Against the Current, No. 61, March/April 1996

Against the Current, No. 61, March/April 1996

NATO's Squalid Police Action

— The Editors

HAILING THEMSELVES AS the saviors of the principles of human rights, democracy and a multi-ethnic free Bosnia, the leaders of NATO strut before the cameras, salute each other's courage and declare that peace is at hand. Bill Clinton, grandstanding at Tuzla with U.S. troops as his cast-of-thousands prop, told them they are making history.  In their statesmanlike self-congratulation, neither Clinton nor any other leader of the Western alliance has time or breath to mention the heroes who have actually fought the war—the men and women soldiers of the Republic of Bosnia.  The omission is not accidental.

Staley's Legacy of Struggle, Lessons of Defeat

— C.J. Hawking

THREE DAYS BEFORE Christmas, 1995, there was a tragic blow to the labor movement.  The locked-out Staley workers of Decatur, Illinois brought their more than three-year battle against the multinational conglomerate, Staley/Tate and Lyle, to a close; 56% of United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU) Local 7837's membership voted to accept the company's latest contract.

Detroit Newspaper Strike: A Bitter Winter

— David Finkel

SIX-AND-A-half months into the Detroit newspaper strike, conventional wisdom tends to regard the battle between the six unions and the Detroit Newspaper Agency (DNA) as a bloody draw.

A reasonable enough assessment, but only with an essential caveat: Ultimately, a draw goes to the company....

In France, A Glimpse of Labor's Power

— Mia Butzbaugh

"THE STRIKE'S LIKE a bomb with a long fuse," Air France worker Michel Bousquet explained the second week into the work stoppage. "Each time [Prime Minister] Jupp<130> makes a concession, it's like he's cutting off part of the already burnt fuse. It's too late. And as we get closer to the `bomb,' it becomes more dangerous, the demands higher."

The "bomb," of course, didn't go off in France this fall. It was not, I was reminded more times than necessary, May-June of 1968. Yet as a child of the bleak Reagan era, visiting Paris during the strike's final week, I was intrigued less by this strike's "failures" than by its promises as a response to the social crisis, in France and internationally....

Reflecting on the Cuban Revolution

— John Vandermeer

A YOUNG STREET musician in Havana clarified something for me. After telling me he was trying to get a visa to go to the United States, I asked him how many of his generation wanted to leave Cuba. He said probably about 90%. I asked him when he stopped supporting the Revolution. "But I support the Revolution," he answered. My next question was obvious, "How many of your generation support the Revolution?" I asked. "Probably about 90%," he replied....

Cuba: The Party, the Market

— Milton Fisk

THE STEPS CUBA made over the past year in the direction of a market impressed me during two recent return visits there as already having made a big difference in daily life. Whether the new measures will be for the overall good can't be determined yet.

Many people have access to more goods. But marketization is inevitably leading to new inequalities. And so far it is going ahead without any hint of a political opening....

An Irish Revolutionary's Challenge

— Peter Downs

BERNADETTE DEVLIN McALISKEY, known internationally as the leading civil rights activist in Northern Ireland for the last twenty-five years, conducted a ten-city U.S. tour last October.

Born in Cookstown, County Tyrone in 1947, McAliskey emerged in 1968 as a leader of the Civil Rights Campaign. In April, 1969, she was elected to British Parliament. Four months later she was sentenced to six months in prison for helping to defend Derry's Bogside neighborhood against a three-day assault by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and B-Special Auxiliaries....

Democracy or Hibernianism?

— Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

THE IRISH FREE State was not founded on the principles for which the War of Independence was fought. The Irish are the only white European people whose common experience in history is as a colored people, as oppressed. Their struggle is part of the historic struggle of oppressed people against the European movement that goes by the name "discovery."

They say Christopher Columbus "discovered" America. Well, it was certainly big enough for him to find . . . Actually, St. Brendan got here before Christopher Columbus. The difference was, he didn't think he "owned" it....

Structures of Discrimination

— an interview with Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

Against The Current: You've said that the MacBride Principles campaign was modeled after the Sullivan Principles for investment in South Africa. Can you expand on that?

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey: The MacBride Principles campaign is more than a campaign on foreign investors in Northern Ireland. We have campaigns inside the country, too. I remember a campaign we had against the British store, Marks & Spencer. People would go into Marks & Spencer filling up their trolleys, and then not buy the goods....

