Third Annual Convention Minutes: part 4

Part 4
Summary of Proceedings
Boulder, Colorado
April 27-May2, 1999

Visions for the Future
The planners of this convention felt that after four years of analysis and thinking against what's wrong and how to combat it, members of the Alliance should take more responsibility for what better futures are envisioned.  A panel on "visions for the next millennium" was scheduled, with the speakers Ignacio (Nacho) Peon [accent on the o] of Pacto de Grupos Ecologistas Mexico, Nancy Neemtan, the director of Chantier de l'economie sociale in Montreal, David Korten of Washington State, the author of When Corporations Rule the World and The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism, and AfD co-chair Ronnie Dugger, the writer of this report.  Excerpts of the talks by Korten and Dugger will be printed in the next issue.  A community organizer for the past 27 years, Neemtan has worked on welfare rights, food co-ops and a co-op bank, housing, anti-racism, women's rights, radical theater, and much else.

As executive director of her corporation for economic renewal in Montreal she supervises 45 employees.  In developing a local economic development strategy, she told the convention, their most elementary work was demystifying economics, simplifying it down to what it is, "just the ways we produce goods and services in the society and how we distribute them."  Her group has developed a proposed new concept to replace the standard gross national product (the GNP), and books have been written about their work.   They have a lot to work with in Montreal and Quebec.  The union movement in Quebec controls an investment fund of $3 billion; 42% of the workers in the province are unionized, and companies are obliged to educate workers in how their companies operate.   But unemployment runs at 10%. Neemtan's group did a survey, a reality check, looking for collective solutions, in three areas: urban development, business/corporate development, and social conditions.  One thing that struck her and her group, she said, was "the incapacity of the corporate system to respond" to the real possibilities for humane emergences in the cities.

Not only are there the conventional public and private sectors, she said, "there is a social economy," the co-ops, the nonprofit and community-controlled enterprises, and needs concerning cultural life, the environment, housing, new technologies, jobs to provide services for people that really need them.  This third, "social" economy is the one that is left out of standard "public/private" urban planning, she said.

"The society we want, we're going to build through experimentation.  It will come out of collective understanding.  Building up economic alternatives is not marginal work.  We have to work at getting people involved in small things, and we have to fight for political recognition" for such work, said the Canadian.

International networking is vital, Neemtan said, to the forging of what she called "a new international social contract.  We've got to build block by block, experiment by experiment, get people involved in building alternatives, and have faith in our collective wisdom."

Dynamic Local Autonomy
Ignacio Peon [accent on the o], an inventor and civil engineer who teaches at several Mexican universities, has designed and built a new prototype electric car, and his book on the theory of social networking is to be published soon.  His group is a network of networks, a national network of 50 organizations concerned with the environment, health, popular education, and other matters.

Concerning "the aristocracy of monied corporations," Peon said: "Most of the people we meet like the corporations.  They are in the dark--are not aware of the corporations' dark side.  There are two systems of taxes in the United States and Mexico. Most of the trade is not between countries, but inside corporations. They are not paying taxes.  They are greedy.  They are getting money for themselves and their stockholders.  We don't get welfare, housing, environmental protection, and so on.   The economy is an iceberg.  The corporations are above the water, the rest is under the water.  Most of the people are outside the formal economy the corporations rule.  The corporations are big parasites.  They are taking the blood from the economy and giving the blood to a few people, the CEOs and the stockholders."    In Mexico, he said, the global corporations have destroyed the agricultural sector, medium and small industry, and the service economy.  "Most people are going to the big cities--some are stealing, some go into the underground economy, a very few get jobs with the big corporations.  Who is benefiting?  The big parasite, the corporation.  The iceberg is sinking.  The system is destroying itself.   They are killing their own politics.  We have corporations on top of the government, but the system is falling.  We were sent 50 thousand million dollars, but with all that help the system is falling down, the system is self-destroying.  We don't have democracy.  The corporations have big mind, they don't have heart, and they have weak legs.  The corporations and political parties sit on top of the people in every country."

One of the things we must try to do for the next century, Peon said, is empower local governments.  Mexico, for instance, has 50 separately identifiable cultures and 2,500 local governments.  He foresaw that Mexico City is going to be divided into many local governments.  "In the United States we don't see that. People are afraid of autonomy.  They shouldn't be afraid.  Mexico is not going to sleep when we get autonomy," he continued.

"We have networks, now we need autonomy.  We are not going back to tribalism.   Local governments can connect with each other.  Each place is its own environment, its own culture.  The Zapatistas are very poor, but the main thing they want is autonomy.  They have their own way of doing things.  They are very, very democratic.  Each local government should be autonomous.  What we think for the next stage is autonomous local government.   "We don't want to be like the United States or Canada. Local communities don't want to be like Mexico City.  We want a process, we don't want a model.  We want a dynamic process, we want a learning process--we want autonomy."

During comments from the delegates, Phil Wheaton of Takoma, Md., noted that the Zapatista movement came into being in part in resistance to plans by Jack Nicklaus, the golf star, to get local water allocated to a golf course, arousing people against it.

Peon invited representatives of the Alliance into Mexico and looked forward to the growth of strong networks between U.S. and Mexican citizen organizations. He is at Explanada 70S, Mexico 11000 Df,  Mexico/  

During comment from the delegates, Arline Prigoff, Sacramento, Ca., called for emphasis on the connections between warmaking and corporate domination.  "Capitalism is the basis of the corporation," said Nancy Broyles, Santa Barbara, Ca. "We must get rid of capitalism and bring in another economic system; or has a system been invented yet?   What lies ahead is to invent a new system...."

