candidate Harris stated, "The class struggle in the United States is heating up." The U.S. ruling class "is weaker and the working class is beginning to get stronger."
Why rulers back death penalty
The socialist campaign, emphasized Harris, will talk about what issues such as the death penalty are all about. "In addition to getting out and building demonstrations against it and their barbaric state-sponsored executions, we explain what it is," he said.
"The death penalty is an instrument of class terror," continued Harris. "It is meant to be unjust and arbitrary. That is how the capitalist system works. The death penalty is carried out by the police on the streets every day and through the prison system in every single state. It has nothing to do with fighting crime. Its only purpose is to instill a sense of terror in the working class. To make you think twice before you strike or join a protest against cop brutality. It is meant to keep you from fighting. It is part of the assault on democratic rights and the moves already made by the Clinton administration to set up a military command over the United States."
Turning to the discussion in the capitalist media about social security, Harris cautioned the audience to be suspicious when capitalist politicians--who are not the most farsighted of individuals--all of a sudden start talking about how the social security fund may run out of money in 30 years. "The truth of the matter is that a lot of surplus value is produced by working people and they don't want us to have it," commented Harris. "Social security was won by workers and farmers through social struggles. We should reject ideas that make us look at it as an individual retirement package. We fight against the idea that there are individual solutions to what workers face. Social Security can only be defended--and expanded--fighting to defend a class and as a social question for every single working person. We are for government-guaranteed universal health care, retirement, old-age pension, and disability payments."
Also preparing for the coming battles is Patrick Buchanan, who looks to build a fascist movement with a cadre that will seek to take on and defeat a rising revolutionary movement of working people in the streets. Harris took note of the fact that Buchanan has succeeded in capturing control of a third capitalist party in this country, the Reform Party, which he will use as a pole of attraction in the national election arena to advance his reactionary aims.
Since announcing he would seek the Reform Party nomination last October, Buchanan has systematically moved to take control of the organization. He succeeded in defeating Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, who had major influence over large sections of the party's apparatus. Ventura, who left the party in February, was the most prominent politician to win office on the Reform Party ticket. Lenora Fulani, a former presidential candidate of the New Alliance Party which gained an influence in the Reform Party, especially in New York, resigned June 18 as cochair of Buchanan's presidential campaign. In mid-June, Buchanan's brigades succeeded in unseating delegates backing party founder and two-time presidential candidate Ross Perot in his home state of Texas.
Buchanan's approach is very different from that of the Green Party, which just nominated Ralph Nader as its presidential candidate, Harris explained. The Greens seek to function as a left wing of the Democratic Party, while Buchanan's moves are in opposition to the two-party system. "Buchanan seeks to accumulate and energize the forces that will be needed to carry out acts of violence against a rising working-class movement, defeat it, and impose a fascist tyranny in this country," stated Harris.
'Same kind of problems I'm having'
Among those attending the campaign rally was Mark, a meat packer at Best Provisions and member of UFCW Local 174 in New Jersey, who requested his last name not be used. He said he found the meeting "uplifting." The problems the candidates are talking about are "the same kind of problems I'm having--longer hours, weekend work, and management speeding up the machines," he said. The union activist is fighting to get his job back after the company fired him after he spoke out against the bosses' refusal to pay shift differentials and contractual raises that workers were entitled to.
"What I see is a lot of people fighting for the same thing and there's a lot of power here," said Mark in a discussion with a co-worker after the event.
Josť, a new member of the Communist League in Toronto who is planning on getting a job in meatpacking, was also attending his first socialist campaign rally. He took a 10-hour bus ride down to New York for the event. He was most impressed by the fact that the "speeches were based on a platform," not personalities, and that what was put forward were "collective solutions as opposed to individual solutions."
Concluding her remarks at the rally, Trowe stated, "The tide is turning. Vanguard workers are beginning to stand together and fight, and this is having a cumulative effect. A rich learning process is going on. The school of hard knocks is becoming the school of resistance. There could be no better time to launch a Socialist Workers campaign."
Over the next few months socialist campaigners will be joining petitioning teams around the country in an effort to get the party on the ballot in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
Through the course of this intensive effort they will reach tens of thousands of working people with information on the socialist campaign. A number of states, in an effort to keep working-class parties off the ballot, have imposed restrictions too difficult for the SWP candidates to meet for this election.
The Socialist Workers campaign newspaper, the Militant, will be providing full coverage of the SWP candidates not only in the pages of its paper but with additional information on its web site as well. Participants in the meeting contributed $2,700 to the campaign.