Newsletter of the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio
Volume IV, Issue 2, Jun/Jul 1998
The Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio (DSCO) are a local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). For more information about DSA contact: www.dsausa.org.
We are looking for your help. The deadline for the next issue is the beginning of Sept. If you are interested in contributing, call Jim Wiley at 268-7738 or email.
Comfest is not just another festival. Started in 1972 by anti-war and community activists, the Community Festival originally had a political theme. It celebrated alternative institutions like the Tenants Union, food-cooperatives, and the Free Press, as well as demanded decent housing, adequate health care, safe streets and freedom from harassment. According to Comfest organizer Steve Abbott, "The values that underlie the Comfest must be recognized, renewed and revitalized in this annual ceremony that, unlike most festivals has an agenda out front: You can change things."
As a community-based, activist organization, the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio benefits from Comfest by raising funds for our activities and doing outreach to the community. This is our third year selling raffle tickets. We split the proceeds with the Short Stop Teen Center (1088 N. High St.) which provides a safe space for neighborhood youth to hang out, play games, and learn to draw, paint, etc. This year we have changed the raffle to involve other community groups in the drawings from the stages so that each group gets a chance to tell their story and highlight projects they are working on.
Solidarity committee forming
Organizing migrant laborby Reg Dyck
You might have seen a new brand of pickles, Mt. Olive, on sale at the grocery store. That's good news for the barbeque but bad news for the migrant farmworkers who harvest the cucumbers in North Carolina.
For unorganized farmworkers, life is short and hard. Average annual income for a migrant family of four is under $10,000. Few farms comply with minimal regulations for field sanitation. And pesticides not only pollute food, water, and soil; they also damage the health of workers in the fields. No wonder farmworkers are four times more likely than the national average to contract cancer, and have a life expectancy of barely 50 years.
FLOC -- the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO -- offers hope. Modeled on Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers union, FLOC has provided a voice to the powerless since 1967 by fighting to gain economic, legal and human rights for farmworkers. It has organized them in Ohio and Michigan, and established contracts with agribusiness giants Campbell, Vlasic, Heinz, and others. These contracts provide workers with job security, union recognition, wage increases, grievance procedures and more. As a result, unionized workers in the Midwest now earn up to four times more than Mt. Olive Co. farmworkers.
FLOC won its battles in the Midwest through innovative tactics and dogged persistence. The pickle industry is organized around family farms which hire migrant labor and sell their crops to corporate food processors like Campbell's. The corporations use their buying power to drive down crop prices and the farmers, in turn, pay low wages to their workers. The farmers think of themselves as caught in the middle and at first were actively hostile to unionization. Instead of fighting the farmers, FLOC persuaded them that it was in their interest to side to with the union against the buyers. The union drive against Campbell resulted in the nation's first multi-party labor contracts among corporate processors, family farmers, and migrant workers.
But as migrant labor organizes in the Midwest, crop production is shifting to the South. FLOC needs to organize southern workers in order to protect its gains in the Midwest. Mt. Olive Pickle Co. in North Carolina is the largest independent food processor in the pickle industry. The company has a long-standing policy of opposing unions. It is the target to FLOC's drive to unionize the South.
Organizing in Jesse Helm's North Carolina won't be easy. The South has a long history of fighting union organizing. Convincing impoverished migrant workers that sticking with the union will improve their lives will be tough.
However, challenges haven't stopped FLOC in the past, and they won't now. Baldemar Velasquez, leader of FLOC, states with confidence, "Mt. Olive Co. officials will bargain a contract now or after a crippling boycott . . . but they will bargain a contract."
A tremendous network of support and smart strategies in the mid 80s resulted in FLOC's successful boycott against Campbell Soup Co. It brought them to the bargaining table and made a difference. As FLOC member Berna Romero comments, "None of us, the farmworkers, ever dared say anything before, no matter how bad conditions were and where we got cheated. We aren't so scared anymore, not like it used to be, cause now we know we can fight, we can't have to take it. We're gonna make things better for our children and we're going to win."
