Labor Leads — for Unity and Fightback!

September 22, 2001

Why a Communist Party Labor Program?

In the years since our last labor program, in 1993, there have been historic changes in labor. The organized labor movement is stronger and more mobilized for action than at any time since the mighty movements that built the CIO. Fresh winds of change brought new leadership, new policies and renewed energy to organized labor in the last decade. Fresh battles against corporate greed at home and globally have sharpened up labor’s fighting trim. Labor’s ranks are growing for the first time in decades.

More and more, labor is becoming the champion of all mass movements for social, political and economic justice. Coalition style, coalition unity, coalition building are the lifeblood of where labor is going. Organized labor has taken great pains to build unity and coalition with African American, Latino and all those who suffer racial and national discrimination. Labor coalition efforts have also championed coalition relations with the women’s movements, youth movements, environmental movements, rural and farm movements, lesbian and gay movements, and all others who are victims of corporate greed and discrimination.

On the other hand, workers and their families are facing the sharpest assault in decades. The appointment of George W. Bush to the White House is a blow to labor. His presidency ushers in a renewed corporate offensive against labor and the basic needs of working families. This right-wing political assault on democracy comes as the US economy is facing a cyclical downturn. Already mass layoffs and plant closings echo the severe crisis days of the early 1980’s.

The political extreme right and their big corporate sponsors are now moving with all means at their command to try and destroy both the political and economic strength of the trade unions. The early days of the Bush administration give proof that the attack is on against labor. The prosecution of longshore workers in South Carolina for picketing and indictments of progressive labor leaders are vivid indications.

This dangerous time requires that we close ranks with labor, with our allies, and build the broadest, strongest, fight-back movement ever seen in our country. We can’t stress enough the need to step up the defending of labor rights in these times when the ultra right is gearing up for even harsher and sharper attacks.

Thus the challenge is how to develop labor’s fightback against these threats, to defend our rights, our jobs, our communities, our living standards and our families.

This Communist Party Labor Program is our modest attempt to help find some answers.

How Communists View Labor and What We See as Our Role

As the Communist Party, we submit this program from our own Marxist point of view. America is a capitalist society divided by class and conflicting class interests. In a capitalist society there is a constant class struggle between capital and labor. On one side is big business: the huge multinational corporations, the banks, and the political forces that serve their interests. Their main interests are profits and domination. On the other is the vast majority: the working class and their families, the African American, Latino and all other racially and nationally oppressed people, and all who suffer from the social and political domination of big business. Our main interests are democracy, equality and the well-being of all.

We Communists view the working class and its organized sector, the trade union movement, as the leading force in society for defending and advancing the interests of all working people. Labor, because of its key economic, political and social role in capitalist society, is in the unique position to unite around it those whose interests are trampled by capital. We Communists have no interests apart from those of labor and the people. We see Marxism and the Communist Party as tools for helping the working class and people achieve their rightful goals of economic, political and social justice.

In this light we submit the following program for your consideration:

1) The need for a much longer trade union movement

The new labor movement has played a critical role in every important struggle in recent years. Turning back anti-labor, anti-people measures at the state level (most notably Proposition 226 in California), defeating fast track trade negotiations, fighting to save Social Security and Medicare, rallying against the WTO, and initiating massive voter registration and turn-out-the-vote drives are important examples. Yet, just a couple of million more members would have defeated Bush beyond stealing in the 2000 elections.

Union membership is at its lowest percentage level in decades. In response, unions have launched many creative and new approaches to organizing, showing fighting spirit and great determination. The tide is turning. Still, to make the massive gains needed, organizing the unorganized must be more broadly defined.

What is required is a broad social movement to organize wall to wall unions for all working people where they work. Such a broad mass approach combines the best traditions of the CIO drives in basic industries of the 1930’s and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. The stage is set for just such an approach. Organized labor is reaching far beyond its ranks for alliances with progressive social movements. Most progressive forces now see labor as a source of strength and support for their objectives, and see a much larger trade union movement as the key to progress for all.

Organizing includes new strategies for including part time, day labor and other contingent workers. Young workers in new industries are ripe for organizing. Young workers will come to the labor movement with different experiences and concerns. Hiring youth organizers and giving full range to new methods and styles of organizing are key. Young people are increasingly marginalized, attacked and ripped off by corporate America. Young people have been the backbone of challenging big business, capitalism and corporate globalization, and have proven themselves steadfast allies of labor.

Besides a vigorous labor/community coalition approach we need nationally coordinated organizing campaigns that strategically target key sectors of industry, including new industries. The mass production industries still set the pace for improving wages, hours and working conditions for the rest of the working class.
In this regard national union contracts and industry wide collective bargaining with common expiration dates are critical to maximizing labor’s clout.