Poor to March on the UN
Cheri Honkala, the charismatic founder and executive director of the Philadelphia-based Kensington Welfare Rights Union, called on members of the Alliance to support the Union's march of homeless and poor people from Washington, D.C., to the United Nations in New York City next October on behalf of "freedom from unemployment, hunger, and homelessness."  She expects participants from Canada and Latin-America.

A former history teacher, social worker, and homeless welfare recipient, Honkala has spent the past decade organizing poor people.  She is co-chair of the National Welfare Rights Union; the Kensington organization is the first union of the unemployed that has been recognized by the AFL-CIO.  She warmly acknowledged, in the Alliance audience, Ted Dooley, who is an attorney from Minneapolis, as the person who, pro bono, has kept her free from spending too much time in jail, despite her 66 arrests during actions on behalf of the poor and homeless.

Delegates were first seared by her passion during a workshop.  Her goal is the development of an independent poor people's movement in the U.S. A legal committee working with her group is preparing an indictment of the United States for "economic human rights violations," she said.  "People die from no health care, freeze on the streets from no shelter."  Her group moves homeless people into abandoned federal buildings, and finds out where federal surplus food is stored and takes it to the poor.

"It's legal to freeze to death on the street; a person who moves into an abandoned federally-owned property goes to jail," she said.  "Philadelphia has more abandoned houses than homeless people.  When the shelters fill up we daily break the law.....In most parts of the country you have to have a license to feed people.  You cannot take surplus food and feed the poor, and that's what we do.  That's how we organize them.  It's how we organize the people.  It's not enough to spill out the rhetoric, how bad it is and who's responsible--generally they're very quick on that."

Calvin Simon, Santa Rosa, Ca., asked Honkala how the Alliance could help organize them. (The Sonoma County Alliance chapter sought to enlist homeless people, but they have fallen away.)  "There's plenty of people around to get organized," Honkala said. "Start in hospital emergency rooms.  People are hurting, they want anybody to listen."

Honkala calls for a "movement calling for economic human rights," based in Articles 24, 25, and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   She says there is a growing war in the U.S., which you won't see on the nightly news or Ted Koppel, for people without medical care who are trying to find enough food and a place to sleep.   "We are sending a strong message in this country that food, clothing, and housing are not up for negotiations," she said.

"Begin to work with us," she asked the convention.  "Support our efforts.  Open the bridge to let us speak for ourselves and to work together in partnership."  She was given a standing ovation.  She said those wishing to help her group or participate in the October march should call Alix Webb at 215-203-1945.

University and Labor Democracy
Ben Manski, a national leader among activist college students and a driving force in the Alliance chapter at the University of Wisconsin, spoke of building "a campus democracy movement" on the foundation of "education as a fundamental, inalienable human right."  College education "has got to be free--that's the only way," he exclaimed.  He called for more student sit-ins and strikes against the use of products of sweatshop labor at universities.  He reviewed student-based movements to free Burma and Nigeria and for open admissions at City University of New York.

"A firewall has got to be put up against corporate control of university research and technology development," Manski said. He also called for "the total democratization of campus government, student and worker control over our universities, a simple concept: a mass campus-based movement" that "is a revolutionary struggle because it's a struggle for the future.  " The agenda, he said, should be "resist corporate rule and democratize all social institutions, school, church, family, market."

Workers taking an active hand in saving their own companies from dismantlement and "the low road" of wage cuts or asset sales was the surprising theme of Dan Swinney, executive director of the Midwest Center for Labor Research in Chicago.

When owners of small companies propose to sell them, the workers usually tacitly accept the owners' decisions, but this is changing and should change, Swinney said.   "Capital, in large part," he said, "is willing to abandon communities and countries. We must step into the issue of the creation of wealth," must seek "a change in what we will call the social relations of capital."

He cited examples of where this has happened.  A company in New Bedford was to be sold for the value of its assets.  The workers went door to door, and to the mayor, to fight the sale, and it was dropped.  A candy company owned by a Swiuss millionaire was to be sold off and wages cut to break the union, but instead the workers rounded up $300 million from 80 community organizations to buy the company.  Management of a steel company outside Pittsburgh gave three days' notice of an intention to sell the company, but the workers occupied the company for 42 days, and today it's a worker-owned business.

"Big capital is vulnerable exactly because of its greed, exactly because of its avariciousness, exactly because of its scale," Swinney said.  Swinney has set forth the case for this approach in a 94-page booklet, "Building the Bridge to the High Road, Expanding Participation and Democracy in the Economy to Build Sustainable Communities," available for $10 from the Midwest Center for Labor Research, 3411 W. Diversey, Room 10, Chicago, Il. 60647, 773-278-541/  

The convention adopted a number of special resolutions of thanks, including to Harold Stokes, Detroit, for his matching program and additional support of the Alliance; Marie Smith, Kansas City, Mo., for her past service as Treasurer; Vikki Savee, Sacramento, for her continuing services as secretary; Ruth Caplan, Washington, D.C., for her service as, in effect, unpaid convention coordinator; Ken and Dottie Reiner, Long Beach, Ca., for their support of the Alliance; Cyrus Kano, Catumet, Ma., for special services in the convention office; and "the Bulworth award" for public service to Paul Cienfuegos.

(end 4 of 4)