Special District Meeting on African American Equality

 
October 24, 2007

Special District Meeting on African American Equality and Building the Communist Party and Young Communist League
Chicago, IL September 30, 2007

Opening Remarks By John Bachtell, IL District Organizer

First, I want to acknowledge the collective nature of this report and preparation for the meeting. Thanks to everyone who contributed.
Secondly, these remarks will not begin to touch on every question, only a few of the key problems and issues before the district. The rest is up to you.

Thirdly, we should underscore this is not an issue for only one club or our African American comrades. While the South Side club may have a special role to play in this process, the whole district will tackle whatever weaknesses, problems and challenges we have. Similarly, whatever advances, achievements and victories we win will be celebrated and shared by every member.

Every one of our clubs has within its geographic concentration an African American community and African American organizations. Every one of our clubs is involved in local coalition work, where we have the role and responsibility of fighting for multi-racial unity and of making the fight against racism the central aspect of unity building.

Besides the national developments, which Jarvis has outlined here and in previous reports, developments in the Chicagos African American community are shaped by a number of factors.

This includes the massive de-industrialization of the Chicago region and its special impact on the African American working class and community, driving down the living standards, increasing poverty and unemployment.

It includes the impact of globalization on economic and social development, which is also related in part to the de-industrialization. Chicago is directly competing with other cities for global investment and markets.

It includes the impact of the growth of the low wage service sector, efforts to pit African Americans and immigrant workers to drive down the cost of labor, the impact on housing, education and services.
It is shaped by the history of segregation (Chicago is considered to be the 5th most residentially segregated metropolitan area in US and ranks 4th for Black-white school segregation) and general institutionalized racism. In response to this, the African American community has waged an unrelenting struggle.

It includes the historic role of Chicagos African American community, which is the 2nd largest in the country, in the struggle for democracy and workers rights. It flows from its position in basic industry and in the organized labor movement.

Chicago is a leading center of the African American community nationally, in the working class and organized labor movements, in the political and cultural arenas. It is playing a vital part of the emerging labor led coalition, in every struggle around economic justice, for political independence, etc.

There are many key issues and problems roiling the African American community in the Chicago metropolitan area. While these problems are affecting the entire working class, they have a special devastating impact in the African American community, especially African American workers and their families.

The African American community is still reeling from the de-industrialization and the loss of union wage jobs from which many were able to gain upward mobility. This has put special social stresses on families, neighborhoods, schools, health care systems, social services and physical infrastructure.

For laid off manufacturing workers, primarily African Americans and Latinos, the alternatives are often low-wage service jobs. According to data for 1998 from the Illinois Employment Security Agency, 76 percent of the job categories with the most growth in Illinois pay less than a livable wage, calculated at $33,739 per year for a family of four; and 51 percent of these jobs pay less than half of a livable wage

It is especially devastating for African American youth. In 2003, it was reported that 5.5 million youth between the ages of 16-24 in the US were either out of work or out of school. This number includes 100,000 in Chicago. Seventy percent of these youth are African American or Latino.

The demands for economic development and community investment exposed the racist redlining of many sections of the African American community that are bypassed by large grocery and retail stores, etc. and that were targeted for the sub-prime lending hoax.

Scott reported the Partys Labor Commission would begin discussions on crafting a new Party reindustrialization plan for the US. Others in the labor and environmental movements, including the so-called Green-Blue alliance, are thinking about this and we will be part of the process.
As a result of de-industrialization, competition has sharpened for low wage service sector jobs. African American workers are especially forced into competition with immigrant labor, which increasingly under girds a growing section of the Chicago economy especially in hotel and restaurant, tourism, construction, etc.

The question of unity of African American and Latino workers and especially immigrant workers takes on a new urgency when seen in this light. The recent strike by immigrant workers at Cygnus is a case in point. Black workers were used as strike breakers, but many refused to cross the line or left the plant. The strike was successful.

