Participants attended a special forum the day before that featured SWP national secretary Jack Barnes. He spoke on "The working-class response to imperialismís assault on Iraq and deepening world depression." The forum was reported in the April 7 Militant, under the headline, "War, labor resistance discussed at NY event."
The discussion at the fraction meeting centered on implementing the political perspectives put forward in Barnesí talk within the UFCW and the resistance of meat packers to attacks by the employers.
The U.S.-led assault on Iraq had just begun. "This war, and the accompanying war drives against Iran and north Korea, have accelerated politics in this country," stated Britton, the organizer of the steering committee of the meatpackers fraction. He stressed the need to explain to co-workers and others "that the war is being fought in the interests of Ďthem,í the capitalist bosses, and against the interests of Ďusí, working people around the world." The competition among the imperialist powers, for control of the oil wealth in the Middle East and elsewhere, is a driving force of this conflict.
The meeting discussed the importance of a proletarian orientation in fighting against imperialism and its wars.
Attending protests against the war, bringing co-workers if possible, and coming back with this experience to relate it to other fellow workers is essential, Britton said. Even more important is patient communist propaganda work, not only on the job, but at factory gates, working-class communities, on picket lines, and elsewhere, he said.
Under the guise of concern for the safe and rapid return of the GIs, there will be displays of patriotism. "We will set an example, along with other vanguard workers, in refusing to participate in any kind of patriotic display, such as yellow ribbons or moments of silence," Britton said. "We should continue to firmly explain our position to co-workers." He added that immigrant co-workers will not be immune to capitalist propaganda about the need to subordinate workersí struggles to the U.S. war effort.
In face of prowar pressures, "We should fight to keep having civil discussions with our co-workers," said Britton, "as bosses and right-wingers aim at cutting down the space to do this."
The meeting decided that a crucial activity this spring will be winning new subscribers among fellow workers to the Militant and its sister publication in Spanish Perspectiva Mundial, as well as selling the Marxist magazine New International and Pathfinder books (see ad on page 15 for special offers on these titles).
Several workers at the meeting explained that meatpacking bosses are using the pretext of "homeland defense" to implement new work rules that will be used to selectively victimize workers.
The communist workers discussed how to help expand solidarity with meat packers on strike against Tyson Foods in Jefferson, Wisconsin. They resolved to participate with co-workers and union officials, in solidarity rallies and food drives, and build support for the "Truth Squads" of Tyson strikers visiting plant gates in the Midwest.
Edwin Fruit, a UFCW member at Tyson Foods in Perry, Iowa, said the visit from such a Truth Squad to his plant received a warm reception by his co-workers. "One of the Tyson strikers was impressed that Latino immigrant workers contributed funds," Fruit said. "The Tyson strikers are predominantly U.S. born."
"Struggles like the Tyson strike have a logic against the U.S. rulersí war on Iraq," Britton noted. "The strike itself is an expression that workers will not subordinate their own class interests to the capitalists. Whatever their opinion on the war, they are determined to continue their struggle."
"In any labor struggle thatís serious, and sustains itself for some time, a broad vanguard begins to form," stated Samuel Farley, a leader of the successful union-organizing drive at Dakota Premium Foods, a beef slaughterhouse in South St. Paul, Minnesota. "This broad vanguard is continually reforming and changing, but such a leadership can have the strength to lead the union as a whole. In the plant where I work we have been through three years of fights to consolidate a union and win better conditions of work."
The Růger Calero defense case comes up against a central offensive of the ruling class in this country, reported Britton (see front-page article). The rulers are trying to deprive immigrant workers of their rights, and use them to divide the working class in this country, the SWP leader said.
"Several meat packers in Omaha helped organize a Calero defense meeting," David Rosenfeld told the meeting. "Bill Pearson, president of UFCW Local 789 in St. Paul, Minnesota, spoke as part of the program. He explained that the Calero case is important for the entire labor movement."
The socialist meat packers decided to work to spread support for this and other defense cases in their industry and union.
Potash is a sewing machine operator in a Chicago garment shop. In some plants, yellow ribbons have already begun to be passed out by the bosses, she said. Many co-workers who were earlier opposed to the war are becoming resigned to it now, hoping it will be over quickly. They say that since it has started they must support "our troops."
