Political Report to Washington State CPUSA Convention May 12, 2001

BY:Marc Brodine| May 21, 2002

Political Report to Washington State CPUSA Convention May 12, 2001, Seattle, Washington

By Marc Brodine, State Chair

Greetings, delegates and guests. I want to thank all of you for coming, for devoting this day to making plans for stepping up the many struggles we are engaged in. I particularly want to thank all who came from out of town-from Tacoma, from Bellingham, from Pullman, from Olympia, from the Kitsap Peninsula, from Southwest Washington, from far and from near. You will help us make a new start on our job of building a statewide Party, involved with worker’s struggles in every part of our state. I want to encourage all of you, whether you have been a member of our Party for 60 years or are a guest coming to their first Communist meeting today, to fully participate in the discussion, in the workshops, and in the debates. I again want to welcome new members who have joined over the past six months, including several former members who have jumped back into our activities, who have already made a difference.

I want to pay tribute to the delegates here from our heroic generation, comrades who helped organize unions and win unemployment insurance and Social Security in the 30s, who fought fascism in the early 40s, who battled and survived McCarthyism in the late 40s and 50s, and who have participated in the important movements and struggles ever sincethe Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the fight for democracy against Nixon and the Watergate conspirators, surviving and fighting Reagan and Bush the First, opposing the Gulf War, and too many other battles to name. We all owe them a debt of gratitude, for the battles they fought and won, and for the contributions to the working class they have made from determination, dedication, and sheer guts. To all our older comrades, thank you.

George W., the Selected, Unelected Resident, Shrub, Junior Bush, the Thief-in-Chief, Mr. Arsenic himself, is presiding over attempts to drive our country far to the right, even as growing economic problems are forcing workers to look for more fundamental, left solutions to our unfair, unequal, unstable, unsustainable economic system.

Bush’s ‘solutions’ are a giant tax cut for the rich, huge increases in war spending, forcing through a boondoggle of a ‘missile defense’ system that will break the ABM Treaty, drilling for oil no matter what the environmental consequences, destroying as much as possible of what is left of the social safety net.

Bush seems personally stupid, and the reasons he and his cronies spout in public to justify their policies are also stupid. But that doesn’t mean that the policies themselves are stupid. Their policies are smart-not for the people of our country, but for the rich, for the multi-national corporations, for the military-industrial complex.

I’d like to quote from the call to our National Convention: ‘Unless this assault is rebuffed by the American people, democratic rights, including the right to vote, to strike and to organize, will be severely curtailed. Racial and gender oppression will be intensified to the extreme. The environment will be savaged. The war danger will grow. Living standards and job opportunities will dramatically shrink. And obscene corporate profits will continue to be extracted from the unrelenting exploitation of our nation’s working class. It is no exaggeration to say that our nation is at a crossroads. One road leads to democratic renewal and social progress; the other to economic misery, racism, restriction of rights and liberties, and even the possibility of war.’

Here in the Northwest, we are seeing the death of ‘Northwest Exceptionalism,’ the idea that the economy in our state and region are exempt from the dangers of the business cycle. We were supposed to ride aerospace and software into the high-tech future, millionaires blossoming all over the place.

This was always an illusion, a lie which never matched the reality faced by millions of workers, of paychecks that won’t buy houses where people work, of poverty hidden behind a supposedly ‘booming’ economy, of two-paycheck families unable to afford basic healthcare, of workers with two and three jobs fighting a losing struggle against the ever-rising prices of basic necessities. Even as our region spawned more millionaires and billionaires, we also spawned more poverty, deprivation, lack of health care, and rising housing, transportation, food, medical and other costs.

Even as the Fed under Alan Greenspan boasts of keeping inflation ‘under control,’ an approximate 1 % rise in the costs of food per year, spread over a decade, turns into a more than 10% rise in the cost of living, at a time when wages for the vast majority have stagnated at best. This is the same as a wage cut.

