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Chapter Reports: Northeast Regional Conference
by Multiple Authors
‘Science for the People’ Vol. 7, No. 1, January 1975, p. 30 – 33
Approximately 60 people attended the second Northeast Regional Conference held November 16–17 in Voluntown, Connecticut at a farm run by the Community for Nonviolent Action. All chapters in the region were well represented, and representatives from Cincinnati were also in attendance. Planning for the conference was done by the Northeast Regional Committee. In preparation for this conference a group in Boston [the Unity Caucus] wrote a document which includes analytical notes, draft principles of unity, draft guidelines for practice, and a draft proposal. This document was distributed prior to the conference and was to form the basis for discussing principles of unity. Also included in this mailing was a proposal to restructure the way in which the magazine is produced. A second discussion bulletin was sent out prior to the conference [unfortunately too late for everyone to receive it] which included responses by groups to the unity caucus’s document. Copies of these documents and others were redistributed to attendees at the conference.
People started arriving Friday evening, which was set aside as a time for people to meet and get to know each other. At the initial plenary session on Saturday morning the magazine coordinating committee’s proposal to restructure the way in which the magazine is produced was discussed. Some strong disagreements with the proposal were raised during this discussion and it was decided to have a workshop in the afternoon to discuss them. Following the plenary session and after lunch, workshops were held that dealt with the magazine proposal; convention activities; sexism, racism and elitism; occupational health; science for Vietnam; workplace organizing; science teaching; professionalism; and the energy crisis. An evening plenary session heard reports and proposals from workshops. The Magazine Coordinating Committee’s proposal with amendments was passed by a substantial margin [see resolution # 1] and a resolution calling on us to support two farm worker organizations. [See resolution #7.] Any frustration engendered at the plenary was worked off at the party which immediately followed it.
The Sunday morning plenary was titled “Whom should we bring together, about what, and why?” It was envisioned that during this plenary we would begin discussing the Unity Caucus’ document. This discussion did not take place, but was replaced by a general discussion of principles of unity. Out of this discussion a set of questions was developed which people were urged to use as a discussion guide. These questions were formalized by a small group during lunch and passed during the afternoon plenary. [See resolution #2.] The afternoon plenary was titled “What role can the Regional Conference play in uniting SftP nationally?” A number of resolutions were passed during this session: formation of a national organizing committee and an internal discussion bulletin; making the magazine serve a national organization; a statement on procedures for developing principles of unity. [See resolutions #3, 4, 5, 6.]
REGIONAL CONFERENCE RESOLUTIONS
Resolution No. 1: Magazine Reorganization
Editing, production, and distribution of the magazine should be broken down into three separate tasks. These tasks would be the responsibility of three different committees which would be accountable to the membership through general meetings in Boston, and N.E. regional meetings when they exist, as well as to all other chapters through the mail. Members of any committee will be subject to confirmation and recall by their respective chapters, and openings will be announced to the membership at large.
- Editorial committee: 6-10 members of the organization who will commit themselves to at least six months work: maximum one year. They would rotate so that after each issue is finished one or two members would leave the committee and replacements would be found. This group would be responsible for soliciting, editing, and selecting material for each magazine: they would also do the rough design. It would be possible for some members of this committee to be from chapters outside Boston and to participate by mail and telephone. A maximum of two members of this committee could be new people. Most new people would be expected to have some experience with one of the other magazine groups. This committee would not be responsible for an issue of the magazine until May.
- Production Committee: 4-6 members of the organization who will commit themselves to at least six months work. This group would be in charge of the actual production of the magazine: proofreading, layout, paste-up. They would build up a graphics file, make contact with photographers, artists, etc. This work could introduce new people to the organization. This committee would not be responsible for an issue of the magazine until March, but could help with the production of the January issue.
- Distribution committee: 4-6 members of the organization, who will commit themselves to at least six months work. This group would mail the magazine; work to increase distribution locally and nationally. This includes making contacts in other organizations — for example, psychologists, to send them the behavior and modification issue, or groups of prisoners, hospital workers, etc. Work in this area has begun already and needs to be expanded.
