First Published: Guardian, January 10, 1970.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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About 700 students gathered at Yale University Dec. 27-30 for a four-day national meeting organized by the Worker-Student Alliance. WSA was first organized over a year ago by the Progressive Labor party and a few others as a caucus inside SDS. Since the split at the SDS Convention in June, WSA has claimed to be the only “authentic” SDS.
WSA has definitely grown in size since June and is the largest of the three former SDS factions surviving the split. The other two groups, Weatherman and the Revolutionary Youth Movement, had an attendance of 400 and 300, respectively, at their recent national meetings. Weatherman also continues to call itself SDS, while RYM has since established itself as an independent organization.
The main focus of discussion in the first two days of the meeting, organized into educational panels and workshops, centered on the group’s “campus worker-student alliance” strategy. The first panel, entitled “Racism, Male Chauvinism and the CWSA,” set the tone for the meeting: speaker after speaker would describe how chapter members on their campus took jobs as cafeteria or maintenance workers and then initiated or supported struggles for better wages and working conditions and against firings or racial and sexual discriminatory practices.
The only organized opposition to the CWSA strategy came from the Spartacist League, a tiny Trotskyist splinter group with a caucus of about 20 people at the conference. The “Sparts” criticized the CWSA strategy as “reformist” and “economist.” “There’s nothing here that a good bourgeois trade unionist wouldn’t support,” one of their speakers said.
The only other minor difference developed when Alan Spector, one of the original organizers of WSA, said that while he completely agreed with the CWSA strategy, he felt equal emphasis should be given to “pro-working-class struggles against the aspects of the university related to the war, like struggles against ROTC and military research.” He was answered by Bob Leonhardt, a PL member from New York, who said that while he supported those struggles where they developed, he believed that “the best way to fight imperialism is to first build an alliance of campus workers and students.”
One student, speaking from the floor, also emphasized the need to fight racism in other aspects of the university than the working conditions of campus workers. “There’s a lot we need to fight,” he said, “police institutes, racist teachers and racist courses.” He described how WSA at Harvard had disrupted a course on riot control.
But then came the clincher. “We have to start doing the same thing with these nationalist black studies courses,” he added. No one listening seemed to object to PL’s position claiming that black nationalism and the black student movement was basically reactionary.
One PLer explained the line: “What’s wrong with black nationalism is that it tells all classes of black people to unite. That’s just like telling all Americans to unite around Rockefeller or all French people to unite around DeGaulle.”
A related issue came up in one of the workshops in a discussion of the open admissions struggles of black students. Out of the 20 students present, only two supported the demand, a few more were uncertain, but a majority opposed it.
“How do you tell a black cafeteria worker that her kids shouldn’t fight for the right to go to college?” someone asked. “You can find ways to avoid the discussion,” said a white WSAer going to school in Florida. “No, that’s not right,” said another white student. “I just say how the schools aren’t any good anyway and that there’s nothing wrong with working in a factory.”
Throughout the educational conference, in all the speeches, there was not one mention of the Black Panther party or the recent wave of government repression against them. This was in spite of the fact that the meeting was held in New Haven, where 14 Panthers are being held in jail.
There was no discussion in the main sessions of Vietnam and the antiwar movement, except for incidental attacks on the Mobilization committees. There were two small workshops on “SDS and the War.” The Guardian was barred from one and the other spent part of its time attacking the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam.
When the two-day plenary session started, the first discussion and decision was to exclude the bourgeois press. The first speaker said, “In case there’s any confusion, that also includes the Guardian.” After loud applause, the vote was about 400 to 3, and the Guardian reporter was escorted out of the building.