As became apparent in the struggle to pass the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance, the African American community wont accept slave wages. Wal-Mart tried to drive a wedge between labor and the African American community, with a campaign that called labor racist for opposing economic development, low consumer prices and jobs. Wal-Mart gave money to Black churches, community organizations and elected officials to oppose the Big Box ordinance who argued that any jobs were better than no jobs. Despite a ferocious ideological assault, that included vicious anti-labor and demagogic use of racism, the African American community supported the ordinance by 80%. This included a majority of the churches, many community organizations and trade unionists. Unions like UFCW and SEIU, with high percentages of Black and Latino workers, led the way.

One of the ongoing struggles is to remove the limitations on the number of African American apprentices in the building trades. As reported in 2006, 61 percent of registered construction trade apprentices in the metropolitan area were white. Women represented less than 2.9 percent of apprentices; African Americans represented 10.7 percent and Latinos 26.6%.

However, there are a lot of new possibilities for changing the composition of the trades in the years ahead, especially since a large number of construction trades workers are retiring. The labor movement is establishing partnerships opening the doors to more African American and youth of color to join apprenticeship programs.
IBEW has been at the center of some initiatives including partnering with the City Colleges through the West Side Technical Institute. City Colleges are also collaborating with the Chicago and Cook County Building and Trades Council. The City Colleges are also planning apprenticeship programs with the Operating Engineers and Painters and Decorators Unions.

We can be helpful in publicizing these programs and encouraging youth to enroll. Megan was very helpful in trying to get young people into courses to prepare them pass the tests to get into the electrical trade.
The loss of manufacturing jobs and gentrification has been factors in forcing an out migration of African Americans from Chicago. Of the top 12 cities in Black population, seven saw a loss in African Americans as a percentage of total residents between 1990 and 2000 including New York and Chicago, who are ranked one and two respectively.

The newly exploding foreclosure crisis is having a special impact on the African American community. There were 30,000 foreclosures in the Chicago region last year, the highest level in 8 years. The foreclosure rate rose 62% in the first three months over last year.
The South Side has the states highest foreclosure rate. The National Housing Service identified eight red zones where foreclosures are seven times the national rate. Of these areas, seven are overwhelmingly African American.

We should promote a moratorium on foreclosures as called for by the NAACP, National Council of La Raza and other civil rights groups.
Gentrification is a phenomenon of global capitalist development. It has become a central motive force of urban economic expansion. The gentrification of Chicago, based on plans outlined by the leading commercial, developer and financial interests aims to remake Chicago as a home to global finance capital, tourism, and research. This process of gentrification has had a profound impact already on the African American community. Its effects will be sharper if Chicago lands the 2016 Olympics.

The gentrification is based on the wealthy moving to the city center and the dispersal of low-income working class, especially African American and Latinos to concentrated low-income communities on the periphery of the metropolitan area. This helps to explain the growth in poverty in all the collar counties.

We have seen the elimination of the largest concentration of public housing units in the country. Yet there will not be enough affordable housing units built to house those who have been ousted. And the completion of construction for even part of the replacement has been pushed back to 2015.

For example, only 1/3 of the affordable housing units will be replaced in Cabrini Green. Elsewhere it is estimated that when completed, only 20% of former residents will return back to their old neighborhoods. The removal of large numbers of low-income African American families is masked by the creation of mixed income developments. Most will not be able to meet the strict requirements required to live in the new public housing.

The Renaissance 2010 plan for restructuring the Chicago Public Schools was conceived by the leading corporate financial interests to provide an elite educational system for the wealthy and professional families whom it hopes to attract to the city and to attract global investment capital.

The 2010 blue print fits exactly the gentrification pattern.
It is also a plan for the privatization of education and the creation of elite privately run yet publicly funded schools for the rich. The poor will continue to scrap and fight over the crumbs – to overcome under funded and dilapidated schools placed under heavy external control and restriction.

Renaissance 2010 is not only a racist plan; it is anti-labor and anti-democratic to the core because it puts an unelected corporate elite in charge of the schools. The fight against it has created a fledgling movement across the city, bringing together teacher unions and organized labor with community forces. Lance has been a part of this movement.

