Report on the 2002 Elections

February 22, 2002

Report given to the National Committee

1. Nature of Campaign 2002

Even as George W. Bush was delivering his chilling war buildup state of the union address, filled with empty words about jobs, education and health care, a bus load of Enron workers robbed of their jobs was wending its way from Texas to Washington, D.C. ‘The morning after’ these courageous workers entered the halls of Congress to demand a full investigation of Enron, and immediate survival for themselves.

George W. Bush’s speech was the opening shot for the Republican campaign blitz of 2002, but it was not the last word. The last word in these elections resides in union halls and community centers, in voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, and in the struggles of everyday working people heating up across this country for decent jobs, retirement security, affordable housing, equal, quality public education, and health care coverage.

The steelworkers from LTV who camped in the nation’s capitol are shaping the elections 2002 fight. So are the low income and no income mothers who testified at Capitol Hill for expansion of welfare entitlements. And the thousands of Alliance for Retired Americans members who flooded the White House with phone calls to protect social security immediately following the State of the Union address. And the young people who marched in the streets of New York to protest the World Economic Forum. And the school workers who won their strike in Jefferson Village, Ohio. And the Vermont Legislature, which just killed a bill to implement the National Missile Defense System, also is shaping the elections 2002 fight.

George W. Bush is depending on whipping up a war frenzy and an anti-terrorist hysteria to keep attentions distracted from the right-wing program of tax gifts to the wealthy, free reign to corporate greed, billions to the military, racial profiling and denial of constitutional rights. He is counting on high ratings in the polls based on a desire to be patriotic in a time of war.

But the concept of patriotism is undergoing deep scrutiny now, in the midst of the economic downturn and the Enron scandal. While polls show 80% approval for the war, they also show the top priority is the economy. It is under cover of the war abroad that the economic war on the people at home is being carried out. The weakness of the Democrats in not fighting all-out for full measures for working and unemployed families and in supporting the war drive leaves the door open for the right-wing.

Bush is throwing the entire burden onto the working-class. His budget pushes the economic crisis onto the states. The majority of states are themselves in a deficit, and the crisis is pushed onto the cities and towns, resulting in a sharp rise in child poverty and the inability for families to make ends meet. Soup Kitchens are running out of food, homeless shelters are overflowing, food pantries are empty before the end of the month arrives, health clinics are underfunded. Job losses since September 11 have hit African American and Latino workers hardest, especially women, and many single heads of household.

Bush and the Republicans who call themselves ‘moderates’ must be unmasked and exposed. Every Representative who voted for the House stimulus bill which gave seven billion dollars to IBM, GM, Enron and 13 other corporate giants should be held publicly accountable for that outrage. Anyone who voted for that bill is not a ‘moderate’. Any Republican Governor who is cutting programs in their state instead of demanding that Congress pass a massive revenue sharing program so states can avoid cuts in the recession is not a ‘moderate’. Handouts to corporations do not create jobs. They worsen the situation by taking funds from people and programs in great need.

Members of Congress should be held accountable now on the Bush budget. Bush proposes increasing the military budget by $46 billion, bringing the total to $397 billion, more than the combined military spending of the entire rest of the world. It cuts job training, community development, some education programs and help to children and families. It accelerates and makes permanent the tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting corporate taxes (such as the alternative minimum tax). This budget is not ‘moderate’. It is cruel, unfair and unacceptable.

The 2002 elections present a serious tactical challenge. The Democrats’ eagerness to stand with Bush on the war has left them weakened in any fight on the economy, and drawn them into support for the chilling US Patriot Act. This is not a winning prescription.

Bush and the Republicans are working hard to create divisions within labor on environment and public education issues, and within the African American and Latino communities. In California and other states the Republicans are appealing to the Latino leadership. But the Republican English Only and anti-immigrant initiatives of the past are well remembered. The new dimensions of racial profiling since September 11 under the banner of Homeland Security have created an atmosphere of repression.

In his response to the State of the Union address, John Sweeney reiterated that labor stands with the President in the war on terrorism, while rejecting the budget cuts and lack of relief for working families. His statement reflects the horror and the pain of the loss of so many union members at the World Trade Center.

However, the class interests of union members and all working people are not served by wanton attacks on other countries to gain geographic and military hegemony in the service of corporate expansion. The Bush doctrine will not make this country or the world safer for anyone except possibly for a few transnational profiteer buddies. The war on working people at home is interconnected with the Bush war policy.

