Report 1: Opening Presentations to the “Break the Grip”National Conference (Sept. 19, 2020)
Originally published on 9/25/2020
Opening Presentations to the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” National Conference — by (1) Connie White, (2) Mya Shone, and (3) Nnamdi Lumumba
(1) Opening Presentation by CONNIE WHITE, Labor Party advocate and organizer
“Who We Are: Statement of Purpose”
Excited! Excited to see all of you here and eager to discuss with you the issues and strategies that will form the basis for organizing a working-class labor party in the USA.
Lately, my mantra has been “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” a phrase from Poem for South African Women, a spoken word presentation by the poet June Jordan in 1978 to the United Nations as her commemoration of the thousands of African women and children who “presented themselves [in 1956] in bodily protest against … apartheid.” I also have recently re-read The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James in which James states in the Preface that, “In August 1791, after two years of the French Revolution, and its repercussions in San Domingo, the slaves revolted. *** The transformation of slaves … able to organize themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day, is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement.”
So, the baton has been passed, many times over, and “[W]e are the ones we have been waiting for.” No one is coming to save us from the tyranny of US presidents, murderous police and conservative courts and judges. “[W]e are the ones we have been waiting for.” No one is coming to save us from the backlash of imperialist wars and decades of bigotry and Jim Crow laws. “[W]e are the ones we have been waiting for.” No one except for us is going to advocate for affordable housing, universal healthcare, an across-the-board living wage or put a stop to imprisoning our Mexican neighbor’s children! “[W]e are the ones we have been waiting for.”
So, who are we and what do we stand for? The LCIP Statement of Purpose says we are “… political, trade union, and community activists from different political backgrounds…” who “… decided to constitute ourselves as the Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) with two intertwined objectives.” These “two intertwined objectives” are what we stand for, and what we ask everyone who joins us in organizing LCIP to agree with: (1) “… promote running independent labor-community candidates … at a local and state level around a platform that embraces workers’ and communities’ pressing demands.” I also add the House of Representatives because we need working-class Representatives to legislate in working-class interests. The platform spoken about in this first prong of the LCIP Statement of Purpose would be centered around workers’ and communities’ issues – such as the issues we will be discussing in the breakout rooms today and tomorrow. Continuing with the LCIP Statement of Purpose, “[T]he explicit aim is to advance the effort to build a mass working-class party rooted in unions, youth, and communities of the oppressed.” Take note of this next part, because it is very important as to why we think that LCIP is different related to accountability of political candidates who run as LCIP candidates: “The platforms of these independent candidates need to be discussed and approved by labor-community assemblies, and the candidates must be answerable to these assemblies and to the coalitions formed for this purpose.”
(2) “Our second objective is to promote widely in the trade union movement a committee [or, as I would say, committees] that advocates for a Labor-Based Political Party. A resolution adopted by the October 2017 national convention of the AFL-CIO affirmed that, “whether the candidates are elected from the Republican or Democratic Party, the interests of Wall Street have been protected and advanced, while the interests of labor and working people have generally been set back.” A second convention resolution concluded that, “the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils politics.” The committee’s goal will be to promote the discussion inside the labor movement about the need to break with the “lesser of two evils politics” and to create a “Labor-Based Political Party” — a reference to the title of a forum organized by key labor officials at the October 2017 AFL-CIO convention. In order to create such a mass working-class party, we will organize to raise awareness in the unions of the need to break with the Democratic Party.”
So, there you have it. That is who we are. But, who are the organizers of this Break the Grip of the 2-Party System Conference? The sponsoring organizations are Labor Fightback Network (LFN), Ujima People’s Progress Party (UPP), and Labor & Community for an Independent Party (LCIP). We are so very happy to see you here today on Zoom, and look forward to discussing with you how to organize a working-class party based in labor and in American working-class communities. La Lucha Continua!
Let’s do it!
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(2) Opening Presentation to “Break the Grip” Conference by MYA SHONE, Editorial Board member, The Organizer Newspaper
“History of LCIP: Where We Come From”
Sisters, brothers, siblings, comrades and friends,
In June 1996, 1,500 labor leaders and rank-and-file delegates from seven union internationals, hundreds of locals and regional union bodies, along with delegates from community chapters, and a welfare rights union gathered in Cleveland, Ohio to found the Labor Party.
