LINCOLN, Neb — Joe Swanson, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for Lincoln City Council at-large, and supporters spent the Feb. 20-21 weekend building solidarity for locked-out workers at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Minnesota and collecting signatures to put Swanson on the ballot for the April 6 primary.
“As a 60-year union veteran, Swanson said he would advocate for workers, help them organize and increase their rights,” wrote the Lincoln Journal-Star Feb. 22, after Swanson, a former railroad and meatpacking worker, filed 289 signatures. On Feb. 24, city officials certified the campaign for the ballot with nearly 100 more signatures than required.
Campaign supporters talked to workers at their doorsteps here and in the rural towns of Mead and Wahoo.
Swanson and David Rosenfeld, a campaign supporter from Minnesota, met up with Lance Anton, a freight rail conductor and member of SMART-TD Local 0305 who has been getting the word out about Swanson’s campaign. Dropping by various Latin American stores and markets he told people about the working-class candidate and left campaign leaflets.
Rosenfeld described the support Marathon oil workers had received during their first five weeks on the picket line, including the solidarity messages that Rebecca Williamson, SWP candidate for City Council in Seattle, brought to the locked-out workers during a recent solidarity caravan in St. Paul Park where the oil refinery is located.
Swanson pointed out that the oil workers’ fight for safety on the job is also a fight for the safety of the community near the refinery. “The same is true on the railroad,” he added.
“That’s right,” Anton replied. “There are bomb-trains passing right by the football stadium,” referring to huge amounts of highly explosive materials freight trains haul through the area. “You know what could happen if one blew up.”
“You got a lot of signatures to put Joe on the ballot from your co-workers, and others,” Rosenfeld said to Anton. “What do you think about getting people to sign a solidarity message for the Marathon workers? They need support to keep strong in their fight.” Anton readily agreed and we began drafting the message to get his co-workers, union members and neighbors to sign.
The fight by Marathon workers for safer conditions also drew interest from residents of Mead when the socialist campaigners visited that small town 35 miles north of Lincoln. Outrage from residents forced the state to order the closure of the AltEn ethanol plant Feb. 4 after toxic residue from the plant contaminated soil, air and water in the surrounding area. Unlike at most plants that process regular corn into fuel, bosses at AltEn used pesticide-coated seed corn.
“The odor was way worse than the cattle feed lot next to the plant,” Crystal Hartgrave, a school cook in Mead, told this correspondent and Kevin Dwire when we knocked on her door. Her neighbors told us the same thing, saying the stench made them sick.
Although the plant was forced to stop operations, “it’s not really closed yet,” Hartgrave added. “They need to clean it up.”
“That’s why we need to fight for workers control of production, to stop them from putting profits ahead of the safety of workers and our communities,” Dwire said. “We need to organize in our own interests, against the bosses and their Democratic and Republican parties.”
Hartgrave knew about a public meeting to be held at the Mead high school on March 1 to discuss what will happen with the shuttered plant. “I’ll probably go to speak my mind,” she said.
Workers need own foreign policy
“Building solidarity with workers’ struggles to organize and defend themselves is at the center of the SWP campaign,” Swanson told a public meeting in Lincoln Feb. 21. “That’s true here and around the world. The working class needs our own foreign policy,” he said, that includes supporting struggles of working people from Myanmar to Haiti and Turkey.
Millions of workers in Texas and Oklahoma, including several of Swanson’s relatives, “face a social disaster following the snow and freezing temperatures. Many lost electricity and water. The capitalist politicians and pundits say this is an ‘act of God,’” while debating which group of capitalist energy producers are to blame, Swanson noted.
“The disaster is the result of the capitalists’ profit drive, no matter what the energy source,” he said. “That’s why the Socialist Workers Party calls for nationalizing the energy industry, under workers control.”
Swanson said he is using his campaign to support the fight to demand Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts free Ed Poindexter, a former Black Panther in Omaha who was framed up by cops and the FBI and has been imprisoned for 51 years.
The SWP candidate also took up the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. “We’re against impeaching any president in a manner that does damage to the rights of working people,” he said. “Impeachment was written into the Constitution as an alternative to any form of popular recall,” keeping the decision about removing a president in the hands of political representatives of the propertied owners.
“I appreciate you said impeachment isn’t really the voice of the people,” commented Joseph Rathe, a greenhouse worker who’d gotten a subscription to the Militant from SWP campaigners the day before.
“This is not our government, it’s a capitalist state,” Swanson responded. “It’s their Constitution. All of the rights we have, everything that has been changed in our interests, came out of fights in the streets. Living under capitalist rule, you often hear the view ‘things will never change.’ That’s not true, there have been mass struggles by men and women ‘from nowhere.’”
“I’d like to bring others to learn about this,” Rathe said after the meeting.
Over the course of the weekend, supporters of the campaign signed up seven new subscribers to the Militant and sold four books about the party’s program.