Nat Weinstein ¡Presente!

A Tribute to Nat Weinstein

By Roland Sheppard

This presentation was made at the Celebration of Nat Weinstein’s Life, June 22, 2014, in San Francisco.

Nat Weinstein was my friend and comrade for over 50 years. During that time we were “comrades in arms” and fighters in many struggles, which included the civil rights movement—including the defense of Malcolm X and his ideas during the last year of Malcolm’s life; fighting as brothers in the painters union for workers democracy and opposing the concept of business unionism; the antiwar movement; the struggle for workers’ democracy; the struggle to build a proletarian party; and the struggle to build a Socialist World.

Nat was one of the youngest proletarian leaders of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which still had a majority proletarian leadership and membership, when I first joined it in 1961. In the early 60s, he was one of my mentors in the SWP.

When I moved to New York City, he suggested that I become an apprentice painter and a brother in the painters union. Nat was the organizer of the New York branch of the Socialist Workers Party. We have been brothers ever since.

In 1964, right after Malcolm X broke from the Nation of Islam, as the branch organizer, he led the New York City SWP’s collaboration with Malcolm X.

In April 1966, two months after Malcolm’s assassination, Dow Wilson, the leader San Francisco Painters Local #4, was also assassinated. Dow Wilson was leading a San Francisco Bay Area rank and file caucus of painters’ union members who were fighting against business unionism and for union democracy.

In late April of 1966, a former member of the SWP, who was part of this painter caucus, sent a letter to the SWP leadership, asking the SWP if it had any members of the painters union that could transfer to San Francisco to help this struggle.

Nat and I accepted an assignment to transfer to San Francisco, so that we could become a part of that struggle. He soon became part of that Bay Area caucus and we became members of the Local #4 “Dow Wilson” caucus. The first Bay Area meeting we attended had over 500 rank and file painters discussing how to continue this fight against “business unionism” and build, in Dow Wilson’s words, “a democratic rank and file painters government” based on the concept of one member one vote. We both have been fighting against business unionism and for worker’s democracy, from that time until today.

Nat also helped to lead the SWP in a solidarity coalition with Walter Johnson, the leader of Department Store Union Employees Local# 1100, to win a strike against Sears Roebuck Company.

And in 1978, despite the treachery of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, we worked side-by-side to build solidarity for the coalminers strike when we helped form a labor coalition that raised over $200,000 in strike support for the coal miners.

The whole period, from the 1950s until 2009, has seen a decline of the workers movement and a subsequent decline of the socialist movement in the U.S. Due to the complacency of the working class and the relative stability of capitalism the petty bourgeoisie leaderships of these movements betrayed our class. From then until the present the trade union misleaders have degenerated to the point that they now claim to be in “partnership” with the bosses and use their bureaucratic apparatus to control the membership.

These betrayals led to the decline of the socialist movement and its degeneration.

Nat was one of the first to oppose the degeneration of the SWP into a petty bourgeoisie party led by a clique of former students.

Nat has been active his whole life in the ongoing struggle to build a proletarian party composed of revolutionary workers.

In spite of the degeneration of every organization in which Nat was a member, Nat a was revolutionary optimist, and would always state words to the effect that the revolution was only five years away, until his dying day. Until his dying day he had confidence in the power of the working class to change society.

There has been a change in the consciousness of the working class since the economic crisis of 2008. Since then there has been the beginning of a new struggle among the most oppressed and exploited section of the working class—the non-union, young and oppressed minority workers—who are now fighting to win a livable minimum wage.

With no labor bureaucracy obstructing them, they carried this fight into the political arena.

For example, Kashama Sawant, a leader of this struggle in Seattle and member of the Socialist Alternative Party, was elected to office receiving 93,000 votes—signifying a new day for socialists and that the “times they are a changing!” That our time is coming again!

Nat was very encouraged by the election of Sawant. He took it as a sign that the majority of the world’s population are now wide open to socialist ideas and the majority of workers now see the enemy as the one percent who control the world’s wealth; and that the one percent’s perpetual wars in their quest for ever more profits come at the cost of the survival of humanity!

Nat, like Joe Hill would want us not to mourn his death, but to go on to organize to help build a better world, a better habitat for humanity and the rest of the species on this planet—a socialist world. Nat always had confidence in the power of the working class to change society when it unites in struggle.

I will end with the last chorus of the song, “Solidarity Forever.”

“In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold

“Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand-fold

“We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old

“So that the world can live as one!”

The best way to celebrate Nat’s life is to continue to struggle for a better world—one not based on profits—but based upon the needs of all. A truly democratic Socialist World!