Three of the Presentations to the Independent Politics Panel at the Dec. 7, 2019 Cleveland “Break the Grip” Conference
Three of the Presentations to the Independent Politics Panel at the Dec. 7 Cleveland “Break the Grip” Conference
Nnamdi Lumumba, Convener, Ujima People’s Progress Party(excerpts)
All political parties represent contending classes in society. Political parties are never devoid of class ideas and values; they are all based on class assumptions.
In the United States, we are governed by a capitalist duopoly — Democrats and Republicans. These are political parties that represent the interests of the capitalist class, and their control of the electoral process has undermined the interests of Black, Brown and working-class people.
In Baltimore, politics is run and controlled by the Democratic Party. Every time a police officer beats up a Black youth it’s because they’ve been given the license to do so by the Democratic Party. Every time a Black or Brown family gets thrown out of their housing, or they are victims of abuse, it comes from directives by the Democratic Party. This is true not just in Baltimore; it’s a scourge we face across the country.
So why are the duopoly parties legitimate? Why do people who are working class, who are Black, who are Brown, who are immigrants, who are poor … why do they give their allegiance to political parties who care nothing about them?
The failure to build an independent labor and community party that represents the working class and oppressed Black and Brown folks is largely responsible for this situation.
We need another option politically. Working people need to get their asses out of parties that hate them, despite their rhetoric to the contrary, and that prove it every day.
We need to organize people around their own class interests and their own interests as nationally oppressed people, so that they can solve the problems they face in their lives.
Helping to break the active or even passive support to the two capitalist, imperialist, and white supremacist parties has been a fundamental goal of our efforts as the Ujima People’s Progress Party as we seek to build a Black workers-led electoral party.
While we support a national labor party that recognizes both the shared and independent struggles of oppressed workers on the job as well as in their communities, we affirm that nationally oppressed people have to center the discussion and self-organization around their own specific oppression because, unfortunately, the broader discussion of oppression can become generic. While it is true that we as working people are all oppressed and exploited, we who are Black and Brown aren’t oppressed in the same way.
Having said that, we need to create a mass-based working-class party that says capitalism does not serve you, imperialism does not serve you, sexism does not serve you — and racism does not serve you. Otherwise, we’re just giving our power back to two political parties that have no interest in seeing us move forward.
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Baldemar Velasquez, President, Farm Labor Organizing Committee / FLOC, AFL-CIO
One of the main lessons I have learned from 53 years organizing in the fields across the country is that if you give workers a means to collectivize their voice, they’ll find the means to improve their make their lives sustainable.
When we began organizing cucumber workers in Northern Ohio many years ago, the workers on their own came up with a campaign for card-check [as opposed to NLRB elections — ed note]. The workers began to analyze and organize in ways that were way ahead of the labor movement. That’s how we won our first organizing drive and our first collective-bargaining agreement.
The same is true in politics. When you have politicians who don’t see thing the way we do — and who don’t represent our interests — you’re going to have things dumped on you all the time. So we have to collectivize our voice, with a voice that is independent.
We in FLOC have decided to do community organizing in an “associate member” program — including an active youth program called the FLOC Homies Union. Four of our youth organizers have traveled from Toledo and are here with us today. [Baldemar proceeds to introduce each of the youth activists. — ed. note]
We also decided to organize 100 Latino registered voters in a Committee of 100. Some of our elected officials are sympathetic to our issues, but they’re not going to push the issues that are important to us. So we’ve decided that we have to do that ourselves by running folks for positions on a local level that are important to us.
And if we were part of a broad independent labor-community party movement, we could have a real impact statewide and nationally.
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Alan Benjamin, Editorial Board member, The Organizer Newspaper[Note: Please find below Alan Benjamin’s prepared text for the independent politics panel. Because of time constraints, only a portion of this text was presented to the “Break the Grip” conference. — Ed. note]In June 1976, 1,400 trade union delegates from unions representing close to 2 million workers came together in Cleveland to found the Labor Party. The conference was held under a banner that read, “The Bosses Have Two Parties, Workers Need One of Our Own!”
Though the Labor Party that was formed nearly 25 years ago was placed on hold after a short seven-year existence, the need to build an independent labor-based party that represents the interests of the working class and the oppressed communities remains the fundamental question today. A resolution adopted by the October 2017 national convention of the AFL-CIO affirms the need of an independent Labor-based political party.
Those of us who came together to form Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) feel that the time is now to revive the Labor Party movement, but this time incorporating some of the lessons we learned from our experience with the Labor Party — namely, a Labor Party, if it is to be more than a pressure group on the Democrats, needs to (2) begin running candidates for office at a local level, and (2) build this labor-based independent party in partnership with oppressed communities, including by championing their struggles for self-determination and independent politics.
The Democratic Party does not represent the interests of the working class; it represents the interests of the bosses. It is a party financed and controlled, from top to bottom, by Big Business — by the capitalists.
