Convention Discussion: Labor – the key link in the chain

BY: Juan Lopez| June 5, 2014

Submitted by Juan Lopez, National Vice Chair, Oakland, CA

I believe today is both more necessary and possible for the party and its members to be involved in the labor movement.

Necessary because the labor movement – while the country’s biggest, strongest, best organized progressive force – is far too small for the challenges confronting our nation’s working class and people.

Possible because – unlike the dogged anti-communism of yesteryears conditioned by the Cold War and McCarthyism – experience of recent years has shown today the doors are open for honest fighters with positive energy and progressive ideas, including members of our party.

To buttress my arguments I’d like to briefly draw on highlights of last year’s AFL-CIO convention, which I had the privilege of attending.

The AFL-CIO convention projected an agenda and a vision aimed to transform the labor movement, its partners and allies into a formidable 21st century people’s force for economic justice and democracy.

Participating were delegations of the overwhelming majority of our country’s unions as well as representatives of progressive community-based groups and the nation’s main social movements, including civil rights, immigrant, women and youth.

The labor federation’s convention:

  • Mapped out a modern-day agenda (akin to wall-to-wall organizing of the 1930s CIO) when it took steps to promote the organization of all workers whether covered by collective bargaining agreements or not, whether protected by labor and social laws or not.

  • Committed to more energetically champion the fight for equality of people of color, immigrants, women, youth, LGBTQ and other specially oppressed peoples.

  • Took steps to more closely collaborate with community-based groups and progressive social movements.

  • Recognized the strategic importance and the Herculean effort it will take to defeat the rightwing Republican cabal in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

  • Signaled new levels of political independence.

  • Highlighted far-reaching initiatives of recent years to strengthen international labor cooperation, including mergers.

With candor, leaders and rank and filers recognized as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka put it, “We have to change the way we’re doing business in a significant way to get out of the crisis we find ourselves in,” adding, “But, this crisis also offers us ample and tremendous opportunity.”

Perhaps the word “crisis” is too strong but otherwise this could be said about  progressive people’s organizations generally, including our party.

Emerging out of our party’s convention, we must move to assist labor’s transformation with laser beam focus.

That means working in and with the labor movement to fulfill the AFL-CIO convention’s ambitious but necessary agenda and vision.

It means winning progressive social movements’ more fully to labor’s cause.

It means winning the left and, above all, our own present and future members to this singular mission.

A much larger, stronger, more united labor movement around a progressive agenda and vision, rooted in the workplaces and communities, intricately inter-twined with the nation’s core social movements is what the AFL-CIO convention set out to accomplish.

And this is the kind of transformative movement necessary to challenge in a fundamental way corporate power and move the class and democratic struggle to higher stages.

But, it won’t be easy, won’t happen overnight and the road ahead will be treacherous.

Needless to say transnational finance capital, particularly the far right wing, is leaving no stone unturned in its zeal to destroy labor and the other progressive social movements.

But, in the house of labor itself much hard work remains to be done because on the ground the process of fulfilling labor’s main goals as outlined by the labor federation’s convention is uneven and, at times, can be bumpy and challenging.

All the more reasons why it’s necessary for us to give it focused and persistent attention.

We can be of valuable assistance because we tend to bring to the table:

  • Dedication and honesty.

  • The dialectical method of analysis.

  • Assessments based, not on wishful thinking, but on reality.

  • Understanding of phenomena within the framework of the current economic and political stage of capitalism’s developmental decay.

  • An appreciation of the contending class and social forces at any particular stage of the class and democratic struggle and sober estimate of their balance of forces.

  • A strategy for the immediate, intermediate and longer range history-making stages of social development as well as in the process of current struggles.

  • Flexible tactics aimed to satisfy strategic aims.

  • The connection between partial and fundamental reforms and socialist transformation.

  • An understanding of the pivotal role of the working class, particularly its organized sector, around which the core progressive people’s forces and their mass organizations gravitate, that is people of color, women and youth.

