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Workers Vanguard No. 864

17 February 2006

Jack Heyman: "In the Bag"


12 January 2006

Dear Editor:

As the speaker for ILWU Local 10 at the Partisan Defense Committee rally held in October in Berkeley in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Lynne Stewart and Assata Shakur, I feel compelled to correct your skewed coverage of that event. My presentation began with the showing of an April 1999 TV news clip announcing that all ports on the West Coast had been shutdown to demand freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal. It showed idled cranes on the docks and then panned to the militant contingent of predominantly black longshoremen leading the 25,000-strong San Francisco demonstration chanting the ILWU slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” Everyone at the PDC rally enthusiastically applauded that video display of labor power, except some in the leadership of the Spartacist League. As I said from the podium at least twice in my remarks, the Spartacist League erred in abstaining from that important demonstration. The SL should have impemented [sic] the Leninist united front tactic: “march separately, strike together” to differentiate themselves from those in the MOBE, the organizers of the march calling for a new trial, instead of sending a few of your newspaper salesmen. Your coverage shows that you’ve learned nothing from your past mistakes.

I have stated at many rallies that Mumia is innocent and can not get justice with a new trial in the racist, capitalist courts. A year after that demonstration, the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal of which I am a member, organized a labor conference with that theme inviting workers from around the country, like the Charleston longshoremen, to participate.

The social power of the integrated trade union movement when mobilized to act can free Mumia. It is a manifestly true refrain often read in the pages of Workers Vanguard. Yet, I have never read in WV that the ostensibly revolutionary Spartacist League, or their supporters in the trade unions, have ever initiated a mass labor action in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal as has the ILWU. Your hypocrisy and hollow exhortations only serve to undermine the important work you did in publicizing Mumia’s case early on and in doggedly investigating and revealing police officer Faulkner’s real killer, Arnold Beverly.

For labor action to free Mumia,
Jack Heyman

WV replies:

What Jack Heyman seems to find “skewed” in our coverage of the “Fight Government Repression” rally in the Bay Area on October 1—part of a series of united-front rallies initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee around the country—is that we criticized him (see WV No. 859, 25 November 2005). Such political debate is a vital component of united-front activities that draw groups and individuals from diverse political perspectives into common action in defense of the interests of the working class and the oppressed.

Heyman’s letter points to the 24 April 1999 stop-work action by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) that shut down the West Coast ports demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The port shutdown was indeed a powerful expression of the kind of social power that needs to be mobilized in a class-struggle fight to free Mumia and abolish the racist death penalty. But, as we noted in our article on the October rally, “Heyman dodged his own role in initiating the ILWU motion explicitly endorsing the ‘Millions for Mumia’ rally that same day with its central demand for a ‘new trial’ for Mumia.”

This is not a mere matter of words. Behind the “Free Mumia” and “New Trial” slogans are counterposed political perspectives and strategies. We have mobilized and continue to mobilize around the call to free Mumia based on the fact that he is an innocent man who was framed up and sent to death row because of his defiant and eloquent opposition to the racism, brutality and terror of capitalist class rule. The fight for Mumia’s freedom requires mobilizing in opposition to the capitalist state—the cops, courts, prosecutors—that framed him up and whose purpose is to protect capitalist property and profits against the working class, black people and all the exploited and oppressed. The call for a “new trial” sows the illusion that Mumia can get justice from the same racist injustice system that railroaded him.

Heyman likes to talk “left” when it’s convenient, only to tone things down when he’s rubbing shoulders with big-wheel labor bureaucrats and bourgeois liberals. The organizers of the “Millions for Mumia” demonstration consciously rejected the call to free Mumia, and Heyman gave them a “labor” cover for their treachery. Their demand for a “new trial” was aimed at appealing to bourgeois liberals and others who were agnostic at best on Mumia’s innocence but objected to some aspects of his mistreatment in the courts. At bottom, the reformists who endorsed the “Millions for Mumia” demonstration share the liberal notion that Mumia can get a “fair trial” if only enough pressure is brought to bear on the bourgeois state. Such faith in the ultimate justice of the racist capitalist legal system has served to demobilize struggle on Mumia’s behalf.