"Friends of FLOC" support committees are organizing to raise funds for union organizing, to get out the word about migrant workers in the South, and to prepare for a boycott of Mt. Olive Pickles. The Toledo Areas FLOC Support Committee kicked off its activities in November.
Columbus is next. DSCO -- Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio -- along with others, has taken the initiative to form a local solidarity committee. At a May Day house party, we raised over $300. The Solidarity Committee is developing a local strategy and needs your help. We will be meeting with Mike Ferner, an organizer for FLOC on Thursday, August 6, 7:30 p.m. in Columbus. Please call Jim Wiley at 268-7738 or email for more information.
Also, become a "Friend of FLOC" and help bring the union to North Carolina by sending a contribution, $25-$500, to FLOC, 1221 Broadway, Toledo OH 43609.
Rethinking migrant labor issuesMany people resent Mexican and Caribbean migrant laborers because they think they take work away from Americans. But these are the people who put food on our table. We need to rethink labor and immigration issues as a continental (if not global) problem, not just a national one. The current market for labor includes Mexico. Instead of opposing immigration, progressives should be fighting to unionize workers everywhere. In remarks to the Democratic Socialists of America convention and the "Breaking Bread" discussion sponsored by Columbus State last November, FLOC president Baldemar Velasquez argued that we need a "hemispheric minimum wage." In addition to international labor unions, he said we also need to internationalize civil rights. Too many governments are able to smash unions because they don't respect civil rights. Civil rights and unions go together. He also suggested going back to the 19th century American practice of being able to vote without having citizenship. People should have the right to vote on decisions that affect them where they are living now, not where they were born. --Jim Wiley
Don Slaiman, international AFL-CIO field representative for Ohio, spoke to our general meeting in May about unions and living wage campaigns. A long-time organizer, Slaiman has worked with trade unions in Russia and Rumania as well as in the United States. He first started working in Ohio in 1996 with the AFL-CIO's "America Needs a Raise" campaign, directing one of the first town meetings held at that time.
Unions, community activists, and two city council members in Toledo are working on a living wage law that includes a provision requiring that companies getting tax abatements allowing unions to organize. Because the existing labor laws are not enforced or can be delayed until after unions are busted, unions are resorting to wage laws to strengthen their bargaining position.
Wage stagnation is alarming religious organizations. The Catholic Church and the Lutherans support an increase in the minimum wage and are considering a living wage campaign in Ohio.
Slaiman told us that current union activity is focusing on mobilizing members to vote. Unions are educating members on various issues, rather than telling them who to vote for, hoping for a big turnout in the November elections. At stake is control of the five-member apportionment board that draws political district lines in Ohio. The board consists of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state, the House speaker and the Senate president. Whichever party controls this board can usually draw the lines so that their party wins most of the elections.
Cleveland chapter, MAI, Chiapas
A Cleveland-area DSA exploratory committee has been meeting regularly over the past year. We will invite all past and current members of DSA and other interested people in northeast Ohio to our first organizational meeting as a DSA local on Sunday, July 12. We are also inviting representatives of DSCO to speak about their work as a local and their relationship with the national organization.
A major focus of our work to date has been to inform ourselves about and develop projects related to corporate globalization. We are particularly interested in sharing information on and organizing against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI).
The MAI is a big-business scheme negotiated in secrecy since 1995 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD). It would allow transnational corporations to weaken environmental, health & safety, labor, affirmative action and other community-enhancing standards. It is, in effect, a "Bill of Rights" for corporations, a "constitution of a single global economy." MAI is another step in the reduction of democratic and popular rule. It would increase the growing gap between the rich and poor throughout the world and in the U.S.
The Cleveland DSA organizing efforts include getting a major Left economist to speak on this issue at the City Club in September, holding a public forum, educating elected officials (and candidates) and asking them to take a stand, and building awareness among a coalition of area organizations.
Our committee includes representatives of Jobs with Justice, Environmental Health Watch, UHCAN, Escuela Popular, the Chiapas Committee of Cleveland, the Cleveland Committee to End the U.S. Blockade of Cuba, the Labor Party, Women Speak Out for Peace and Justice -- the local chapter of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and other groups. We will network with these and other organizations in our campaign.