Now, even the illusion is crumbling. Boeing is moving its executive offices out of Washington State, to make it easier to close first the Renton Boeing plant, then undoubtedly other facilities. Microsoft stock tumbled along with virtually all the supposed ‘new economy’ stocks. Dot.coms are closing at a rate of five to ten a week in the Puget Sound area. The 1% office vacancy rate of two years ago has become the 8%-and-rising vacancy rate. Overbuilding, overconfidence, and overnight successes are now taking their toll.

Companies faced with falling profits and declining revenues are implementing layoff schemes, proposing that workers voluntarily accept pay cuts, demanding that workers pay their own health care costs, closing offices and plants, and wiggling out of paying their fair share of taxes. The end result is that workers will once again bear the brunt of the economic system, as they do in good times and bad.

The capitalist’s ‘solution’ is ‘Free Trade,’ as exemplified by the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), another ‘NAFTA on steroids’ scheme to drive down wages, working conditions, environmental protections. This is another effort to pit the workers of each country against the workers of all countries in a drive for the lowest possible common denominator for everyone, a drive to the lowest payrolls and highest profits for the already obscenely super-rich.

At the same time, our state political leaders, Republican and Democrat alike, stuck in a budget bind by the phony, right-wing ‘tax revolt’ initiatives of Tim Eyman and his ilk, are cutting support for medical coverage, for state employee salaries and benefits, for social programs, for any and all benefits for working people. While it would have been much worse with Carlson as Governor, it is bad enough with Locke.

These policies, national and state, taken together, are a recipe for forcing hundreds of thousands of workers and their families in our state into deeper poverty.

On a national level, the desire of the most reactionary sections of the capitalist class to implement these regressive policies were the real motivation behind the anti-democratic theft of votes in the last election.

In these days of attacks on democracy, of growing economic hardship, of intensifying class battles, the working class needs to be increasingly conscious of itself and of its power, both real and potential. The working class needs our Party to be one of its weapons in the class battles, to provide connections to other struggles, to point out the importance of stepping up the fight against racism, to organize solidarity, to help craft winning strategies, to help build coalitions and then build coalitions of coalitions, to argue for the needs of our class as a whole, to provide continuity, and to explain the links between current day struggles and socialism.

The Party brings its strategy of building an anti-monopoly coalition to the movements we participate in. In fighting for building unity in those movements and between them, we seek to place each struggle within the widest context, to present the route to building the broadest unity. ‘Defeating the Ultra-Right’ is our strategic task.

We are criticized for our anti-monopoly approach, as if this is in contradiction to advocating a socialist solution to the problems facing our class. To some, this is the essence of our ‘revisionism.’ But this is a false dichotomy-it isn’t reform or revolution, it’s how to we work to connect them.

We work to build militancy, solidarity, class consciousness. But militancy is not an end in itself. I want to quote from an upcoming book from International Publishers, ‘Fiddle & Fight,’ by Russell Brodine, about his years organizing symphony musicians.

‘All during my early years in the orchestra, I strove to encourage more militancy in order to give the orchestra a voice, a good loud voice, for our common interests. Militancy, however, is not important for its own sake. The more timid and less vocal have to be encouraged to move forward, and sometimes the more militant have to hold back for the sake of speaking to management with one voice.’

The changes that have taken place in the labor movement, that are still taking place, have a huge significance for our class. But the developments are not even, not smooth, not without continued struggle and setbacks, like the actions of the Carpenter’s Union, like the support that Hoffa of the Teamsters is giving to Bush’s oil drilling plans. We can’t take progressive changes in labor for granted. We have to keep fighting for unity. Militancy is part of the direction, it is not the whole answer.

In times of crisis, the right wing steps up efforts to build fascist organizations, to provide people with reactionary answers to their search for solutions to the crisis. They will become even more shrill in their scapegoating of immigrants, of people of color, of the women’s movement, of unions, of gays and lesbians, of communists and radicals, of any and all groups that can be made to seem different. They will use demagogy to provide false solutions to real problems, substituting blame for solidarity.