Heyman, a member of the ILWU Local 10 Executive Board, writes: “I have stated at many rallies that Mumia is innocent and can not get justice with a new trial in the racist, capitalist courts.” But not when it counts. You did not hear Heyman criticize the call for a “new trial” from the podium of the April 1999 demonstration in San Francisco, where he was embraced as a stellar leader of the day. And why would he? Heyman himself had signed on to a list of “Labor Organizations Calling for a New Trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal on the occasion of the Millions for Mumia marches, April 24, 1999”! We mobilized our forces to join the thousands of others at the protests in San Francisco and Philadelphia. But we could not endorse the protests, which meant signing on to the “new trial” demand.

Heyman, however, had no problem signing his name to “Millions for Mumia.” He points to the “militant contingent of predominantly black longshoremen” who headed the demonstration in S.F. “chanting the ILWU slogan ‘An injury to one is an injury to all, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!’” But Heyman pulled a hustle on those longshore workers who thought they were being mobilized to fight for Mumia’s freedom. Heyman authored the ILWU motion that read: “WHEREAS: On April 24, 1999, there will be national demonstrations to demand a stop to the execution of and a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal… THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the ILWU go on record to: 1) Support the San Francisco demonstration and mobilize our membership on the coast to participate by coordinating our April stop-work meetings for the 24th to demand: ‘Stop the Execution! Free Mumia!’” By incorporating “free Mumia” into the motion supporting the “new trial” demonstration, Heyman deceitfully provided a “militant” cover for the liberal-reformist politics of the protest organizers.

Trying to slide over the role he played in this deception, Heyman resorts to the old con game of going after the reds, sneering that he has “never read in WV that the ostensibly revolutionary Spartacist League, or their supporters in the trade unions have ever initiated a mass labor action in defense of Jamal as has the ILWU.” This is an ignorant statement that conflates the trade unions—the mass organizations of the working class for their defense against the capitalists—with a revolutionary Marxist political party. Militants in the unions fight to advance labor struggle against the bosses. The Spartacist League is a Marxist propaganda group. Our task is to bring revolutionary consciousness to workers in the course of such struggle, aiming to win the most conscious elements to the fight for a workers party whose purpose is to do away with the entire system of capitalist wage slavery.

If we had influence in the unions, we could fight it out over what kind of actions the unions should undertake to win Mumia’s freedom. For us, such influence is based on winning support among workers for the program and policies of the class struggle, not on shell games played by the likes of Heyman.

Lacking the necessary weight in the working class, we recognized when the PDC first took up Mumia’s cause nearly 20 years ago that we would have to mobilize larger forces than our small revolutionary organization. We realized as well that many of the broader forces that joined in this struggle would be hostile to our Marxist perspective. Through our efforts, and through Mumia’s own powerful writings, his struggle became widely known not only in the U.S. but internationally. We took Mumia’s fight to the unions and organized united-front actions based on the PDC’s non-sectarian, class-struggle perspective. The ILWU, in particular Local 10, came on board early in endorsing the labor-centered protests we initiated. Such actions demonstrate the role and necessity of revolutionary leadership in fighting to bring to the working class the understanding that the capitalist state is not “neutral” and that, as Karl Marx stated in Capital, “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

Heyman is a hypocrite who postures as a labor “militant” while working at every critical juncture to undermine class-struggle politics. Take, for example, the 2004 Washington, D.C. Million Worker March (MWM). ILWU Local 10 was one of the main endorsers and Heyman heavily built the march as “an independent mobilization of the workers.” In Socialist Viewpoint (July-August 2005), Heyman criticized a number of top labor bureaucrats who “all agreed to prevent an independent workers demonstration before the presidential election lest it jeopardize the electoral chances of pro-war, pro-Taft Hartley Kerry.” The MWM was “independent” of what? Its “Mission Statement” deliberately avoided renouncing support for the Democrats at a time when the labor bureaucrats, including the ILWU International, were pouring money into Democrat Kerry’s coffers. A letter posted on the official MWM Web site from one of its main backers, Chris Silvera of Teamsters Local 808 in New York City, openly declared: “The Million Worker March is a crucial vehicle for voter mobilization.” And he wasn’t talking about getting out the vote for Bush.

