The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 5           February 6, 2006  
 
 
Marxism, or why join the communist movement
New York event takes up contradictory
development of labor vanguard
 
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS  
NEW YORK—More than 350 workers, youth, and others attended a public meeting here January 21 to hear a talk by Socialist Workers Party national secretary Jack Barnes. The program on “The World Crisis of Imperialism and Contradictory Development of the Labor Vanguard: Marxism, or Why Join the Communist Movement,” was sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists in New York and Newark, New Jersey.

Barnes began by pointing to a news report that Ford Motor Co., faced with plunging sales and profits, announced that it would close at least 14 factories and eliminate 30,000 jobs over the next four years. Ford’s projected cuts, amounting to 25 percent of its North American payroll, is similar to the job-slashing by General Motors, which plans to eliminate 30,000 jobs—17 percent of its workforce in the United States and Canada.

To confront its profit crisis and sharpening competition, Ford aims to become a smaller company, noted Barnes. He quoted Mark Fields, the auto company’s point man for these cutbacks, who said his goal is to put workers “in a crisis mode.”

The fact that this drive for increased productivity and profit comes at the expense of workers’ lives came through in an interview with coal boss Wilbur Ross in Fortune magazine that appeared just nine days after the January 2 Sago Mine explosion, where 12 people were killed underground, Barnes said.

Ross, the founder of the International Coal Group, which owns the Sago mine, told Fortune, “Our fundamental position is unchangedů. We are expanding. Sago produced 350,000 tons of coal last year, and we had planned on 900,000 this year.” Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Ross bragged that his company’s expanding ownership of nonunion mines “is what will make us the low-cost producer.”

Barnes pointed to the bipartisan nature of the government’s complicity in the assault on mine safety. Seventeen out of 26 mine safety regulations proposed in the 1990s were never put into effect by President William Clinton, and then President George Bush just let them die. In many mines the companies pressure workers not to report injuries, including through the use of bonus systems in which workers lose part or all of their bonuses if they report injuries, noted Barnes.

Referring to the New York subway and bus workers’ rejection of the proposed contract with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), Barnes said many of the 11,000 transit workers who voted it down were proud that they had sent a message to the MTA and government officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had called them “thuggish.” In an editorial capturing the New York rulers’ surprise at the transit workers’ action and their hatred of these unionists, the New York Times declared January 21, “The workers all along said they wanted respectů. But enough is enough. It is incumbent on all sides to get this contract settled.” Above all, Barnes said, what marks employers and labor bureaucrats is that they are always stunned when something like this happens.  
 
Bosses seek to outlaw the ‘rat’
The SWP leader pointed to a legal battle taking place over whether protesting workers have the right to set up giant inflatable rats in front of employers’ property. The giant rats, popular among the working class, are a familiar figure in New York and other industrial centers. A construction company filed a complaint against the Laborers International Union for setting up the rats at work sites to protest the use of nonunion labor, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is to decide soon on whether to make their display illegal.

“The bosses can’t stand this sign and symbol,” Barnes said. The unionists say that if the NLRB bans the rat, they may simply use a skunk.

Barnes spoke about the importance of the fight to defend the Militant against false charges of defamation brought by C.W. Mining because of its reporting on the two-year-long fight by workers at the company’s Co-Op mine to organize into the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). When the company failed to defeat the union head-on, they fired the miners and dragged them into court, Barnes said. They also targeted the Militant. Initially they also charged the Socialist Workers Party with defamation.

The case raises a very deep issue, Barnes explained—whether newspapers written by workers in struggle are covered by the same First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press as other papers.

In fact, “the Militant and the rat have a lot in common,” he remarked. They are being attacked for the same reasons. A growing number of workers see this newspaper as a useful political weapon to advance their struggles—it helps build working-class unity and allows workers to learn from each other’s experiences, both advances and setbacks.

The Militant, as its masthead explains, is a socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people. The paper belongs to the vanguard of the working class.

In this sense, the sale and use of the Militant is more and more part of worker-militants carrying out broader union-building and political work. This was reflected in the response by working people during the fall subscription campaign, when 3,200 people subscribed—more than double the original projection. The new readers range from independent truckers organizing into the Teamsters in Florida, to working people fighting for their livelihood in Louisiana in the wake of the social disaster sparked by Hurricane Katrina.

The recently launched campaign to win subscription renewals among these new readers offers an opportunity to involve militant workers in this effort, Barnes explained. Supporters of the paper will be contacting and visiting subscribers to ask them what they think of the paper, urge them to renew, and invite them to help circulate and write for the paper.  
 
Bipartisan war drive against Iran
The march toward a war against Iran by a U.S.-led imperialist alliance is advancing, said Barnes, as the Iranian government exercises its right to develop its nuclear energy program. He explained that Washington’s drive against Iran is bipartisan, as illustrated in a recent speech by Democratic senator Hillary Clinton, who called for United Nations sanctions on Iran and criticized the Bush administration for not being aggressive enough against that country.

In May, supporters of Pathfinder Press will be at the annual Tehran book fair, one of the largest in the world. “The ability to make revolutionary literature available to Iranians is more important than it has ever been,” said Barnes.

The New York meeting featured a newly published Pathfinder title, Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution (see ad on page 7). That book will be presented at the upcoming Havana International Book Fair, where an international team of socialist workers will be participating and staffing a Pathfinder booth. A number of meetings are planned in Havana and other cities to present the book. A launching is also planned at that fair for the latest issues, no. 12 and 13, of the Marxist magazine New International.

In attendance at the meeting were dozens of young people, many of whom were planning to attend the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, beginning January 24. A Young Socialists meeting January 22 attended by some 35 people discussed their participation in this event and the opportunities for building a revolutionary socialist youth organization.

A back-and-forth discussion followed Barnes’s presentation. Questions and comments ranged from Washington’s bipartisan drive toward war against Iran to the challenges facing New York transit workers, to the place of Cubans of Chinese background in the revolutionary struggle.

Meeting participants gave generously in response to a pitch for funds to help the Socialist Workers Party carry out its political work. Nearly $20,000 was given in contributions and pledges.

Among those attending the meeting was Ben Downing, 22, from the Houston area. He was about to leave for the World Social Forum and had decided to join the Young Socialists. “I was really just waiting to meet you guys,” he said, adding that he was glad to “find people who are part of an organization that is the embodiment of these ideas.”

Manuel Sánchez, 51, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ in New York, brought eight other people with him to the meeting. He had sold Militant subscriptions to five of them over the previous months. He said he appreciated learning more about the Socialist Workers Party and hearing the presentation and discussion on the world scene and “how workers need to organize to fight against the economic crisis.”
 
 
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