“The Bosses Have Two Parties, We Need One of Our Own” had been the rallying cry and foundational organizing principle that brought us together. David Barkley, a delegate and union representative from SEIU Local 285 in Boston, said then just as we say today, that “neither the Democrats nor the Republicans speak to working people on any issue, whether it’s health care, living standards, education, housing, the environment, immigration or affirmative action.”
Together we — and I say we, because I, like others here, were delegates — discussed, sometimes heatedly, until there was agreement upon a strong and formidable “Call for Economic Justice.” In many ways this was a program that could have been written today.
The Call for Economic Justice considered that every person living in the United States should have a job at a living wage. It demanded guarantees for the right to organize, bargain and strike; proposed a 32-hour work week with a minimum wage of $10 an hour indexed to inflation (equivalent to $16.57/hour today), as well as universal single-payer healthcare. It demanded quality public education and called for an infrastructure and environmental program that essentially was a precursor to the Green New Deal. The Call for Economic Justice also opposed police brutality and other forms of the criminalization of dissent and poverty, and demanded an immigration policy that would not discriminate on any basis.
The seven international unions that participated in the founding convention included the United Electrical Workers; the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers; the Brotherhood of Maintenance of the Way Employees (a railroad union); the California Nurses Association; the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the United Mine Workers; and the American Federation of Government Employees (representing federal workers).
Along with the endorsements from the 500 locals and regional bodies from 80 unions, the Labor Party had commitments representing more than half a million workers.
That in itself was a tremendous response.
Tony Mazzocchi, a former officer of the OCAW who spearheaded the Labor Party effort, had no illusions about how labor had been betrayed by the Democratic Party time and time again. Yet, he, as did many of the union leaders who founded the Labor Party, refused to complete the break from the Democratic Party even as they understood from the battles that they waged that the party was beholden to and does the bidding of the capitalist ruling class, be it corporate or finance capital.
Mazzocchi and these leaders created obstacles to having the Labor Party run its own candidates even at the local level. Without an orientation that challenged Democrats in the electoral arena, the bold step that they had taken to form the Labor Party could never become more than a pressure group on the Democratic Party. Such a situation could not last very long; that space was occupied already by numerous other organizations.
The exception had been the ILWU. At the founding convention, the Longshore union delegates presented a motion to run candidates in the fall of 1996. But their proposal didn’t garner enough votes despite the support of many delegates, especially from local Labor Party organizing chapters that formed in cities throughout the United States. The most effective way to develop a working-class political party, we said, was for the party to launch campaigns for labor candidates in their communities based upon local issues and the party’s program itself. We would end up fighting with one hand tied behind our backs if we didn’t project our fightback struggles into the political arena.
I still recall as if it were yesterday the frustration of the SEIU local that represented public-sector workers and of the Building and Construction Trades Council — unions that formed the basis of our Tri-County Chapter (Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura, California). We walked picket lines and knew from these struggles and from the union locals that we had the strength to run an effective electoral Labor Party campaign and make a difference in the City Council, which made decisions that affected these union members directly. But that was not to be!
After trying to organize solely around the concept of a labor party and two specific programmatic campaigns — the guarantee of a living wage and single-payer healthcare — the Labor Party fizzled after its third convention in 2002 – six years after the inspirational founding convention.
Despite all that has happened in the intervening years with non-stop assaults on the working class and oppressed communities as the capitalist crisis inevitably intensifies, those who maintain the mantle of the Labor Party still consider that the time has yet to come for an independent party of the working-class, that is the majority of America, to intervene effectively in the political process. They relegate a Labor Party to the bye and bye.
Some of us retained the vision of how effective a Labor Party could be. Two years ago, we came together to form Labor and Community for an Independent Party, and formed an Organizing Committee. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and Teamsters Local 808 (which had been part of the original Labor Party effort) soon joined us, and hundreds of endorsements flowed in.
We see the massive upsurge unfolding before our eyes before the COVID-19 pandemic and since — and the message is abundantly clear: Enough is Enough!
These union organizing drives and strikes undertaken by teachers; transit workers; farmworkers; hotel, food, and healthcare workers, as well as the mass protests against the roundup and deportation of immigrant workers, the separation of families and caging of children at the border, the unparalleled upsurge of protests nationally against police terror and systemic racism — all these can coalesce into a mass working-class struggle if we both mobilize and intervene in the political process together in our own name.
We, in LCIP, determined that the best way to forge a working-class party independent of the one big property party with two names — which is beholden to and does the bidding of the capitalist ruling class — was to join the specific struggles of oppressed communities with the struggles in the workplace most defined by organized labor — that is, we must root the working-class party itself in both labor and oppressed communities. In many instances, these are one and the same.