Last week, speaking during the World Economic Forum counter activities, Sweeney said, ‘We are here to up the ante in the fight to include workers’ rights and human rights and a livable environment in every trade agreement, and to make them a part of the fiber of every world financial institution.’ He continued, ‘Another world is possible. A world that is free from hunger. A world where human rights come first. Where children go to school, not to work. Where women are respected, not repressed. Where workers are empowered and corporations are held accountable.’

Objectively, this approach is a direct challenge to the Bush doctrine. It provides an opening to strengthen the united front against the extreme-right in the 2002 elections.

There is opposition to the Bush war policy within the ranks of labor. Our national peace and solidarity conference has the important task of developing the tactics to raise up peaceful alternatives against terrorism, and to connect with the growing voices of reason coming from communities of color and union members.

In the 2000 election we said the stakes were high. They are even higher in 2002. Control of the House and Senate, 36 Governors and many State Legislatures will be decided. Will Bush’s militarization of the world and the country be strengthened, or will the Bush doctrine be weakened? Will relief be delivered to the unemployed and impoverished, or will relief be denied? Will civil liberties and civil rights be trampled or will Constitutional Rights be upheld?

When all is said and done, the results on November 5 will be viewed as a referendum on the policies of Bush as well as Congress. What happens at the grass-roots of labor, at the grass-roots of African American and Latino communities and communities of color, what happens at the grass-roots of women’s, environmental, senior and youth organizations will be the determining factor. The determining factor not only in who gets elected, but also in the ongoing struggles to win new demands post-election day.

2. What it Takes to Win

The labor movement is gearing up to do more and better in this election, and is actively reaching out to the people’s organizations that joined together in 2000. The goal is to finally wrest the House of Representatives out of Republican control and increase the Democratic majority in the Senate. In addition, there are many important Governor and State Legislature contests.

This is a fight that can be won. But it will take a very high level of unity and mobilization.

Among the left and progressives in our country, everyone does not share this assessment of the 2002 elections. There are some who have given up before the fight begins, because they consider the elections a foregone conclusion. There are others who reject the electoral struggle altogether, on the grounds that it is a waste of time. There are some who, recognizing the bankruptcy of the Democratic leadership, underestimate the danger of the extreme right and fail to see the significance of a Republican defeat. Some are taken in by the ‘moderate Republican’ facade. And some have fallen prey to deadly racist divisiveness, most recently in the New York Mayor’s race.

One certain lesson of the 2000 elections was that the right-wing will stop at nothing to take elections. The bar is raised on the level of multi-racial unity and ideological unity needed to defeat the right-wing. In this regard, our Party can make a qualitative contribution to the outcome of the 2002 elections. Our tactics and our message, our literature and publications, our actions in union, community and peace organizations must all be geared toward raising the level of unity to defeat the extreme right-wing.

The discussion Sam presents in his report to the National Board, drawing upon Lenin’s admonition of the necessity to build the broadest alliances deserves careful thought and attention.

We cannot defeat the Republican right-wing onslaught in a vacuum. The Democrat Party does not have the fighting program to defeat the right-wing. At the same time, left and labor forces are not now strong enough to defeat the right-wing without utilizing the Democrat Party. The issue is not illusions about the Democrat Party. The issue is building up a strong and united enough labor and peoples front to topple the dominance of the Republican right-wing, and in so doing build up a lasting people’s political movement, independent of corporate control.

3. Priority Races

Since the Labor 96 election campaign, the AFL-CIO has been developing a political machinery independent of the Democratic Party. In each election, new lessons are learned, and tactics are refined and developed.

In the 2000 elections, in areas with union density – a large number of union members – the union vote made the difference. The Labor 2000 operation – voter registration, flyers and speaking to workers at the workplace, visiting and calling workers at home– resulted in a 51 to 50 balance in the Senate. Without labor the Senate would likely be 61 Republicans and 39 Democrats today. The union vote is decisive beyond its own members, extending to the families, the churches and communities where union members live and participate. The areas that the Republicans carried are where union membership is weak.

The AFL-CIO came to the conclusion that organizing unorganized workers into unions is part and parcel of electing pro-worker candidates to public office. No candidate will receive union endorsement without pledging specifically how, in their district, they will encourage and support the right of workers to win union representation.

