The 1979 Norman Thomas - Eugene V. Debs
Dinner was held on Sunday, May 6, at what was home base for much
of the Dinners first few decades: the Midland Hotel. The establishment
was owned by an old radical at that time and was thus a congenial
place for many lefty events. Addie Wyatt, at that time a Vice-President
of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, was the
honoree. Irving Howe was the featured speaker.
The newsletter article below was from
The Illinois Socialist, the newsletter of the Chicago
Chapter of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. For
1979, the publication was irregularly issued and typically undated.
Dinner - A Success
The 1979 Norman Thomas - Eugene V. Debs
Award Dinner was another tremendous success. Close to five hundred
people attended this year's event to pay tribute to Addie Wyatt,
vice-president of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workers
of America. The guests cheered her dedication to the labor movement
and reflected on progressive struggles of years past.
Following the Midland Hotel's meal of
broiled chicken, Jim Gorman, Chair of the Chicago chapter of
DSOC, called the gathering to order. He extended a hearty welcome
to our many distinguished guests. Jim asked the guests to recall
the history of the labor movement and other progressive struggles.
He reflected on Haymarket, the fight for the eight-hour day,
and the conversion of Debs to socialism in nearby Woodstock,
Illinois. Today, Jim added, there are renewed signs of hope with
activity around ERA, anti-nuclear efforts and Democratic Party
reform. He concluded his opening remarks with: "There are
signs of hope when people are willing to wager their lives in
the struggle, people like Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, and Addie
Irving Howe, editor of Dissent,
critic and author of best selling World of Our Fathers,
gave the keynote address of the evening. Howe spoke of the crisis
that liberalism faces in the 1980s. That crisis, he argued, has
enabled the New Right to set the terms of political debate in
the 70s. He stressed the importance of the New Deal reforms for
the American workers, which must now be protected from the assault
by the right. A new coalition in the Democratic Party must be
created for the 80s to battle the challenge from the right. Howe
spoke of the role that democratic socialists should play in that
coalition, and complimented DSOC's openness toward potential
members of that coalition. Howe saw this as the way to build
a new social movement.
After Irving Howe's analysis of politics
in the 80s, Carl Shier told the group about DSOC's work over
the past year. The Chicago chapter has opened an office in the
Loop, and has hired a full time organizer. Chicago DSOC is now
working to mobilize grassroots support for collective bargaining
for city employees. The national organization, he added, also
has had many successes. The national convention in Houston mandated
that DSOC begin a major membership drive. In addition, our work
within the left of the Democratic Party continues to be significant.
Under the leadership of Ruth Jordan, DSOC vice-chair, the Democratic
Agenda Project is planning a major conference in the fall. The
audience responded to Carl's review with enthusiastic applause
and contributions. During the collection, Jim Gorman led the
group in choruses of "This Land is Your Land".
Mary Beth Guinan, an officer of SEIU
Local 372, spoke briefly about the inspiration that Addie is
to her and to her sisters in the labor movement. Barbara Merrill,
the J.P. Stevens coordinator for the Amalgamated Clothing workers,
presented the Norman Thomas - Eugene V. Debs Award to Addie Wyatt.
Barbara praised Addie Wyatt's dedication to the advancement of
women and minorities as part of labor struggles. Barbara, a friend
of Addie's, also commented on Addie's role as mother and religious
Addie Wyatt accepted the Award - a portrait
of herself inscribed with her many contributions to the labor
movement - with words of thanks for all the women and minorities
who were part of her struggle. She recalled the encouragement
and leadership given to her by Ralph Helstein and Charlie Hayes.
Her closing words, "Solidarity forever, solidarity forever,
for the union makes us strong!" brought the audience to
a thundering standing ovation.
The Dinner Committee thanks the many
people who made the dinner a success. The Norman Thomas - Eugene
V. Debs Dinner truly is the occasion of the year that brings
together all the progressive voices in Chicago.