While united in theory that every stage of the production process is integral to the making of the magazine, we recognize that in practice the division of labor within that production process could tend to resolve into an elitist hierarchy of mental and manual work. There is a two part practical way to handle this problem:
- Everyone involved in making the magazine should acquire experience in more than just one of the three functions.
- All magazine workers should participate in criticism of each issue and talk to each other about (a) what’s going on in the work process, (b) how it is affecting the people working, and (c) whether our practice matches our political theory.
The Magazine Coordinating Committee will be reconstituted. It will consist of two rotating members from each of the three committees and the magazine coordinator. The Magazine Coordinating Committee would have ultimate control over the production and distribution of the magazine, would choose new members for the committees when they are needed; would be accountable, as are all three groups, to a general meeting of the membership. The magazine coordinator would be responsible for answering letters of inquiry about the magazine, soliciting material for the editorial committee, keeping production materials in order, and any other duties relegated to her/him by the new Magazine Coordinating Committee or the organization.
In recognition of the need to make SftP magazine more representative of the national membership in SESPA/SftP, the Magazine Coordinating Committee will make a renewed and vigorous effort to involve other chapters in the production of the magazine by forming one-issue collectives. These collectives will be encouraged to engage in the lull task of producing the magazine with the exception of the actual printing which will continue to be done in Boston for reasons of economy. A goal for the immediate future should be the production of at least two issues per year outside Boston. To facilitate this task, chapters should be involved in a dialogue concerning their criticisms of the magazine in relation to their responsibilities to the magazine. In order to accommodate the problems inherent in production of the magazine by a chapter with no prior experience, a lead time of at least six months for these issues will be the general rule. It is understood that the magazine coordinator and the coordinating committee will provide aid and continuity by working as closely as possible with the one issue collectives.
To further aid in the task of developing a dialogue within SESPA/SftP and to solicit input to SftP magazine each region should be urged to select a regional coordinator. The task of this coordinator would be to stimulate and facilitate communication. Specific tasks might include:
- obtaining commitments from chapters to produce issues of the magazine;
- promoting regional meetings to discuss and criticize each issue of the magazine;
- coordinating the production and distribution of an internal document on political issues facing the organization.
Guidelines for future directions of the magazine as approved in April ’74 by a Boston general meeting will remain in effect.
Therefore, be it resolved that the Northeast regional conference mandates the magazine coordinating committee to restructure the production and distribution of the magazine as proposed and ammended, and that these changes are subject to revision when a national organization develops.
Resolution No. 2: Important Questions to Be Resolved or Delineated Prior to the Drafting of a Principles of Unity for SftP.
- HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION OF THE ORGANIZATION. Assessment of past activities. Whom do we currently relate to? Who are we?
- WHAT, IF ANY, SHOULD OUR MAIN STRATEGY BE? Should we be an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, or socialist organization, or something else, and what do we mean by these terms? What are our attitudes toward electoral politics, counter-culture, violence? How should the possibility of a major depression affect the entire programmatic thrust of SftP?
- ROLE OF THE WORKING CLASS AND OUR RELATION TO IT. Should we develop a class analysis and what would its role be in our work? How do we define “working class” and where do we place the various elements of our constituency? What is the principle of working class leadership, and what does it mean, if anything, for SftP?
- NEUTRALITY OF SCIENCE. Pure science? Applied science? Under socialism? What is the science of struggle?
- CHARACTER OF THE ORGANIZATION WE SEEK. Structure and membership. What does it mean to be a member? Mass organization or “cadre” organization? What are democratic procedures?
- STYLE OF WORK. Do good styles of work flow out of political analysis? Dealing with personal differences. Guidelines for struggle and practice.
- THE FUNCTIONS OF A PRINCIPLES OF UNITY. Are they to be used widely to explain ourselves to potential members, allies, and others, or more as an internal document? What do Principles of Unity mean for organizational activities and individuals?