An additional issue related to social/socialist transformation that we urge DSA members to inform themselves about is the escalating violence against indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico. In the past week, Bishop Samuel Ruiz has resigned from CONAI, the organization instrumental in negotiating the never-implemented Peace Accords; three more autonomous communities have suffered aerial and ground attacks and are being "cleaned up" before the number of casualties is known; approximately 20,000 people have been displaced, their homes and crops destroyed; and the media blackout has been intense. A tri-national Mexico Solidarity Network has been established, from which the most up-to-date information can be obtained. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
On May 5, voters in Ohio overwhelmingly defeated Issue 2, the proposed 1% increase in the state sales tax. By a four to one margin the citizens sent the General Assembly back to the revenue drawing board.
Issue 2 might have had a chance if all the additional revenue had gone towards education programs -- new books, buildings and the like. However, half of the 1% sales tax increase would have provided property tax relief for home owners.
The General Assembly hoped that the 15% or $275 maximum in property tax relief would bribe the home owning population into pulling the "yes" lever. But renters would have got a double whammy -- an increase in their sales tax and no property tax relief, even though renters pay a hidden property tax relief on behalf of their landlords. Renters would have in fact subsidized the lower property taxes of the more affluent home-owning population.
Voting "yes" also had another downside -- it created the appearance that the voting public approved of the way the General Assembly had responded to the Ohio Supreme Court order to overhaul the school funding system.
This put the education community in a tricky spot. They were categorically dissatisfied with the "do nothing to offend the status quo" legislative leadership which spent the last year doing as little as it could to overhaul the existing education funding system. However, the education community knew that without a new funding source, it would be impossible to fix Ohio's increased level of state support for local school districts.
These tensions created a lose-lose situation for Ohio's children. If the ballot issue had passed, the Republicans in control of state government could have rushed to the Supreme Court and said that the voters had approved their seemingly inadequate school funding reform. When Issue 2 lost in a landslide, the Republicans responded that voters were not interested in more money for schools.
State Senator Gene Watts sums up Republican thinking on this issue nicely: "The message was: Do not raise our taxes, period. change them. What we want are high academic achievement and accountability" (Westland Suburban News, May 28, 1998).
Insiders knew that Issue 2 was doomed from its inception. Its defeat surprised neither the education community who vigorously opposed Issue 2 nor state legislative leadership, all of whom with the exception of Sen. Ben Espy supported the doomed ballot resolution. The real surprise was how clearly Ohio's voters saw through the multi-million, consultant driven "Every Child Counts" campaign. It turns out the voters are smarter than Governor George Vonoivich, House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, and Senate President Richard Finan anticipated.
The best polls money could buy failed to predict the final 4-1 margin of defeat. But polling did find that the more people knew about Issue 2 and House Bill 650 (which contains the state's school funding remedy), the more likely they were to vote no.
Thus, the opponents focused on the inadequacy of the state's legislative remedy. The state's Augenblick of Colorado, testified on many occasions that according to his methodology, $4269 was the basic cost of providing an adequate education to Ohio's children. However, the General Assembly chose to short change our children.
House Bill 650's suspect "rational methodology" established $4038 as the cost per pupil of a basic education and phased-in the amount over four years. The state foundation formula is based upon $3851 per pupil this fall when class begins. This is only 90% of the amount the state's own school funding expert established.
How else were children short-changed? Ohio has the nation's worst school facilities problem. The Legislative Budget Office recently estimated that it would take $16 Billion to bring school buildings up to code and able to accommodate today. However, Issue 2 would have provided only about $250 million dollars per year towards solving Ohio's school facilities problem. After 5 years, increased operating costs would have used up all additional tax revenue leaving no funds for school facilities improvements.
House Bill 650 also failed to solve the problem of persistent local levies. When voters asked "Will Issue 2 end the need for repeated property tax levies?," the answer was "no." The legislature failed to provide reduced reliance upon property taxes and voters gave them an "F."
Bill Phillis, Executive Director of the Ohio Coalition for the Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, said Issue 2 and HB 650 were like giving school districts an oil change when they need their engines rebuilt.