2) Unity

Unity is the great strength of the labor movement. The American working class is multinational and multiracial, male-female, young and old, gay and straight, skilled and unskilled. Real progress has been made in building a labor leadership that includes African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American and women workers. But much still needs to be done.

Racist hiring and promotion policies are still the common practice of big business. Discrimination in housing and education remain real roadblocks to the American dream for millions. Attacks on immigrant workers and “English only” discrimination are increasing. Women still earn less than men do for the comparable work. Racist practices and inequality continue to drag down wages and working conditions of all workers.

Unity to confront corporate power requires greater, more direct challenges to racism and discrimination. Big business uses technology and changing working conditions to foster new patterns of racial and gender inequality for greater profits. Identifying and answering new forms of discrimination must be higher on labor’s agenda.

Fighting unity requires a fresh look at affirmative action and other methods of fighting inequality. Establishing and re-establishing civil rights and fair employment practices committee in unions and workplaces is key. Building labor coalitions and alliances with civil rights, human rights, women’s rights organizations to fight against racism and discrimination in society as a whole is also critical. This includes greater attention to broader issues facing women including abortion and health rights, ending sexual harassment, and job discrimination. So-called “welfare reform” has been devastating for millions of women and children and promoted racism and union busting. Reestablishing a real social safety net is critical, not only for working families, but for building unity.

Unity requires wholeheartedly embracing the AFL-CIO’s new approach to immigrant workers. They are a full and equal part of the American working class and add a vital dynamic to the struggle. Immigrant worker organizing in the 80’s and 90’s were models of building labor/community coalitions from which all of labor can learn. Winning the Cesar Chavez holiday in California is the first to honor a labor leader in modern times. To meet the times, labor needs to take on deportations and the militarization of the border with Mexico.

Fighting unity also includes trade union unity. Ideas like a metal workers federation with common expiration dates for contracts in steel, auto, electrical and machine tool industries are an example. The AFL-CIO’s Union Cities program and union coalition drives to organize whole industries like Silicon Valley are also important initiatives for greater unity. Winning for working families also means championing new and broader concepts of unity. For example fighting the attacks on public education and for other critical social needs is key to uniting the widest possible sections of the people with labor.

Unity also demands an end to anti-communism. When the AFL-CIO removed the anti-Communist clause from it’s constitution, it signaled the end of the Cold War in labor. Now state and local labor federations are following suit and thus bringing a renewed spirit of democracy and working class unity to the labor movement.

3) Political independence

In the 2000 elections, thousands of union activists saw for themselves the severe limitations of the Democratic Party in the battle to defeat the extreme corporate right entrenched in the Republican Party.

No longer is the adage of “Reward our friends and punish our enemies” the main pillar of labor. Workers are writing laws and setting policy. In the last three national elections labor has developed its own independent apparatus for political action. Union election efforts are now much more likely to be run out of union halls. Money is used to build union efforts and labor/community efforts for specific candidates and not given to political parties as it was in the past.

The AFL-CIO “2000 by 2000” program was met with such enthusiasm that the goal of 2000 workers seeking public office was surpassed before November 2000. Grassroots coalitions formed the base of union victories. In some states, like New York, labor built its own independent political party. This is an emerging trend out of the experiences of labor that needs to be built upon in a unifying way.

Election law reform is on the front burner for labor. Following the lead of the UAW, we must declare election day a national holiday, establish 24-hour voting and registration at the polls. Restoring the franchise to former felons could add millions to voter lists. Full government funding of election boards and infrastructure would begin to rebuild respect for the battered democratic process.

Repealing the Hatch Act, which denies 3.5 million organized federal government workers the right to run for public office would help more African-American, Latino and women workers take seats in government.

4) Rank-and-file union democracy

Union members are the grassroots power of the union movement. Even with the positive changes taking place in labor, building rank-and-file participation and union democracy are key tasks.

The best guarantee is a militant shop steward system backed by a grievance procedure giving the union the authority to settle beefs in the workplace. Corporate lawyers and negotiators have helped shift the grievance system away from the shop or workplace floor. Too many issues are ‘resolved’ away from the shop or workplace floor. Too many issues are ‘resolved’ in arbitration in offices rather than by workers on the job. This takes the rank-and-file power of the union membership out of the process. It also ties up valuable union staff time in lawyer-like work rather than mobilizing and involving the membership in enforcing the contract.

Lack of attendance at union meetings and activities is a warning sign that union democracy is in trouble. It is the responsibility of union leadership to ensure that the union is not a ‘business’ relationship of mailings and dues. Real union democracy means that the members set policy.