- WHAT ARE OUR PROGRAMMATIC OBJECTIVES? Activities directed at our immediate constituency. More broadly directed activities.
- ALLIANCES AND COALITIONS. On what basis do we participate in coalitions, and how do we act within them?
Resolution No. 3: National Organization
The Northeast Regional Committee shall establish an interim national organizing committee with as much national representation as possible to arrange a national convention within one year. The committee should have its first meeting no later than Feb. 1, 1975.
Resolution No. 4: Internal Discussion Bulletin
The Northeast Regional Committee shall establish a committee to put out an Internal Discussion Bulletin that would provide communication among the membership, facilitate developing programs and provide for political education and struggle. The first issue should report the entire proceedings of the Northeast Regional Conference, including all documents presented, to everyone on the Science for the People mailing list. The bulletin committee should ultimately be under the direction of the National Organizing Committee and should be set up outside Boston. Financial support should be solicited for its continuation. Subsequent copies should be sent to those who give positive indication of continued interest. It should be distributed no less frequently than every two months.
Resolution No. 5: Science for People Magazine and a National Organization
The Magazine Coordinating Committee should prepare proposals for discussion prior to the national convention on how the magazine, Science for the People, should serve a national organization.
Resolution No. 6: Procedures for Developing Principles of Unity
SESPA/Science for the People in the Northeast Region resolves to develop a statement of principles of unity within but not limited to the following procedure:
- Each chapter and working project group is asked to prepare draft suggestions for principles of unity which make explicit the historical developments, current practice, and projected direction of that chapter or group and that sum up the theory learned from this history and practice.
- These documents will form the basis for Internal Discussion Bulletins.
- Regional conferences cap then be organized to prepare draft principles from the various draft suggestions.
- These drafts will be circulated among the chapters and project groups through an Internal Bulletin for criticism and further changes.
- A national conference will be convened to finalize a national draft proposal of principles of unity.
- The process of revising, criticising, and further developing these principles will continue at the project group, chapter, and conference level.
Resolution No. 7: In Support of A.T.A. and E.F.W.A.
Science for the People recognizes the importance of actively supporting the struggles of migrant agricultural workers in the Northeast United States, particularly in the organizing efforts of the Agriculture Workers Association (A.T.A.) and the Eastern Farm Workers Association (E.F.W.A.). These organizations are organizing all workers in the fields — in the shade tobacco fields in New England and the vegetable fields on Long Island.
In particular, A.T.A. is mobilizing around the forced migration of Puerto Ricans from the island which results from United States colonial control of Puerto Rico. We affirm that not only do all agricultural workers deserve a union that fairly represents them, but also that the exploitation which results in forced migration will end only with the complete independence of Puerto Rico. [For more information see boxes below.]
It must be understood also that E.F.W.A. members include poor black and white migrant laborers, as well as Puerto Ricans, who base their struggle on their desire to fight for adequate housing, health care and a living salary.
Both A.T.A. and E.F.W.A. recognize that all agricultural workers have the right to organize and form their own union.
We further recognize that our support must be shown in concrete ways, and that this support will help broaden the class and national base of Science for the People. It is essential that each chapter take up the agricultural worker question and the question of the independence of Puerto Rico — and that chapters go beyond merely discussing them. Among the things chapters can do are: make contacts with A.T.A. and E.F.W.A. support committees in our local areas to see what kinds of support they need (if one doesn’t exist within a chapter’s local area, then we will help in establishing a support committee with others in the community); chapters shall inform themselves of the background (history, politics and economics) behind the two questions (for this information contact the A.T.A. and E.F.W.A. support committees, the Puerto Rican Solidarity Day Committee, P.O. Box 125, Boston, MA and the Committee for Puerto Rico Decolonialization, Box 1240, Peter Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009); relating educational work (such as showing the A.T.A. film or sponsoring guest speakers); magazine and pamphlet writing, and general discussion inside and outside Science for the People around the two questions; and financial assistance, especially when organizing drives are at a peak and when the workers are on strike.
