Against the Current, No. 27, July/August 1990

Against the Current, No. 27, July/August 1990

A Non-Peace Non-Dividend?

— The Editors

THE SO-CALLED "PEACE DIVIDEND" looks like one of the hottest political topics of 1990, 1991 and maybe even 1992. The Bush administration never tires of repeating that there really isn't much of a peace dividend, because we still need a "strong defense" and there's a deficit to be taken care of. Democrats are winning rhetorical political points by accusing Bush of being mired in Cold War thinking, when a little creativity would yield money to solve acute problems of health care, education, drugs, AIDS, homelessness, hunger and deindustrialization.

For Democrats, the peace dividend" has all the appeal of a classless quick fix. Throughout the 1980s, the United States had a government that stole rapaciously and shamelessly from the poor and gave to the rich. In real terms, 1990 federal programs for the poor were funded at 47 percent of 1960 levels. During the same decade, real wages fell for working people, so that the society became much more polarized. Democrats who had won elections in the 1960s by serving corporate interests, waging war and increasing social services had no formula for the 1980s. They see the peace dividend" as a possible ticket back to their golden age....

Black Workers for Justice

— an interview with Nathanette Mayo

Nathanette Mayo is the vice president of AFSCME Local 1194 in Durham, North Carolina. She is also an activist in the Black Workers for Justice, an organization of Black labor and community activists founded in 1982 with offices in Raleigh and .Rocky Mount, and a member of BWFJ’s Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble. As a community organization based in the workplace, BWFJ helps workers develop proto-union organizations in their plants in the hope that these might lead to organizing drives—an uphill fight in the state with the lowest union density of any state in the country.

BWFJ also involves itself in numerous community struggles around issues of toxic waste and Black land loss in the highly segregated eastern North Carolina Black Belt, where many Black townships are unincorporated and hence unprotected and unserviced. Mayo toured several Midwest cities in March in an effort to promote BWFJ and foster solidarity around its struggles. Mike Flasher and Matt Schultz, members of Solidarity in Ann Arbor, interviewed her for ATC.

Against the Current: What is the history of your organization, the Black Workers for Justice?

Nathanette Mayo: The BWFJ grew out of the K-Mart Workers for Justice, eight years ago. ...

Building from the Grassroots

— Cynthia Bowens

DURING THIS POLITICAL period, two of the biggest challenges confronting the movement for major social change in this country are its inability to connect with masses of people, and the severe fragmentation that exists on the left.

These weaknesses keep the left on the fringes of the U.S. political scene, either isolated or absorbed by the dominant political apparatus We in New African Voices Alliance (NAVA) have, with some success, attempted to set priorities in our work so as to confront these challenges. Perhaps some of our experiences will be helpful to others In their organizing. We know that feedback from others on our efforts is always valued.

One of the first things which struck me in the whirlwind of activity following my initiation into the movement for social change after the invasion of Grenada was that the people are always the same: Rallies, demonstrations, forums and meetings always draw the same forces....

U.S.C. Out of South Africa

— Harry Brighouse, John Hayes and Michele Milner

ON FEBRUARY 7, 1990, divestment activists at the University of Southern California met as usual for one of their quarterly protests outside trustees’ meetings. The protest had been organized hurriedly a few days before, when the date of the meeting was made public. It attracted around sixty people, all having reluctantly braved the early morning traffic for the 8:30 am start.

After several speeches, and spurred by the recent announcement of Nelson Mandela's impending release, the protesters made their way through a building and into an alleyway beside the Board Room. They aimed to be more audible to the trustees, hoping that a delegate could deliver a letter demanding that the trustees publicly pressure the apartheid government to take the reform process further....

Abortion Pill Is No Panacea

— Joan Batista

RU 486 HAS BEEN touted as a revolutionary way for women to terminate a pregnancy, a pill that allows a woman to abort in the privacy of her own home. The urgency felt by those of us in the pro-choice movement—especially since the Webster decision—to maintain legal and accessible abortion for all women has led many feminists to uncritically herald RU 486. This seems to flow almost automatically, given the right-wing's attempt to prevent the drug from being brought into the United States for testing.

