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Synthesis/Regeneration 14   (Fall 1997)

IPPN Summit in Decatur

by Greg Thompson, Iowa Green Party

The Independent Progressive Politics Network (IPPN) held its third national summit May 2-4, 1997 in Decatur, Illinois. 140 people from 19 states, the District of Columbia and Mexico attended. About 70 organizations were represented, including labor unions, Greens, the Campaign for a New Tomorrow, the Socialist Party and various neighborhood and community groups. This unlikely mix of people was able to agree on one issue: breaking the stranglehold of multinational corporations on our economic lives and our "democratic" institutions. During the opening plenary session, 6 speakers representing various groups addressed the question, "Can we work together?"

Karen Kubby, City Councilor from Iowa City, representing the Socialist Party answered, "We don't have a choice. We have to work together." And added "...we need to prepare for the mass exodus of people from the Democratic Party, sisters and brothers. Let's get to work. Solidarity." "Sister" and "brother" were two words I heard repeatedly in Decatur that weekend. At Green Party functions I have attended, we don't call each other "sister" or "brother." Perhaps we should. I think it is important for us to realize that we really are sisters and brothers in the fight against the corporate assault on our wages, our rights and our democracy. Claire Cohen, a Pittsburgh member of Campaign for a New Tomorrow, advised everyone present to "go home and build your movement." Kwazi Nkrumah of the Green Party USA gave a stirring speech warning that we should be aware of how progressives have been repeatedly absorbed and neutralized by the Democratic Party.

Saturday morning's plenary session, "The Lessons of Decatur," started when Mike Griffin, founder of the War Zone Education Fund and a 30-year Staley employee intoned, "Good Morning. Welcome to the War Zone: Decatur, Illinois; Scab City, USA." He was greeted by a hearty round of applause. Griffin criticized the role of the AFL-CIO, whom he referred to as the AFL-CIA, and UPIU (United Paperworkers International Union) for their roles in the Decatur labor wars. He repeatedly indicted Lane Kirkland and other labor officials for their lack of leadership.

The most stirring speech of the day was given by Lorrell Patterson of the Decatur group, "Voters for Aldermanic Change," who said, "The battle in Decatur was not about taking down the unions. The battle in Decatur was about crushing working people, and that's what the companies went out to do, with the help of the business people and surprisingly, some of the union people." She added, "The labor community…across this country had better step down off their self-imposed pedestal and start goin' into the poor neighborhoods." Later, addressing the union people on the floor, she said "…yeah they (the people) should be off welfare. Kick 'em off welfare!…Where do you think these people are gonna go? Well they found out they came for their damn jobs…and this is how corporations divide and use all of us against one another."

Between the plenary sessions members attended a number of workshops. Among over a dozen topics discussed were: Working with Progressive Democrats, Living Wage Campaigns, Third Parties Working Together, and the Nuts and Bolts of Third Party Campaigns.

Saturday's activities ended with an address by Jorge Cuellar Valdez, Secretary-Treasurer of the SUTAUR-100 bus drivers union in Mexico City. He said the 12,000 members of SUTAUR-100 were victims of an onslaught of neo-liberal capitalist forces who with the ruling political party, the PRI, have privatized the bus system, imprisoned a dozen union members and assassinated four others. Over 5,000 Mexico City bus drivers still have not regained their jobs.

...the Green Party is the one organization best-suited to battle the multi-national corporations because the opposition to global corporate ambitions will demand a global response.

As someone whose political experience has been limited to one national Green gathering, state meetings in Minnesota and Iowa, and our local Iowa City Green Party meetings, I was struck by one difference between this and our Green gatherings. The Greens I have met tend to be white, educated, and environmental advocates. The IPPN gathering was a more representative cross-section of US society. People of color were present in proportions similar to their numbers in our population. The working class was well represented here. I was encouraged to see people like my parents, who are now 63 years old, whose attitudes were formed in the postwar 40's and the go-go 50's and 60's, now joining with us disaffected 60's and 70's intellectuals and hippies to fight our common enemies, the corporate Frankensteins who have come to dominate our economic lives.

I believe we, together with labor, community organizations and other progressive groups must keep in mind that the corporate globalization of the economy has created a world government that is undemocratic and not accountable to the people. As we work with labor and local groups we should point out that the Green Party is the one organization best-suited to battle the multi-national corporations, because the opposition to global corporate ambitions will demand a global response. The international Green movement will be best able to provide that response.

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