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The high drama of Columbia '68 can obscure the fact that the NY SDS Labor Committee that emerged from the strike was (broadly speaking) a merger of Tony Papert's Columbia PL chapter with LaRouche's CIPA. Yet without the presence of the early CIPA network at Columbia, the history of the Labor Committee at Columbia could have turned out quite differently. A radical anthropology student named Bob Dillon proved an early critical link between LaRouche and the future CIPA cadre at Columbia.1 Ed and Nancy Spannaus, CIPA recruits from Columbia destined to play a significant role in the Labor Committee's history, were both graduate students at Columbia's School of Social Work. Another early CIPA recruit from the School of Social Work named Tom Karp co-founded the West Side Tenants Union with Ed Spannaus.2
In the summer-autumn of 1966, the School of Social Work group first gravitated to West Side CIPA and James Weinstein's congressional campaign. The West Side CIPA network intersected a larger debate over the future of welfare organizing. Richard Cloward and Francis Fox Piven – both of whom taught at the School of Social Work – launched their organizing work for what became the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) partly through the West Side CIPA network.3 In March 1973, New Solidarity published four centerfolds on the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) and the Labor Committee-sponsored National Unemployed and Welfare Rights Organization (NUWRO). All the articles were either written or co-written by Nancy Spannaus who, with her husband Ed, graduated from the School of Social Work in 1967. From the first article:
Nancy Bradeen Spannaus grew up in an academic environment: her father Donald headed the Classics Department at the University of Cincinnati. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1965 with a B.A. in philosophy and then earned her M.S. at the School of Social Work. She spent the next two years working professionally as a social worker. As for her husband Ed, he was born in Seattle in 1943, the son of a Lutheran minister. A graduate of the University of Iowa, Spannaus worked with SNCC in Mississippi for the Civil Rights Movement. As he later recalled:
In 1967 Ed Spannaus and Bob Dillon wrote "The Road to Socialism and the Tasks before Us" for SDS's 25 June-2 July National Conference at Ann Arbor. Dillon described himself in the document as being from "Columbia SDS and West Village CIPA," while Spannaus listed his affiliations as "Columbia Social Work School, West Village CIPA, and MDS."6 In 1967, Spannaus, along with Tony Papert and Bob Dillon, took part in the first sit-in against CIA recruiting at Columbia. After getting his MS in 1967, Spannaus helped create the West Side Tenants Union. He then worked "as a consultant to the Ford Foundation" and spent 1971 to 1974 as a social worker in the Housing and Development Administration.7
ORGANIZING FOR WELFARE RIGHTS
As social work professionals, the Spannauses worked closely with the Citywide Coordinating Committee of Welfare Groups, which in 1968-69 was run by Hulbert James. In 1970, the Labor Committee convinced a leading New York welfare organizer named Beulah Sanders to send a telegram of support to striking postal workers on behalf of Citywide, which co-sponsored a rally in support of the postal strike.8 Although Hulbert James was a leftist, he only offered "formal support" to the Labor Committee and failed to take any real action. After James was replaced by a former United Farmer Workers (UFW) organizer named Bob Mejita, Nancy Spannaus recalled in an article in her New Solidarity series on NUWRO that Citywide's new leader
ALLWIN organized a conference of some 75 organizers but it failed to catch fire and soon dissolved. But even as ALLWIN floundered,
By the time the demonstration occurred, however, Mejita had been
The Labor Committee now developed a new network in the Bronx thanks to another member, a social worker named Marjie Mazel, who organized the Bronx Alliance for an Adequate Income. Yet even after the WRO leadership cut off support for the project:
The NCLC, however, never gave up trying to push SWAWR to more than a formal agreement on an organizing perspective. But
When the NCLC created the National Unemployed and Welfare Rights Organization (NUWRO) in 1972-73, Jeanette Washington helped lead the organizing effort.
Around the first-year anniversary of LaRouche's initial class at FUNY, the CIPA network programmatically intervened for the first time in national SDS with the Dillon-Spannaus co-authored "The Road to Socialism and the Tasks Before Us." In late November 1967, at an SDS meeting at Princeton, the proto-Labor Committee launched its first targeted intervention into New York SDS around a possible transit strike. In February 1968, the first Campaigner was published. The Columbia strike was just two months away.
