Saturday, June 18, 2011

History of Lake Superior Socialist Action

Lake Superior Socialist Action is the local affiliate of Socialist Action.  Nationally, Socialist Action was founded in 1983, but we trace our history back through the Socialist Workers Party (1938-1983), the Socialist Appeal tendency/Workers Party/Communist League of America (1928-1937, the Communist Party (1919-1928), all the way back to the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs.

Locally though our group dates back to the mid-1990s when a small group of Northland College students established a socialist club that began corresponding with different socialist groups around the country. 

Impressed by the level of self-less activism that Socialist Action was engaged in at the time around the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the UPS Teamster strike, the Detroit newspaper strike and the abortion clinic defense movement, our little band of northern Wisconsin students took the plunge and joined Socialist Action.  Lake Superior Socialist Action formally came into existence in 1997.

Originally based in Ashland, WI, our initial projects included organizing against the Project ELF navy communications base in Clam Lake, against Tommy Thompson's "welfare reform", the proposed White Pine sulfide mine, the Iraq sanctions, and the Northern Wisconsin Women's Rights Coalition. 

By the late 1990s our main focus was organizing on behalf of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Towards that end we initiated the Northern Mobilization to Free Mumia, which had chapters in Ashland, Duluth and Stevens Point.  We organized several fund raising concerts for Mumia, the largest of which drew over 200 young people, and got the Northland College Student Association to hold a campus referendum on whether or not Mumia should get a new trial.  The referendum was an overwhelming success!  Our efforts met with some resistance from local police and right-wingers.  For example, in May of 2001 campus security unjustly shut down one of our meetings at UW-Superior.

In 2001 our efforts expanded to the Twin Ports, and in the years that followed Duluth and Superior became the primary base of our group.  On the evening of September 11, 2001 we initiated Students Against War - a regional network of college and high school peace activists that at one point had eleven chapters stretching from Ironwood, MI to International Falls, MN.  After organizing a number of campus teach-ins and protests against the bi-partisan invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, SAW went on to launch the successful Northland Anti-War Coalition in December of 2002.  By that time the powers that were gearing up to invade Iraq.  Our response was to hold a massive regional protest against the war on Jan. 25, 2003 that drew 2,500 - one of the largest protests in Duluth's history!  Since then NAWC has gone on to organizer literally dozens of protests, teach-ins, pickets and other events against the still ongoing wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

2001 was also the year that Socialist Action threw itself into the campaign to try and unionize Canal Park hotel workers.  SA and Youth for Socialist Action members who worked in those hotels were on the front lines of the countless worker meetings, pickets and boycott protests that unfolded around that important campaign from 2001-2003.  And it marked the rebirth of a socialist presence in the local labor movement.  And between our work in the Canal Park campaign and the anti-war movement, Socialist Action became a recognized force in the local progressive community. 

In the years that followed Lake Superior Socialist Action was involved in a wide range of labor, student and community struggles.  What follows is only a partial list:

-2004 Duluth Airport Workers Struggle: When Bernick's Pepsi took over the restaurant and gift shop at the Duluth Airport, they busted the union and fired the union workers.  This sparked a long running picket line that we were active in and that eventually won the fired workers a financial settlement.

-Community Cannabis Coalition: this was a brief attempt to mobilize support for the legalization of marijuana in general, and to try and get the city of Duluth to de-criminalize it in particular.

-2005 Spot Bar Struggle: When the Spot Bar in International Falls was taken over by new, anti-union owners, Local 99 put up a picket line and boycott.  While the courts found in the union's favor, the bar eventually shut down.

-2005 AMFA Strike: When the mechanics at Northwest Airlines went on strike we mobilized student and other labor support for the pickets.  While tragically this strike failed, we are proud of the assistance we were able to lend.

-2006 Same-Sex Marriage Fight: Tragically the state of Wisconsin passed an amendment to its constitution in 2006 banning same-sex marriage.  In the years leading up to this though we threw ourselves into organizing to try and stop this blatant bigotry.  We initiated a number of marches, teach-ins and other events in Superior and elsewhere.

