Coalition Building: The Way to Win in the 21st Century

BY:Evelina Alarcon| September 21, 2001

Speech given at the 27th National Convention of the CPUSA

Let me begin by joining with Sam and everyone
here in saying how inspiring it is to have so many delegates from parties
around the world at our Convention this weekend. You light up our Convention
with international solidarity.

Last December, I had the great pleasure of participating
in an international meeting of some 62 communist parties in Cyprus, hosted
by AKEL during their Congress. That same week, I participated at the Congress
of the Greek Communist Party, where there were some 82 parties represented.
These events were tremendous opportunities to exchange and to learn, to
deepen our understanding of the role of global corporations, new world
order policies and their impact on each country.

This weekend, we are overjoyed to have your parties here
and for our whole Party to be able to reaffirm our solidarity with you.
It is also inspiring to have so many leaders of labor and people’s organizations
with us.

I also want to thank Sam for a keynote
that met up to the challenge. In a Convention that represents a transition,
it is not easy to strike the right chord, but you did and you set a direction
that lays a solid foundation for our work.

My remarks pick up on the question of coalition building
and unity.

Coalitions burst forth in a new way at the end of the
century, and in many ways coalition building is defining the strides of
progress in the 21st century. In Seattle, when Teamsters walked with turtles
against the WTO, a whole new level of coalition appeared with global potential.
In Florida, when African Americans, Jewish seniors, Haitians, Puerto Ricans,
Latinos and the AFL-CIO rallied in unity demanding, "Count every
vote!", a new fight for voting rights in our nation was launched.

In California, when Latinos reached out in coalition,
history was made when, for the first time in our nation, an official state
holiday was won for a Mexican American and labor leader, Cesar Chavez.

And, as we meet, a new kind of global coalition is building
in solidarity with five dockworkers in South Carolina who represent a
new working class uprising in the South.

These labor community coalitions, each one unique, represent
a higher level of coalition.

The new labor movement is setting the pace. The Sweeney/Chavez
Thompson/Trumka labor movement placed coalition building with its allies
as a priority on its strategic agenda of how to win against corporations,
of how to change government policy, of how to win elections. Labor/community
coalition defines the AFL-CIO approach to building union cities. State
Federations, Labor Councils and local unions that adopt broad labor/community
strategies are the places where the biggest gains are being made, where
the most victories are taking place.

That is certainly true in my city, Los Angeles, even in
spite of the recent loss of the mayoral election. The Los Angeles County
Federation of Labor has become a champion of broad coalition building,
reaching out to the Latino, African American and Asian American communities,
to immigrants of all nationalities, women, students, religious organizations,
to gay and lesbian rights organizations, to Hollywood. Of course, the
best part of Hollywood is unionized now.

This outreach is setting a mass tone of support for labor’s
cause. When the janitors went on strike, what we saw in Los Angeles was
an unbelievable outpouring of solidarity. When you turned on your radio,
in between rock and roll, hip hop, and pop music, popular disc jockeys
were telling their listeners to support the janitors’ demands for higher
wages. "They do a lot of hard work for our city; they deserve a raise,"
they would say every day of the strike. Priests, rabbis, ministers were
preaching from their pulpits that economic justice for janitors and immigrant
workers is morally right, so support the strike. Elected officials committed
civil disobedience to support the strike. The entire city became a strike
support city. And guess what? They won the strike.

With a little different form but same essence, the bus
drivers’ strike did the same thing. When rank and file, Black and Brown
striking bus drivers locked arms together at rallies of thousands and
danced to Aretha Franklin’s "All We Want is a Little Respect,"
their community and elected official allies were the chorus chanting,
"Just a little bit, just a little bit!" And again, they won.

The results of labor’s outreach to its allies are that
Los Angeles has organized more workers into unions than anywhere in the
country, including 74,000 home care workers who are majority racially
oppressed. The AFL-CIO organized a town hall meeting on amnesty for immigrants,
which brought 20,000 immigrants to overfill the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Los Angeles labor has also won more contracts and electoral victories
than any other city.

Los Angeles and the Bay area labor/people’s alliance movements
are the frontline fighters for democracy, racial and economic justice
that has turned California into a bastion against the extreme right. Those
coalition movements are overlapping into conservative counties like San
Diego and Orange County.

The labor/people’s coalition successfully defeated four
out of five extreme right Republicans in Congress last November. That
is why President Bush does not like to travel to California. The Adios
Pete Wilson and Sí Se Puede movements are busting his chops.

President Bush is now working overtime to try to turn
back the tide. Everyone is fully aware that the battle to take back the
Congress from the extreme right in 2002 is the next major electoral battleground.
Last week Bush invited former Republican mayor of Los Angeles Richard
Riordan to the White House to convince him to run for governor in 2002.
Bush told Riordan that "only a moderate Republican" has a chance
of winning the governor’s seat in California. I am sure that privately
he said to Riordan that only a moderate "has a snowball’s chance
in hell of being elected." That is pretty remarkable when you consider
that not long ago California’s people were living under the attacks of
16 years of extreme right governors–Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian
and Pete Wilson. What a difference a labor/community/people’s coalition
makes. Today, the extreme right "no se puede" in California.

While different, those unity experiences are developing
nationwide. From Cleveland, to Seattle, to Dallas, to Tucson, Jobs with
Justice is winning broad support from a wide spectrum of organizations.
In many cities, Jobs with Justice is the key initiator of these coalitions.
Many will speak at this Convention about those experiences.