Accompanying the privatization of CPS is the militarization of high schools. Chicago is now the most militarized public school system in the US. The epitome of this is the establishment of the first two public military high schools in the United States both in African-American communities. The military academies are run in partnership with the U.S. Army. There are also now two naval academies.

There is an active and vibrant counter recruitment movement that has reached into many high schools, which we should be a larger part of.
The crisis in education is compounded by the obscene inequality in funding across the state between the wealthiest school districts and the poorest. Illinois ranks near the bottom nationally in education funding. The broad education funding reform coalitions, including the A+ coalition that includes teacher unions, and the Better Schools Better Funding Coalition, that have emerged saw this year as a golden opportunity to change funding because Democrats were in the majority in both chambers of the state legislature and hold the governorship. Both initiatives went down to defeat – Gov. Blagojevichs GRT and HB/SB 705, which would have raised the income tax as vicious infighting consumed the Democrats. The coalitions will now have to regroup and we should be more deeply involved.

Another deepening crisis is in the public health care system. In 2000, 1 in 7 people in Illinois were without health insurance. This includes 1 in 5 metro Chicagoans and 1 in 4 African Americans and 1 in 3 Latinos.
The deep budget cuts to the Cook County public health care system are devastating and next years cuts are projected to be worse. There is a real possibility of the collapse of the entire public health care system with catastrophic results. The parts not dismantled could be privatized. Untold numbers will die because they are not getting treatments and there is a danger of mass outbreaks of diseases in the communities and jail system.

This is having a special impact in African American community, especially the loss of community- based clinics
A big fight was waged against the cuts by hospital worker unions, led by the National Nurses Organizing Committee and SEIU, doctors, health care advocacy groups, community organizations, etc.
Statewide, similar factors that doomed funding for education also doomed new funding for health care and now mass transit. There was also disunity in the healthcare movement, between those who supported a state single payer system and those who supported Blagojevichs plan.

Some of the sharpest expressions of institutionalized racism have occurred in the criminal justice system and the Chicago Police Department. The expose of systematic torture by Chicago police to force confessions of innocent African Americans during the 1970-80s became an international human rights issue and shame.

The movement that was built forced a special investigator who exposed many of the crimes, but didnt recommend charges because the statute of limitations had passed. As head of the Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, Emile Scheppers played a role in this movement.
Federal Prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald has opened an investigation into perjury by Burge and others. Many lawsuits by those unjustly incarcerated will end up costing the city tens of millions of dollars.

Another movement has fought to restore rights to the formerly incarcerated who are returning to their communities. Many formerly incarcerated African Americans are returning to just a few neighborhoods. But they are returning often to neighborhoods without jobs and services, which may end up leading them to return to prison. Cong. Danny Davis has introduced the Second Chance Act, which would fund programs to assist ex-offenders during reentry to the community. Obviously, more is needed.

There have been several community marches against a rash of recent police killings of African American youth. In some communities the situation is explosive. Rev. Al Sharpton has established a Chicago branch to his organization and will be a regular presence here especially on the police brutality issue.

Another crisis is the gun violence that is claiming the lives of so many people, especially African American and Latino youth. Over 34 school children will killed during the school year and summer. The causes of the violence are a mix of the economic crisis along with the flood of illegal handguns produced by gun manufacturers and the flood of drugs into the communities. This has fueled the growth of gangs and intercine turf warfare.

Communities across the city have responded to these tragedies with marches and lobbying elected officials to impose some curbs on the presence of handguns. The mayor has spoken out forcefully on this issue.

While the call for more after school programs is vital, we must continue to pin the blame directly on the gun manufacturers and their mass production of death for maximum profits. We should work with groups like Father Flager, Rev. Jackson, Cease Fire and others to respond to the problem.

The African American community has played a historic role in the democratic struggles of this city from the beginning when it was founded by Dusable. This includes organizing the trade union movement among steelworkers, autoworkers, packinghouse workers, railroad porters and others, breaking down the walls of segregation, political independence and more.