The MacBride Principles

THE MACBRIDE PRINCIPLES for Northern Ireland call for employers to implement the following measures:

1) Increasing the representation of individuals from underrepresented religious groups in the workforce including managerial, supervisory, administrative, clerical and technical jobs.

2) Adequate security for the protection of minority employees both at the workplace and while traveling to and from work....

Why the Ceasefire Ended

— Jim Dee

WEEKS PRIOR TO the massive IRA bomb which rocked London's Canary Wharf, an IRA volunteer in Derry told me, "If this goes back, it'll involve London." He was not happy, and in no way elished a return to war, adding: "And there'll be casualties. It's not going to be just Irish lives anymore."

The volunteer was stating the obvious. As a senior Sinn Fein member said after the bombing, "Even the birds in the trees knew that the peace was over. Everybody knew it. Gerry Adams has been trying to say it for six months."...

Romanticism in the English Social Sciences: E.P. Thompson & Raymond Williams

— Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre

IN A PASSAGE of the Grundrisse, Marx makes the following remark on the Romantic perspective:

"It is as ridiculous to yearn for a return to that original fullness as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill. The bourgeois viewpoint has never advanced beyond this antithesis between itself and this romantic viewpoint, and therefore the latter will accompany it as legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end."(1)

This passage is interesting not only because it reveals Marx's attitude towards Romanticism (he acknowledges the essence of the Romantic critique....

Radical Rhythms: The Relevance of Rap

— Tyrone Williams

WHAT DOES RAP music as a genre have to say to and about leftist politics in general? This question might strike many as odd, if not irrelevant, since many commentators on the lyrics of rap music dismiss them out of hand as, at best, inconsequential in terms of leftist politics or, at worst, reactionary in their glorification of street violence, misogyny and money-grabbing....

The Rebel Girl: Blowing the Whistle on Sexism

— Catherine Sameh

MY PARTNER OFFICIATES junior high and high school basketball. Now in her sixth year, she relates a story. She arrives at a local gym one Saturday morning. Two games are to be played simultaneously--one girls' and one boys'.

She greets her partner, a young male rookie, and two older males, veteran officials scheduled for the other game. "We want you to do the girls' game," says one of the veteran officials.

"Who am I assigned to?" she asks. "The boys," he replies. "Then we'll do the boys,'" she says,...

Random Shots: Kampfer's Modest Suggestions

— R.F. Kampfer

A NATURAL CONSEQUENCE of privatizing the nation's prisons would be a return to the practice of charging admission to the public to view he inmates, as is done in modern zoos. An even greater savings would result from the old Chinese practice of allowing the visitors to throw scraps of food to those prisoners they found most amusing....

A Symposium on Imperialism Today

On Imperialism

— The Editors

IN OUR PREVIOUS issues (ATC 59, 60), we published the first contributions to our symposium on "Imperialism today and tomorrow." We present here further responses. Our letter soliciting participants asked them to briefly discuss whether classic theories of imperialism remain relevant and also invited responses to three specific questions:

Imperialism and the Left

— Catherine Samary

a) ONE MUST FIRST understand that world capitalism's "logic of accumulation" underwent a transformation starting with the 1970s--that is to say, a reversal of the long phase of expansion. Imperialism's attempt to respond to the crisis in the principal postwar mechanisms of capitalist regulation produced (or accelerated) several main factors....

The Empire and Left Illusions

— Thomas Harrison

NATO INTERVENTION HAS stopped the bloodshed in Bosnia, for the time being, but at a terrible price. The Dayton accords are a defeat for the Sarajevo government and for Bosnians' hopes for a reunited nation. They represent a victory for Milosevic and Tudjman (the presidents of Serbia and Croatia--ed.) and, of course, a public relations coup for Clinton.

U.S. leaders would have preferred the Balkan wars to end long before this with the surrender of Croatia in 1991, and then, failing that, the speedy capitulation of Bosnia....

For International Women's Day

Servants to the Global Masters

— Delia D. Aguilar

HISTORICALLY, THE MAJORITY of peripheral nations never exercised much control over the direction of their economic development, consigned as they have been to the role of supplying raw materials, mineral resources and cheap labor for core nations. But in the `90s, the restructuring of the world economic order with its increased mobility of capital and resulting global concentration of wealth has placed developing countries in an even more vulnerable position.

