Against the Current, No. 62, May/June 1996

Against the Current, No. 62, May/June 1996

Ten Years of Against the Current

— The Editors

AGAINST THE CURRENT (new series) was launched in January 1986, formally representing the fusion of three socialist journals of theory and activism coalescing around a common perspective.  The three magazines were "Changes", published by International Socialists; an earlier version of "Against the Current", published by Workers Power; and "Socialist Unity", published by supporters of the Fourth International (United Secretariat), most of whom had been members of the Socialist Workers Party until 1983.

How Labor Loses When it "Wins"

— Peter Downs

A STORY IS told about a young union staffer assigned to negotiate a wage increase for members in a local factory.

Before his first meeting with management he nervously asked an older, more experienced, colleague how to do it.

"Just walk in there, slap your hand on the table and say 'It's eight dollars or else.'"

That sounded like good advice, so the young staffer drove off with high hopes. When he arrived at the factory, he marched into the conference room, slapped his hand on the table, and declared "It'll be $8 an hour or else."

Yale Workers Fight the Power

— Gordon Lafer

ON MARCH 20, 1,100 Yale University custodians, plant maintenance and dining hall workers walked off the job. With 97% of the workforce participating in this strike, all but one of Yale's dining halls shut down; trash began piling up; managers are being paid $35/hour to scrub toilets.

Our unions adopted an "alternating strike" strategy in order to avoid the prospect of Yale starving us out over the course of a long strike....

Brazil's Workers Party Redefining Itself

— Michael Shellenberger

AT THE BRAZILIAN Workers Party (PT) convention last August, president Luiz Ina'cio Lula da Silva used his opening speech to denounce, with unionist bravura, the elitism that has accompanied the party's electoral successes since it was founded in 1980.

Some within the PT seem seduced by the perfume of the elites and can no longer stand the smell of the people. They prefer carpeted rooms to rural settlements, official cars to the factory gates, TV studios to the alleys of the neighborhoods. They do politics as a profession and not as a means to end injustice....

Modern "Gunboat" Diplomacy in the Caribbean

— an interview with Cecilia Green

1. IS THERE SUCH a thing as a “humanitarian intervention” carried out by U.S. forces?

I don't think there's any such thing as "humanitarian intervention," at any rate, on the part of the contemporary U.S. state. In the case of the Caribbean, there are two situations we can look at: Haiti and Cuba.

The U.S. government did not make a move to stop the military dictatorship that overthrew Aristide in 1991....

"Burn the Haystack!"

— News From Within

This editorial is reprinted from the March, 1996 issue of News from Within, published by the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. Subscriptions to this invaluable monthly newsletter are $60 from AIC/News rom Within, P.O. Box 31417, Jerusalem, Israel.

THE ENTIRE POPULATION of Israel increasingly resembles players in some ghastly danse macabre, accompanied by a chorus shouting itself hoarse calling for revenge and indiscriminate destruction, deportations and demolition of the houses of Hamas members, as well as their supporters, relatives and even casual acquaintances....

The Clinton-Helms-Burton Travesty

— The ATC Editors

WHEN THE "BROTHERS to the Rescue" Cuban exile group sent planes into Cuban air space, they probably assumed, rightly or wrongly, that they could ignore with impunity the increasingly sharp warnings from the Cuban government. When the Cuban government ordered the planes to be shot down, it probably assumed in turn that the U.S. response would be limited to a strident but brief diplomatic flurry....

The IMF Restructures Sri Lanka

— D.A. Jawardana

SRI LANK IS a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean consisting of 25,000 square miles, with a population of 18 million. Some call it the pearl of the Indian Ocean. Today the people of my country are being threatened by the policies of the World Bank and the IMF. These policies have, since the 1970s, brought disaster to Sri Lanka -- and also to many other Third World countries....

Chandrika's "Great Victory"

— Vickramabahu Karunarathne

THE PEOPLE'S ALLIANCE government "liberation" war [against the Tamil Tigers] is claimed to be a great success. Unfortunately, Tamils generally refused to be liberated. They ran away from the Sinhala "liberation" army as if it was the devil's army advancing on them. Many Tamils have abandoned the Jaffna peninsula altogether and have come to the Vavuniya district. Some half million people have been made into refugees....