What is EFWA?
The Eastern Farmworkers Association is a membership organization representing over 3000 agricultural workers in New York State. It includes migrant and seasonal farmworkers, working in the fields, potato packing sheds and nurseries of Long Island as well as the grape fields and apple orchards of western New York. Dedicated to serving no other interest save that of the farmworkers themselves, the Association acts as a vehicle for its members to attack the root causes of poverty and injustice. Farmworkers in New York earn an average of $1600 a year and, due to the practice of “down time” (paying workers only while the machinery runs), migrants often make $10–25 a week during the winter in the potato graders. The first strike by agricultural workers in New York State began in December, 1972 when two camps of migrant workers walked out of a potato packing shed in Riverhead with EFWA support. The exploitation of farmworkers extends beyond wages to inadequate health care, hazardous working conditions, police brutality, arbitrary exclusion from any relief benefits. Unemployed farmworkers provide cheap, unskilled labor to small, piecework factory operations marked by low wages and frequent layoffs. The Association is prepared to advance the interests of farmworkers and all poor people in each of these arenas.
EFWA operates a strong benefits program for its members, including a free health care facility in Riverhead. All organizers and professionals are unpaid, and the Association depends on the community for financial support and donations of materials and skills. Support groups in high schools, colleges and churches collect food, clothing and money for farm workers. We are expanding our benefits to meet the needs created by the recession and the accompanying cutbacks of government services and charitable contributions. We cannot cut back — we either organize or starve.
The Eastern Farmworkers Association is in solidarity with AT A, UFW and all other farm worker organizations. As veterans of the farmworkers’ struggle, we are realistic about the difficulties we face, yet convinced that we can win. Wherever we can offer assistance to groups of farmworkers and other unorganized workers, we are committed by our members to give as much support as we can.
What is ATA?
The ATA (Agricultural Workers Association) will be fighting for labor legislation covering agricultural workers in the next months. If the main battle is won in Massachusetts it will spell the end to exclusion of agricultural workers from labor relations laws and allow union recognition elections to be held. ATA was organized August 5, 1973 in Hartford, Connecticut, by more than 100 farm workers. Today it has more than two thousand members. It is a multinational union based mainly in the Northeast, where there is a large number of migrants from Puerto Rico. It is the plight of these migrants in particular that has been the driving force behind ATA. The industrialization of Puerto Rico by United States corporations has ruined agriculture there, forcing thousands of farm workers out of work. With an unemployment rate of over 30% the Puerto Rican government benefits from the migration to the mainland (as residents of “a free associated state” Puerto Ricans have free access to the mainland, despite the fact that they have no representation in government or control over economic affairs). As part of the “unemployment export” policy, Puerto Rican law grants only the Puerto Rican government the power to bargain with growers on the mainland. As support in the fields (primarily in the shade tobacco regions of Massachusetts and Connecticut) and in the cities (mainly in the Puerto Rican communities) has grown for ATA, the Commonwealth government has recognized that unionization is inevitable. They are now negotiating with the Teamsters and Amalgamated Meat Cutters. ATA’s support for independence for Puerto Rico collides head on with the “America-first” positions of these unions. Because labor relations acts exclude agricultural workers, growers can legally refuse to hold an election or recognize the union regardless of how many workers support it or how many have signed union cards. If the Massachusetts campaign is successful elections may be possible in the camps next summer.
Support Committee to ATA
Support Committee to ATA
NOTES FROM THE THE OUTER CAPE
We went to the Northeast Regional Conference to discuss principles for unifying and expanding the base of SESPA/Science for the People. We came away with a lot of questions unanswered, but with at least one concrete advance. The three of us who travelled from the tip of Cape Cod constituted ourselves a formal chapter. We began by discussing our previous experience in SftP through the Boston Chapter and through project groups centered in Boston, and we tried to define our roles in the organization and the organization’s role in building a January, 1975 revolutionary movement, focusing on our desire to integrate our work with our political practice. Much of our initial discussion centered on our experience at the Northeast Regional and our reactions to the proposals offered by the “Unity Caucus.”
