Against the Current, No. 49, March/April 1994

— The Editors

SOME EVENTS DEMAND of us: which side are you on? Such is the rebellion in Chiapas.

On January 1, 1994, several thousand Mexicans, overwhelmingly Mayan people of the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas, rose up in armed rebellion against their government, demanding land and protesting against electoral fraud and the repression suffered at the hands of the big landlords and government agents. Organized as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), they also protested the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), negotiated between Canada, Mexico and the United States. It is significant that the revolt began the day the treaty went into effect. In doing so, the Chiapan peasant rebels put their revolt in a continental context.

The Mexican government immediately blamed the revolt on Central American revolutionary groups as well as the Catholic Church....

— David Hyland

"LUGGING 150 POUND packages is deemed cause to defy a judge." This is how New York Times reporter Peter Applebombe chose to describe the recent strike by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IWE) against United Parcel Service (UPS)—at one blow trivializing and dismissing an issue that could literally break the backs of thousands of UPS workers.

The issue is far from trivial to the 170,000 workers at UPS. Teamsters at UPS already work under some of the highest productivity standards in the trucking industry. "Lugging" hardly describes a system in which warehouse workers regularly handle up to 1200 packages per hour and delivery drivers make as many as 130 stops per day.

More than doubling package weight limits from 70 to 150 pounds, as UPS unilaterally ordered, would dramatically increase the already high rate of back and repetitive strain injuries....

— Catherine Sameh

HAVING CONSCIOUSLY defined myself as a feminist for nearly half my life now, I can identity different stages of my feminist evolution. Feminism at sixteen meant discovering women writers, sex and standing up to harassment by men, while at twenty it meant studying women's history and rejecting makeup. In my last two years of college, socialism, anti-racism and lesbian studies began to shape my feminist politics, challenging me to examine difference among women according to class, race and sexuality. (I also rediscovered lipstick.)

Now pushing thirty, an activist and women's book purveyor, I continue to be informed by the abundant contributions of diverse feminist activists and thinkers, who push me into new territory full of rich and complex debates, and shed light on the varied and shifting dilemmas women face today.....

— Claire Cohen

ON SATURDAY NIGHT of November 20, 1993, Pittsburgh police fatally shot Maneia Bey, a young African American, fourteen times in the back.

These are the undisputed facts of the case: Bey was standing on a corner in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh with some other young men when the police drove up, saying they had "an anonymous tip of possible drug dealing."

Bey broke off into a run. The police pursued and called for reinforcements. Eventually eighteen officers were involved in the chase. They surrounded Bey in a large parking lot.

Six officers fired at Bey. The bullets from the guns of three officers struck and killed him....

— Barbara Zeluck

LAST JUNE BRENDA, a woman in Ohio, wrote to the White Lung Asbestos Information Center in New York:

"I'm inquiring about asbestos and their victims. I've done construction work for 16 years, and I also worked in asbestos removal in the last few years.
"Well last week I found out I have lung & brain cancer. I was trying to find out whether it was asbestos or not but my doctor can't give me a answer.
"Who do I see or talk with about this sort of thing? I would appreciate it if I could get some help on this matter."

Brenda's cancer may be asbestos-caused or not, but like most asbestos victims, Brenda never thought it could happen to her. She's isolated and has no nearby source of information or organizational support....

— Dan Fitz

AS FAR AS the eye could see, rows of Spanish workers were marching toward la Puerto del Sot in the center of Madrid. Behind the speakers platform special police guarded El Corte Ingles, the department store targeted during every Spanish general strike because of its practice of firing pro-union workers.

While large mobilizations in Washington, D.C. bring in busloads of people, this demonstration of a quarter million was drawn almost entirely from within Madrid. Other Spanish cities had their own demonstrations.

Spanish workers name their general strikes by day and month: "14-D" for December 14, 1988 and "28-M" for May 28, 1992. The most recent was "27-E" (27 de enero, or January 27, 1994).

On that day, more than industry came to a grinding halt....

— R.F. Kampfer

SEEMS LIKE ONLY yesterday, after the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, that people were bragging (on the right), or worrying (on the left) that the United States would exercise "unrestricted world hegemony." Needless to say, that was before Somalia, Yugoslavia and Haiti.

Personal problems have no meaning these days: Next to Sarajevo, everything else must become trivial.