Getting It Right About Now

— Claudette Begin and Caryn Brooks

The National Organization (NOW) is a racist organization supporting and working to promote the interests of white college-educated women.  NOW is a bunch of radical women. NOW is classist. NOW is fringe. NOW is reform. People think a lot of things about NOW.

PEOPLE SAY AND think a lot of things about NOW. It is true that Los Angeles NOW's Tammy Bruce made many inflammatory remarks on national TV after the OJ verdict, including the statement: "It is more important to teach our children about violence against women than about racism."...

Fight the Right

— Claudette Begin

FORTY TO FIFTY thousand participants marched in San Francisco April 14. Over six hundred organizations from around the country endorsed NOW's call. Primarily young people this was the most diverse crowd yet at a national NOW rally. Immigrants' rights activists chanted alongside young women holding signs saying "Young Feminists" and "End Racism NOW" and Oregon gay rights activists contingents. Banners from labor unions flowed by posters about violence against women. But affirmative action was on everyone's mind; organizers across the rally site were signing people up to campaign to defeat CCRI, the anti-affirmative action initiative which is slated will be on California’s November ballot....

Ruth Hubbard's Feminist Critique of Science

— Rene L. Arakawa

Profitable Promises: Essays on Women, Science, and Health.
By Ruth Hubbard.
Common Courage Press, 1995, 238 pages, $11.95 paper.

It is sometimes convenient to dismiss appraisals and criticisms like these as opposing progress or as antiscience. But that is altogether too facile. Science is a useful way to learn about nature, including ourselves, and with proper guidance and supervision, its technological results can make life better. The problem is that, at present, the benefits science can bring us are overvalued, as compared with the benefits we could derive from othercreations of the human imagination, be they cultural or political. And when technology is harnessed to yield profits for the few rather than to improvethe lives of most people, science and its technological products underminerather than enhance our lives. (14,15)

Reclaiming Utopia: The Legacy of Ernst Bloch

— Tim Dayton

WE LIVE IN dark days; is there anyone on the left to whom this thought has not occurred? The darkness, though, does not come only from without  a third world ravaged by imperialism, denied the prospect of relief, a second world carved into servings for domestic and transnational predators, a first world dominated by the right, and reverting to pre-welfare state cruelty  but also from within: Increasingly, we can project no way out and nowhere to go....

Policing Morality: Underground Rap in Puerto Rico

— Raquel Z. Rivera

Your nuts I will crack and
to hell I'll send you back
--Alma, PLAYERO #38 (1994)

Spit in her face
Piss on her cunt
'Cause that fucking bitch Is not
worth much(1)
--Las Guanabanas Podrias, The Noise #2 (1994)

IN FEBRUARY 1995, the Drugs and Vice Control Bureau of the Police Department of Puerto Rico raided six record stores in the San Juan area....

Answering Camille Paglia

— Nora Ruth Roberts

CAMILLE PAGLIA HAS us by the short hairs.  She's trying to appropriate sexuality for capitalism.  It's a familiar ploy. Yesterday's revolution becomes today's conservatism.  Yet she's as clever as a urobos-one of her favorite tropes-a snake circularly biting its own tail. We can't let her get away with it.

I do have some alternative sexy figures on our side, and I'll get to them.

On Being Ten

— Greetings from Our Friends

THE OPPORTUNITIES TO organize a principles and militant left, with enormous popular outreach, have rarely been better. The forces dedicated seriously to this task are pitifully inadequate, in part because they are so scattered and isolated. there are reasons, and we know them, but they can be overcome. Stable and persistent left institutions will be at the heart of such endeavors, desperately needed if we are to avoid a very ugly future. Congratulations to Against the Current for its contributions to fulfilling this role for ten hard years, with insightful analysis and informative commentary. --Noam Chomsky

Letters to the Editors

— Peter Drucker; Linda Gordon

PAUL LE BLANC'S "THE Marxism of CLR James" (ATC 60) was a fine appreciation of a socialist who has deservedly received considerable attention in recent years. There was only one paragraph that fell short of the piece's otherwise high standard: the passage where Le Blanc briefly, and I think unfairly, compares James' politics in the mid-1940s to those of the Workers Party majority around Max Shachtman....