Union democracy means better ways of mobilizing and involving members in the work of the union. Some unions are now experimenting with part-time and volunteer organizers from the ranks. This needs to be greatly expanded. Even more, unions need to bring the issues of the day to the shop floor. Members have to be mobilized for elections, demonstrations, solidarity actions, mass protests, and organizing.

Union democracy also means beefing up health and safety enforcement on the shop floor. The right to refuse unsafe and unhealthy work is critical.

5) Jobs & job security

Boom and bust cycles and economic crisis are permanent features of capitalism. As this draft program is written, a new, possibly severe, economic downturn is looming. The steel and auto industries, as well as much of manufacturing, are already in crisis. Plant closings and thousands of layoffs are daily news items. As the unemployment lines get longer, workers everywhere are asking, “Will my job be next?”

We are faced with all the signs of a classic capitalist crisis of overproduction. Crisis of overproduction is misleading. There is a crying need for steel, for transportation, for housing, for hospitals, schools, and for most things that mass production industries make. The crisis is, in part, that working families cannot buy back the goods they make.

Labor needs to champion production priorities that rebuild our country and our infrastructure. Bridges, roads, dams, sewer systems, schools, low cost housing, and hospitals are examples of what needs building. New priorities must also include investment in social needs like education, health care, housing and child care to name a few.

This kind of useful production priorities does not generate the highest rates of profit. If the corporations do not want to make what is needed, then rather than allow plant closings we should consider public ownership for the common good. Already in California there are proposals in the legislature for public ownership of energy to ensure this vital resource for the people.

There are many demands that can help save and create jobs, some are:

  • A Rebuild America Infrastructure Act
  • Shorter hours with no cut in pay.
  • Heavily tax and close loopholes for overseas capital investments.
  • Unemployment compensation for the entire duration of layoff to be paid for by taxes on windfall corporate profits.
  • Make large corporations maintain health care and pension contributions for their workers who are victims of layoffs or plant closings.
  • Corporations that receive subsidies and tax abatements should be forced to repay them if they shut down or move plants.

In addition, labor has to continue to fight for the overall needs of working families in times of economic crisis. This includes such things as energy price relief and making it illegal to cut off heat and utilities.

6) International labor solidarity

Capitalist globalization is a fact of life. Giant multinational corporations and banks span the globe in their drive for maximum profits forcing workers into what the AFL-CIO calls “a race to the bottom.” New and creative forms of international labor solidarity are critical. World solidarity actions by longshore unions in defense of longshore unions in England and Australia, and actions in support of the WTO protests in Seattle, are fine examples.

US corporations and banks are aided in their world plunder by the American government and military. The CIA, the State Department and the military have often intervened to help break unions and democratic movements that challenge US big business interests around the world. Recent discussions in some AFL-CIO central labor councils questioning the role of labor in supporting such efforts in Chile and asking for a nationwide discussion in labor of similar union activities is most welcome. It is time for labor to have a deeper discussion of international relations and foreign policy.

Labor and capital do not have the same international interests. Globalization led by corporations and imperialist goals means misery and global union busting for working families everywhere. Globalizing social and economic justice means international labor solidarity and respect for each country’s rights to develop as they chose.

Cold war anti-Communism was used to split the world labor movement at the end of World War II. Globalization is forcing all sides to reconsider world labor unity. There is growing awareness that unity must be based on a common fight against the multinational corporations and not on ideological agreements.

7) Socialism

Did you ever wonder why unions have to fight the same battles over and over again? Why is that what is won never stays won? Is this the best way we can do things? Do we really require the giant monopoly corporations and banks siphoning off the wealth “that they never toiled to earn”?

Capitalism only works for the privileged few. A tiny percentage gets most of the wealth and the basic needs of millions go unmet. Adequate health care, decent housing and education and even enough to eat are out of the reach of millions of children and families. Even those who have decent jobs are plagued with economic insecurity, crime, pollution and decaying cities and towns.

In the early days of the American labor movement many unions and labor leaders called for socialism as the solution to the exploitation, racism and misery of the working class. Socialism and labor have common roots in the struggle for economic and social justice for all workers. Many great labor leaders like Eugene V. Debs and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn were passionate advocates of socialism. Unions in most other countries, including Europe, Asia, Africa and South America officially call for socialism.

It is time for a serious discussion of alternatives to capitalist exploitation and greed. We advocate Bill of Rights Socialism based on the revolutionary and democratic traditions of our country. Socialism is based on the idea that the democratic majority who create our nations wealth should own it and say how that wealth is used for the common good.

We invite your comments, your criticisms and your ideas.



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