The process further intensifies these countries' service function in the international division of labor....

Guatemalan Women's New World of Struggle

— Jane Slaughter

"One thinks it's better, working for a company, because there is a quitting time."--Debora Guzm<160>n, Guatemalan maquiladora worker

AS THE RICH countries shift more and more work to factories in the Third World, the women of those countries become, officially, proletarians. As garment and electronics companies set up in Asia, Central America and the Caribbean, women with little education but with an immense capacity for hard work are becoming integrated into the mainstream of the world economy, directly tied to international capital....

Main Courts, Not Just Desserts

— Jane Slaughter

UNTIL RECENTLY, THE big corporations used the poor countries mostly as sources of food and raw materials; they built their main factories at home.

Luis Galicia, a staffer at the Guatemalan research institute AVANCSO, calls his country a supplier of "desserts"--bananas, coffee, sugar....

A Unionist's Life

— Jane Slaughter

IN FEBRUARY 1995, maquila worker Debora Guzmán was kidnapped as she walked to the market to buy food for lunch. She was involved in an organizing drive at the L&L factory outside Guatemala City. She had been threatened before, and her husband had advised her not to go out, but, she told herself, "It's only two blocks."

"They took me to the highway, under a bridge, they covered my eyes," she remembered. "They put me in a car, they tied me up, they injected me, and I passed out."...

Michigan's "Welfare Reform"

— an interview with Kathleen Gmeiner

KATHLEEN GMEINER, AN attorney in Detroit, is public policy coordinator of the Hunger Action Coalition and a board member of the Michigan Fair Budget Action Coalition. The views she expresses here are her own, not necessarily policy statements of either organization. She was interviewed by David Finkel of the ATC editorial board.

Against the Current: The current debate over welfare has a strong ideological component: the fight to preserve the idea that society has some obligation to help people in need. What arguments do you find helpful to get that idea across in the face of the right-wing offensive?...

Fighting for Our Families' Lives

— an interview with Sylvia Mitchell

SYLVIA MITCHELL IS a longtime activist and a community organizer in Portland, Oregon. She was interviewed by David Finkel for ATC.

Against the Current: What's the specific situation with federal waivers for welfare in Oregon right now?

Sylvia Mitchell: The main waiver is to allow mandated work programs....

Welfare Reform, Then and Now

— Amy Hanauer

Pitied But Not Entitled
by Linda Gordon
The Free Press, 1995, $15.95 paperback.

PITIED BUT NOT Entitled, Linda Gordon's exhaustive history of the passage of the 1935 Social Security Act, is thoughtful, insightful and highly relevant. As governments slash poverty relief programs at all levels and as welfare-bashing reaches an all-time high, it is instructive to take a step back and look at how the current system developed....


A Radical Alternative in 1996

— Eric Chester

ONE OF THE many ironies of contemporary life in the United States is the perspective being assumed by most of the Left toward electoral politics. As living standards continue to slide into the abyss, the two-party system has begun to lose its hold over popular consciousness.

It has become common wisdom that the Democratic and Republican parties are closely tied to avaricious corporate interests and that, as a result, their debates represent a narrow spectrum of political discourse. Indeed Ross Perot has financed a new organization on little more than this critique....

In Memoriam

Christopher Columbus Alston: Organizer, Fighter and Historian

— Robin D.G. Kelley

MY FIRST AND only personal encounter with Chris Alston occurred in March of 1993. I had the good fortune of sharing the podium at Wayne State University to discuss the role of African Americans in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) during the 1930s.

Meeting Mr. Alston was certainly a highlight for me. After all, given his history of community and labor activism, the historian in me felt as if I had known him my whole adult life....

Alma Strowiss, Organizer-Activist

— Andrea Houtman

ALMA STROWISS, A pillar of the Los Angeles Solidarity branch, died November 13, 1995 at age 60. Her long battle with cancer had never stopped her from her active political life as a socialist, which began in the late 1950s.

Alma came to socialism via an unusual path: Her father,Dr. Walter Thomas (a Ph.D in theology) was a Baptist minister in a small town church but was fired because of his homosexual orientation and because he became an atheist and a socialist....