The Great Flint Sitdown: An ATC 10th Anniversary Feature

Introduction: The Flint Sitdown for Beginners

— Charlie Post

THE SITDOWN STRIKE at GM's Flint, Michigan Fisher Body and Chevrolet plants (December 1936-February 1937) was a turning point in the history of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).  The United Automobile Workers (UAW- CIO) had won strikes and union recognition in individual auto plants and from smaller parts and auto manufacturers.  The Flint strike, however, won its first national contract with a major producer: General Motors, at the time, the world's largest industrial corporation.

The Rebel Girl: The Real Threat to Life

— Catherine Sameh

IF YOU'RE NOT a sports fan, and thus fairly well-adjusted, you're probably still basking in the quiet relief from Olympic hysteria. But if you're a fellow fanatic you won't mind obsessing about it with me just a bit more. How can I indulge you? Let me count the ways.

For weeks before the Games, numerous popular publications proclaimed this The Year of the Woman in sports. Indeed it really was, and continues to be....

Random Shots: Politics, Religion and Mad Cows

— R.F. Kampfer

C.S. FORESTER once wrote a line that seems to anticipate British Prime Minister John Major's current dilemma: "Fancy being sunk by a cow!"

If you're thinking of switching to a vegetarian diet, it really does make you feel much younger: It brings vivid flashbacks of when you were first living on your own and couldn't afford to buy meat.

Our own correspondent Jane Slaughter recently wrote a mildly critical review of a local vegetarian restaurant for the Detroit Metro Times, which prompted one offended reader to denounce here as a "flesh-obsessed carnivore." Evidently the reader has never been to one of Kampfer's barbecues.

Flint and the Rewriting of History

— Sol Dollinger

THE 1937 SITDOWN strikes were a thunderbolt shattering minimal labor-management relations. The victory of the Flint auto workers heralded the most profound social changes in the United States since the Civil War. It changed every aspect of social, cultural and political life in America....

Politics and Memory in the Flint Sitdown Strikes

— Nelson Lichtenstein

TO THE UNDERGRADUATES in my labor history courses at the University of Virginia, the Flint sit-down strike of 1936-37 is truly ancient history. Those dramatic events are nearly three generations old; moreover, Flint, Detroit and the other old auto towns are now seen as an industrial wasteland and a political backwater.

Indeed, the sitdown strikes of the 1930s might well seem to have a good deal more in common with the Pullman Boycott of 1894 than with the vexing racial and employment issues of contemporary America....


McNamara's Vietnam

— Lillian S. Robinson

In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam
By Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark.
New York: Times Books-Random House, 1995. 414 pages, $27.50 cloth.

Vietnam remains...regardless of the ritual cleansings and willed suspensions of memory, regardless of the many memorials for the unknown dead and the parades for the soldiers who should have known better. While it remains, it stays a problem, or to be more precise the remains of Vietnam are problematic. What is left of the war, its fragments and its ruins, stays unrepressible and endlessly recuperable. -- Rick Berg, The Vietnam War and American Culture

Ken Saro-Wiwa's Antiwar Masterpiece

— Dianne Feeley

Sozaboy, a novel in rotten English
Longman Publishing Company, 10 Bank Street,
White Plains, NY 10601-1951). $10.95 paperback.

SINCE THE SANI Abacha military regime seized power in 1990, the Ogoni tribe, an ethnic minority living on the Niger delta in southeastern Nigeria, has suffered extremely brutal repression. Amnesty International points to government-instigated attacks resulting in at least 100 extrajudicial executions, 600 Ogoni detained, and the destruction of dozens of villages.

Statement to the Court

— Ken Saro-Wiwa

WE ALL STAND before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total believe and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimated....

In Memoriam

Marxist Art Historian: Meyer Schapiro, 1904-1996

— Alan Wallach

MEYER SCHAPRIO, THE leading American art historian of his generation and one of the few scholars to attempt to apply Marxism seriously to the study of art history, died on March 3 at the age of 91, at his home in New York....