At the center of many of the democratic advances has been the Labor-African American alliance, the heart of BBW multi-racial unity and all-peoples unity. Its impossible to see the African American equality movement separate and apart from whats developing in labor and the labor led peoples movement.

African American members of organized labor are a key component of this. Even with the loss of manufacturing union jobs, there are still large numbers of African American trade unionists and officials at all levels. Organized labors 2007 municipal labor strategy was based on targeting wards where there were high concentrations of trade union members. This included several predominantly African American wards.

The legacy of Harold Washingtons election and his administration is in the collective consciousness not only of the African American community, but the entire city. Many of his democratizing achievements endure 20 years later.

The historic election of Washington was the culmination of many years of struggle. It reflected a high degree of unity of the African American community and the alliance with a section of labor, the Latino community and progressive minded whites. This legacy of political independence also endures.

The struggle for African American representation and political independence also led to the historic election of Carole Moseley Braun for Senate and many African American state legislators and local elected officials.

The African American community, and especially trade unionists have played a crucial role in the struggle to defeat the ultra right. This includes massive voter turnout in election after election, but also the swing state mobilizations in 2004.

This was also reflected in the historic election of Barack Obama. Once again Obamas campaign reflected the electoral voting unity of the African American community, but also the alliances built with several key trade unions, and forces in the Latino and white communities.
It also reflected a breakthrough among white voters. In the primary, Obama won 35% of the white vote and 7 north side wards, in a crowded field. During the general election he won every ward in the city and all the collar counties. This appeal has continued in his presidential run.

The 2007 municipal elections are the sharpest expression yet of the re-emergence of the labor-African American alliance and its inherent power. It is reflective of a broader independent electoral coalition that includes our Party and YCL, which is in the early stages of being rebuilt. The Party needs to keep our eye on this development and foster it in every way possible.

All the issues pressing the working class and African American community intersected during the 2007 municipal elections. The Chicago Chamber of Commerce, WalMart, Target and other developers poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into defeating aldermen who led the charge for the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance and re-electing those who opposed it.

The result was the election of a block of independent aldermen and especially trade unionists, including four African American women trade unionists. This was a deliberate strategy by labor to mobilize its members in wards where they were most concentrated in response to the accumulation of a whole set of problems with the Daley machine, big developers etc. It reflected a response to the gentrification, the lagging economic development, institutionalized racism, police brutality and many other problems. The veto of the Big Box Living Wage

Ordinance by Daley was just the straw the broke the camels back.
The Daley Machine, WalMart and big business failed in efforts to win key aldermanic elections despite their best efforts and money and the most anti-labor of campaigns. The Party was heavily involved in several of the campaigns, including for Sandy Jackson.

Once again, this key alliance has to be the apple of our eye, helping to strengthen the Labor-African American alliance, as a key part of broader BBW unity and all peoples unity.

One important element of this is the organization of unorganized workers. While many African American workers remain organized, most are not. Our Party has actively supported the Resurrection Hospital campaign, of which Carmen is a leading rank and file activist. We should also do more to support SEIUs campaign to organize the Advocate hospital chain and step up the fight for passage of EFCA.

We should also do more to bring Labor and other forces into coalition on problems especially facing the African American community.
Another powerful trend in the African American community are the broad anti-Iraq war sentiments. In 2006 over 800,000 Cook County residents voted to bring the troops home. That vote was 90% in predominantly African American wards. We are experiencing what could be a historic breakthrough in organizing for the October 27 peace demonstration in both the labor and African American communities. Credit has to be given also to the organizers, we among them, who really fought for the broadest of outreach and to overcome the mistakes of past demonstrations, to ensure African American community organizations and activists were in on the ground floor, an equal partner from the outset.

Finally, I want to mention the tremendous protest movement that took place in many predominantly African American high schools against the injustice to the Jena 6. The National Rainbow PUSH coalition, churches and African American sororities and fraternities were also involved. We should do more to help build the movement around this case.