For those who champion the right of women to control our own bodies, the battle over RU 486 has so far not been subject to much in-depth discussion. The impression that most people have, and seem to want to keep, both in mainstream women's groups and on the left—some “radical” women's groups and feminist health centers excepted—is that RU 486 is a miracle drug that will alter the abortion debate forever....

RU 486 Is in the Spotlight

— Joan Batista

RU 486 IS IN a brighter spotlight these days than ever before in this country. Last spring, the "abortion pill" came one step closer to being available in the United States. In March, California Attorney General and candidate for governor john Van de Kamp proposed testing RU 486 through the California Food and Drug Bureau in a procedure that was established to facilitate research and testing of AIDS drugs.

This procedure allows clinical testing of new drugs produced in California. When approved, as three AIDS drugs have already been, the drugs can be legally distributed only in the state This alternate procedure, considered to be much faster than Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing, is currently the only chance of bringing RU 486 into the United States for evaluation because FDA has indicated it would not accept an application to test RU 486 even if one were presented at this time....

Ford Battles Mexican Workers

— Dianne Feeley

FORD MEXICO HAS been in business for more than a quarter of a century. In 1987, responding to the demands of the 5,000-member workforce in its Cuautitlan plant (outside Mexico City), management fired all the workers and closed the plant.

Later Ford came to an agreement with the government-affiliated federation, the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), and reopened the plant. Only 3,800 workers were hired. Workers lost all seniority, pay was cut to less than half of the previous salary, and the work load was increased.

The Cuautitlan plant makes Ford pick-ups and Taurus, Topaz, Thunderbird and Cougar cars. The basic wage is currently $165 a month. Workers are tested for lead exposure, but they have no access to test results. Speedup is at a high pitch—for example, management has placed urinals along the line so that workers wouldn't need to take time out to go to the bathroom....

Soviet Jewish Immigration: Gift or a Time Bomb?

— Michel Warshawski

“THE ALIYA FES11VAL” that the Israeli authorities, with the active help of the mass media, are trying to promote among the Israeli public hasn’t caught on with the masses. On the other hand, it has evoked the concern of the Palestinian public, and rightly so.

Their concern is justified, because the mass aliya (immigration to Israel) from the Soviet Union is no longer in the realm of myth and pipe dreams, but an actual reality. Predictions of an immigration of 300,000 Jews from the Soviet Union over the next three years no longer seem a wild exaggeration. The history of the Palestinian people teaches that every wave of Jewish immigration is accompanied by the eviction and displacement of Palestinian inhabitants....

The Cancer Epidemic, Part I

— James Morton

IN THE UNITED STATES the most profound consequence of the environmental crisis is the epidemic rise in the incidence of cancer. This epidemic indicates more than an ever increasing occurrence of a fatal disease; it indicates that the body chemistry is being so disrupted by environmental toxins that our abilities to resist disease and reproduce healthy children are also failing. Cancer is for us what hunger is for the people of El Salvador, the cutting edge of the survival issue. It is our revolutionary issue.

If our children are to survive we must have a comprehensive analysis of the epidemic. First, we must understand and be able to articulate in common English the empirical data that define the parameters of the epidemic and their full range of implications. The debate on cancer cannot continue to be confined to the world of the epidemiologist and oncologist Second, we must understand the social forces that propel the epidemic and the implications for political action. To fail to understand ether the physical or social nature of the epidemic will be suicidal....

Tracking the Rise of an Epidemic

— James Morton

CANCER INCIDENCE BEGAN a serious rise sometime between the Second National Cancer Survey (SNCS 1947-50) and the Third National Cancer Survey (TNCS 1969-71). Mortality statistics collected annually indicate an almost flat response between 1950 and 1965, and then begin a continual and accelerating rise.