There is an unreasonable display of anxiety about the prospect of North Korea building a couple of nuclear bombs. One might ask what good the Soviet Union ever got from its extensive and expensive nuclear arsenal. The only people who might get away with using nukes would be those who don't have any territory of their own to lose....

— an interview

During the last week in January, two members of the ATC editorial board, Dianne Feeley and David Finkel, conducted a telephone with a Detroiter, active for many years participate, in Latin America solidarity work and currently living as a researcher in the vicinity of San Cristobal in Chiapas, who described for us some of the conditions in the immediate aftermath of the Zapatista uprising.

Against the Current: What did you see during the insurrection itself?

A: I was on the way back from Oaxaca with a companion on the bus. We had no idea what had happened, till the 3rd (of January) when we saw a TV report.

The military closed the highway right in front of us, just outside Tuxtla Gutierrez, where the road starts to wind toward San Cristobal....

— Coordinated Body of the Non-Governmental Organizations for Peace of San Cristobal de las Casas

AS A SAMPLE of the documentation of the Mexican Army's war against the people of Chiapas, we offer these excerpts from Communique 8 issued January 17 by the Coordinating Body of the Non-Governmental Organizations for Peace of San Cristobal de las Casas, translated by our correspondent.

The current situation in Altamirano:

The population is receiving food rations. In order to receive food the Army demands that both heads of family (husband and wife) be present, in order to ensure that the man is there. When only the woman comes in, the army assumes the man is with the guerillas and does not give her food.

Caralampio Santos, resident of Altamirano in the neighborhood "Guadalupe,"...

— an interview with Luis, a Zapatista

ATC interviewed Luis, a Zapatista who came to the United States to publicize the current situation in Chiapas.

LET ME EXPLAIN that I am a Zapatista soldier. I am not a commanding officer. I came here to explain to the American people, to unionists and others, as an indigenous man so that you could hear the voice of the indigenous. The media, even the bigger sources, have only obtained their information from the government. They never speak of, or to, the indigenous. I came to let the American people know why we are in this movement. That we believe in liberty and justice.

The EZLN is fighting so that indigenous people can have land. That their rights be respected as they no longer have these rights, not even those stated in the Mexican Constitution. Our struggle is for the land itself. We don't own any land while the caciques (bosses), police, and large landowners can own more than 1,000 hectares....

— Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

The following is excerpted from a speech by Bernadette Devlin McAliskey in Detroit on November 5, 1993. She became a prominent figure in the Civil Rights movement in Ireland in the 1960s and has worked for Irish freedom ever since. ATC has transcribed and abridged the talk. Many thanks to Nkenge Zola of WDET-FM for providing us with a good quality tape!

IT'S NOT VERY easy to be heard on Ireland. After twenty-five years of unbroken struggle we still find ourselves trying to break into the human rights agenda, despite the fact that there is a mountain of literature from Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch on the consistent violation of human rights in the north of Ireland.

We are, if not on the human rights agenda, beginning to get on the political agenda—and to finally correct the impression that the struggle in the north is about religion....

Stuart Ross, a member of Solidarity and an activist in Irish solidarity work, interviewed Bernadette Devlin McAliskey for ATC in Detroit on November 5, 1993. It should be noted that this discussion predated several important political events, which therefore aren't covered here: the December 15 "Downing Street Declaration" by the Prime Minister of Britain and the Irish Republic; the lifting of the Irish Republic's ban on the broadcast of statements by Sinn Fein leaders (Britain's ban remains in effect); and the Clinton administration's granting of a limited visa to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

ATC: You have just come from San Francisco where you were one of the defense witnesses on behalf of Jimmy Smyth, an Irish national facing extradition back to the north of Ireland. Given the fate of other Irish nationals in U.S. courts, do you think the outcome of this case will be any different?

BDM: I was asked to testify about the situation in Northern Ireland. Basically, Jimmy Smyth is one of the escapees from the mass escape [1983] from the Maze [or Long Kesh] prison....

— J. David Edelstein

WHILE SOCIALISTS FAVOR democracy in working-class organizations, there has understandably been widespread pessimism regarding the prospects for democracy in national unions under capitalism. The bleak American scene certainly provides little encouragement. My purpose here is to provide two important examples of large, fairly democratic unions, both in Britain, and to show the organizational basis for their democracy.

