Convention Discussion: Building Labor / People’s Electoral Power

BY: CPUSA Political Action Commission| April 13, 2010

This article is part of the discussion leading up to the Communist Party USA’s 29th National Convention May 21-23, 2010. takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article or other articles in the pre-convention discussion. All contributions must meet the guidelines for discussion. To read other contributions to this discussion, visit the site of the Pre-Convention Discussion period.

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A big question before our 29th national convention is the role of the Communist Party in the struggle to consolidate the labor / people’s election victory of 2008 and move forward.

Our country is emerging from a period when the biggest anti-democratic corporate monopolies consolidated their hold not only on the economy, but in every sphere of public life. The result was 30 years of growing inequality, privatization, union busting, and the undermining of any form of social solidarity. Government’s role was limited to protection of the wealth of the few.

The electoral defeat of the far-right in 2008 with the hard-fought victory of President Barack Obama and a Democratic majority in the House and Senate changed the political terrain. We saw this election as critical to preserve and expand democracy, and strengthen labor / people’s political power. The election in 2010 is equally critical to expand government’s role to meet the common good.

The strategy of building a broad alliance against the ultra-right – including some sections of capital, some conservative Democrats and independents – proved correct. The victory was made possible through the mobilization and unity building role of labor, the racially oppressed, women and youth – the core electoral forces for progressive social change, along with LGBT, environment and peace voters among others as a part of the broad alliance.

The corporate right-wing is using all their resources to overturn these results in 2010.. Utilizing the media, they unleashed a vicious campaign of fear and racism inciting vigilante groups and open violence with African American members of Congress as the main first target.

They are relying on the “unprecedented level” (convention document page 17) to which the financial, military, medical and energy industrial complexes are embedded and enmeshed in the appointments, committees and lobbyists surrounding, influencing and challenging the role of elected representatives.

The sharpness and complexity of the struggle to win massive job creation and other government intervention required to end the economic crisis for workers and their families became clear in the prolonged battle for health care reform.

The challenge to Communists, left and progressive forces is to build strong enough unity, understanding and organization to overcome right-wing opposition to the responsibility of government to meet basic human rights – health care, housing, education, good jobs, equality and a clean and peaceful environment. In this process the left and the Communist Party can be built, which in turn strengthens the broader coalition.

Health Care Lessons

From the beginning of the health care struggle, we made collective examination and assessment of the bills and the political balance of forces. Our Party has a long history of fighting for health care as a basic human right. We have and continue to support a national health service and single-payer, universal health care measures.

With “public option” as the main battleground, we fully supported, mobilizing with labor and others for the apparently most progressive possibility given the balance of forces. In life this dialectical approach was extremely effective and appreciated as the right-wing whipped up hysteria inciting the Tea Bag opposition.

The AFL-CIO followed similar tactics. They passed resolutions for single-payer and for public option. When language to tax health care benefits surfaced in the President’s proposal, Richard Trumka met with the President, and emerged saying they discussed issues as friends. Union members were mobilized to express opposition to the tax with such force that the plan was significantly revised. On Sunday, March 21 when the bill, which passed narrowly, was to be voted, Trumka was on the floor pressing members of the House to vote yes. Not one Republican voted for health care reform.

The bill that was passed was not the one we wanted, or the one that we would have written. But its passage was a remarkable victory. It will provide access to health care coverage for 32 million people and 95% of children. It is the greatest shift of wealth back to the majority in generations, with a tax on incomes above $250,000. It eases student loans. The door is open to amendment and improvement, not only for health care but for every other issue on the labor / people’s agenda. Had the extreme right-wing been successful at blocking any health care legislation, they would have seized unilateral control of the political climate.

One lesson is that while the two-party, winner-take-all system severely limits labor / people’s forces, we must be part of the mix and fully engaged in the legislative battles. That is where the most advanced sectors of the working class are.  

Another lesson is the necessity of stepped up, sensitive and aggressive unity on the ground. Difficulty in maintaining the broad, united front that elected President Obama weakened the struggle for health care. The right-wing corporate-sponsored Tea Baggers are organized, energized and well funded.

The struggle for health care would have been greatly strengthened if there had been higher union density in the health care industry, highlighting the urgent need for the Employee Free Choice Act to remove barriers from workers’ right to organize.

Our approach must be dialectical. Limiting ourselves to only supporting advanced demands separates us from the main forces of struggle. Limiting ourselves to only supporting immediate legislation negates our bigger vision.. In other words, our responsibility is to simultaneously mobilize for what is possible and project for what is needed. Our full program including our strategy and tactics must guide our work and be integrated into all that we do.

Our program is not a dogma. It is grounded in the needs of the working class and shaped to the particular time, place and circumstances before us.

Political Independence

The interests of all working people are bound up in the success of the Obama administration. The alternative waiting in the wings is a sharp rightward shift that would be politically and economically to the right even of the recent Bush administration. It is in this context that political independence must be discussed.

Political independence, developing electoral and legislative forms the working class can participate in that are independent of monopoly capital control, takes different forms.

