Framework for Discussion: The Labor Movement & the Working Class

BY: Convention Organizing Committee| February 5, 2014

Throughout our history the Communist Party USA has always played a significant and important role in the US labor movement. In the run up to our 30th National Convention we need to discuss what is new and developing in the labor movement and what our role is moving forward. We also need to discuss the role of social media in our work related to all the questions below.

Not since the darkest days of the cold war has labor been under such a vicious and massive attack. This 30 plus year attack on labor leaves Union membership  at its lowest percentage point in more than 70 years. In the last few years public worker unions have been especially targeted. In response to the AFL-CIO’s recognition that organized labor is going to have to become more inclusive and look beyond its own traditional membership to protect and advance our interests, many industrial, public and building trades unions, more in some parts of the country than in others, have taken big steps to embrace new, broader, more coalition style strategy and tactics.

The last four years have also seen an important upsurge in the broader overall labor movement. Low wage workers, concentrated in all kinds of highly unorganized jobs and industries, are helping to revitalize and reshape labor. Many non-traditional labor forms have emerged with great energy and innovative tactics of struggle.

These non-traditional labor struggles have also brought thousands of new activists into the heart of the labor movement. They include especially large numbers of young workers, African American, Latino and other workers of color, women workers and LGBT workers. This wonderful diversity is reflected in emerging new labor leadership around the country.

An expanded, more inclusive and diverse, definition of the labor movement is developing. For more context see Big Picture Trade Unionism.

As more and more in labor accept the participation and contributions of Communists and the broad left, we need to look at our work in labor with fresh eyes. Labor unity is always at the top of our agenda. How can every party member, union member or not, help build solidarity and unity at all levels including internationally? How can we help elevate the struggle for unity in labor: Against racism? For immigrant rights? For women’s rights? For LGBT rights? Corporations also seek to divide young and older workers with attacks on pensions, Social Security and Medicare. How can we help build generational unity to defend and expand these programs? How can we help further global labor solidarity? Fight against corporate and finance dominated trade agreements? Can we be a greater force in helping to forge working labor/community coalitions? How can we further develop unity between traditional unions and the new-labor forms?

How can we help win more support in labor around some broader and critical working class struggles? Basic democracy is constantly under attack. Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions have stacked the political deck not just against unions but also against the whole of the working class. Corporate right-wing legislation, including voter suppression, women’s health, religious freedom, deregulation, and racist law enforcement laws, are wholesale attacks on working people. How do we highlight and build labor support in the fight to defend and expand democracy. Important leaders and some unions have come out forcefully against war and military spending – how can we further build support for this movement in labor? The overarching struggle for solutions to climate change often split labor from the environmental movement. How can we better move labor to see climate change as a basic working class and labor issue? At the same time how can we come up with alternatives that guarantee new employment for those in dirty industries? “Good Jobs, Green Jobs?” Can labor help win the environmental movement to fighting for the immediate needs of workers displaced in the process of reducing carbon?

Labor’s independent political action has been steadily growing in the last several election cycles. Unions now run sophisticated get-out-the-vote and voter education programs. They work out of union halls and central labor councils. At the grassroots, labor is making new efforts to run and elect workers to office. How does the party help further develop labor’s independent stance? Can we do more to help initiate union members running for office? How do we help labor fight for basic labor law reform like the Employee Free Choice Act? Minimum wage? Reverse union-busting right-to-work laws? Political action and organizing have to go hand in hand, how can we help further develop this outlook?

The Communist Party is not just a supporter of unions. We are a vital component of a growing class struggle labor movement in the US. How can we, as Communists, better show our labor partisanship to the rank and file and to union leadership? Can we do a better job to popularize our Party’s proud history and contributions? How can we best deal with the remaining anti-communist influences in labor and raise even further labor’s comfort level with Communists and the CPUSA? Most importantly how can we better move the whole party into the day-to-day struggles of the labor movement? How can we step up recruiting among organized sectors of the labor movement?

This document was developed to help provide a framework for the discussion of the 30th Convention of the Communist Party USA. These framing documents are not intended to limit the discussion in any way, but are meant as ways to generate ideas and questions to be addressed. 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.


    The collective appointed by the National Committee of the Communist Party to organize and plan the 30th National Convention of the Communist Party USA, Chaired by John Bachtell. 

Comments (2)

E.E.W. Clay | May 05, 2014 at 1:01 PM

Thanks to brother Gary Hicks for this comment, and thanks to the COC for the document.
The document does read that: “How can every Party member, union member or not, help build solidarity and unity at all levels, including internationally?”
Of course posing a question is important, but for a collective of Communists, we might expect more.
What are the union and solidarity movements? What are the numbers? What are the prospects and concrete connections that can make the movement international? What are the tasks? Who are the people to do the tasks?
These and other questions are the more concrete ones which would lead, more directly into struggle of Communist action.
The lack of comment at all is obviously a reflection of lack of focus and/or lack of forces for/in The Labor Movement and the Working Class.

gary hicks | April 28, 2014 at 5:03 PM

This is the first commentary on this leading document. This can mean only one of two things.

>>Either this leading document is so tight that there’s no need for discussion, that all else in this entire section on the working class is mere commentary if not footnoting on an otherwise perfect document….OR

>>This document is so flawed and fraught with problems that no one wants to be in the embarrasing position of being the first to begin.

Let me state that I do not believe that either of the two options above are the case. On the contrary, I think that the document hits on the right points concerning the situation of labor/working class issues. But there are two things missing here three holes through which one can drive a mack truck.

First, I heard a rumor that the working class is an international class. And if this is so, then this document
has said not a word about this matter. And yet our party has historically addressed this matter in so many struggles. We need to recount those struggles, not for purposes of sitting on laurels… but to ascertain where that world-wide class struggle stands at this point, and what is our role, our share in pushing that process further.

Second, this document doesn’t begin to get specific about the on-going, never-ending struggles against white supremacy, male supremacy, homophobia. Part of what needs to be clearly understood by this is that the victims of these scourges are for the most part, people who work for a living when possible. From this flows the proposal that the fight against these scourges are not the exclusive tasks of their victims. No, these struggles are the responsibility and ownership of our class as a whole.

Finally, reading this document, one gets the impression that the Communist Party is merely a helping, service agency…and not what the Vietnamese once called “the organizer of all victories”. We didn’t help to build the CIO. Fifty-plus of the sixty- something organizers were Party members, many of whom had been in the struggle to organize labor for two to three decades at that time. We didn’t help build the struggle against fascism. We were at the center of that fight. The struggle for the liberation of black and other racially/nationally oppressed cannot be properly understood apart from the central, sine qua non role played by the Communist Party. In 2014, with these struggles continuing in new as well as old forms…. the Communist Party cannot be bashfulness to the table.

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