Convention Discussion: From Shop Club to Community Club


Submitted by the Winchester/Newhall Club, New Haven CT

The Winchester/Newhall Club of the Communist Party is an integral part of its neighborhood.  We learn from community experiences and we make struggles more successful.  As our Alderwoman explains, “we bring the world to the neighborhood.”  She is a union steward and one of the team of union members and allies who make up a super-majority of New Haven’s 30 member Board of Alders (city council).


The Winchester Club was formed in 1971 when several members of the Committee to Free Angela Davis worked at the Winchester sporting arms factory.  It was the largest employer in New Haven.  A majority of the workers lived in the surrounding African American Newhallville neighborhood.  When the plant closed in 2006, leaving the community stranded, the club changed its focus to the neighborhood.

We could not talk about this transformation without talking about the years of work our club carried on before, during and after the 16-week 1979 strike by IAM Local Lodge 609  which broke new ground in the concept of labor-community coalition.  

Our club built an important following by organizing the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, with consistent participation in union meetings, becoming shop stewards, running for union offices, and as delegates to the Central Labor Council and United Way which set the tone for progressive action.  This forced the union leadership to become more active, stronger, and as such prepared for the 1979 strike.

During the strike all clubs in New Haven participated in building support in their various community groups.  The Winchester Club’s newsletter “BullsEye” played a key role distributed at the plant gate as an insert in the People’s World with local and inter-shop issues and information on actions.  Local Lodge IAM 609 became recognized as a real community oriented union with our contact with many community groups like the Q House for youth, the NAACP, Christian Community Action and “Arts in the Workplace” which provided further union/community contact.

Many LL 609 members lived around the plant.  Through club discussions the surrounding community was always a part of our agenda giving us a ready made “life line” to union/community involvement.  Nearly 90 percent of union members were registered to vote.  In regular city, state and national elections as much as 65 percent voted because of BullsEye and the People’s World that was given out at the plant gate every Friday in rain, snow or sunshine with many workers stopping to have conversations.

Our fight to keep the plant in New Haven open was our club’s top priority with many meetings in homes and schools to do what we could to advance the fight for jobs and job security and to put pressure on elected officials to do what they could to save Winchester jobs. The surrounding community understood our role and commitment to the Newhallville-Dixwell community and recognized that this extended the number of years the jobs stayed in New Haven.

Although our fight to save Winchester raised a lot of questions about jobs it also inspired community residents to get involved in the “Neighborhood Management Team” meetings.  There we discussed the issues of job creation and proposed community resident and 1199 union steward Delphine Clyburn to run for Board of Alders.  We got behind the idea of a labor led Board of Alders.  It was like a dream come true to have 15 of the 17 win in the elections first time out.  This victory set the tone to support and elect the first woman and second African American mayor in New Haven in the next election cycle.

This took many hours and days of coalition action to register and push many labor and community people to actually vote, led by our new Alderwoman.  The ward went from one of the lowest turnout in the city to one of the highest. Our victory can only be realized if we continue to be vigilant, active and committed to move forward with the progressive team of a labor led city.

We have come full circle by having conducted our meetings in this framework of a labor-led coalition building club.

Today, instead of factory work, people in the neighborhood work at Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital and other healthcare institutions, at big box retail stores and fast food restaurants.  Too many residents remain unemployed, including more than half of the youth.

Club members participate in the block watch, the neighborhood “Management Team”, and with the union-community organizing group New Haven Rising. The club is the place to come to discuss issues and problems, put them in perspective, and figure out a course of action.  

Because our club is concentrated in one neighborhood we have been able to make a difference in the life of the neighborhood and in the lives of our members.  Our consisted use of the People’s World has created a presence and has helped build strong relationships and respect.   

Challenges and Lessons

The transformation to a neighborhood club took a few years of persistent experimentation.  At first we identified those who took the People’s World at the plant gate, lived in the neighborhood and wanted to continue receiving it at home.  Many did not have internet access to receive People’s World on-line and appreciated the personal contact of being on the “route”. With time this number of people dwindled as some moved back down South where the cost of living is cheaper, and others passed away.  A couple became active in the club.

The organizing to rebuild the neighborhood  which became very worn down and impoverished after the plant closed, was the start of the club’s rebuilding as well. Out of it came the campaign for an Alderwoman who would fight for the community’s needs.

Our club has grown slow but sure.  There was a giant turnout to the recent city-wide People’s World  African American History Month tribute to club member Craig Gauthier, who was a rank and file leader of the 1979 strike and later became union president.  This was a joint project with the Communist Party clubs in the Fair Haven, Dwight-Hill and Beaver Hills neighborhoods, the Yale Workers Club and the YCL.  There are new people for the club to home visit and  invite to meetings. Several parents in the neighborhood became inspired to bring their children to the youth group at the Peoples Center after taking part in the youth march for jobs and an end to violence and racism that preceded the program.

Our club meets twice a month.  We open each meeting with the discussion of a People’s World article or  convention document or video.  We discuss developments in the neighborhood, and developments in the city, state or nation on the agenda of the Communist Party. We take up any good and welfare items that members want to talk about. Going forward, we are discussing how to ramp up basic education opportunities.   We are also visiting less active members to see how they can be more fully involved.

The biggest lesson we have drawn from our work is the value of concentrating over time in a strategic working class neighborhood to build a base among ordinary working class people for the Communist Party. Neighborhood clubs — whether newly forming or long established — are exactly positioned to be the strong allies the labor movement needs as it outreaches to the community and expands organizing among low wage workers.  

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014


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