There are also implications here for democracy under socialism. Neither union has any appointed full-time officials, and both elect all of their full-time officials by direct votes of the membership. The unions are the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the National Union of Mineworkers. A widespread knowledge of these two unions' democratic features, among socialists and rank-and-file activists, could offer useful examples and inspiration.

— The Editors

TODAY THE PROCESS of capitalist restructuring and the urgency of international solidarity unites women as workers in even more fundamental a way than when Clara Zetkin first proposed an annual International Working Women's Day nearly eighty-five years ago. It's clear that in Year One of NAFTA and GAIT, the continual incorporation of women's work into the world marketplace results in both their increasmg proletarianization and pauperization. This will reinforce women's poverty not just in the Third World and in the former Communist countries, but in capitalist Europe and America as well.

But whether full-time or part-time, whether working in a maquiladora or sewing at home for a contractor, whether inputting data on a computer or producing "new" crops for a world market (like snow peas, broccoli, radishes), women are forced to seek employment while still caring for children and elderly relatives, while still administering the vast majority of the household tasks....

— Varda Burstyn

WHEN THE COMMITTEE for Reproductive Freedom invited me to speak to you this evening, they felt that I might bring an interesting perspective to the specific matter of a relatively new "technology"—RU486 [the so-called French abortion pill—ed]. I explained that I was not an expert on RU486—and that, at present, in the Canadian context, I am abstaining from taking a position pro or con. This is because I am caught in a conflict between two central values: on the one hand, the value of seeking to make reproductive medicine as safe as possible; on the other, the value of making women's access to abortion easier and more secure.

To explain why I cannot easily support this new technology, and why I am also not opposing it, I want to place RU486 and the contradictions I experience with respect to it within the larger sphere of reproductive health and reproductive politics....

— Tikva Honig-Parnass

EVERY WESTERN NATION-state, Israel included, is a capitalist patriarchy that oppresses and exploits its female citizens and uses male domination and female subordination for the fulfillment of its objectives and the carrying out of its policies. But Israelis not just another capitalist nation-state whose male-dominated society is the root cause of women's oppression and domination. The State of Israel also embodies the objectives of Zionism, which were incorporated into the ideology of the Jewish state, the offspring of the Zionist movement.

Two characteristics of capitalist patriarchal states in general are as follows:

a) It is women's task to maintain the boundaries of the national collective, both through biological reproduction and in their role as "culture-bearers" who pass on its culture and symbols from one generation to the next.(1)...

— Susanna Trnka

IN THE BACK room of a bar, twenty-five or thirty women sit around a large table, filling up the room with I smoke. Marcela, the President of L-Klub Lambda—the only official lesbian organization in Prague—stands at the head of the table, encouraging them to become active in an upcoming AIDS demonstration.

"AIDS can affect you toot you know," she chides. A few women huddle and whisper around a stack of newsletters freshly xeroxed by one of the member's mothers who works at a newspaper: Others sit quietly, sipping their drinks.

The meeting officially ends and the women break up into small groups, some obviously lovers, others meeting for the first time. Women in their fifties chat with women in their twenties, married women, women with children, women just coming out—they sit in groups, drinking, smoking, gossiping and making jokes....

— Deborah L. Billings
Unfinished Conquest
The Guatemalan Tragedy
By Victor Perera, with photographs by Daniel Chauche
Berkeley: University of California, 1993, 382 pages, hard cover, $27.
Bridge of Courage:
Life Stories of the Guatemalan Companeros and Companeras
By Jennifer Harbury with an introduction by Noam Chomsky.
Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 263 pages, paperback. $14.95.

UNIMAGINABLE BEAUTY AND devastating violence—these are two images most often evoked by writers reflecting on the multiple and seemingly contrasting realities of Guatemala....

— David Roediger
Juice Is Stranger Than Friction:
Selected Writings of T-Bone Slim
Franklin Rosemont, editor. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1992
159 pages. Cloth: $24.95, paper: $8.95.

T-BONE SLIM wrote countless jokes, aphorisms, newspaper columns, poems and short stories, as well as two pamphlets and a 607-word novel He coined scores of words, from holidaysical toPerhapsbyterian. His songs include such labor classics as "The Popular Wobbly" ("They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me"), "The Lumberjack's Prayer" and "I'm Too Old To Be A Scab." Slim was, as Franklin Rosemont's superb introduction argues, the "greatest man of letters" in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the most wildly creative labor union in U.S. history.

I'll bet Slim couldn't have written a serious book review to save his life, though....