So far mainstream commentators have ignored Ohio's children in their post-mortum analysis. We mainly hear about the failure of state Republican leadership. As the party in control of state government, the pundits say the GOP had the responsibility to provide a solution to Ohio's school funding woes.
Another spin blames the education community for the defeat of Issue 2. They wanted too much. Supposedly, they sacrificed their "once in a lifetime opportunity" on the altar of political purity. Now, all the education groups which opposed Issue 2 will have to make do with less funds. This analysis, of course, presumes that a timid Ohio Supreme Court will uphold the anemic legislative response of the General Assembly to "systemically overhaul" Ohio's school funding system.
Contrary to Republican spin doctoring, the root of the defeat of the proposed sales tax increase does not lie in the public's unwillingness to support public education. Voters approved 56% of local school levies on the ballot despite rejecting Issue 2 by a 4 to 1 margin.
But what about the children? When the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on March 24, 1997 that Ohio's system of funding public schools was unconstitutional, it seemed like the real winners were Ohio's school children, even those in Ohio districts.
The crux of the court's decision is that the operation of the current school funding system allows the persistence of wealth-based disparities in the education Ohio's children receive. However, the state constitution requires that the state establish a "thorough and efficient" system of common schools. All children in Ohio, regardless of where they live or the wealth of their parents, should get a quality education.
In the ensuing 15 months since the decision was rendered, the Republican dominated legislature has been in a state of denial and refused to "systemically overhaul" the school foundation which distributed most state aid to local school districts.
They insisted on sending any tax increase to the voters. They did not want to be in the awkward position of raising taxes prior to this year's key statewide elections.
Without a new source of revenue to provide for school operating funds and badly needed school building repairs, the state must now defend itself before Common Pleas Judge Linton Lewis in Perry County and ultimately before the Ohio Supreme Court.
The children of this state are still "prisoners of geography," dependent upon the relative property wealth of their school districts for the quality of their educational program.
Stay tuned. Expect to see more absurd posturing this fall as August 24th approaches. This is when hearings begin in Perry County before the Judge Linton Lewis. His July 1994 trial court decision set this whole process in motion. The state will have to defend the indefensible, while the school funding coalition takes the state to task for failing to end over-reliance upon property taxes and to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public education for all of Ohio's children.
The other excerpt profiled Al "Chainsaw" Dunlop, who specializes in downsizing companies. Dunlop took over the Sunbeam corporation, sold off units, fired workers, and moved production to overseas. In one case, he closed a profitable factory in Tennessee, forced the employees to train their Mexican replacements, and moved the plant to Mexico -- because the profits would be even greater there. Sunbeam's stock soared. Dunlop bragged that he had saved the company.
Dunlop is a liar. As Mike Smaltz, one of our members, reported, the business journal Barron's (June 8) accuses Dunlop of manipulating accounts to make Sunbeam look profitable when it is actually losing money. Sunbeam stock has plummeted and Dunlop was fired on June 16.
This is small consolation to the Tennessee workers. Our discussion revealed a need to understand the economic forces at work in today's global economy. Is global competition the problem? Is Wall Street the problem? Are financialization and globalization the same thing? Here are some books, magazines and websites to help you figure it out. Most are available at libraries or bookstores.
William Greider, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997). The "big" picture, now out in paperback. Also take a look at "Global Roulette" in the June Harper's where Greider argues with a mainstream economist.
Doug Henwood, Wall Street: How It Works and For Whom (New York: Verso, 1997). A sorely needed left-wing analysis of the stock market. Stocks don't raise money for investment; speculation merely concentrates ownership and wealth. Henwood suggests taxing financial transactions, calls the privatization of Social Security a "truly horrible idea," and argues for taxing wealth. Henwood publishes a newsletter called "Left Business Observer." Back issues can be found on his website at: www.panix.com/~dhenwood/LBO_index.html. There is a great analysis of the Asian meltdown.