I say we tend to bring to the table because it is something acquired through study, practical experience and the collective process, which speaks to the great need for continual education for our new and long-time members.

At the same time, we must be modest enough to recognize that others steeped in these struggles, not in the party, bring many of these qualities to the table accounting for the rise of the progressive trends of which we are presently a small but significant integral component.

Concentration on low wage workers

On the one hand, there has been an unprecedented level of globalization of productive forces facilitated by huge strides in new labor saving technologies, the effect of which has been to cut down drastically workforces and relatively decent paying union jobs in the nation’s industrial core.

My estimate is that this phenomena tends to transform the strategic importance of the industrial sector from a national to an international one because it compels it to organize globally in order to make economic and political gains.

At the same, transportation and communication acquire new global strategic significance with just-in-time and other technical advances.

(But, this should be the subject of further study).

At the same time, the astronomical growth of the financial sector accompanied by the explosion in credit, mortgage-based and other financial schemes fueling consumerism has given rise to a huge growth in the traditionally low paying retail and service sectors.

Meanwhile, the big-time rise of big-box, fast food and other retail and service low-paying non-union jobs successfully compete with and supplant previously unionized jobs.

In arguing for turning our attention to assisting labor in the organization of low-paying retail and service economic sectors, comrade Sam Webb does a very convincing job of arguing that there is more than one way to view the working class strategic power.

I just wanted to add or underline a couple of things.

The militant struggles to redress grievances and unionize workers in fast food, big box, and other retail and service sectors are giving new energy and hope to the labor movement and to workers in our country generally.

The expectation is that the progressive trends in labor will increasingly help infuse these workers with a certain level of class-consciousness and appreciation for the broad democratic struggles.

As an integral component of this progressive trend, our party and members must make assisting labor and this sector of the class the bull’s eye of our work.

These workers represent a huge section of the working class.

They are multi-racial and multi-national in their composition.

At the same time, their numbers are overwhelmingly workers of color, immigrants, women and youth and they reflect the rapidly changing nation’s demographics.

They are well rooted in the lives of the communities where they live, including the churches and social clubs.

Some bring experience from struggle on other fronts and, among the immigrants, from their nations of origin.

This section of the class potentially constitutes a formidable force for developing the transformative movement necessary to radically advance the cause of all workers and the broad democratic struggles.

To grow the party among these workers will allow us to sink deep roots among the people as the party’s composition comes to mirror that of the nation.

It will sharpen our sensibilities to the needs and aspirations of the people and help us fine-tune together with the workers and their unions the strategy and tactics necessary.

As the party grows in influence and numbers among these workers it will be in a better position to assist the labor movement and the core social forces.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014


    Juan Lopez is chairman of the Communist Party in northern California and statewide coordinator. He has been a labor and community activist during the nearly forty years he's lived in Oakland, where he and his wife raised three children. He was formerly a member of the Teamsters union and a shop steward.

Comments (5)

E.E.W. Clay | June 09, 2014 at 9:40 AM

Thanks to, and commendations to Juan for this valuable contribution on labor.
Labor Omnia Vincit, an article of our W. E. B. Du Bois, in his powerful An A B C of Color, has new meaning today in an important way.
No longer is color discrimination displayed as savage Jim Crow, as it was when Du Bois wrote the article named. No longer is labor divided by skin color-in fact, thanks to the leadership of hundreds of thousands, including and especially Communists like Du Bois, Flynn, Patterson, Lumpkin, Robeson, and many more, like Weydemeyer, Willich, Tubman, Douglass, Lincoln, and Marx.
Now, there are countless progressives, like the many, many of whom are in AFL-CIO leadership who understand how racism serves monopolists, exploiters and oppressors of 21st century casino capitalism.
These are they leaders and shakers of modern day labor of the 21st century.
In this current context, it is possible and reasonable to bring literally millions of laborers in close contact, and in progressive motion for jobs, peace and freedom-in line with the activities of the late, great M L K.
The effort to double and triple the living wage for laboring, working class, families-Latino and African American and white-to demand the right to a clean, modern home, progressive modern, internationally competitive education for all, modern affordable, guaranteed top shelf health care and full employment will require that the millions control and own the financial the physical resources of the country through struggle.