One aspect is the programmatic struggles of labor / people’s forces for whatever legislative gains they can achieve in the political moment.

Another aspect is the search for organizational forms of political independence. While some local expressions exist, a national labor-progressive political party has not yet been achieved.

The labor / people’s grass roots outpouring to elect President Barack Obama was an extraordinary multi-class expression of political independence from corporate extreme-right wing domination of government. It consisted of a range of political forces inside and outside of the Democratic Party, and combined neighborhood organizing with new tactics in particular Internet and social networking which expanded the electorate and brought many first time participants into the electoral process.

The core working class forces within the broad, all-people’s alliance offer a direction to higher levels of independence.

The union structures built to activate and mobilize members and their coworkers, family, friends and neighbors to vote in 2008 and to remain active on legislative issues are especially significant. These union political structures have been in the making since Labor 2006 – Building to Win, Building to Last. Unlike past decades, when union members went to Democratic Party headquarters to make calls, election work is now primarily carried out at the workplace and inside the union hall with union members calling and visiting sister and brother union members and their families with a union message.

The labor movement played a positive role during the 2008 election when Richard Trumka traveled the circuit winning white workers to understand that electing this President, an African American, was in their own best self-interests. Communists and progressives helped to magnify that message beyond union members to unorganized workers and the community at large.

Raising class consciousness and unity-building are special contributions of the Communist Party. Helping develop the struggles for equality and against racism, anti-immigrant, anti-woman and anti-LGBT bigotry is a central task toward political independence.

The recent outpouring of over 200,000 in Washington DC for comprehensive immigration reform raises up the potential to make new gains in the 2010 elections. This new civil rights movement is an expression of political independence in program and organization.

The formation this year of the Quad Caucus within Congress is a reflection of a growing demographic and progressive shift within the electorate. The collaboration of the Congressional Black, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific and Progressive caucuses creates a strong counter-force to the conservative element within the Democratic Party.. Here, the support for single-payer among a section of members, and the push for “public option” from the majority of members of those caucuses, while unsuccessful, kept the pressure on until a final bill was passed.

Many of our clubs are located in Congressional Districts of Quad Caucus members. A labor-people’s electoral force working within the broad alliance and relating with members of Congress can project specific legislation like passage of the Local Jobs for America Act to restore one million jobs in cities and towns, and bigger goals like shifting military funding to human needs with massive public works job creation.

Such creative applications of our electoral policy build working relations and respect with the labor/people’s forces and further political independence in a fundamental way. Similar approaches can be developed in relation to problematic policies of the Obama administration including the direction for public education, energy resources and military funding.

As Communists, we look for the key demand that will put the maximum number of people into motion and help to move other demands. At this moment that key demand is for good job creation. Working class families are hanging on to survive this economic crisis. Young people are being shut out of the economy. A huge infusion of funds is required to put people back to work and restart the economy.

Working with the labor movement, civil rights, environmental and other organizations to create a groundswell that can push positive initiatives through Congress is the most important way to meet needs and prevent a right-wing takeover in the 2010 elections.

The Supreme Court decision allowing corporations unlimited financing of candidates is a dangerous development. The bills before Congress, which would mitigate the effect of this decision, are also a top priority for independent political action.

We do not have any illusions about the Democratic Party which encompasses a wide range of forces including conservative Blue Dogs, but the reality of the American political system is that at this point all of these forces and more are necessary to implement legislative change and maintain majority control of Congress.

The question is not our attitude towards the Democratic Party. The question is building labor/peoples electoral power.

What defines political independence in the struggles for progressive, pro-labor legislation, independent forms and candidates, is the activation of the labor/people’s electoral force, while continuing to build the broad united front.

A larger and more visible Communist Party is a necessary part to achieve these goals. This includes our unity-building role, and our ability to develop constituencies in election districts that can be mobilized in support of labor/people’s candidates and other actions.

Yes, we need more Communists as candidates for public office. We should be flexible and ready to try different approaches given the circumstances in different areas, with the common denominator of building the fighting capacity of the labor/people’s forces in the broad alliance.

Recent experience has weighted campaigns run as part of a coalition with a real prospect of getting elected, on Democrat, other party such as Working Families, or non-partisan line. The campaigns in Ohio and Illinois broke new ground for building independent organization in an election district that can be mobilized on a permanent basis. Campaigns on the Communist Party line or in a non-partisan contest with the candidate identified as a Communist can push the debate in a pro-labor direction and attract supporters.

To come back to the question, what is our role? It is many sided. It is coalition and unity building. It is immersed in the immediate struggles of the people. It is projecting a vision of a new society as an extension of the struggles of today and building a larger Communist Party, YCL and People’s World / Mundo Popular.

In 2010, our role is to build the labor/people’s electoral force, expose and defeat the extreme-right attempt to decimate government at the expense of the people, champion the role of government in creating millions of jobs for the public good, and emerging with an enlarged base that is engaged in the struggle and committed to achieve a future free of racism, exploitation and war in our country.












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