Speaking of Social Security, you should be aware of the counter arguments to privatization. According to Joseph Collins and John Lear, Chile's Free Market Miracle: A Second Look (San Francisco: Food First Books, 1995) privatization has been a disaster in Chile. Northwestern University economist Robert Eisner, Social Security: More, Not Less (New York: Twentieth Century Fund) defends public control. A Social Security Network website is: www.socsec.org. Robert Kuttner, Everything For Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets (New York: Knopf, 1997) provides a primer on markets. Kuttner defends the liberal "mixed economy" that brought prosperity to this country. Kuttner edits the magazine The American Prospect which publishes good economic analysis. Those looking farther left should read Dollars and Sense magazine. Anyone who wants a point by point demolition of Libertarians and free marketeers should read Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1944). While we are at it, you could do worse than consulting the Old Man himself: Karl Marx, Capital (there are many editions). Start at the end with Chapter 26, "The Secret of Primitive Accumulation." Then read Chapter 25, "The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation." If you are really ambitious, read the rest of the book.
If these books are too far to the left for your taste, consider reading Kevin Phillips, Boiling Point (New York: Harper Collins, 1993) and Arrogant Capital. A conservative who feels betrayed by the Republicans, Phillips documents the upward redistribution of wealth and shift of power to Wall Street.
Some of these books can be difficult. To relax, read Michael Moore's Downsize This! Random Threats From an Unarmed American. Go see his new movie, "The Big One." Warren Beatty's "Bulworth," although a bit Hollywoodish, is about as close as you'll get to seeing radical ideas this summer. "Its a dirty word...SOCIALISM!" For the populists among you, read Jim Hightower's There Ain't Nothing in the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. Hightower says the media are like cats watching the wrong mouse hole.
In addition, here are some DSA favorites:
The surface of your yard can be planted with low growing, often flowering plants that require no weekly mowing to remain attractive and weed-free, and they can be walked on easily and safely. It would save on resources being made into mowers and then save mowers when they get old and are left to rot. Time would be saved, not to mention gasoline, water, and fertilizer. It would cut down on noise and air pollution and remember: it's even legal.
In Italian Village grassy areas predominate. The use of traditional flowering shrubs, perennial flowers and naturalizing plants is preferred. But ground cover is fine for the front and back yards. The tree lawn needs to remain grass, but a hand mower can easily deal with it.
A first step is covering turf grasses with a sheet of plastic. Once dead, most vegetation can be turned into the soil, adding organic matter. Turf grasses also may be removed by undercutting the sod. Tilling the soil to a depth of six inches or more is next. Clay and sandy soils may need to have as much as 30 percent organic matter worked into the top six inches to improve aeration and water filtration. Then, test the soil for pH and nutrient penetration levels and have them brought up to spec. Spring and fall are the preferred planting times for most ground covers.
The ideal ground cover is a vigorous grower that will quickly fill in the area, shading out weeds. Selecting a plant adapted to the conditions of the site may require the help of a nursery. The amount of sun a site receives and the drainage pattern are involved, as is the typical weather of the region.
Sample ground covers are:
Thymus serpylum (mother of thyme) grows 1-3 inches by 1 foot -- has tiny, medium green with grayish blush, yellow and variegated cultures and has rosy purple heads from June to September. It likes sunny, well-drained soil.
Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) grows 3-12 inches by 2 feet. The foliage is 1-3 inches long and is shiny, dark green and red in the fall. It has scarlet-like fruit and likes partial to full shade and moist, acidic soil, but weeds tend to invade.
In any case, think about replacing your turf grass and mow no more.
Our two main activist projects are the Living Wage campaign and the FLOC solidarity committee. We plan to use the state and congressional elections to educate the public about low wages, part-time work and poverty and to call for an increase in the minimum wage (Clinton and the Democrats have proposed one). Next year, we want to make this a Columbus issue in conjunction with the mayoral and city council elections. The FLOC solidarity committee would raise money for the union and help organize a boycott of Mt. Olive Pickles, should that be necessary. (see article page 1) We are inviting a FLOC organizer to Columbus in August to hold a fundraising workshop. (If interested call Jim at 268-7738.) We also need to remember that the school funding issue may heat up during the elections.