All attempts to “reform” the Democratic Party are doomed to fail. History has shown this time and again. Bernie Sanders is raising very real and pressing issues for working people, true, and he has galvanized a significant electoral base.
Sanders has been given the leeway by the Democratic Party leadership to raise these issues — from single payer, to free college education, to tax the rich — during the campaign as this helps to legitimize the Democrats, and it puts forward the image (in reality a mirage) of a “broad tent” in which workers and youth can have a say in determining their own future.
There are limits, however, to what Sanders can do. For example, he cannot be allowed to win the primary. In 2016, as former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile was forced to admit, the DNC rigged the primary election against Sanders. And today the DNC is bringing out the heavy hitters, beginning with Barack Obama, not to fight and defeat Trump, but to ensure that Sanders is defeated in the primaries. (Professor Adolph Reed Jr. noted in a recent interview with “Rising: that, “The Democrats fear a Bernie victory more than they fear a Trump victory.”)
Sanders’ role is to bring the disenfranchised and discontented back into the fold of the Democratic Party and to rally his base in support of whatever mainstream candidate the DNC decides to select at the Democratic Party’s convention to run against Trump.
In this regard the recent spat between Sanders and Hillary Clinton is revealing. Clinton, who was interviewed by Howard Stern, chastised Sanders for not doing enough to organize his supporters to get behind her presidential bid in 2016. Sanders replied that this criticism was totally misguided: He did “everything humanly possible,” he said, to support Clinton — who, as we all know, was Wall Street’s preferred candidate.
This brings us to the question: What is to be done?
Workers in this country over the past 150 years have created their own class organizations — that is, trade unions — to advance their interests as a class and as champions of the working-class majority. While the unions have been weakened heavily by the policies of the trade union misleaders, they nonetheless represent the only class instruments available for struggle.
Within the unions, there have always been reform caucuses organized to reclaim the unions for class struggle. This is especially true today. Just look at the amazing strike wave of the public-school educators that began in Chicago a number of years ago and that swept both the red and blue states in 2017-2018 in a revolt unlike anything we have seen in decades.
These revolts were initiated by rank-and-file and mid-level leaders in the unions, but they spread rapidly — and they were embraced by the union leaders. Throughout the labor movement, workers are rising up and saying their voices need to be counted.
In the political arena, however, the unions remain tied at the hip to the Democratic Party. This is the number one obstacle to building working class power and advancing the interests of the working class and all oppressed people. That is why, more than ever, the trade unions need to break with the Democrats and build their own party, in alliance with the communities of the oppressed.
Helping to break those ties of subordination to the bosses’ parties must be, therefore, one of our central tasks. The immense human and material resources of the labor movement must be placed at the service of building a Labor-based party that contend for political power.
The Labor Party that was founded in Cleveland in 1996 had a short existence, and was placed on hold.
Does the Labor Party’s failure to take root invalidate our struggle to build an independent Labor-based political party? Not at all. A long-time labor activist in Kansas City, Bill Onasch, put it this way a few years ago in a contribution to the balance-sheet of the 1996 Labor Party experience:
“The need for a Labor Party has never been greater. While the 1996 Labor Party passed away, it leaves behind a rich legacy of program, policy and democratic decision-making that is worth preserving. There’s no need for future activists to reinvent the wheel before they can roll.
“While this planting failed, the crop we hoped for remains needed more than ever, and the seed bank preserved from the initial effort can take root again under more favorable future conditions. Like resilient family farmers, we don’t abandon our field; we seek another chance to plant.”
We on the Organizing Committee of LCIP believe that this “other chance to plant” is now. Workers are on the rise. Millions of people who support Bernie Sanders will be shut down once again by the DNC; they will need a place to go — an independent labor-based party — to continue to fight the good fight. There is an opening here for independent politics such as we have not seen in a long while. The time is now!
This is why the LCIP Organizing Committee is submitting for your consideration and vote a Declaration in support of LCIP and its objectives.
The LCIP campaign has two intertwined objectives: (1) running independent labor-community candidates for local office rooted in assemblies to which the candidates are answerable, and (2) promoting the campaign for an independent labor-based party within the trade union movement, in keeping with the October 2017 resolution of the national AFL-CIO convention.
The proposed Declaration also references the Open Letter that 19 Cleveland-area trade unionists, including a number of you in this room, sent in January 2015 to the delegates of the North Shore (Ohio) AFL-CIO Federation of Labor urging the Federation to run independent labor candidates for public office.
Though written four years ago, the message in this Open Letter is as relevant today as it was then, if not more so. Similar Open Letters need to be written today by unionists and community activists across the country.
So, to conclude, we urge you to support the proposed Declaration and to join us in building the foundations, brick by brick, of a labor-based political party that serves the interests of the working class and all oppressed people.
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[Post-script: The Declaration was adopted unanimously by the conference participants.