CINCINNATI — Gloria Robinson, president of the Cincinnati chapter of the National Federation of the Blind; Dave Perry, a machine operator at the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired factory and Teamsters Local 100 shop steward there, as well as a board member of the NFB chapter; and Maggie Trowe, speaking for the Socialist Workers Party, addressed a Militant Labor Forum here March 20 on challenges facing workers who are blind.
Those who are blind face numerous challenges in employment, housing and daily life, Robinson said. Some 70% of blind people of working age are unemployed. Blind parents can even face fights to maintain custody of their children. Robinson, who is African American, has been blind since birth and has been working since she was 14.
“The NFB fights for the independence and rights of the blind and visually impaired,” she said. “Our position is that being blind doesn’t define a person. But it is a struggle, especially if you don’t know your rights.”
Robinson explained there are two “nonprofit” factories that employ blind workers in Cincinnati — Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
“Without support you can want to give up. We’re fighting against division and different rules for blind people,” Robinson said. “That’s why working with Dave and his union is important.”
Perry, a member of the Teamster union negotiating committee, described their fight for a new contract where he works. “The capitalists try to keep us divided and keep everybody upset with each other. We’re proud of standing together to get a better contract,” he said. Thirty-eight of the 50 workers voted to reject the bosses’ proposal for higher health insurance premiums. The union demands the company provide Teamster insurance at no higher premiums. The workers also demand union business agents be permitted to enter the plant without company permission or escort. “I have other workers call me at night so we can talk without management invading our space,” Perry said.
“Last year after a COVID shutdown, the company cut our wages. If they did it then, they’ll do it again,” he said. The company now charges the contract vote was fraudulent, and demands a recount.
‘Fight about dignity and respect’
“The fight is really about dignity and respect,” Perry said. “This is where the SWP is so important, explaining that the capitalists do not care about workers. It’s a fact. We have to fight for what we need till the day when the working class takes power out of the hands of the ruling class.”
“Gloria and Dave are fighters, not victims,” Trowe began, “and the Socialist Workers Party is honored to join with them in struggles. Their fight is in the interest of all workers, not just those who are blind. We’re for every single human being able to work and be part of society. The SWP campaign emphasizes the worth and dignity of the working class and the fact that only our class can resolve the crisis of the dog-eat-dog capitalist system.”
Trowe pointed to the examples of the 1917 Russian Revolution while Lenin and the Bolshevik Party were in power and of the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro that triumphed in 1959 and has been an example for working people ever since. “These working-class revolutions began with a different morality from that of the capitalist exploiters, one based on human solidarity.”
The Russian Revolution led by Lenin championed the rights of oppressed nationalities, led a campaign for literacy and electrification, and sent a culture train across the new Soviet Union to show movies in every town and village, Trowe said. The Cuban revolutionary leadership mobilized the toilers to carry out a sweeping land reform and a mass literacy campaign to lay the basis for everyone to participate in the revolution.
“Revolutionaries value every human life and celebrate the diversity of humanity. We oppose social engineering and eugenics,” said Trowe.
Despite over 60 years of economic strangulation by Washington, special efforts are being made in Cuba to provide and repair hearing aids for those who need them, she said. There are theaters that present films with commentary, to help blind and visually impaired people and their sighted friends alike understand the action the dialog alone doesn’t explain. Culture is for everyone.”
Perry explained that in 2016 as the CABVI Blind Employee of the Year, he went with a National Industries for the Blind delegation to talk with the staff of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. It became clear to Perry the NIB representatives favored a government subminimum wage for blind workers, claiming bosses will be more likely to hire them if they can pay them less than the minimum wage. “I told them the subminimum wage is an insult,” Perry said. “I wasn’t sure I would have a job at CABVI afterwards, but I wasn’t going to stand by and not speak up.”
Trowe pointed out that the administrators of the “nonprofit” organizations that run factories ostensibly to “help” the blind, like all bosses, have class interests that collide with those of the workers. Factories run by these outfits operate and compete in the capitalist economy and exploit blind workers’ labor power.
“In the long run, the only solution is to end the dictatorship of capital and form a workers and farmers government,” she said.