We also realized that the most effective way to create a working-class party would be to work along two prongs or pathways:
That we must lay the foundation for the party in our local communities where our struggles take place most often. This way we can build local labor-community coalitions that would craft programs based upon local struggles and select candidates for office coming from our communities and beholden to the platform and coalition. This is an on-going coalition of members engaged intimately in the struggles themselves as well as an electoral effort. This creates a building-block approach where we organize the democratic structure for a mass working-class party from the base on up.
Today in our breakout sessions we will discuss how to join struggles all of which have local dimensions such as defund the police, no wage cuts, affordable housing, end charter schools, and support public education, end deportations, demand single-payer healthcare, equal pay for equal work, and end the privatization or sell-off of public assets among them so that we can intervene effectively and gain the political power that makes solutions a reality.
In Baltimore, Portland, Oakland, Toledo and communities across the United States, we can coalesce our forces, gain expertise, and make a difference in our communities, which will enable us to later move our efforts up through the ranks of state and national offices.
Simultaneously, there is a second prong or objective: Those of us in unions will promote within our locals and in the broader labor movement for a “Labor-based Political Party,” in keeping with the two resolutions adopted by the October 2017 national convention of the AFL-CIO.
Each of us in the meeting today is an experienced organizer, some of us with many decades under our belts and others with just a few years. Each of us has a vision of a better world, which we can turn into reality if we take these steps together today. There really is no time to lose. There is no waiting until after yet another election and the betrayal of our interests. We must seize the moment and start the process now. We have waited long enough.
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(3) Opening Presentation to “Break the Grip” Conference by NNAMDI LUMUMBA, co-convener of Ujima People’s Progress Party
“The Conditions for Principled Working-Class Unity”
Uhuru Sasa, to all of you — which means Freedom Now!
I think it is really important for us to have this conversation about the relationship and marriage between organized labor and the work and struggle of oppressed communities, that is, colonized peoples, whether they are Black, Brown, or from Asia. Often times these struggles are separated from each other.
African people, Black people in this country, have a long history of being in opposition to U.S. imperialism — in opposition to colonialism, domestic colonialism, settler colonialism, capitalism, and racism. It has really been the defining character of the Black Resistance and the Black Liberation Movement since the time we were brought forcibly to North America and throughout the Americas.
Wherever you find people of African descent, you find struggle and resistance. Sometimes that resistance is forced upon us, whether we are actively trying to engage it or not. Surviving imperialism and white supremacy has always been an issue. Often times we make that struggle with whatever we have to make that struggle. Often times these are people who are not wealthy. They are working-class people, not always with a lot of education or access to resources. But again, they have been part of the American experience, where the contradiction about what to do or how to deal with African working-class people has caused upheaval and crisis all throughout U.S. history.
In Maryland we have been involved in a struggle to create a Black workers-led electoral party, one that will fight for economic and social justice not only in the electoral arena but as a continuation of that struggle for oppressed people to survive, to survive capitalism— but also to raise class consciousness, a question that is very important.
It is quite clear that there has been emerging over the last 50 years a strategy used by U.S. capitalism to create a Black middle class, a misleadership class if you will, to hover over, maintain, and manage the relationship of the Black community to capitalism. It has been an extremely damaging kind of relationship to the overall Black working-class community. These are forces who are aligned with capitalism, forces who are aligned with repression, forces who are used to endorse and co-sign, with imperialism, wars of aggression.
Coming out of the Black community these are the faces that are often used to promote capitalist policies and wars. In return they are given wealth, resources, institutions, and access — all of which are used to have influence over the majority of working-class people, even in spite of the struggles and the tireless work of poor and working-class people all day, all the time, to fill in the gaps where we have been left out. That struggle not only happens locally for us, it happens throughout the country to other of oppressed communities.
We have joined formations such as the Black Alliance for Peace, which takes the same very stance as we do on these issues. You hear the name Black Alliance for Peace, but it is not peace on the plantation, it is a discussion of how Black people can be a spearhead, a vanguard, in ending wars of aggression. The goal is to have a truly anti-imperialist, antiwar movement that is in line, and connected to our tradition of resistance and struggle.
Some of the comrades associated with the Black Alliance for Peace in Denver in the PSL, Party for Socialism and Liberation, have recently been arrested for standing up for Brother Elijah McClain, who was murdered by police brutality. They are now facing felony charges. We often see that when Black people stand up to resist, the repression tends to be heightened in the kind of charges, the way the police respond, the way the State responds. That is our existence in this country.