In order to make the union difference in this year’s elections, the AFL-CIO has targeted 69 House districts where there is a close race and also a high union density. This list of national priorities is geared toward winning at least six additional seats in the House, and also critical Senate and Governor races. This expression of labor’s political independence deserves our full support.

Additional races which will be prioritized at the local level by labor, allies, and ourselves; where we have organization, and with strong pro-labor, African American, Mexican American, Latino, and Asian American candidates such as Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Barbara Lee. Our priority races should be determined locally, based on where we can make a qualitative difference and build Communist Party clubs at the grass roots.

House of Representatives: There are 221 Republicans, 211 Democrats and 2 Independents in the House of Representatives. For the Democrats to gain control, they need at least six more seats. 23 incumbents – 15 Republicans and 8 Democrats – are not seeking re-election. There will also be open and new and combined House seats as a result of redistricting. Ten states lost seats and eight states gained seats. Redistricting plans are not yet complete in 19 states.

U.S. Senate: There are 34 Senate seats up for election: 20 now held by Democrats; 14 now held by Republicans. We can rejoice that Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Phil Gramm are retiring but the question is what will happen in those districts now?

Among the progressives up for re-election are Paul Wellstone (MN) and Jean Carnahan (MO).

Governors: There are 36 Governor seats up for election. There are 18 open seats, where the Governor is term limited or retiring – 7 Democrats, 10 Republicans, 1 Independent. There are 18 Governors up for re-election – 4 Democrats, 13 Republicans, and 1 Independent.

The AFL-CIO has prioritized 28 Governor races. Of special significance is the effort to defeat Jeb Bush (R) in Florida. Also, George Pataki (R) in New York. Already, the re-election campaign of Gray Davis (D) in California is well underway, as the California primary is March 5.
Big battles are brewing in Michigan where Congressman David Bonier is running for an open Governor’s seat, and in Pennsylvania where there is the possibility to elect a Democrat to the Governor’s seat formerly held by John Ridge (R). There are also important battles at the State Legislative level, such as Tony Hill for State Senate in Florida, a labor leader and leader in the affirmative action and voting rights battles.

4. Immediate and longer term

Certainly, we would not be making our special contribution to this crucial election if we were to approach our task in simply a narrow, immediate way. This gigantic election battle must be put into the broader context of the fight for an expansion of democratic rights, voter rights and voter participation. It must be put into the context of building political independence of labor and allies. In addition to union-based get-out-the-vote drives, what does political independence of labor and allies encompass?

Perhaps in the first place, it means adding more Mike Honda’s to Congress – electing more union leaders and activists to public office. The AFL-CIO overfulfilled its goal of 2000 elected officials by the year 2000. The new goal is Target 5000. Where possible, we should contribute to the number of union activists running for public office. Two delegates to the Milwaukee Central Labor Council are already campaigning, one for School Board (Annie Wacker) and one for the Common Council (Joe Dudzik). In Los Angeles, the past political director for the LA County Federation of Labor is a candidate for State Assembly (46th District, Fabian Nunez); and the past general manager for SEIU Local 660 (county workers) is a candidate for State Senate (22nd, Gil Cedillo)

A more advanced aspect of political independence is pro-worker electoral formations outside the Democratic Party. A growing example is the Working Families Party, which has established itself in New York, doubled its vote in two years time, and is now expanding into Connecticut and other states. Election law in Connecticut does not allow petitioning candidates to run on more than one line, so the tactic is to run as many as 60 candidates for State Representative around the state with the goal of getting at least one percent of the vote and winning minor party status in those districts. Then in the next election, the Working Families Party can cross-endorse candidates in other Parties who adopt the Working Families program. Western Connecticut Labor Council president Blair Bertaccini will be one of those candidates. In Vermont, going beyond Bernie Sanders, is the new Vermont Progressive Party, which received 10% of the vote for governor and won 4 representatives in the last election. Mike Bayer sits on their state committee.

What about the Green Party? In the last election, we sharply differed with Ralph Nader and local campaigns which played into the hands of the Republican right-wing by aiming the main fire at the Democrats. We were favorable to those local races which fit into the overall tactic of defeating the ultra-right. This should continue to be our approach. Green Party candidates represent a wide continuum of political views and philosophy. At the city level, a number of Green candidates elected are playing a positive role for living wage ordinances, environmental protection and other measures.

