The Columbus Free Press

Newsletter of the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio

Volume V, Issue 2, June 1999

In This Issue
The Leftie is published by the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio

If you are interested in contributing to the next issue of The LEFTIE, call editor Jim Wiley at 268-7738 or email.


The Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio (DSCO) are a local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)
180 Varick Street, 12th Fl.
New York NY 10014
212-727-8610, fax: 212-727-8616, e-mail

For more information about the local DSA chapter, call Reg Dyck at 251-0216 or Simone Morgen at 267-8517.

Send all correspondence to:
    PO Box 10506
    Columbus OH 43201-9998

Interested in progressive politics?

Yes, I want to join the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio (DSCO).

Enclosed are my dues for DSCO: $10 (includes subscription to our quarterly newsletter, The Leftie). My national DSA dues are enclosed: $45 or $25 (low income).
Total enclosed: $

Phone: (       )

Please made checks payable to the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio. Please mail to:
DSCO, PO Box 10506, Columbus OH 43201-9998

For more information call Reg Dyck 251-0216 or Simone Morgen 267-8517.

A Socialist City

by Ryan Nissim-Sabat

The upcoming Columbus mayoral election between Democrat Michael Coleman and Republican Dorothy Teater has once again presented us with limited political choices. As American politics suffocates underneath blandness, the idea of third parties is restricted to the conservative directions of Ross Perot or Jesse Ventura. However, our democracy once provided voters with multi-party elections that gave the working-class a voice in creating a progressive social agenda.

The unique political history of Milwaukee, Wisconsin reminds us of the potential of working-class organization to counter the reactionary tendencies of corporate financed parties. The Milwaukee socialists first won political power in 1910, and held control of City Hall for 38 of the next 50 years. Milwaukee's success is an interesting story that is often ignored in discussions of the American political landscape.

The emergence of Milwaukee socialism was propelled largely by the national energy of the American socialist movement. Milwaukee was fortunate to have two national leaders within its ranks: Victor Berger, who became the first Socialist elected to the U.S. House, and Frederic Heath, a Socialist journalist elected to various public offices. Both greatly influenced the local and national political environment. Berger articulated his ideas through a number of German and English socialist papers, most notably the Milwaukee Leader, which solidified working- class support in Milwaukee.

Until the organization of the Socialist Party of America in 1901, Milwaukee socialists fielded candidates for municipal elections underneath the banner of the Social Democratic Party. As revisionist Marxists, the Social Democrats in Milwaukee believed in pursuing electoral success as they simultaneously struggled for a socialist transformation of the dominant economic arrangement. Among their early political positions, or "immediate issues," was municipal ownership of utilities, urban renewal programs, and free legal, medical and educational services. In response, voters elected nine Socialist aldermen in 1904 and 12 in 1906. The mayoral candidates garnered roughly 25% of the ballots in each election. The strong local organizing paid off in the 1910 mayoral election.

Supported by Milwaukee's large German and Polish working-class communities, Emil Seidel became the nation's first Socialist mayor, collecting 46% of the vote in a three-way race. Seidel, a woodworker with strong ties to the labor movement, was lifted to victory through the strength of a weekly paper that highlighted the plight of workers. The Milwaukee socialists quickly advanced the worker's interests and passed the nation's first worker's compensation program in 1911. In addition, Seidel worked to broaden the Party's appeal as he attacked the traditional role of the public education system. The Milwaukee socialists advanced a new agenda that incorporated adult and worker education into the public schools and organized school medical and dental programs for children.

The Democrats and Republicans joined forces to defeat Seidel and his elected comrades during the 1912 election. Deflated, the Milwaukee socialists began to tone their political rhetoric down and advocated an honest and clean government rather than class struggle. Thus, in 1916, the Socialists regained power with the election of Daniel Hoan, "Fighting Dan," a popular socialist city attorney who had clamped down on the corruption of public officials.

Whereas Seidel was fortunate to have a city council controlled by Socialists, Mayor Hoan had little room to maneuver because the Republicans and Democrats controlled the other offices. Despite the stalemate, Hoan was successful in constructing the nation's first public housing project, the Garden Homes, in 1923, and the nation's first program of unemployment insurance in 1932. Hoan also led the drive towards municipal-ownership of the stone quarry, street lighting, sewage disposal, and water purification. These victories established the Milwaukee socialists as the "Sewer Socialists"-- embraced by the working-class but dismissed by radicals because of their reform agenda. After seven consecutive terms as mayor, Hoan was eventually defeated in 1940.

The presence of Milwaukee socialism endured though, as Frank Zeidler became the city's last Socialist mayor from 1948 to 1960. Zeidler continued the fight for increased public housing and confronted conservatives who wanted to impose time limits on the residents. Still alive today, Zeidler remains busy working with the Wisconsin Socialists and hounding the anti-working class policies of Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

The Milwaukee socialists are remembered for their strict adherence to clean government-- no debt, more parks, and efficient leadership. Although successful in broadening social programs to include the working-class, they were unable to move into the arena of economic control and redirect the profit of the rich slaughterhouses and breweries into community subsistence.