As we argued in “Million Worker March: Tail of Lesser Evilism” (WV No. 831, 3 September 2004): “Workers who want a genuinely independent workers party must raise their own class banners at the MWM in October.” The Spartacist League literature table at the march featured the banner: “Break with the Democrats! No Vote to Nader! For a Workers Party that Fights for Socialist Revolution!” Did Heyman raise any such banner? He had one made calling to “Break with the Democrats, Build a Workers Party!” But on site, this banner never saw the light of day. While doing his job of unfurling the ILWU and official MWM banners at the march, Heyman left the “workers party” banner in the bag it had come in!

Heyman gallivants around the world perpetrating similar frauds. At a rally for “international workers solidarity” in Tokyo in November, he excoriated the AFL-CIO bureaucracy for supporting “the monopoly of political power in the two parties of the capitalist class—the Republicans and the Democrats—not an independent labor party or workers party that has been raised by the ILWU.” Who was to know that back home the ILWU was continuing to back the Democrats? Heyman, for one: In his Socialist Viewpoint article, Heyman had complained of the fact that “our officers continue to uncritically support the Democratic Party.” And this is the cynical faker who denounces us for “hypocrisy and hollow exhortations”!

One would think from reading Heyman’s letter that we are also guilty of having censored his criticisms of our organization in his remarks at the October Berkeley rally. On the contrary. Our article on the event reported that “Jack Heyman criticized the SL and the PDC for not fielding contingents at the 24 April 1999 ‘Millions for Mumia’ demonstrations and for not commending the union’s West Coast stop-work meeting on behalf of Mumia the same day.” We referred our readers to the article “A Hard Look at Recent Party Work and Current Tasks” (WV No. 841, 4 February 2005), which Heyman cynically commended at the October rally for doing an “excellent job of admitting the mistakes around Mumia’s defense.” We acknowledged that we made a mistake in not fielding “Free Mumia” contingents in the 1999 protests, which would have provided an organized pole to combat the deadly illusions in the capitalist state sown by the reformists and labor fakers and to fight for a class-struggle perspective.

But we certainly did not abstain from the protests. In S.F., for example, we had a full mobilization of our members and supporters to get out our propaganda calling to mobilize the social power of our class in defense of Jamal as opposed to reliance on the courts of the class enemy. Our literature table prominently featured the PDC banner reading: “There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!” Our intervention was hardly an empty gesture, as Heyman implies. A number of the longshoremen who shut down the ports that day had first heard of Jamal’s case through PDC literature and articles in Workers Vanguard. Nonetheless, not having contingents was a tactical error, and a costly one. At a critical point in the fight for Mumia’s freedom, it undercut our effectiveness in fighting against the liberals, reformists and labor fakers like Heyman whose policies demobilized support for Mumia’s cause.

V.I. Lenin, whose Bolshevik Party led the only successful workers revolution in history—the 1917 October Revolution—wrote: “A political party’s attitude toward its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfills in practice its obligations towards its class and the working people.” Heyman’s response to being held accountable for the swindle of covering the politics of class collaboration with the veneer of class-struggle rhetoric should serve as a similar, if contrary, measure of his purpose. This “militant,” who keeps his politics in the bag when it matters, reveals himself as nothing more than a component of the labor bureaucracy whose support to the capitalist profit system has sapped the workers’ fighting spirit in the face of the bosses’ one-sided class war over the past several decades.


Workers Vanguard No. 864

WV 864

17 February 2006


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