-Anti-Tuition Hikes: As the cost of a college education goes up and up, more and more working people are being priced out of an education.  While it has been an uphill battle, we have organized a number of protests over the years, including when the University of Wisconsin regents came to Superior.  We also successfully put together and got elected a slate of anti-tuition hikes activists to the UW-Superior Student Senate in 2006.

-Abortion Rights: All too often it's the so-called pro-life movement that is visible in this region, protesting in front of the Duluth Building for Women and Planned Parenthood.  But on a number of occasions we have proudly staged counter-protests at both facilities.

-ATC Powerline: When the for-profit American Transmission Company announced that it was going to tear through 800 Wisconsin farms to build a massive, unnecessary power line we jumped into the struggle of Save Our Unique Lands to try and stop them.  We organized a series of protests and teach-ins, culminating in a spirited 300 person protest at a 2005 Douglas County Board meeting where we got the Board to deny ATC the right to cross public land, thus blocking the whole project.  It was an amazing victory of David over Goliath, that tragically was later overturned by Gov. Doyle when he stripped local government's right to stop for profit companies from seizing public land.

-2009 Pickwick Struggle: When a new owner took over the Pickwick restaurant in Duluth and fired two union workers in his attempt to kick out the union, we proudly walked the picket lines EVERY SINGLE day for the entire three months of that struggle, in the end winning back the jobs of the two fired women.

-Anti-Death Penalty: While fortunately neither Wisconsin or Minnesota have the death penalty, we have tried to do our part to keep it that way, and to extend solidarity to people in other states.  Over the years we have organized pickets, teach-ins and protests for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Kevin Cooper, Scott Panetti and others.

-Cuba Solidarity: In 2000 we participated in the national YSA delegation to Cuba, and have sent several of our members there in years since.  We feel the best way to counter imperialism's lies about Cuba is to go and see for ourselves, and to then report back to our co-workers and classmates.  We've also helped a number of the annual Pastors for Peace humanitarian aid caravans that have passed through Duluth, and in setting up the Twin Ports Cuba Solidarity Committee.

-Palestine Solidarity: We're active in the Twin Ports Break the Bonds Campaign, which is part of a Minnesota wide project to get the state to divest of its Israel bonds.  BBC has organized several educational events, study groups and protests in support of the dispossessed Palestinian people.  This is an ongoing project that we urge you to get involved with!

-Election Campaigns: As was mentioned before, we have organized successful student senate election campaigns at the Univ. of WI-Superior, but we also ran a successful campaign for the Douglas County Board.  From 2006-2008 our member Adam Ritscher served on the County Board, the first time in the history of the U.S. that a Trotskyist succeeded in getting elected to public office.

-Anti-War Work: Since the heady early days of Students Against War and the Northland Anti-War Coalition we have consistently worked to keep the local anti-war movement alive and kicking.  In the years since 2003 we and our allies in the movement have held successful campus referendums on the war at the College of St. Scholastica and Northland College.  We've gotten the Duluth City Council to pass a resolution against the war, and Douglas County to come out against the Patriot Act.  We've also won the endorsement of the Duluth Central Labor Body and a number of local labor unions for NAWC.  We've held fundraisers and gotten labor resolutions passed for the RNC 8 and the recent victims of the FBI raids against antiwar activists in the Twin Cities, Chicago and elsewhere.  And we're not done yet!

That brings us up to today.  Our members continue to be active in the local labor, student and other social movements.  As socialists we feel that all of these issues have value in and of themselves - we feel it is our duty to stand by side with people wherever and whenever they stand up to fight back against exploitation and oppression.  But we also see the interconnectedness of all of these issues - and that is why we continue to try and build a socialist movement that can connect the activists of all of these important movements into a fighting organizing that can challenge the whole capitalist system, and create a better world!

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