On 12 May a conference of 100 labor defenders of Mumia Abu-Jamal was held in Oakland, California. The conference was sponsored by a number of union locals and Bay Area labor councils, as well as the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia (LAC), which includes comrades of the International Bolshevik Tendency. The main resolution submitted by the LAC to the conference concluded:
While some conference participants thought this resolution went too far for the union leadership, no opposition was voiced from the floor, and it passed unanimously.
In the week preceding the conference the LAC, after an intense internal discussion, had decided to present another motion as well:
The Democratic National Convention is a major national event in the American political calendar. The Democrats, one of America's twin parties of racism and imperialist war, traditionally enjoy the support of the majority of blacks in the U.S., as well as the bulk of the trade union bureaucracy. In 1964 opposition by liberal and civil rights activists to the seating of the arch-segregationist Dixiecrats turned into a major national scandal. Rendell's appointment as Democratic chairman provides a possible opportunity to once again highlight the blatantly racist character of this capitalist political machine.
When the proposal to go after Rendell was first aired in the LAC, some opposed it on the grounds that the union tops are so corrupt and Democratic-Party loyal that they would simply ignore the issue so that time spent on it would be wasted. Others argued that the wide support for Mumia within the trade-union movement, particularly in California, made it possible to draw attention to the inherent contradiction between defending a victim of the racist "criminal justice" frame-up system and supporting the Democratic Party and its white supremacist "law and order" policies. Focusing attention on Rendell and condemning his role in the murderous vendetta against MOVE, as well as his sinister machinations in the campaign to execute Mumia, could help convince significant numbers of workers that the unions should withdraw all support from the Democrats. However things play out, such an effort could only help Mumia.
One need not be a socialist to recognize this. A resolution substantially similar to the one above was submitted by the Oakland local to the convention of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) last February. It resulted in a heated debate on the floor. CFT President Mary Bergen stepped down from the podium where she had been presiding, to speak from the floor. She passionately implored delegates to reject the resolution on the basis of "party loyalty" to the Democrats! But her pleas fell on deaf ears--the motion passed with a direction that it was to be forwarded for presentation to the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers.
Unfortunately at the Oakland labor conference for Mumia, Bob Mandel, an activist who had supported the motion in the CFT, surprised other LAC members by proposing the following amendment to the motion on Rendell:
This amendment made the motion unsupportable and our comrade Howard Keylor was among the few who stood up to vote "No." Mandel, who was once somewhat less subject to pressure, is the sort of opportunist who claims to favor Mumia's release rather than his re-trial, but imagines that the key to success lies in politically adapting to more backward elements.
The 19 May issue of Workers Vanguard, newspaper of the Spartacist League (SL), carries a typically incoherent polemic on recent Mumia events in the Bay Area. Incongruously rehashing their complaints about a 24 April demonstration last year in which LAC members and others who call for Mumia's freedom dared march alongside reformists who want a new trial for Mumia, the SL proudly boasts that this year they dropped their "principles" long enough to march in a politically identical demonstration! In an attempt to strike a more pedagogic note in their polemic against the reformists' demand to re-try Mumia, they reiterate a point we made in our 28 February statement, that when Hurricane Carter got a "new trial" it only resulted in a new frame-up.
While attacking "small-time Bay Area labor fakers like Jack Heyman of ILWU longshore Local 10 and Bob Mandel of the Oakland teachers union and the slimy Bolshevik Tendency" for our activities on 24 April last year, Workers Vanguard does not mention that Heyman, with the support of the LAC, played a key role in initiating the enormously important shutdown of every port from San Diego to Bellingham (north of Seattle) in solidarity with Mumia on that day.
In its denunciation of the recent labor conference for Mumia, Workers Vanguard reprints the first section of the motion on Rendell (excising mention of his role in the Vanity Fair slander and the MOVE massacre, as well as the scandal with the Dixiecrats in 1964) and absurdly asserts that "condemning" the Democratic national chair amounts to "openly embracing a perspective of putting a better face on the Democratic Party." Our advice to the browbeaten hacks who churn out this kind of nonsense is that they might better spend their time trying to put a "better face" on their own unappetizing and increasingly apolitical sect.