Although the CIPA network opposed the war in Vietnam, it attracted organizers who had first been radicalized by the civil rights struggle and the fight against poverty, and not by fear of being sent to fight an unpopular war in Asia. This may help explain why social work grad students like the Spannauses were so open to LaRouche's economic views since their own experiences reminded them every day just how much America was not an affluent "post-industrial society." In the feverish climate of the late 1960s, CIPA's organizers no doubt struck many as drab left "social democrats" and "reformist" squares who spent their time on tenant organizing and handing out leaflets about the subway fare when the world was on fire. After the winding down of the war and the collapse of SDS, however, the CIPA-Labor Committee "long-term perspective" now appealed to more serious radicals who wanted to continue the long-term struggle.
The CIPA/School of Social Work network reached the height of its influence on the last weekend of March 1973 when the Labor Committee launched NUWRO at a founding national convention in Philadelphia. Less than a week after that event, LaRouche suddenly began Operation Mop Up, his attack on the American Communist Party. As we now know, he did so without informing members of his own National Executive Committee, such as the Spannauses, presumably because he assumed they would oppose him if a serious policy debate occurred. Ironically, then, in the spring of 1973 LaRouche really did destroy the key group on the Left that could have opposed his bid for one-man rule – not the Communist Party, but LaRouche's original recruits to CIPA.
1 In the very early 1970s, Dillon left New York to conduct extensive field work in Iran for his 1976 doctoral thesis, Carpet Capitalism and Craft Involution in Kirman, Iran: A Study in Economic Anthropology. Dillon only returned to America in 1972 or early 1973. Sometime in 1973, he concluded that LaRouche had gone off the deep end and left the organization by the end of the year.
2 Karp and his wife later moved to California. An early issue of New Solidarity lists him as the NCLC's San Francisco contact.
3 The 27 September 1966 issue of West Side CIPA's publication, 19, for example, ran an article entitled "Welfare Demonstrators Arrested" which reports on an organization of some 60 welfare groups known as the City-Wide Coordinating Committee that sponsored the protest. One of the five people arrested at the demo was Jeannette Washington, a welfare mother, welfare rights militant, and future Labor Committee ally. There is also a photo of Washington with Columbia's Richard Cloward. The 9 September 1966 issue of 19 features yet another future Labor Committee member named Tony Chaitkin. For 19, Chaitkin interviewed two of James Weinstein's rivals: the incumbent Democratic Congressman for the 19th District, Leonard Farbstein, and the liberal peace candidate and Democratic City Councilman Ted Weiss. In the small-world department, the entire back page of this issue is a cartoon by George Larrabee, Carol's ex-husband and himself a former member of the SWP. Larrabee's cartoon told the tale of the "Revolutionary Adventures of Captain Change." The most prominent future Labor Committee leader then active in West Side CIPA, however, may have been Leif Johnson, whose connections to SDS reportedly dated back to the time of the Port Huron Statement. Another important early member of the Labor Committee named Paul Gallagher co-wrote a 1968 text with Ed Spannaus entitled "Who Pays for Poverty" that appeared in Viet Report. Gallagher is listed in the pamphlet as an organizer with the West Side Tenants Union. For a critical analysis of West Side CIPA and the Weinstein campaign, see https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/bulletin/v03n05-w047-nov-07-1966-Bulletin.pdf.
4 This November 1966 document is most likely the "Political 'Second Front' against the War in Vietnam/Proposal for a City Tax on Landlords' Incomes." As for the Welfare Rights Teach-In, this may be a reference to an 11 November 1966 meeting called by West Village CIPA where the new document seems to have been distributed.
5 See http://www.crmvet.org/vet/spannaus.htm. For Spannaus' family background, see http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSvcid=204338&GRid=67704920&.
6 MDS stood for the Movement for a Democratic Society, a kind of SDS for grad students. According to Kirkpatrick Sale's book SDS, "several staffers at the Columbia School of Social Work actually formed an MDS in the fall of 1965." Ed Spannaus (who graduated from the Columbia School of Social Work in 1967) was quite likely either a founder or early member of the MDS chapter there.
7 From testimony at a LaRouche trial by a defense lawyer for LaRouche and available at Opening Statements:
8 Sanders became a top leader of the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). She later served as acting secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Nixon Administration. On Sanders, see Felicia Kornbluh, The Battle for Welfare Rights Movement (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). Also see http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=22953.