A union carpenter’s story

Why I joined the Freedom Socialist Party

Carpenter Burns (left, back row) at Standing Rock, where he helped build shelters.
Share with your friends


The assassination of John F. Kennedy was the beginning of my political awakening. As a young Irish-Latvian Catholic teen, I was hit hard by his death. I assumed the U.S. government would do everything it could to get to the truth. But no. The Warren Commission investigating the murder purposely botched it, as I learned in the book Rush to Judgment by Mark Lane. That book really rocked my world. It set me on a radical path and I wasn’t turning back.

Union, all the way. I tried college, but higher education wasn’t for me. By 1973, I made a decision to become a union carpenter. I joined the union because I knew there was strength in numbers and collective representation. My experience in the union taught me that economic collectivism works. Members pooled our capital to benefit all. The money pays for training apprenticeships, medical benefits and pensions. It guaranteed that none of us would go bankrupt from medical bills. And the pension allowed me to retire in 2007.

After joining the union, I drifted into Democratic Party politics. I did my part to get them elected. I had real hope in the Democratic Party. But by the 1990’s, I was disillusioned. The Democrats sold out working people. They would not fight for and win the systemic changes desperately needed in health care, social services and public education. Simultaneously, they did their part to throw the U.S. into never-ending wars across the globe.

In 2004, I came across a candidate who was running for Seattle City Council at a carpenter-led march against union-busting. She made a speech that I will never forget. “I can promise you this, I won’t represent everybody, I will only represent the working class,” said Linda Averill of the Freedom Socialist Party. Her fighting words continue to resonate with me.

Checking out the party. Over the next few months I did what I could for Averill’s campaign, got a subscription to the Freedom Socialist newspaper and attended events. I liked what I experienced and really felt at home with the FSP. My union work made me open to the ideas of socialism. I believed in the concept of planned economies that benefit the many, of a world with clean air and land and without borders.

I didn’t join the party right away. My time was swallowed up in work and caring for my dad. But, while working with comrades I got a good look at this revolutionary party. I saw FSP members with their feet solidly on the ground and a clear vision of where they were going. At public meetings, I was impressed with the quality of their political thinking and their ability to communicate ideas.

Other things impressed me. How money was handled is one. Comrades account for every dime coming in and going out. This party is not fiscally sloppy. And members of the Freedom Socialist Party think before they act. Every effort is made to discuss and debate urgent issues. Decisions are made democratically. And the group knows how to fight effectively.

Comrades understand that the party’s program and credibility are its real wealth. I saw how members insure its integrity in every facet of its operations. This credibility is sustained by its well thought-out positions on revolutionary race liberation and women’s rights. They are core to this socialist organization, and to my personal beliefs.

Racism and sexism break the social fabric, leaving an atmosphere of distrust and despair. This capitalist economic system thrives in this atmosphere. It has no conscience about the countless lives it ruins. I am a socialist feminist and race liberationist. I am committed to upending the barbarity that grades the value of people by their skin color and that thrives on ruining gender relations.

I don’t share the often heard complaint of retirees, “I’m bored.” I can report that I’m not bored. My feet are on the ground fighting for union democracy, women’s rights and the environment. And, of course, I’m standing up to racists and fascists. I’m proud to be an FSP member fighting for a world that is fair and just for all!

Send feedback to FSnews@socialism.com.

Share with your friends