A regional conference can be a unique opportunity to meet with people from other chapters and to resume or begin ongoing dialogues on theory and on work projects, but much of this potential was not realized this year. The late dissemination of comprehensive proposals by the Unity Caucus for restructuring SftP and at least a half dozen last minute responses to these proposals created tensions before and during the conference which have yet to be resolved. The process of arriving at concensus on principles and on program was short-circuited by this presentation, and the result was that many of us tended to lump together all proposals (of which there were many) connected with this group and to react increasingly with suspicion and distrust to anything they were identified with.
What began as a conference on unity was more than a confederation of caucuses. With the spectre of political infighting and factionalism hanging over us, the delegates muddled through work-shops and plenaries waiting for the BIG confrontation that never happened. At few times during the conference did we as a group allow the conflicts which so informed all of our discussions to surface and when they did, we quickly buried them. We as a chapter feel extremely uneasy about this and propose that all the participants of the conference seriously analyze what went on there and why. How did it happen that one group and its proposals so dominated our attention and why weren’t similar proposals forthcoming from the other chapters and project groups prior to the conference?
Our first meetings following the conference have addressed themselves to these questions, to expanding our chapter, and to implementing the decision of the Regional to develop unity guidelines at the chapter and project group level over the next year(s). We think that the future of SESPA/SftP depends not only on what principles and what program we eventually adopt, but on how thoroughly the process of articulating these principles and this program involve the broadest base of the organization. We suggest, therefore, that this process begin immediately and that a person be designated in each chapter and group to be responsible for coordinating an analysis of past and present practice in that chapter or group with suggestions for theoretical principles which are summed up from this experience. Early drafts of these analyses should begin circulating through internal bulletins by February, with draft suggestions for national principles and for a national program following through the Spring.
Throughout the conference the question of the class base of our organization and of our ongoing organizing efforts kept coming up obliquely and rhetorically without being faced directly. We believe this is a question fundamental to our definition of principles and program, so we propose that all chapters and project groups begin to develop a concrete class analysis of themselves and their group. We find classical Marxist definitions of class to be inadequate to this task, so we suggest that all such designations be re-examined and defined according to their usage, and that we ground them firmly in terms of our own lives and our work. If class struggle is to be a basic tool of our movement, then we must know what we mean by it and how we can use it. If our own “oppression” is to be a starting point for our political analysis, then we must be quite clear on how, in fact, we perceive ourselves to be “oppressed.” A class analysis is a starting point of such an understanding. An ongoing dialogue within the organization is the means by whcih we can sharpen such an understanding into a useful and effective tool. We look forward to sharing the fruits of this dialogue over the coming years.
— The Outer Cape Chapter
The following speech was made by Jim Moore of Boston Science for the People at a concert co-sponsored by SftP and the Puerto Rican Student Federation held at M.I.T. on October 15, 1974:
On behalf of the Puerto Rican Student Federation and Science for the People, I welcome you to this celebration of the struggle for independence of the Puerto Rican people. It is a struggle against the economic and political domination of the island by the United States which threatens the existence of the Puerto Rican nation. Technological abuses resulting from the accelerated development of heavy industry play an important role in the process of economic exploitation. The development of the superport, with increased oil refining capabilities, the proposed strip mining of copper from the central mountain range, industrial waste from pharmaceutical and other factories, the forced sterilization of ⅓ of the women of Puerto Rico, the use of 23% of the arable land as military bases, and the proposed forced migration of one million Puerto Ricans by 1980; all are part of the ploitation — a process over which the peoples of Puerto Rico have no control at present. The struggle for independence from colonial domination by the U.S. is the same struggle as here in the United States against an economic and political system concerned only with the need to make profit, and that benefits a select few. It is these struggles that we seek to build support for at the concert this evening.