60 Years of CHALLENGE, your international communist paper

08 June 2024 203 hits

The following story has been reprinted from Wally Linder’s book Life of Labor and Love. 

In June 1964, the Progressive Labor Movement decided to print an eight-page weekly newspaper; CHALLENGE was born. Our search for a printer led us to an outfit in Trenton, N.J. After laying down a deposit, the printer looked at the first issue and told us that would be the last one he’d print. We called up the Harris offset press manufacturer and asked for a list of newspaper printers to whom it had sold web offset presses. That’s how we found the Sun Publishing Co., located in the Chinese community on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. We showed our first issue to the owner, Mr. Chan, and he agreed to print our newspaper. His wife and kids helped with various tasks. Milt Rosen, PLM chairperson, and I packed the papers into boxes for pick-up. 

CHALLENGE’ing and rebelling against the rulers from day 1

As it happened, later that month the Harlem rebellion erupted, during which the rebels were holding the front page of CHALLENGE as their flag while marching. This prompted the NYPD Red Squad to visit Mr. Chan and warn him that if he continued to print our paper he would be in for trouble. Chan told them he was within his rights to print any newspaper brought to him. “What about freedom of the press?” he shot back at the cops’ threat. He was not about to abandon his only account. Years later, when Mr. Chan retired, our search for another printer led us to Brooklyn and Ballan Printing, a company that printed many small community and campus papers—and a huge number of pornographic ones that had sprung up since the 1960s. (The Mafia, in collusion with the owners, had coerced the workers into a local union it controlled.) But neither the owners nor the Mafia counted on the workers’ rebelliousness. The workers read our paper and saw the various exposés we wrote about the lousy working conditions that profit-hungry bosses were pushing on workers throughout the country. 

CHALLENGE’ing and exposing rulers lies  from the very start

When we went to pick up the paper, the workers showed us the horrible condition of what passed for their bathroom and asked us to write about it. Our editor Luis Castro wrote an exposé for the next issue, which the workers read with enthusiastic approval. When the bosses saw the article, they went wild. They told us it was all lies and one-sided and challenged us to print their side, “the truth.” We told them that there was only one “truth,” the “workers’ truth,” which made them even crazier. From then on, they scrutinized every issue. Soon afterwards, the owners renovated the bathroom into a halfway decent condition. The workers attributed that improvement to the article we had written. When a pre-May Day issue came out, we printed the words of the workers’ anthem, “The Internationale.” When we went to pick up that issue, a pressman suddenly leapt up the two flights of stairs to the top of the huge web press and in a clear, loud voice began singing “The Internationale.” As the strains of the final words, “the International working class shall be the human race,” drifted across the pressroom, the workers spontaneously burst into applause. We never found out how this worker knew the song’s melody, but news of the performance soon traveled to the far reaches of Brooklyn. We are now in our 55th year of publishing CHALLENGE, and have never missed an issue.