Building Coalitions Is the 21st Century Way to Victory

The challenge is how to expand on the existing developments.
How to broaden them even further to include the whole spectrum of those
who are losing with the Bush agenda, who are victims of corporate rip
offs like the majority who are hurt by the energy crisis.

The Bush ratings are on the downside amongst many different
sectors of the population. In Orange County, even Southern California
Edison was rallying alongside labor against the power generators who are
gouging California consumers for more profits. Edison representatives
were carrying signs demanding that "Bush cut wholesale prices."
So, the potential of organizing the anti-Bush agenda movement to a much
broader degree is definitely objectively possible.

How do we in the Party and broader left help to build
those movements at every level of the nation? The tactics of building
a popular front have to be built from the ground up. The grassroots have
to be charged up. That was the big lesson of the Cesar Chavez holiday
movement in California. That was a movement that was fired up from the
ordinary men, women and youth of California. The people of our country
are not happy about the Bush agenda. Every day they like it less and like
him less. Those are the anti-extreme right seeds that are sprouting.

We have to be able to identify the issues that move the
broadest of coalitions into motion. Sam identified many of them: living
wage, public ownership of the energy industry, the Kucinich infrastructure
bill, and others. I want to speak about two that we believe require national

Free the Charleston 5

There is a new movement brewing in the South. It is led
by Kenneth Riley and his International Longshore Association union local
of majority African American longshoremen based in Charleston, South Carolina.

This is a courageous local that is at the center of a
new progressive labor-led movement in the South that is fighting for basic
democracy in a state which is a bedrock of anti-democracy. They are fighting
global corporations and a maritime industry that is seeking to bust their
They are fighting one of the worst extreme right political leaders in
our country, State Attorney General Charles Condon who has kept five dockers
under house arrest since January 2000 for defending their jobs. This after
600 state police were sent by land, air and sea to attack a longshore
picketline of 150 unionists who were merely protesting non-union labor
being brought into their port.

At a rally in defense of the Charleston 5 in Columbia,
South Carolina a few weeks ago, Cecil Roberts, president of the United
Mine Workers of America told a story of his youth. "In West Virginia,"
he said, "they taught us that when a bear is sleeping, you don’t
kick the bear." Then to Attorney General Charles Condon he says,
"Well, Charlie, you kicked the bear."

That describes what is happening in the Charleston 5 movement.
The bear is awake and angry at the violations of the democratic rights
against these ordinary union men who just want their families to have
a secure future.

The working-class bear is kicking Charlie back. Not just
in South Carolina but all over the South. Their allies are joining them
in coalition all over the nation.

At the Columbia rally, leader after leader vowed that
"if you put the Charleston 5 in jail then you are going to have to
put me in jail. You are going to have to put all of us in jail."

This movement is growing into a national movement. The
West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been a champion
of defending the Charleston 5 and in the front of helping to build the
national movement.

This is an international movement as well. At the South
Carolina rally were representatives of unions from Canada, Puerto Rico,
South Korea and Sweden. The latter represented the International Dockers
Council and told the rally, "If the Charleston 5 are jailed, it will
not go unnoticed at ports around the world."

That is the backdrop to the plans for an International
Day of Solidarity with the Charleston 5 on the first day of the trial.

This fight is about transforming the South. It is about
defeating the worst scum of the ultra right. It is about racial justice
and the right of African Americans in the South to have union jobs that
uplift a community that has historically been kept down by Southern injustice.

It is also about global workers’ solidarity. When I was
in South Carolina, I heard a right-wing talk show host tell her listeners
that Kenneth Riley has won the national labor movement to his side. Then
she added, "I want to warn you that Kenneth Riley is organizing a
‘workers of the world’ kind of movement!"

She’s right; that is what the movement is developing into.
Dockers at ports around the world understand that if the extreme right
and maritime industry succeed in terrorizing dockers in Charleston, in
busting the union there, then their ports will be next.

This battle is multi-dimensional, which we need to make
a national priority for our work. We have to help win it by building the
broadest of coalitions in our country.

A National Holiday for Cesar Chavez

Lastly, a movement is also growing to win a national holiday
for farm worker leader Cesar Chavez. The victory of an official paid holiday
in California launched a new era for civil rights struggle that fully
includes the Latino people.

Winning a national holiday for Cesar Chavez is a crucial
part of uniting our class and people, of building Black-Brown-white unity
and multiracial, multinational unity. It is a holiday that recognizes
class struggle, the leading role of labor unions and the special contribution
of immigrant workers in our nation.

Cesar Chavez’s legacy was the basis of uniting the broadest
of coalitions in California for the holiday. That same potential lies
in the fight for the national holiday. We propose that this fight should
also become a national priority for our whole Party.

Both the fight to free the Charleston 5 and the fight
to establish a holiday for Cesar Chavez have a special quality to them.
These movements will help to unite the labor-community-people’s front
against the Bush agenda and the extreme right in a unique way. They will
also uplift equality, justice and labor rights in the 21st century in
a unique way. We have to insure that we do everything we can to help build
the national coalition efforts in order to win.

Se Puede? Sí Se Puede!
Se Puede? Sí Se Puede!
Free the Charleston 5!!
Que viva Cesar Chavez!!


Related Party Information

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