The Milwaukee socialists provide examples and ideas that may inspire our own alternative party organizing. We should continue to utilize the resources of community organizations and reconnect with the interests of the working-class to incorporate their ideas into the administration of city government. In the spirit of Milwaukee's clean government, for example, we should push initiatives that seek to convert abandoned buildings into neighborhood cooperatives (with the revenue directly financing neighborhood workers and needs). We must raise the unasked questions. If Democratic hopeful Coleman can raise over half a million dollars before the primaries, we must ask about the interests that are served through our lack of choices.

Living Lightly on the Earth

by Cheryl Turk Hill and Melvin E. Hill








Socialism's usual goals (universal health care, a living wage, decent housing, freedom from discrimination, etc.) should be seen as only a means of achieving the ultimate goal of a rich, rewarding, healthy life for all people.

Socialists (and others who share this goal) must work to sustain and improve our physical environment by "living lightly on the earth." It won't do us any good to achieve social justice if we don't also protect the environment. This involves recycling, reusing, and repairing:


  1. Household Waste: Rumpke recycling bins are located in parking lots of supermarkets, fire stations and some parks. Rumpke also has curbside pickup in some areas for a monthly fee (call 221-6406). Acceptable deposits include:

    Reusable clothes, books and appliances may be donated to Salvation Army, Volunteers of America, churches, etc.

    Compost your kitchen waste for use on your garden. Especially useful are eggshells, coffee grounds, vegetable and fruit scraps. Avoid using grease, fatty foods, meat, fish, bones, pet waste.

  2. Yard Waste: Place at curbside for pickup on same days as regular trash pickup. Place in degradable paper bags if possible. Branches and twigs no larger than 8" diameter and tied with string in bundles no larger than 4' x 2' and weighing no more than 50 pounds are acceptable. (You might want to save your grass clippings for compost.)

  3. Other disposable material: For disposal of unusable tires, appliances, building materials, etc., call the City of Columbus Customer Service line at 645-8774.


Just as important as recycling containers is looking for recycled content in the products you buy. This will reward manufacturers for their recycling efforts. (Remember to look for the numeral 1 or 2 in the triangular recycling symbol on plastic containers.)

Shop thrift stores for your clothing -- you'll be surprised at the quality, selection, and low price.

Buy only used cars. Most dealers offer comprehensive warranties on their best used cars. Buy the smallest vehicle that serves your needs (the jury is still out on whether larger vehicles are safer -- smaller, more maneuverable vehicles are better able to avoid collisions and make smaller "targets").


Look for ways to reduce your reliance on nonrenewable energy sources. Take the bus. Never drive when you can walk or bicycle. Avoid self-propelled power mowers; try a manual mower. Look into ground cover foliage for your lawn. Lower your thermostat 2-3 degrees in winter, raise it 2-3 degrees in summer. Repair appliances instead of replacing them.


Become involved in (or at least contribute to) environmentally active organizations (the Greens, Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, etc.). Support political candidates and parties who stress environmental issues.


Without substantial improvement in our physical environment, any political gains made by the socialist movement will ring hollow. Efforts to provide a healthy, happy, long life for all people should be the ultimate objective of socialists and like-minded people.

Future articles will deal with more specifics and keep you up to date with changes in the recycling, reusing and rehabbing industry. Please write the authors care of Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio, PO Box 10506, Columbus OH 43201, with any comments, ideas, and suggestions. Thanks.

Book Review

by Simone Morgen

Women and American Socialism, 1870-1920

Mari Jo Buhle, University of Illinois Press

The modern women's movement (at least in its activist mode) is usually viewed as beginning in the late 1960s. At this time women realized that even in the Civil Rights movement and the New Left, their role was seen as merely supportive. How persistent this attitude has been and how complex the issues can be is examined in this detailed, thoroughly researched book on the American socialist women's movement.

At the same time, much of the forgotten history of socialist women and their interactions with the temperance and suffrage movements comes as a surprise. It's hard to believe today that during the 1880s temperance workers such as Frances Willard believed that socialism was a political expression of Christianity. Much of this was bound up with the 19th century view of women as moral purifiers of the world. This translated relatively easily into the idea of women as a moral force to fight corporate capitalism when America began dealing with industrialism after the Civil War.

The book examines in detail the conflict between the orthodox socialist view that class consciousness was paramount and women's issues (which were considered both subsidiary and "bourgeois"). Suffrage, especially, was considered a middle-class concern, and to the extent that socialists wanted to reach women at all, they wanted to reach working class women. This tension underlay any attempts to push forward concerns that women themselves had articulated.