Some other projects we have in mind for the Fall: a Sept. brunch to introduce current and prospective members to DSA and democratic socialism; reactivation of the study group; activist training for members; a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto; a Nov. Debs-Thomas-Harrington fundraising and awards dinner in conjunction with the Free Press. We have also discussed organizing a network of radical and progressive scholars and activists who could analyze the Ohio and Columbus economies and help us present a "counter" State of the State and State of the City address early next year. State and local politics are usually absent from left analyses, but an alternative set of policies and visions is desperately needed.
A "two-track" strategy? We have been discussing how to combine practical activism with our socialist message. People don't like "ideology" -- and like the "S-word" even less -- but one of the major problems today is the narrowing of political debate to market-oriented perspectives. Single issue and practical actions don't challenge this ideological "hammerlock." One solution is follow two "tracks," one practical and non-ideological, paralleled by a second ideological track which could provide alternative visions. Those who don't like ideology can participate in the first track while those who want to combine activism with ideology can participate in the second
track. What do you think?
The following are several suggestions in order to stimulate ideas. There should probably be several different kinds of articles (theoretical, practical, testimonial, humorous) in order to appeal to different tastes.
NO DSCO MEETING IN JULY
House Party July 19 instead.
SUNDAY, JUL 19, 4 PM
House Party/Comfest Volunteer thank you party. Cook out at George Boas's house 824 Kerr St, Columbus (Short North area; off N High turn east at Hubbard, left at Kerr) BYOB and something to grill. For info call 297-0710.
SUNDAY, JUL 26
Labor Party Executive Board meeting in Cleveland. For info call Phil Schick 263-7373.
THURSDAY, AUG 6
FLOC Solidarity Committee fundraising workshop, 7:30pm. See article "Organizing Migrant Labor." For info call Jim at 268-7738.
SATURDAY, AUG 8, 10 AM- 2 PM
Special DSCO business meeting (see p. 5), Northside Library, 1423 N High St. All are welcome. For more info call Simone at 267-8517.
WEDNESDAY, AUG 12, 7:30 PM
DSCO General Meeting - Stonewall Union, 1160 N High St. All are welcome. For info call Simone at 267-0517.
MONDAY, AUG 31, 7:00 PM
DSCO Business Meeting - Victorian's Midnight Cafe, 5th and Neil. All are welcome. For info call Reg at 251-0216.
WEDNESDAY, SEP 9, 7:30 PM
DSCO General Meeting - location TBA or Stonewall Union, 1160 N High St. All are welcome. For info call Simone at 267-0517.
OCT 9-11 CHICAGO
Back to Basics conference on the future of the American Left. Speakers include: Sen. Paul Wellstone, Rep. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Barbara Dudley, Quentin Young, Jim Hightower. Sponsored by In These Times. For info call 773-772-0164 or email.
Volunteers Needed - The Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) is looking for Rape Helpline Volunteers, Volunteer Rape Survivor Advocates, and Volunteer Educators. For info call Heather Herron 566-4770.
Today DSA continues the struggle for economic justice through campaigns like the Single Payer Health Care movement, immigrant rights organizing, living wage and welfare rights initiatives, and efforts to end corporate "wealthfare." DSA activists work in communities on campaigns for social justice through building coalitions with other organizations, independent organizing, and working on electoral campaigns. At the national level DSA works with progressive organizations from the labor, women's, people of color and other movements and with the Progressive Caucus of the U.S. Congress.
The Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio (DSCO) are a local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). For more information about DSA contact: www.dsausa.org. For more info information about the local chapter, call Reg Dyck at 251-0216 or Simone Morgen at 267-8517. Next general DSCO meeting is Wednesday, August 12, 1998, 7:30 pm at Stonewall Union, 1160 N High St, Columbus. (There is no meeting in July.) All are welcome.
The Leftie is published by the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio
Editor - Jim Wiley
Layout and Design - Lisa Stephens Lectka
Contributors - George Boas, Reg Dyck, Simone Morgan, Cheryl Turk Hill, Gloria Still
Distribution - Rob Lectka
ALL LABOR DONATED
Send all correspondence to:
PO Box 10506
Columbus OH 43201-9998