Problems continue this year. In California, ‘Moderate’ Republican Reardon is leading in the polls against Democrat Governor Gray Davis who is labor endorsed. The Green Party Gubernatorial candidate is focusing his main attack on Davis for the energy crisis, in a way reminiscent of Ralph Nader’s attacks on Al Gore.

In Pennsylvania, Green Party Gubernatorial candidate Mike Morrill is a long-time community organizer. There is a big push in the state to defeat the Republican governor. If the Morrill campaign focuses its attack on the Republican, it could move the debate to the left and contribute to a pro-labor victory. If the campaign ignores the possibility to defeat the ultra-right, it could play a negative role.

The saying goes that if you’re not in it, you can’t win it. And that applies to Communists running for public office. Our success rate is excellent, but much too small. Those who have run for office in recent years have often been elected or appointed to local posts, especially when running as part of a coalition ticket.

As the labor movement looks for candidates, as new political forms develop, we should systematically search out opportunities to run for school boards, city councils and other local offices. Communists in public office make a big contribution to the fight for working class solutions, especially in the current crisis. As Councilwoman Denise Weinbrenner Edwards might say, holding office gives us a much deeper experience in running government, challenging corporate monopoly, and building broad alliances.

Perhaps the most far-reaching contribution we can make to building political independence is building strong and active Communist Party clubs rooted in working class communities. The elections provide an excellent opportunity for contributing to the defeat of the extreme-right wing while sowing the seeds for new growth of the Communist Party.

When our neighborhood clubs register unorganized workers and get out the vote, it is a great compliment to the labor movement’s focus on getting union members out to vote. The Peoples Weekly World door-to-door is an important tool to establish lasting relationships. This method helped elect a Puerto Rican and an African American candidate in Hartford, who became the strongest fighters against police brutality and for ending child poverty by taxing the rich. The voting blocs established in these neighborhoods are looked to for votes and also for leadership on issues.

5. Bigger demands

The economic downturn has widened the support for more basic demands. In turn, more basic demands will inspire more voters to come to the polls.

In the last weeks Enron workers have called for job-to-job unemployment benefits. Steel workers have called for eminent domain and for public ownership – including in Utah. Californians have called for public ownership of energy. Students in Philadelphia have walked out for full funding for public education. The economic rights movement in Connecticut has called for a ‘surcharge on millionaires’.

The shame and outrage is that real economic recovery for working families has not been addressed in Congress. The best proposals for expanded and extended unemployment and health insurance, and for infrastructure job creation never made it to the floor. This fight must not be abandoned. It now merges with the budget battle.

National Committee member Pat Highsmith couldn’t be here today. As a steelworker fighting against a possible plant shutdown she posed the question for this report: ‘Are we supposed to accept that industrial jobs are gone and just go back to washing floors, or are we going to demand that good jobs be created?’

This is not the time to settle for unacceptable compromises. This is a moment that calls for organizing around more basic solutions. The arrogance of Enron owners and the enormity of their crime are changing how people view the rights of corporations, and capitalism. The growing movement against international financial institutions is changing how people view corporate accountability. Just two months after September 11, Pratt & Whitney workers struck successfully for language that requires the company to keep jobs in Connecticut. The Charleston Five, backed up by international solidarity, won against all odds in their fight to maintain union jobs, opening up new organizing opportunities in the South.

In delivering an Alternative State of the Union on behalf of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Chairman Dennis Kucinich reflected these growing demands:

‘The majority of Americans do not believe that what’s good for Enron is good for America. Americans believe in and deserve to be protected by an economic bill of rights. An economic bill of rights would acknowledge that all Americans, regardless of income, race, gender or creed, are entitled to certain rights that are needed by individuals to be truly free. These rights include:

the right to health care
the right to a clean environment
the right to high wage jobs
the right to a secure retirement

‘Fifty-eight years ago, in his State of the Union Address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made this critical observation: ‘These rights spell security. America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.’

‘The Congressional Progressive Caucus believes that these words are true today, and we are fighting to make them real for Americans right now.’

Although this Caucus is not large enough to control the Congressional agenda or even to break into the media, the existence of this group of 57 members of Congress, which includes 20 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and six members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, provides an important lever that can be used to advance workers’ issues and move the debate to the left in every Congressional District in the country.

