Build the Communist Party and the labor movement to meet history’s challenge

BY:Joelle Fishman| June 23, 2017
Build the Communist Party and the labor movement to meet history’s challenge


Editor’s Note: The article below is based on a presentation to a CPUSA conference on the working class and labor movement. It is one of several.

This conference is very timely.  What more important moment is there for the Communist Party to deepen our roots among our class — the working class: the great multi-racial, multi-national, multi-generational and gender working class at the heart of our country’s future.

Capitalism is impacting people’s’ lives with increasing brutality, producing extreme inequalities, bringing us closer to climate disaster and war, and deepening class struggle.

We bring greetings from ground zero of the labor-community resistance. Yale University – with its $25 billion endowment –  has aligned with Trump and  is refusing to negotiate a  union contract with graduate teachers in Unite Here Local 33.  Yale is stalling. They hope Trump’s new NLRB will overturn the successful Local 33 election.  Eight courageous fasters are in their 25th day without food and only drinking water.  When one cannot continue, another takes their place.  On Monday  May 15th buses arrived from across the East Coast to join in a demonstration of 10,000 at Yale’s commencement demanding the right of all workers to union representation.

Here are four thoughts to offer for discussion:

  1.  The necessity and interconnection between building the labor union movement and building the Communist Party USA.

A larger and stronger Communist Party enables a larger and stronger union movement. At the same time, a larger and stronger union movement enables a larger and stronger Communist Party. Both are interconnected and go together.

Union members and leaders strengthen the Communist Party

We say that the organized sector of the working class, the labor union movement, is key to progress. Why?  Union members have the chance to develop a higher level of class consciousness.  They have the chance to learn from experience the power of collective action against the boss. They have the chance to stand up against exploitation at contract time and in the grievance procedure. They have the chance to learn from experience that if they stay united and refuse to allow themselves to be divided by racism and bigotry they can win gains for everyone.  They have the chance to collectively discuss elections and support candidates and field candidates from a working-class perspective. The union provides the space where these class struggle issues can and must be argued and debated out collectively.

Union members who join the Communist Party bring this experience with them into our ranks.  That raises up our understanding and our ability to struggle.  While building the Communist Party is not the same as building the union, it takes many of the same skills.

From our earliest years, the decisions of tested union leaders like William Z. Foster and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to join and help lead the Communist Party brought invaluable organizing experience and clarity – it helped to shape our party as a fighter for the whole working class. Many others followed through the decades and we stand on their shoulders.

Today rank-and-file union members, elected officers and union staff, with experience in organizing struggles in their own workplaces, in organizing unorganized workers and in building labor/community coalitions are bringing much needed skills to the Communist Party.  But we need to accelerate that process.

… and at the same time, Communist leaders and members strengthen unions

“In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, (Communists) always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.” — Communist Manifesto.

The foundation of our worldview is an understanding of the class struggle, the need for class unity and a vision that is not constrained by what “works” under capitalism.  At the same time, our century of experience helps us avoid adventurism as well as opportunism. Communists understand that any gains we make come from our strength which depends upon our unity.

Communists have confidence in the working class.  We know that the path to raising class consciousness and socialist consciousness and building organization is through struggle. Rank-and-file communists in the workplace can respond to and deal with racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-immigrant propaganda and other expressions of anti-working class ideology.  When contract struggles or grievances or other issues arise workers often look to Communists as natural leaders.

Communists bring our vision of socialism. As growing numbers of workers are rejecting capitalism we show how building and strengthening the union is an important step toward basic change.  That’s important because rejecting capitalism without understanding unions or the working class is a dead end street with no  way out.

  1.  Regard for the Communist Party in the labor movement at a time of new challenges

The labor union movement faces big challenges today from the flight of  capital, lack of living wage jobs and benefits, deepening poverty and labor laws that make it hard to organize.  Lots of new methods and forms of organizing the unorganized are being experimented with and implemented.

At the Unite Here Local 33 hunger fast encampment a national organizer exchanged ideas with me.  He was explaining creative tactics being used now, in particular salting — workers getting hired at key workplaces with the goal of organizing their co-workers into a union.  “You would understand,” he said, “we’re applying what was developed by the Communist Party in the 1930’s.”

There are many examples of the high regard our Party is held in the labor movement today because of the work we do.  Among them the Workers Education Center in St Louis, the invitation to the Communist Party to be part of the May Day organizing in Los Angeles, and People’s World coverage which is requested, appreciated and shared widely.  We could all give more examples.

In order to build our party, we have to recognize the proud history we are building upon.

The point is that in order to build our Party, we have to recognize the proud history we are building upon and the important contributions we can and do make today. We have a responsibility to greatly expand our participation in and with the labor union movement now with an emphasis on the do-or-die task of organizing the unorganized.

We don’t have to wave a red flag but depending on local circumstances we shouldn’t hide or be bashful either. Our allies urge us to have a higher public presence.  People welcome our articles in not only about the struggles they are immediately involved in but for information and analysis about the broader situation, about labor’s role, and examples from other parts of the country and world.

  1.  Concept of concentration as valid and necessary into the future

The concept of concentration is a necessary and effective component in relation to building the Communist Party among union members or potential union members and low wage workers.

Earlier in our history, industrial concentration was carried out in big, basic industrial sites. At the same time there were local concentrations based on the dominant employer in a given area, as well as neighborhood concentrations in working-class communities.