We hope this meeting will accelerate the process of building the fighting capacity of the party against racism and discrimination; of renewing, strengthening and expanding our relations with organizations and activists in the African American community. Whatever weaknesses we have cannot be solved out side of struggle. By stepping up our involvement and connection to struggles and movements already existing in the African American community, we will expand our relations with key activists and organizations for example the National Rainbow PUSH, CBTU, some of the key churches like Trinity UCC, the Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church, key community organizations like the South Austin Community Coalition, Kenwood Oaklawn Community Organization and others. We have had working relations at various levels with many of these organizations over the years.

On the other hand, where coalitions get started around particular issues, it is essential for the party and YCL to play a role to guarantee that organizations of the African American community, and all core forces, are in the planning from the ground floor. I think we played a helpful role in getting the Oct. 27 coalition off on the right foot.
The Oct. 27 Midwest regional demonstration in Chicago offers a good opportunity for our clubs to renew or establish new relations with African American organizations and activists in our areas, to reach out and work together. This should be a conscious part of whatever plans are being made by the clubs. The rally is connecting the war with the funding crisis for education, health care, transit, etc. and provides a broad basis of unity.

There are already some important developments, which could mean a real breakthrough in overcoming some real weaknesses that have plagued the organized peace movement for many years in regards to both the African American community and labor. An African American outreach committee has been formed and has met three times in Rev. Leon Fennys church. While Fenny has conservative on some questions, hes good on this one and has opened up his church to the organizers. He has pledged to bring 50 busloads from the South Side to the rally.

With the 2008 elections around the corner, CBTU announced at their national meeting a novel grassroots organizing approach to electoral mobilization. They will assign members to organize their neighbors; register voters and form neighborhood get out the vote operations. The AFL-CIO may take this up as a model. Shouldnt we try to be a part of this effort?

The National Committee adopted a new approach to our industrial concentration policy. It suggested that Chicago focus on steel and mass transit as key concentration industries. This has been discussed by our labor comrades and should be infused in these discussions. A large percentage of transit workers in Chicago are African Americans. The African American rank and file fought long and hard within the Amalgamated Transit Union to overcome racism and to be able to elect Black leadership. The ATU is playing a growing role in building labor community coalitions, especially around the crisis in transit funding.
Every club can relate to this project, especially by distributing the PWW and leaflets at transfer points and bus barns and train depots and repair yards. We can become more deeply involved in transit related labor-community coalitions.

Our clubs should have more organized activities that will result in more public clubs responding to and involved in key struggles. We want to encourage our clubs to develop and expand their relations with key grassroots organizations and activists, and hold public events.

Finally, we need to take direct steps to build the Party and YCL in all directions. As Jarvis pointed out in his speech to the St. Louis conference, the Party has a marvelous and historic history among African Americans. This is especially so in Chicago. Who can forget the Party in the depression, Lightfoot, Florey, Woods, Pat Ellis, Frank Lumpkin and so many others.

To become a mass party once again we need basic steps. The clubs need to expand the circulation of the PWW among African American activists and organizations. The PWW is the best people to people, relationship builder that we have and is absolutely indispensable to this process. Without relationships we cannot recruit.

The problem we have with recruitment is a general problem. We are growing too slowly across the board. This year 17 new members have joined the CPUSA. Of these, 2 are African American, 3 are Latino and 1 Asian.

About half the new recruits join spontaneously on the Internet or walk-in. The others we know through struggle or personal relations.
But the truth is most comrades dont recruit, and havent recruited or asked people to join in years. Most of our comrades dont circulate the PWW or get subs. This is a deeper problem, which we must also put on the table, discuss and overcome.

There is an art to making contacts, getting to know people and convincing them to join. Once people join, there is an urgent question of embracing them in and involving them in struggle. If we dont they often drift and eventually leave, unfulfilled. The NS club has some good experiences in this regard, especially with creating a warm club atmosphere.

If we make the necessary changes, and take the necessary steps, there is no reason why we cannot become a mass Party, including building our membership widely in the African American community. Lets rededicate ourselves to this end.

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