6. Key fights upcoming in Congress

The Enron corruption scandal has forced campaign finance reform back onto the table in Congress. Corporate money in politics is an issue that has been simmering for some years, with a range of organizations supporting different proposals. The best proposal, which we champion, is publicly financed elections. ‘Clean elections’, now enacted in Maine, Arizona, Vermont and Massachusetts, raise up the ability for ordinary people to participate, run and get elected to public office.

Campaign finance reform, like all issues, must be viewed from a class perspective. The corporate lobby has succeeded in labeling unions as a ‘special interest group’. They want workers’ dollars regulated the same as big corporate dollars. George Bush has the most backward proposal. He would ban soft money from corporations and unions, but not from individuals!

The Shays-Meehan Bill coming to the floor on Tuesday is not ideal. There are some constraints which make it harder for unions to raise money for public advertising, but there is no restriction on unions communicating in any way directly with their members.

Our allies in the clean elections public financing movement are reservedly supporting Shays-Meehan despite its shortcomings, because they think passing this bill is necessary to get the momentum to win broader support for public financing. That support may change according to amendments that may get tacked on by Republican opponents of finance reform.

Since the theft of the presidency in 2000, the broader issue of election law reform, including enforcement and expansion of the Voting Rights Act, has been on the agenda. The day after Bush’s State of the Union address, Congressman John Conyers cited election law reform as the ‘foremost civil rights issue of the 21st Century’. Conyers and Senator Chris Dodd introduced the strongest bill.

Alternatives to ‘winner take all’ elections are also on the agenda. Fifteen states and a number of cities are now considering Instant Runoff voting. This is a form of proportional representation, in which each voter ranks the candidates according choice, giving an opportunity for minor Parties to gain representation in government.

Our Party has endorsed the Voter Bill of Rights which includes all these ideas. We have participated in national and regional conferences connecting election law reform and public financing of elections with labor rights and civil rights. This is an important aspect of the struggle to expanding the democratic process in our country.

In the coming weeks, the budget battle and economic issues including reauthorization of welfare reform will dominate Congress. We must become expert at bringing these legislative fights home to the city and state level, so that grass-roots voices can be heard. There will be many state and city hearings and public meetings because funds are being cut. Members of Congress have to hear from the voters loud and clear, with media attention: ‘Don’t Enron Our Community’. ‘End poverty with good jobs, a strong safety net and protect Social Security and Medicare! ‘ ‘Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed!’ ‘Money for Jobs, Not War’.

The plans in Southern California to organize a public hearing on Enron is a great example for holding elected officials accountable to the people’s voice and then getting out the vote.

7. Political Action Commission

All the best policies in the world don’t mean a thing unless they are brought to life through action. I believe we have a sound electoral policy, and that there is appreciation for our position in many quarters. I believe there are many more open doors to us than we are able to walk through, precisely because our tactics for today are based upon a vision that goes beyond capitalism.

The Political Action Commission is getting organized. Through the National Board and Organizing Department, we will orient our work toward helping the Districts become fully engaged in the 2002 elections. We are planning to issue a Club Action Guide similar to that of 2000. Some material is here today including the calendar of primary dates for each state, a listing of voter registration deadlines by state, and the AFL-CIO national priority races as of January.

We are very excited that Tim Wheeler will be in Washington DC following legislation, and keeping us up-to-date through the pages of the paper with a weekly action box on legislation, coverage of the 2002 elections, and stories from the Districts on the priority campaigns in each area. Mike Bayer will cover politics for Political Affairs.

We hope to get the thinking of the districts and clubs about what kinds of additional materials will be the most helpful including the possibility of a short pamphlet focusing on the broad, class issues with a 10 point program; stickers or buttons, or other ideas.

The National Convention in July adopted a proposal by Si Gerson for a conference to mobilize the entire Party around the 2002 elections. The Commission would like to propose that the National Committee organize state conferences or meetings, which could involve a larger part of our membership and friends, and could zero in on specific tactical questions. In states where there is more than one District, it would allow a unified approach to be developed. In states where we have limited organization, it may be preferable to join together with a neighboring state or states which face similar circumstances.

This is a complex, many sided struggle. Organizing must be attuned to rapidly unfolding developments. The survival of working people and the world are on the line. Hopefully this report argues successfully that We Can Make A Difference in the outcome of the 2002 elections. Not only that we can, but that this is the time when we are needed to give it our all, and this is a time when we can build the Communist Party.


Related Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer