The urgency of now

BY:Joelle Fishman| February 18, 2011
The urgency of now
Report the the National Committee of the Communist Party USA
February 13, 2011
Part I – The Battle of Ideas

This is a tumultuous time for the working class, for our country and around the world. It requires that we give it our best.

The emphasis of this National Committee meeting is focused on what we will do to help organize the largest and broadest effort to defend the economic and social needs and rights of the people and to redirect priorities to meet those needs — in the first place putting America back to work.

We are projecting a grass roots organizing approach to the economic crisis and to building a larger Communist Party, YCL and People’s World / Mundo Popular. This represents the best contribution we can make to prepare for the 2012 elections and to build a larger working class and peoples’ movement for the long term.

Scott Marshall will go into depth on the economic crisis. To set the tone, I would like to start with a quote from a displaced factory worker who is now part of the Jobs and Unemployed Committee in New Haven, and one of the millions of 99ers who have come to the end of all their unemployment benefits.

He says “I never had trouble finding a job in my life until now. My unemployment  ran out at the start of 2009. I lost my house, I have so many bills I can’t pay. I’ve looked for industrial work but even tried door-to-door sales. Anything looks good now — which is probably where business likes it. Everyone’s so desperate they’ll take anything.”

In today’s economy, while the corporations and CEOs are back to pre-crisis profits, the crisis of joblessness and foreclosures continues. Anger is rightfully intense. We know well that such anger can turn in any direction unless it is organized.

Recent polls and the November elections show many contradictions in the public mood and thinking. On the one hand outrage at the power, influence and greed of big corporations, on the other hand listening to the Tea Party Republican “deficit” and “big government” hysteria.

These contradictions reflect the fluidity of a transition period.

The hoopla surrounding the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth reminds us that his presidency marked the ascendancy of “trickle down” economics, a vicious and racist reverse Robin Hood policy.

Over the past 30 years the very top of the ruling class – the richest one hundredth of one percent – have multiplied their income, their wealth, and their control of the economy. The result is the greatest income inequality in our country and the worst economic crisis since 1929, with the full cost being placed on the backs of working people. And the vicious ideology propagated by the corporate elite’s “great communicator,” promoted with unlimited funding, persists in having influence.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 by a broad cross section in the country lifted up possibilities of winning gains toward a more equal and just society. The depth of the crisis and the inability to force a big enough reallocation of resources left an opening for sections of capital and the extreme right-wing. They utilized the media and Tea Party candidates in 2010 to poison the atmosphere and move the debate to the right.

The role of government remains at the center of much of this conflict. Large government investment in rebuilding the physical and social infrastructure of the country is exactly the remedy to get the economy going, as we, and many leading economists, have argued.

Using the deficit as a scare tactic, the right-wing corporate Republicans are on a fast track to defeat every initiative of the Obama administration, to destroy unions and public services at the federal, state and municipal level, and at the same time protect tax breaks for the richest few.

Richard Trumka, speaking at the Press Club about “America’s Choices” asked .”What kind of country are we? A country of isolated individuals fending for themselves or a country with shared values and a shared vision?” He said, “The conventional wisdom is that we cannot afford to be the country that we want to be. That could not be more wrong. We are a nation that still has choices.”

The reaction to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address by a sample group of swing voters who lean Republican is very revealing. Before the speech their approval rating of the President was 30 percent. They overwhelmingly dismissed him as a “tax and spend liberal.” By the end of the speech they expressed 56 percent approval especially moved by the economic program.

As could be expected, they liked his call for government to live within its means and improve efficiency and accountability. But they also agreed strongly with Obama’s statements to end tax cuts on the wealthiest two percent, end oil subsidies, make college affordable and protect Social Security. At the same time, they remained unsure if the President could enact these proposals. (Democracy Corps, Feb 4, 2011)

Similarly, several recent polls show that while the top priority for many voters is to bring the deficit down, when specific cuts are proposed their attitudes change. In one such poll the majority said they would rather cut the military budget than Social Security or Medicare. (New York Times, Jan 20, 2011), In another poll, 70% said the first step to solve the deficit should be to restore taxes on the rich, while 20% said cut the military budget as the first step. (60 Minutes / Vanity Fair, Jan 3, 2011).

The swing voters’ choices to tax the rich and cut the military budget point to the actual causes of the deficit and give a direction for unity.

The fact that the proposal to end the Bush tax cuts to the rich remains overwhelmingly popular at the grass roots even after the Tea Party Republicans forced through the compromise extension in December puts them in a bind. They do not want voters to hold them responsible for the deep and outrageous cuts being inflicted on everything from child care to women’s health to Medicare to the ability of cities and states to deliver services and keep first responders and educators on the job. The Republicans will most certainly seek to force more such compromises in hopes that voters will put the responsibility for the suffering on President Obama and the Democrats.

The country is reeling from a jobs crisis, not a deficit crisis. Investments in the needs of communities that create jobs and forestall layoffs will help to create a growing economy that benefits everyone. Otherwise, the deficit will continue to spiral.

The Tea Party Republicans label everything they oppose as “job killing.” They shamelessly say the Affordable Care Act is “job killing,” although it is expected to create over a quarter million jobs.

The real “job killers” are Republican cuts to necessary social programs, and to states and cities done in the name of “the deficit.” State and local governments have cut 426,000 workers since April, 2008. That number is accelerating as federal funds diminish and governors follow an anti-worker, anti-union course. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Feb. 7, 2011)

In Connecticut we calculated that if the state collects the tax breaks that were extended to the rich by Congress, it would close the state budget gap without any cuts in services or layoffs of workers. The same idea was introduced to the New York City Council by the progressive caucus. Even if that exact proposal is not adopted, it ups the ante for making taxes more progressive which is a unifying factor. Increasing the revenue side of the budget affords the possibility for everyone to demand that basic services and jobs be maintained and funded instead of each contending against the other for what basic needs will be cut.

On Feb 25-27 Dick Armey’s Tea Party Patriots hold a summit in Phoenix, AZ, reminding us of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Their stated goal is to convince 60% of Americans to support fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets. The program behind these values is a pro-corporate, racist and divisive agenda that will only make the jobs crisis worse. It has to be exposed as anti-worker not just in talk but also in action.

The 2010 election and a multi-million dollar media blitz has given the Tea Party legitimacy in many people’s minds. In a poll last week, 70 percent said that the Tea Party ideas should be taken under consideration by Congressional leadership. Only 11 percent of Democrats were favorable to the Tea Party, but over half of Democrats want Tea Party ideas to be taken under consideration. (USA Today / Gallup Poll, Jan. 31, 2011))

Without ongoing grass roots education and organizing to mobilize voters on the issues, with special attention to rural and outlying areas, we know what the choices of the extremist Republicans in Congress and the State Houses will be. Broad mass protest actions can deepen the splits within the right-wing and block the worst of the assault.

The 2010 election results make our strategy for a broad alliance to defeat the extreme right-wing even more necessary and correct. The results also reinforce our approach toward building up the strength within that broad alliance of labor and the core forces for social change (labor, racially oppressed, women, youth), including ourselves, plus the peace, environment and LGBT movements among others.

While the Republican gains in Congress also swept Republicans into office for Governor and State Legislature, we should not lose sight of the fact that there were also important election gains in 2010 . These include the defeat of Republican Governors in California, Connecticut and Vermont, the enlarged and increasingly progressive Latino voter turnout, and the election of Jean Quan with ranked choice voting as Oakland’s first woman mayor, to name a few.

The labor movement is looking to reach out to and help organize beyond its ranks to encompass unemployed, laid off and underemployed workers. Winning some gains locally for jobs and relief, stopping a foreclosure, can start to turn the tide and renew momentum.

Organizing on a neighbor-to-neighbor and union member-to-union member basis as was done in the elections, is the best way to consolidate a pro-worker, independent electoral force. It is also the best antidote to vicious tactics including the constant lies about health care and Social Security and the incessant media attacks using race baiting and red baiting against personalities and organizations, the latest being Planned Parenthood. This intimidation is not successful when it is answered and stood up to.

The struggles waged at the grass roots starting now will determine what is won or lost in 2012. That is the significance of the role of labor and progressive forces to outreach, organize the unorganized and help re frame the debate.

Part II. – Political Balance of Forces

With the right-wing in control of the House, and with 28 Republican Governors, labor and people’s forces are on the defensive to protect every gain in labor rights, civil rights and economic measures achieved since the New Deal.

The fightback of our lives is in the making. Public workers, women and immigrants are in the bullseye. Young Black men are being shut out of jobs entirely. (Dr. Andres Su, Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University)

The state and city budget crises are where the rubber hits the road. Very tough battles are ahead for the next couple of years. Especially in states where Republicans won from Ohio to Wisconisn to Florida where huge protests are being waged to save collective bargaining rights for state workers, and in Wisconsin to protect public workers from the National Guard. But also in states like New York where the Democratic Governor is attempting to solve the whole crisis on the backs of working people while eliminating the millionaires tax, giving rise to strong opposition.

Basically, we’re getting walloped from all directions.

At the same time, there are opportunities to go onto the offensive. For example, while nationally the Republicans seek legislative and legal means to overturn the Affordable Care Act, in Vermont, the Governor and legislature are moving toward a state-wide single payer health care system. In Connecticut, Sustinet, a public option is being put into place as the result of a large multi-faceted state-wide movement.. Health Care for America Now is organizing events around the country on March 23, the one year anniversary of the Act’s passage.

Even at the federal level, splits within the Republicans plus the enlarged Progressive Caucus may make it possible to win some gains despite Republican attempts to sway conservative Democrats. For example, although finally passed, the continuation of search powers under the Patriot Act was voted down at first by a combination of progressive Democrat and libertarian Republican House members.

The newly elected Republicans who won in districts that were previously Democrat and reflect more moderate politics will have a problem aligning themselves with the extremist elements within their Party who want massive federal spending cuts and repeal of all social progress.

President Obama’s State of the Union speech was effective in celebrating the diversity and unity of the people of our country, and rejecting hate violence. He offered a number of openings for advancement that will have to be fought for, but with mass pressure could be achieved.

An example is the expansion of transportation which would create new jobs and lower carbon emissions. Transportation for America, a coalition which includes a range of organizations from envrionment, labor and civil rights to developers and local elected officials, is organizing grass roots support for this project. The Equity Caucus of the coalition raises the level of struggle by arguing that communities most in need should be top priority, saying “By investing in transportation projects, America can get people back to work now, lay a strong foundation for future economic growth, and expand opportunity for millions of people. But we must target our investments equitably to the people and places that need them most.”

Another opening from the State of the Union is ending the war in Afghanistan. Although not as speedy or complete as we would want, a timetable was projected to start withdrawal of troops in July of this year. There will be resistance and this will be a major fight. Sen Barbara Boxer has introduced a bill to begin withdrawal in July and set an end date. Rep Barbara Lee is introducing a bill requiring funds appropriated for the war be used only for a safe and speedy return of the troops.

Rep Lee also introduced HR 589 this week to extend unemployment compensation to the 99ers for fourteen weeks. It has 60 co-sponsors as of now. Writing in The Hill she said, “While we recognize the difficult political environment to pass this bill, I appeal to my colleagues for their sense of fairness and decency. Shouldn’t we use our resources to support working class people all across this nation as opposed to giving more corporate welfare to millionaires who refuse to invest in new jobs?”

Another opening from the State of the Union was the need for immigration reform and for passage of the Dream Act. Immigrant rights organizations are currently strategizing how to move forward. The Latino vote working in alliance with labor gives strength to the immigrant rights movement’s demands to end deportations and to enact positive legislation at the local, state and national levels.

President Obama will issue his budget to Congress next week, which promises to be an epic battle. I tmust be fought out on the basis of the needs of the people.

Tea Party Republicans demanded $100 billion in cuts contained in the Pledge to America. Some Republicans are weighing if they will lose more by voting for these draconian cuts, or by not keeping the Pledge.

The Congressional Black Caucus hearings on the deficit which highlighted the dire need to avert cuts that will devastate racially oppressed communities will be a part of the fight.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus will argue that deficit reduction and shared responsibility cannot just target human needs, but must include cuts to the military budget. The peace and social justice movements are organizing on this point. In some cities local hearings are taking place to show the impact of military spending on the budget crisis of local municipalities.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, recognizing that the lack of attention to organizing outside Washington contributed to the election setback in 2010, is reaching out to grass roots organizations for input and to mobilize public support.

Other openings for organizing to protect and defend democratic rights come from the Justice Department which has announced it will be involved in the redistricting process to insure minority representation is not undermined. The Labor Department is taking an aggressive stance toward enforcement of health and safety regulations.

President Obama’s approval ratings have been on the upswing, hovering at about 50%, since December when the START Treaty, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, health care for 9/11 first responders, and an extension of unemployment benefits (although at the cost of a two year extension of Bush tax cuts to the rich) passed Congress. Most pundits said that after the big Republican win in November, the Lame Duck session and the next two years would be gridlock.

Gridlock is not an option while communities are suffering the consequences of the economic crisis. The Republicans will blame Obama and the Democrats as part of their top stated goal to defeat him. So, the Republicans would be satisfied with gridlock.

In these conditions the question is not if, but how, compromises will be navigated in the next two years during Republican control of the House.

The corporate presence in Obama’s cabinet is cause for concern and requires vigilance. But our main concern should be organizing a passionate, widespread groundswell for good jobs and strong communities and a peaceful and sustainable world that can influence the decision making process at the local, state and national levels and lay the groundwork for the future.

The ability to deliver does not reside with the President by himself. It also depends on the ability to mobilize voters at the grass roots on local issues and make the connections. It is too early to predict the results of the 2012 election. It is not too early to hit the ground running for our hopes and needs.

As one labor leader said to me recently, “we always have to put up a fight. Even if we don’t think we can win, we have to put up a fight.” That fight could help create the narrative in the municipal elections and the budget battles this year and set the table for 2012.

Part III – The Party’s Role

At our National Committee meeting in November, we said that we would seek post-election discussions with our allies to consider tactical questions and raise the possibility of a two year offensive for people’s needs, against racism and bigotry and for a record voter turnout in 2012.

In these last few months, around the country, our district leaders and others have had the opportunity to participate in gatherings of union and community activists and local elected officials discussing how to weather the storm and come out of it with stronger unity, larger member involvement, broader outreach and new leaders.

Just as our Party was in the heart of the election battle, we are now contributing to this fierce fightback to stem the tide of union busting and privatization.

The venue for this battle is the municipal elections, city and state budget hearings, school board meetings, unemployed meetings, youth centers, community health clinics, parks departments, libraries, community colleges, senior centers and every place that is slated to be closed in our communities.

It is with the large numbers of young people who have nowhere to live, and go from one friend’s house to another a few days at a time, sometimes carrying children.

This is a battle for basic human rights. It is a battle for democracy.

The reports from Communist Party districts across the country show that the assault is being met with growing opposition and coalition building and that we are immersed in these huge battles that will have impact far into the future. We have to make sure these experiences are shared as widely as possible.

The People’s World plays a significant role in reporting what is happening at the grass roots, and putting that into the context of the bigger national struggles. Spreading information about successful actions helps develop local tactics. Our coverage gets a lot of respect for the Party because of the working class content and because it helps to build the movement.

In the resolution adopted at our convention Building our Party, Press and YCL we said “The process of growing the democratic movements includes simultaneously growing the Communist Party and Young Communist League.”

The goals we are going to consider in the plan of work to build our organization are not self-serving. They are the most fundamental contribution we can make toward unity and expanding a progressive voter base to achieve the long-fought battle to defeat the extreme right-wing and go onto the offensive.

Our Party’s level of organization differs widely from area to area. Our projections have to be flexible and multi-faceted to meet the needs and experiences of existing Districts and Clubs and new individual members and potential new clubs in unorganized areas.

The Labor Commission action alerts provides a way to get involved in the jobs struggle and a handle to ask others to get involved.

The nuts and bolts door knocking that has proven so successful in raising class consciousness and engaging union members in elections, can be applied to building our Party. A door to door voter registration canvass combined with a petition for jobs or a survey is a good way to identify needs and issues while getting out the vote. It is a good way to identify people who want to get involved, and can be invited to a club meeting, event or house party, and signed up for e-mail headlines to the People’s World.

As part of the effort, the Political Action Commission proposes a popular piece of literature around the theme “No Cuts, No Layoffs” which would lay out the arguments for solving budget crises with a progressive tax system that saves services and jobs, and for spending priorities for human needs not war. This could be made available in electronic form to be printed out and duplicated locally.

The extreme right-wing is foisting their anti-labor campaign on every State Legislature. We should help to nationalize the local fightbacks that are unfolding in a broad effort to uphold working class values. We should take this under consideration and develop a concerted campaign to contribute to the broad movement and continue to open and grow the Communist Party and YCL.

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the urgency of now.

As we deliberate today, the people of Egypt are rising up with great courage, the youth, the workers and their trade unions, saying enough to impoverishment and joblessness in the midst of hoarded wealth. They inspire our own struggle for democracy.

The hypocrisy of Republicans cheering on “democracy” in Egypt while working feverishly to extinguish democratic rights here is broadly noted.

Even as we contend with the dangerous and extremist Tea Party, there is also a rising class consciousness in our country that must be nurtured and organized. That is our task.

REFERENCE – Composition of Congress:

The balance in the Senate is 53 Democrats – 47 Republicans

There are 33 Senators up for re-election in 2012.

Of those, 23 are Democrats, running for the most part in very difficult races.

The balance in the House is 242 Republicans – 193 Democrats. Of the Democrats, 40% belong to the Congressional Progressive Caucus which is now the largest caucus and is working closely with the Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian-Pacific, Women and LGBT caucuses. Another 35% of the Democrats belong to either the New Democrats (43) or the Blue Dogs (26).



Photo: CC BY-SA 2.o by WisPolitics



    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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