We have the issue of the indigenous populations themselves. It is almost forgotten that this is a settler-colony, that the land has been taken from the people, and the people have been dispossessed of all the resources and the wealth of that land by the State. Then you have the issue of drawing borders that don’t make any sense to the people, but serve the interest of capitalism and imperialism.
And then there is the issue of the labor movement, especially under the influence of the bosses and of labor bosses who have been in the pocket and act as partners to the capitalist bosses. Everything is contained. We have all these resources, all this training, all this skill that is being accumulated, because it’s a working class formation. These are working class formations, but they’re kept in line. If they do act in the interest of working people it’s usually trying to do limited, on-the-job-type issues.
There is, of course, a growing segment of union members who want to break out of that mode, who want to be able to have a real working-class relationship with the oppressed communities — not just on the job site. We have to remember that members of unions live in working-class communities. They come from working-class backgrounds themselves. They need to be able to defend their interests when they leave their job, the interests they have back home.
We’re talking about defending not just the individual members of the unions, but also the families of the union members, the whole communities of the union members — this is the important part for us.
So there has to be a way to ensure that the relationship can be principled. It must be centered around the struggles of oppressed peoples for their liberation. These questions are not counter-posed. These are questions that coexist as a part of the struggle against U.S. capitalism and against U.S. imperialism.
But the principled unity that we seek cannot come at the expense of Black, Brown and other oppressed communities being made adjuncts, or component pieces, of a greater struggle for all workers. We must understand that under capitalism and under racism, all workers don’t suffer the same problems. There are degrees of how much oppression is experienced.
Knowing this fact, as conscious members of the African working class we cannot allow, and nor will other working class members of oppressed communities allow, people to use the struggles that are specific to our communities and to expand them in such a way to make them appear somehow as overall problems that all workers experience when in truth that is not the case. It must be acknowledged because of our long experience of oppression and resistance, and we have developed the knowhow to lead the struggle against U.S. capitalism and imperialism.
It is important that people from other parts of the working class have unity with our struggle, because the truth is that it undermines working-class unity when white workers see colonized people beaten and oppressed but do not have a relationship to ending that oppression.
Working-class unity can’t exist as long as white workers have a worldview where every generation is expected to continue to live better and better, while every generation of African people see that their children are put in graves, that their life spans get shorter, that our communities get dispersed, and that our access to education, our access to wealth, our access to training, our access to just being able to live is denied.
These are questions that are uniquely specific to us as members of an oppressed community who are workers. So we have to help define that principled unity, that relationship, and center that discussion, and we have to help our allies in the white community be able to understand that. These relationships are not going to be the old relationships; a real struggle involving labor and oppressed communities will have to be based on principled structure.
That people who come out of these oppressed communities have to have their own political organization. They have to have their own political and economic capacity — so that if a broader general movement does not see the specific necessity to support a position that the Black working-class puts forward, we will not be held back. We’re not asking for permission to do that. We are telling you as allies that we want this principled relationship or we’ll use our independent organizational capacity to solve those problems on our own. It is incumbent upon us to win allies that unite on a principled basis with our need to have a self-determined movement for national liberation.
We think it is important for the working-class movement to participate in the electoral process, this is an important tactic, especially as we build labor and community alliances. But we must move beyond the electoral process. It’s not just about winning elections; it’s about winning power. We have conflated the two because that’s what the dual-parties system wants us to believe — that winning elections therefore is the only legitimate form of political struggle to win power.
Political struggle happens every day. It’s a daily struggle to build working-class power, with the ability to respond to contradictions and to move forward without permission from the ruling class. This is not won in elections but by being on the ground among working people. This is what we are looking for out of these relationships, with the unions that are able to have real principled relationships with the struggles that are happening in peoples’ communities. It is important for labor to be able to properly identify working-class resistance and leadership in struggles in opposition to the backward Black middle-class petty-bourgeois leadership that is in partnership with U.S. capitalism. The labor movement has to be able to help build a genuine working-class movement in communities from the bottom up.
This is the opportunity that we have before us. This is the opportunity that this conference presents. We think it is a very important opportunity. For us, this is the only way that this relationship is going to move forward. African working-class people, the African liberation movement, will be a self-determined movement. We will have an independent movement, and whether the broader white working class comes along or not, that is the responsibility that lies before this gathering. One way or another, we will have allies willing to come along under principled unity.