As the national economy changed our concept of concentration broadened out.  We now speak of workplace and working-class neighborhood concentration.

What does concentration mean?  Henry Winston said that the bottom line of concentration was building the Communist Party and recruiting among the multiracial working class.  Concentration at a given workplace or community means getting to know the workers, their issues and  union if there is one, their families, and participating with their struggles, letting them get to know more about us.

Concentration is a flexible concept.  It has to be applied differently in every area according to the circumstances. The main thing is to be deeply grounded in the lives and work of the multiracial working class and to increase the fighting capacity and class and socialist consciousness by building the Communist Party there.

While preparing for this conference, the chair of the Yale Workers Club said definitely share our experience with concentration.  She first knew the Communist Party and People’s World from the community. She did not see the importance of becoming active with her union until she joined the Yale Workers Club. Now, she has helped win good contracts for Locals 34 and 35,  clerical / technical and service / maintenance unions at Yale.  And, through the Party, she is connected to the work of our neighborhood clubs who are in the fight to open up those jobs to residents of the impoverished neighborhoods, largely African American and Latino, surrounding the University.

Concentration is both strategic and fluid. Several comrades who work at Yale are more involved in their ward or community and choose to belong to a neighborhood club and organize around the jobs struggle while building community support for the union contract struggles.

There are many examples from our experience in applying working-class concentration in Connecticut.

In New Haven, while Yale is now the dominant employer, for decades it was the Winchester gun factory.  In the 1970s three members of the Committee to Free Angela Davis worked at Winchester.  They joined the Communist Party and we formed a club that helped make a lot of history.  About 20 years ago the plant was moved abroad.  Many of the workers lived in the surrounding African American neighborhood.  It was natural to make the transition to a neighborhood club. Our focus on jobs and election involvement brought new members, some active in other unions where they work.  During door-to-door voter registration last year, a People’s World route was started.  Among those who attend meetings are two elected officials.  The point is that while the specifics of the concentration has changed, the concentration organizing model is maintained and produces results.

In Hartford, we formed a club of service workers several years ago.  It was mostly retirees and union organizers.  It has grown slow but sure. During a nursing home strike they brought the People’s World to the picket line every week.  After the strike was won several of the workers asked if they could get the paper at home. They were placed on the routes of the nearby neighborhood clubs and maintained their connection with the Communist Party. Those neighborhood clubs have brought scores of people into the Communist Party by visiting every week with the People’s World, getting involved in local struggles like police brutality and helping elect progressive candidates. Now the possibility is being considered to set up a club of people who work at the nursing home and live in the surrounding community.

Concentration can also help elect union members and allies to public office and change the political climate. I know that the comrades in St Louis have done that in the wards surrounding the Workers Center.  I believe it has been done in Ohio and New York and elsewhere. We have had similar experiences in Hartford and New Haven represented in our delegation here today.

Concentrating in a small election district or neighborhood is exactly positioning the Communist Party to be the strong allies the labor movement needs as it outreaches to the community and expands organizing among low wage workers. The same person who works fast food or taxi driver or other low wage job lives in the community and can be reached in the community.  Their family members may or may not have or need a job.  They can be reached as well.

Working-class concentration has increased the working class and African American and Latino membership in our clubs.  It has brought people into the Communist Party who were struggling but had never gotten involved.  The Communist Party opened the door for them to other local organizing like the Fight for $15, or actions like the Women’s March.  This has attracted the respect of leaders from labor and ally organizations, a number of whom have joined our ranks.

  1.  Workers’ voices: Why the Communist Party is important to me as a union member and leader.

A few of our comrades in the labor union movement who couldn’t be here today shared briefly why the Communist Party is important to their lives:

Jahmal, food service worker, steward in Unite Here Local 217 and a leader in the Newhall Club:

“In the Communist Party’s early days our union organizing tactics were sit-down strikes and rallies and various other things. Strong union members grew up speaking in Marxist terms, in a world with a lot more class struggle…today the same principles and thinking must apply in a world with the same or even more class struggle…and it’s those views and ideologies that I apply as a union leader today in my shop.”

Win, vice president CT ARA and e-board Hartford Labor Council:

“The Communist Party embodies all the values I care about from economic and racial justice to women’s equality. It is a vital support system in this time when we really need to stick together and be proactive for our future.””

Tom, vice president of the 2300 member union retiree chapter of CSEA:

“Being a member of the Communist Party and leadership in my club and in my union I am grounded in the everyday struggles.  The Communist Party is my strategic and moral compass that provides the strength to continue to move forward in these difficult days. I’m a proud Communist and thankful for my comrades, family and friends.”

In conclusion:

We have a responsibility to build the Party and the labor union movement to fend off the attacks from the extremist right-wing and move forward toward socialism.  People are looking for us. In this room and participating via live stream are some of the leaders in the struggles ahead. We can dramatically change the composition of our Party with an influx of young workers including many African American and Latino low-wage workers and unemployed.  We should organize our work nationally and locally around this goal. Together we can meet history’s challenge.




    Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. She was a candidate for Congress from 1973 to 1982, maintaining minor-party ballot status for the Communist Party in Connecticut's Third Congressional District. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance that defeated the ultra-right in the 2008 elections and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.



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