Report on Cesar Chavez Holiday

BY:Evelina Alarcon| September 26, 2001

Report to the National Committee

These are exciting and challenging times. Jarvis’s report captured that. Last Saturday in Los Angeles close to 2,000 people came out to the Federal Building to demand that every vote be counted. Today another demonstration will be held. Our District held an emergency meeting to get everyone involved in moving our unions, organizations, friends and family into this fight for democracy.

I like the spirit of what Jarvis said in his report, that the people’s forces have only begun to fight. I believe that this battle for democracy will carry over and overlap into every arena of struggle from now on.

California election

In California, we feel that we did our part to stop Bush and the extreme right. Republican governors ruled California for sixteen years and they gave working families, racial minorities, women, seniors and youth hell. Eleven days ago, at the polls, Californians gave it back to them.

Governor Bush loved to say, don’t mess with Texas. Well, on election day, Californians said back to him, you son of a Bush, don’t mess with California. What occurred in our state was even at a higher level than the labor defeat of Proposition 226, the paycheck deception measure in 1998. Everything moved up notches electorally with organizing and coalition building that outdid even the electoral work to elect Democrat Governor Gray Davis. All the millions that Bush put into advertising didn’t work. Working families led the way. Gore beat Bush by 12 points, 53.5% to 41.7%. In LosAngeles, Gore won 65% of the vote.

As the Florida battle began, Bush and Republicans pointed to the 1.2million absentee ballots still left to be counted in California. They said that Gore’s winning of the popular vote was very likely temporary because those absentees would be conservative voters. Well 753,000 of those 1.2 million ballots have been counted now and Gore’s lead is still climbing.

Defeating the Extreme Right

The day after the election a headline on the front page of the Los Angeles Times said, ‘California Elections Profile: Shift toward the Left takes firm hold.’ It is understandable why they said that. Because down the line, the people of California kicked the extreme right Republicans up one side of their face and down the other. From the presidential race, to the US Senate, to the Congress, to the State legislature, to the Propositions, California voters put the hurt to the extreme right. A page three headline of the LA Times this week read, ‘State Republicans find waking up is hard to do.’ The article leads off saying, ‘TheRepublican Party has gotten many wake up calls from California voters in recent elections, but last week’s should have bounced it out of bed. Out of bed with the religious right, the gun worshipers and the polluters.’ The article describes how exit polls showed that California voters in this election rejected Republicans because they rejected extreme right policies.

The fight to take back the Congress

In the battle for Congress, Southern California had more labor targeted seats than anywhere in the country. Out of four targeted Congressional races for defeating Republican incumbents, labor/community efforts succeeded in defeating three. GOP representatives: Rogan, Kuykendahl in Los Angeles, and Brian Bilbray in San Diego bit the dust. Two of the three victors are women now heading to the Congress. I don’t have to tell you what kind of an effort that represented . You know how hard it is just to defeat one Republican incumbent.

Congressman James Rogan was one of the vicious extreme right prosecutors of President Clinton. More money was spent in this race than anywhere in the country. It was an all out battle to take away a seat in a longstanding Republican district who’s demographics have now changed with more racial minorities. Rogan couldn’t believe what hit him on election night. He refused to concede that night even though he had lost to Democrat Adam Schiff by 9 points, 53% to 44 %.

Congressman Brian Bilbray’s defeat by Assemblywoman Susan Davis in conservative San Diego was also a tremendous victory unexpected by most. The primary had indicated that Bilbray was vulnerable but only a tremendous outpouring of mobilization could topple this well-entrenched Republican. This marks a real turning point for the San Diego labor movement in electoral struggle.

Democrat Jane Harmon’s narrow victory in the Los Angeles harbor was a cliffhanger but once again labor power made the difference. On election day, the President and Executive Secretary Treasurer of the State Federation of Labor, the top leaders of the LA County Federation and a huge mobilization of local labor leaders and members were in this district because this was so close. These efforts pushed her over the top with the election not declared until the next day.

Trade unionist Gerrie Schipske in the Long Beach area lost her race to defeat Republican Congressman Steve Horn by only 1% of the vote, a little over 1200 votes. Had the Democratic Party not pulled out of this race, she certainly would have won. It was Labor and Latino mobilization in this district that worked a miracle in nearly winning this seat as well.

When you add to the three Congressional victories in Southern California the taking away of a Republican Congressional seat in San Jose by trade unionist State Senator Mike Honda, four out of five targeted Republican incumbents in California went down in flames by labor/community efforts.

Democrat U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein also squashed her opponent GOP Congressman Tom Campbell.

Republicans lost in the state legislature. They gained four seats in the State Assembly and now lead the GOP with 33 seats to 19. In the State Senate, one seat was gained by Democrats, just one vote shy of a supermajority which can override a Governor’s veto. This means that Democrats call the shots on reapportionment in the state with the largest Congressional delegation.

On the propositions, school vouchers were defeated by 71%. A measure to make it possible to vote for bonds for schools by majority vote rather than by a 2/3 vote passed. And very significant is that Proposition 36, a measure to provide non violent drug offenders with drug treatment and probation rather than prison, passed by 61%.

In the city of Santa Monica, a labor/community coalition led the defeat of a so called living wage measure which in reality would have restricted the living wage ordinance to sixty workers and prevented the majority of low income workers from getting the living wage. The coalition took on the big hotels of Santa Monica and big business and won overwhelmingly laying the foundation for an effort to win a minimum wage.

The election champions

Labor, Latinos, African Americans and women were the real champions of the California victory. Where the Democratic Party did not fill it’s role–labor, racial minorities and women did. Women voted for Gore in California by an 18% margin. In the three targeted congressional districts in Los Angeles, Latino GOTV organizations had a parallel operation to what the labor movement was doing to turn out the union household vote. African American organizations had special GOTV efforts in the inner city and in other African American communities in the county.

Los Angeles coalition

The monumental victories which are occurring in Los Angeles electorally and in the workplace are because of the coalition building that the labor movement is doing with the Latino and African American community. In Los Angeles, the Labor Federation not only targeted three congressional districts but it had organized 250 volunteers to help State Senator Hilda Solis win her Congressional seat by turning out the union household and Latino vote.

SEIU built a labor/community coalition targeting 36,000 Latino immigrant voters. They also built a civil rights/labor coalition to turn out the African American vote. The teachers unions worked day and night to defeat the voucher measure including involving parents and the community.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor really gets it that the Latino and African American communities are working class communities and they are working it. They have coalesced with faith based leaders and organizations, with civil rights and immigrant rights group. They produced over 20,000 people at a rally for amnesty for undocumented workers. The result of labor’s coalition efforts is that Gore won Los Ang eles County with 65% of the vote. Vouchers bit the dust in LA by 73%. Labor did this while thousands of workers were holding strikes and engaged in contract battles. The transit strike, Screen Actors Guild strike and ,earlier, the janitors strike built coalitions. County workers were conducting rolling work stoppages for a week all over Los Angeles in their negotiations. Hotel and restaurant workers fought downtown and in Santa Monica.

And in the midst of all of this, an official state holiday was won for farm worker leader Cesar Chavez. While California cannot rest on its laurels, because we too must join the fight for democracy to stop Bush from stealing the election, the labor and people’s movement can certainly celebrate a stupendous job well done in our state.

We in the Party can also be proud because our members were involved in all the targeted electoral efforts, in strike support and in winning the holiday. Our experience in coalition building has grown tremendously. Today, there is no greater mission for us than to participate in building these coalitions across the country to pressure the extreme right, to win on the issues, to fight for democracy. There is lots of room to move to the offensive. We’ve only begun to fight.


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