This consciousness of continuing the intense struggle of M L K-with its emphasis of ending repression, racism and poverty-and critically converting war activities, as a nation, to peace activities, is our legacy as Communists-those Communists which M L K lauded in one of his last and lasting speeches-the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the inimitable Communist, W. E. B. Du Bois.
Labor Omnia Vincit.

E.E.W. Clay | June 08, 2014 at 11:33 PM

This is a profound and elementary document of the 30th National Convention.
In St. Louis, we show weaknesses in seeking to build in weaker areas, since they offer little to “contribute” to “working class power”.
This weakness shows itself in organizations and individuals-in our relationships with both.
The state convention seemed to reflect this, in that there was little or no discussion and deliberation to focus and refocus issues with the general body of the state convention guiding the discussion.
There also seemed to be thwarted discussion on outreach to different sectors, including unemployed, women, unorganized, African American, homeless and low wage.
As Juan participated as guest in the Missouri state convention, and offered helpful insight, we may want to note that he focused on the fact that if we want more funding for movements, we need to be more people centered-not counterposing funding to recruiting and increase contact and activities with labor from the latter sectors of low-wage, homeless, unemployed, death penalty oppression, women exploitation and oppression, weaker and more reactionary unions, ect., ect.
The point in organization for “Labor-the key link in the chain” is to focus and strengthen organization and contact where we are weak-not to dismiss organization there, since it is weak-we are only as strong as the weakest link in our chain, collectively as labor-this, in the context of rapidly decaying capitalism and imperialism-in all its exploitation and oppression.
Jim Lane’s and Richard Grassl’s comments are very well taken in this discussion’s context.
Again, a previous body of the present writer’s comments have disappeared.

jim lane | June 08, 2014 at 7:00 PM

The steady change in organized labor over the last few decades has been breathtaking, and the changes since the 2013 convention have even picked up the pace.

Work among low-wage workers and the orientation toward community-wide organizing give everybody an opportunity to work with labor. We can’t afford to pass it up.

At the same time, excitement over organizing low-wage workers shouldn’t distract us from the importance of basic industry and transportation, which were never chosen because of immediate accessibility or popular organizing. The emphasis comes because they have the greatest potential to stop capitalism, and nothing has changed in that regard.

–jim lane in Dallas

Richard Grassl | June 06, 2014 at 9:32 AM

Thank you, Juan, for being out there. Point #4 … the current economic and political stage of capitalism’s developmental decay [best illustrated by oligarchs in the financial sector of the Federal Reserve who apply pressure through perverse laws (Helms-Burton) to intimidate foreign banks that do business with nations not on the US FAV 5 list; then, demand they bow and pay tribute to Wall Street] is called Business-as-usual.

The political climate has deteriorated so badly that money-laundering schemes (Citizen United) to buy off seniors, students, men and women voters to keep the economy afloat while Big Business plays Stock market roulette should shame the most intransigent. A class for itself with labor as a leading component is vital for the preservation of democracy.

Richard Grassl | June 05, 2014 at 11:04 AM

Point #4. The current economic and political stage of capitalism’s developmental decay is best illustrated by oligarchs in the financial sector of the Federal Reserve who apply methods to intimidate foreign banks that do business with nations not on the US FAV 5 list to bow and pay tribute to Wall Street.
Through blackmail and money laundering schemes (Citizen United) the right wing attempts to buy off seniors, students, men and women voters while the government desperately keeps the economy afloat. Could there not be any more reason for a Party of the working class? Thanks, Juan.

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