By 1965 Samuel Epstein, a physician specializing in occupational medicine, began to see evidence that a general cancer epidemic was building, propelled by the petrochemicals ravaging workers in petroleum refineries and in chemical and rubber manufacture By 1979 Epstein had enough data to publish the seminal work in cancer analysis, The Politics of Cancer (Anchor Press/ Doubleday). We now have far better data proving that Epstein was correct....

Drug Wars and the Empire

— Peter Drucker

People on the left increasingly realize how important it is to put forward an alternative to the Bush administration's drug war program, in order to avoid both complete marginalization and a new wave of drug war-inspired repression. National Mobilization for Survival, a network of peace and social justice groups, is one organization that is working on the issue. The following article is adapted from a pamphlet that Mobilization for Survival is planning. While the pamphlet as a whole will highlight the ways that racism and poverty in the United States have brought about the drug crisis, this section deals with ways in which U.S. intervention has failed to stop the drug trade. The author, Peter Drucker, is program staffers on for National Mobilization for Survival, and an editor of ATC.—The Editors

PEOPLE HAVE USED “drugs” (substances that artificially alter their sensations) in every known culture. Through most of human history, each culture has had only a few common drugs, because only a few drugs were grown or produced locally. Drug use in each culture was contained by traditions that dictated who would use them, when, how and how much....

Mujahideen and Dealers

— Peter Drucker

ALTHOUGH COCAINE HAS replaced heroin as the main enemy in the media’s drug coverage, heroin has not gone away. For a time in the 1970s, with the end of the U.S. war in Indochina, heroin supplies from Southeast Asia decreased. But in the 1980s heroin began flowing into the United States from other countries; especially Afghanistan and Pakistan. Together they accounted for about 75% of the heroin entering Europe and 50% of the heroin entering the United States. In Central Asia, as in Southeast Asia, U.S. intervention was key to the drug trade's expansion.

Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Afghan mujahideen (guerrillas) fighting against Soviet troops have been a favorite cause of the U.S. government. From 1980 to 1986 the United States gave about $1 billion a year to the mujahideen, most of whom advocate reimposing the veil on women and rolling back land reform. Another $600 million a year went to Pakistan, their base of operations. There has been minimal opposition to funding the mujahideen in Congress, although several of the groups are closely linked to the Iranian regime. Even the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989 generated little public pressure to change U.S. policy....

The Meaning of the Puerto Rican Plebiscite

— The Taller de Formación Política (TFP)

ON NOVEMBER 8, 1989, during his victory celebration, Rafael Hernandez Colon, Puerto Rico’s re-elected governor, announced that his new administration would concentrate on Puerto Rico’s social problems and would not seek any immediate changes in the island’s political relation with the United States. A few weeks later, in his inaugural address, Hernandez Colon reversed himself and announced that his party would promote the celebration of a plebiscite to define Puerto Rico’s political status. In Puerto Rico no one doubts that the initiative for this change of attitude came from Washington, D.C.

Shortly after; in his address to Congress, President George Bush himself proposed a plebiscite while personally endorsing statehood for Puerto Rica Since then events have advanced at a rapid pace. Under the auspices of Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-LA), the leaders of the three Puerto Rican electoral parties have met and agreed to collaborate in the drafting of legislation for a plebiscite. The controversies provoked through 1989 by the projected plebiscite have once again brought to public debate many unsolved problems of Puerto Rican society and of its relation to the United States....

Soviet Struggle: What is "Left" and "Right"?

— Boris Kagarlitsky

“WE MUST REPULSE the forces of the right,” decisively proclaims an orator at a meeting of the People's Front in Luzhniki (near Moscow). A country writer complains that the press has begun an incomprehensible lean toward the left “We are pressured from the right or from the left, but we will firmly follow our course,” a state leader solemnly assures his audience.