Also examined is the tension between immigrant, urban women, more influenced by European socialist theories, and the rural, native-born women in California and the Midwest. The latter group were far more concerned with suffrage and working in independent women's groups; the former were more class-oriented and wanted to work with the Socialist Party. In the late 19th century the rural groups were more powerful, although by the early 1900s the balance was shifting.

Buhle moves gradually through the 19th century and into the 20th, examining the initial reluctance of socialists to view women as anything besides valuable auxiliaries in class struggle (and wariness towards active participation in paid labor). Gradually, as capable women began to seek more power in the organization, the party slowly began to respond.

At first, responses were mostly pro forma declarations for women's equality. Later, as women participated in (and often instigated) a series of major strikes in the garment industry, the party started to actively support their activities as an outreach to labor.

As the women's suffrage movement reached its apex, the Socialist Party experienced great difficulty in reconciling its class-based theories with what was essentially a gender-based movement. Many internal splits developed along this fault line (which foreshadow the splits of the 1960s). In addition, political pressures --America entering World War I and the postwar Red Scare-- also took their toll.

This review can only touch on some of the main points. The book is quite detailed and heavily footnoted. The writing style is sometimes opaque and presumes some familiarity with the subject. However, there's so much interesting material here on the development of the party and its female members that it's worth the effort. It's a chance to meet or reacquaint oneself with some energetic and unfortunately forgotten women of the movement.


by Jim Wiley

The Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio have been busy this Spring. Our current activities revolve around building a coalition to pass a living wage ordinance in Columbus and support for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. The living wage ordinance would require that any company receiving tax abatements or contracts from the city must pay its employees a "living wage" (either $7.50/hr with benefits or $9/hr without benefits). It is important that city governments set the standard for wages in their jurisdiction. Believe it or not, the median household income (adjusted for inflation) has remained flat since 1973. Workers today are just now winning back losses from the 1991-1992 recession. The reason you don't hear about this is because most families have adapted by having both parents work. But this means they spend less time with their kids. It also means that single-parent families (headed mostly by women) suffer most in our low-wage economy.

Living wages and the economy

Living wages are part of a "high road" economic alternative to the current "low road" where multi-national corporations force workers to compete for jobs in a "global hiring hall." The high road emphasizes low unemployment, living wages, unionization, job-training, investment in local businesses and regional self-sufficiency. The payoff is that high wages force companies to be more efficient and increase productivity. Turning conventional wisdom upside down, Alice Rivlin (who directed Clinton's Office of Management and Budget and was a Federal Reserve vice-chair) argues that low unemployment actually produces low inflation because a shortage of workers also forces business to be more efficient. Low unemployment and living wages are the only sure means to reduce poverty and raise living standards for everyone. Instead of raising interest rates to please Wall Street, the Fed should continue to support economic expansion and low unemployment.

Farm workers

Our support for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) is part of this high road vision. Farm workers are not protected by the labor laws. They are considered self-employed "independent contractors" which means they don't get any benefits, are ineligible for workers' compensation and unemployment insurance, and they have to pay the full 15% of their income to Social Security. (Because migrant farm workers rarely collect Social Security, they are subsidizing the U.S. retirement system.) FLOC has won employee status for its workers in Ohio and Michigan. They are trying to organize farm workers in N. Carolina, an anti-union state.

We are supporting their efforts through fundraising and by supporting their boycott of the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. Our local organizing is starting to show results. Recently the Ohio State University announced that they would not allow two of their coaches to renew their advertising contracts with Mt. Olive. Next we will try to convince local grocery store chains not to sell Mt. Olive products. Remember, BOYCOTT Mt. Olive!

Meetings notes

At our April meeting, we discussed "Ecology and Social Justice" with Gregory Gross and Paul Dumouchelle of the Green Education Fund. In May, we heard from Peggy Kearsey, the political director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199. During May we also held a house party and set up an information table at Anti-Racist Action's annual Anti-Fest. Thanks to Nancy Fuller, Bill Buckel, Jeanne Wallace, and Rich Hite for braving the rain to staff the table. At our general meeting this June we viewed a slide-show about farm worker conditions in N. Carolina.

Social Security
We also discussed Social Security. The Right wants to privatize Social Security and subsidize Wall Street by letting brokers manage the funds. What is astonishing is that people are taking these proposals seriously -- another example of the rightward trend of American politics. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is pledged to defend Social Security. Social Security is a right. It is social insurance and not an individual investment program. Social Security is not in crisis as the doomsayers would have you believe. Additional funding should be provided by a progressive income tax rather than the regressive payroll tax. In addition, the cap on contributions (which means that billionaires pay Social Security taxes on only the first $68,000 of their incomes) should be raised or eliminated. I would go farther and argue that what we need is a guaranteed income for everyone, not just for retirees. In any event progressives everywhere need to defend a social program that continues to work.

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