Class-conscious workers donít wear yellow ribbons or other trappings that are part of the bossesí attempt to win support for the war effort, said Potash.
They also donít make themselves scarce when bosses try to pressure workers to wear a ribbon, take part in a moment of silence for "our troops," or carry out some other "patriotic" deed. Communists need to stand their ground and make their views transparent. Itís the only way to defend the space they have for proletarian political work within the working class.
One participant who works in a garment factory in Pennsylvania noted that many of her co-workers have relatives or friends in the U.S. armed forces. Maps of where troops are stationed in Iraq have been hung in the plant, she said, along with yellow ribbons, many of which are being worn by her co-workers. "Itís not enough to just say I donít support the war," she said. "You need to explain why, even if people donít agree."
Support for "our troops" and for the war, however, doesnít mean that workers wonít be interested in the views of those who oppose the imperialist war drive. In the first couple days of the U.S. bombing, for example, socialist workers at the Pillowtex mills in North Carolina stepped up sales of the Militant and Pathfinder literature on the job. On one particular day they sold a copy of the book Marianas in Combat, which depicts the role of women in the Cuban Revolution, and took an order for the Spanish-language edition of New International with "The Opening Guns of World War III."
The imperialist assault on Iraq takes place during a deepening economic depression, Potash said. Workers at many factories are working short weeks or short hours. Others have been laid off outright.
Communists have to be working in industry to build the SWP, Potash emphasized. Fractions in garment and textile will need to work with jobs committees in the SWP branches to work through these challenges.
Maintaining sewing skills is crucial for continuing to find and hold jobs, including under depression conditions, especially in garment factories where itís common for the company to disregard seniority, she said. Where they canít get into garment and textile shops, these socialist workers will hold other industrial jobs until they can find work in garment factories and textile mills.
As the depression unfolds, bosses float schemes for shorter hours and working weeks. Socialists at the Pillowtex mill in Concord, North Carolina, for example, reported that workers there have been discussing a proposal to work one week on and have the next week off in order to be able to collect unemployment. Pillowtex has announced that itís seeking to sell its factories. Possible buyers include Spring, a notorious anti-union company. UNITE won recognition at Pillowtex in 2000, after a 25-year-long fight for the union.
"Socialist workers participate in their union and with coworkers in any efforts to win some relief from management abuses on short time or layoffs," said Laura Garaza, a sewing machine operator in Boston. "But there is no solution to short weeks or hours in the context of one plant," she added. "We need to raise broader demands, like a shorter work week with no cut in pay, that begin to point to a collective way to challenge the capitalist disorder working people face, and unite our class."
While resistance to the bossesí offensive is not widespread in garment and textile now, there are important struggles that socialist workers in UNITE need to continue to be a part of, Potash said--and not only in their industry but beyond. "The meatpackers strike against Tyson Foods in Jefferson, Wisconsin, is one such struggle," she said.
One ongoing fight that socialists have a chance to relate to is the union-organizing drive at CINTAS, the largest uniform rental provider and industrial launderer in the U.S. and Canada, Potash said.
Socialist workers walked the picket line during the Libro Shirt Company strike in Lykens, Pennsylvania. The 89 workers ended their struggle in defense of health benefits recently, after the company shut down production and emptied the building of machinery. Janet Post, a UNITE member in the area, described a union picnic to celebrate what they had accomplished. These workers donít see this as a defeat, Post said. "They are proud they fought."
A socialist in Miami who works at a factory that produces bulletproof vests said that as Washington prepared to launch its assault on Iraq, one boss stated, "This is our war." This is an employer who rarely pays time and a half for overtime, this worker explained. As the war drive picked up, production of vests also increased. Workers started talking about going to the office and telling the boss he has to pay for the extra hours. After observing what was going on, the boss gave in. "It helps that there is a union organizing drive in a sister plant," the socialist noted.
A central part of their work in the next two months, these socialist garment and textile workers decided, is the effort to win new subscribers to the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial in this industry, and win wider backing among UNITE and other workers for the anti-deportation fight of Růger Calero.
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