The center of our fight for unity, the essential building block for making any significant progress in any major struggle, is waging a constant, serious battle against racism and for full equality for our class brothers and sisters who are racially and nationally oppressed. Racism is the main wedge the right wing uses to divide workers and their allies, the main prejudice they attempt to whip up to keep us from seeing our common interests. This is not a struggle for white workers to engage in only out of moral opposition to racism, though that is part of the struggle. It is not something that white workers need to engage in to help out someone else, it is first and foremost a struggle for all workers of all colors and nationalities to engage in because it is in their self-interest, because without that fight, we will never build the multi-racial, multi-national unity of our class which is needed to win any major victories.

And victories are possible. The example of winning the Caesar Chavez Holiday in California is one important example. The fight for this holiday honoring a union leader will be waged in more states, and then nationally; our state should be one of the next. This was a Party-initiated movement in California. It can be here too.

The introduction of HB 1564, the Infrastructure Bill, gives us an opportunity to wage a fight for jobs not jails, for union wages not sub-minimum wages, for rebuilding our country rather than consigning present and future generations to collapsing schools, collapsing bridges, collapsing highways, and collapsing opportunities. We can build on the work we did promoting the Martinez Jobs Bill to organize support for HB 1564. As economic problems multiply, the need for living wage jobs is clear, and we can provide them and at the same time rebuild our country’s infrastructure.

Another crucial class battle started and is centered in the south, but is already having national and international repercussions. The struggle to free the Charleston 5, International Longshoreman’s Association local union leaders who are being railroaded on conspiracy charges, is uniting dockworkers on the East Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the West Coast. There will be an important demonstration in South Carolina on June 9th. But even more important, dockworkers on all three coasts are planning to shut down the ports on the first day of the trial. Dockworkers in some other countries are planning to shut down their ports in solidarity. This is an international solidarity in action. We need to get resolutions passed in our local unions and organizations; we need to be a part of efforts to build local support committees. This must become a campaign which the whole Party participates in. This campaign can build multi-racial unity, can build union solidarity, can unite the labor movement with allies in the African-American community.

Later in June, the 21st to 23rd, a National Conference of Pride@work, a network of gay and lesbian union activists, will be held in Everett. I urge your attendance at and support for this conference to demonstrate our commitment to human rights for all workers, for all people, a symbol of the changes we need to make to integrate into our work support for the struggles of gay and lesbian workers for equal treatment, full legal and social rights, for an end to malicious harassment and oppression.

The founding of the Alliance of Retired Americans is another significant development. It brings together union retirees, senior organizations, and community groups to fight the Bush program of privatizing Social Security, of gutting Medicare and Medicaid, which will consign millions of seniors to poverty, inadequate health care, deteriorating living conditions, and premature death.

On a more personal note, today, May 12th, is the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. Virginia Brodine was a novelist, environmentalist, Party leader, and someone who had an unflagging persistence, a determination to get things done. She wrote papers and gave speeches that exemplified her world-class, groundbreaking Marxist theoretical work on the environment, and then volunteered to make phone calls to turn out a few more people for the next city council hearing in Roslyn. She cooked the waffles for many breakfasts where people gathered to get to know one another better, to find common ground, and she wrote a novel, Seed of the Fire, which though ignored by the mainstream media, will live longer than most of the self-absorbed, petty-bourgeois crap that passes for fiction these days. If she were still alive, she would be present here with us today, as she is in spirit. For me, it is a fitting tribute to her to participate in this convention today.


    Marc Brodine is Chair of the Washington State CPUSA. A former AFSCME member and local officer, he is currently an artist and guitar player. Marc writes on environmental issues and answers many web site questions. Marc is the author of an extended essay on Marxist philosophy and the environment, titled Dialectics of Climate Change.

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