Within the context of the sharpening political struggle, the concepts of “right” and “left” have become an inextricable part of our daily life. They are used everywhere, appropriately and inappropriately. Sometimes, in samizdat journals, attempts are made to define these terms. For example, in Nevsky Notes (no. 5, 1989) Dmitry Shubin categorically declares that the Western “left” “is utterly not the same as ours” and that analogies are simply out of place. A Polish public figure—a former dissident who is now a deputy in the Sejm (Polish Parliament)—Adam Michnilç persistently demands that the terms “left” and “right” be completely abandoned, for they contradict the reality of Eastern Europe.

But this is not so easy! Language lives according to its own laws. What is it then that compels us again and again to use these terms, which seem to have come to us from a “foreign” political civilization and from a different epoch?...

Dialogue: The Third World After the Cold War

— James Petras and Mike Fischer

The profound transformation of U.S.-Soviet relations has dramatic and contradictory consequences for Third World liberation movements. These movements as well as the international left are struggling to respond to the new situation. With this article, Against the Current hopes to stimulate a discussion that will contribute to developing both understanding and revolutionary practice for a new period. —The Editors

SURVEYING THE FUTURE of the Third World on the eve of the popular explosion in Eastern Europe, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) cornmander Joaquin Villabos insisted that “it would be absurd to consider the Salvadoran conflict as an integral part of the East-West conflict that could thus be resolved by an agreement between the USSR and the USA.” “The [Salvadoran] revolution will not wait;” Villabos argued, for “a detente at the Central American level would be possible only if the structural problems of the region found a solution.”(1)

Writing the same month, Soviet Ambassador to Cuba Yuri Petrov gave his own prescription for a resolution of the Central American conflict, arguing that “to resolve the conflict in Central America, the same approach must be adopted as in Southern Africa. In the same way that we have collaborated with the United States in the case of Angola and Namibia, it is necessary that some third countries play the role of mediator in the case of Nicaragua and El Salvador.”(2)...

The Afghans' Tragic Drama

— Val Moghadam

The Tragedy of Afghanistan:
A First-Hand Account
By Raja Anwar, translated by Khalid Hasan
London & New York, Verso, 1989.286 pages with notes and index. $16.95 paper, Distributed by Routledge in the U.S.

ACCORDING TO THE books cover, the author of this unique chronicle was in the government of Pakistan under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (late father of the present prime minister) from 1947 to 197. After General Zia's coup he went underground and finally fled to exile in West Germany, where he now resides.

Though it isn't spelled out, those underground years were evidently spent in Kabul, Afghanistan, part of them in Prison. As a result of his contacts with PDPA (Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan) [the Afghan CP—ed.] people inside and outside prison, the author has been able to provide a firsthand account of the years 1978 to 1983....

Afghan: Socialism from Above and Outside

— Samuel Farber

The Tragedy of Afghanistan
A First-Hand Account
By Raja Anwar, translated by Khalid Hasan
London & New York, Verso, 1989.286 pages with notes and index. $16.95 paper
Distributed by Routledge in the U.S.

RAJA ANWAR LIVED in Afghanistan from June 1979 to January 1984, including a term in prison from October 1980 to March 1983. He is a Pakistani who worked as an advisor in the administration of populist Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of the current prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

This book is a no-holds-barred, take no-hostages account of the Afghani tragedy. Here we can find a rich and trenchant analysis that spares nobody, whether the author is dealing with the two major wings of the Stalinist PDPA (Khalq and Parcham) and its main leaders (Taraki, Amin and Karmal), or whether he is discussing the reactionary mujahideen. However, while Anwar has important things to say about the retrograde character of the right-wing guerrillas and about the events that have taken place since the PDPA rose to power in 1978, the bulk of the book is dedicated to an analysis of the politics of the PDPA and its rival factions and leaders....

Random Shots: Summertime Musings

— R.F. Kampfer

MANY GM WORKERS are indignant over the proposal to double Roger Smith”s-pension to $1,100,000 per year. Why not give him the money on the condition that it can only be spent in Flint?

Despite the undemocratic maneuvers of the Bieber regime, most UAW members are still willing to work through the electoral process. Only a few believe that the time has come for armed insurrection.

Cars would be built a lot safer if accident insurance were included in the cost of the vehicle....