Report 3: “Break the Grip” Messages, Reports and Statements

Originally published on 9/26/2020

• Message from BALDEMAR VELASQUEZ, President of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), to the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” National Conference

[Intro Note: Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC, AFL-CIO), was not able to attend the conference because of union negotiations in North Carolina. He sent the following message to the conference, which was read during the “Voices” segment of the gathering.]

The two-prong statement of purpose of Labor and Community for an Independent Party is right on the mark, absolutely.

I have a lot of experience organizing an independent voice for working people — particularly among farm workers. I have spent the last 53 years organizing a group of workers who aren’t covered by labor laws. We have been excluded from the National Labor Relations Act since 1935 — and every labor reform since then has excluded agricultural workers. This is because of the Southern Dixiecrats that President Roosevelt needed to get the NLRA passed. Roosevelt succumbed to the pressure to exclude agricultural workers because most of them at the time were Black, and the white Dixiecrats couldn’t see Black people having the same rights as white people.

We’ve been excluded ever since and have lived with that legacy. The exclusion has put us in an independent class of our own; we’ve had to organize around that legacy and create our own independent voice. We’ve been able to succeed with this effort to a considerable degree on the ground, in the fields — so why not, we asked — duplicate this effort in the electoral arena?

And so we’ve been putting together a local effort here in Toledo [Ohio], where Latinos have not had our share of positions or voices in the electoral arena — particularly when it comes to issues like immigration (we have 10,000 undocumented immigrants in Toledo) — or community control of the police. We’ve found the need to create our own independent voice for labor and community.

We’ve developed a working model, where people can participate on the ground. We’ve been doing this independent organizing among the immigrant population, coalescing with the Black community over issues that are common to us — like the issue of the police. We’ve created a Black-Brown Unity Coalition.

On the side of the Latinos, we’re creating a committee of 100. This will prepare us for the next round, when we plan to run a candidate, or candidates, of our own for City Council or other local elections. We can also put forward our Black-Brown Unity Coalition to expand this effort into the Black community and partner with them around issues and candidates. We will no longer be taken for granted.

Hopefully, as we continue to have success in Toledo with our labor-community electoral initiative we can duplicate this effort in other cities. From there we can move on to statewide races.

I hope that you have a very successful conference and that people will come out energized and ready to hit the ground, organizing your base, and putting together labor-community coalitions in your cities. I can see us not too far down the road building a national movement around this effort.

Hasta la Victoria,

Baldemar Velasquez

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• Statement by NANCY WOHLFORTH, Secretary-Treasurer Emerita, OPEIU; co-founder of Pride at Work (AFL-CIO) — titles for id. only

Intro note: How do we advance LCIP’s second objective “to promote widely in the trade union movement a committee that advocates for a Labor-Based Political Party based upon the October 2017 AFL-CIO convention resolutions”? Nancy Wohlforth, Secretary-Treasurer Emerita, OPEIU (AFL-CIO), describing how the AFL-CIO’s LGBT constituency group Pride at Work gained recognition, shows us a way forward:

How we organized the lesbian and gay community within the labor movement provides an example of what we can do in LCIP. In the early 1970s, Howard Wallace, then a Teamster activist, and I formed a group in San Francisco that later became the Lesbian-Gay Alliance.  Walter Johnson, head of the Retail Clerks Union, Local 1100 (later longtime secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council) encouraged us and provided a room in which we could meet.

Howard, a leader of the Coors Boycott, mobilized the Gay community in San Francisco and spread that boycott to 13 other states. [The boycott of Coors beer by S.F. liquor distributors and in the S.F. bars themselves began in support of a local Teamsters’ strike and against the company’s employment questionnaire that included among its intrusive questions those that delved into a prospective employee’s sexual and union preferences. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) considered it “a historic partnership between Teamsters and the LGBT movement.”]

We had a step-by-step approach, forming caucuses of lesbians and gays within union locals that could focus on specific issues of the time, be it the Coors Boycott, efforts to ban and expel gay and lesbian teachers from school systems, such as the Briggs Initiative ballot measure in 1978 in California, and later labor’s initial silence against the Defense of Marriage Act signed by Clinton in 1996 (ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013).

As we built strength with LGBT caucuses formed in local upon local across the country, we formed the national organization Pride at Work (PAW) and took our issues to the AFL-CIO convention floor. In 1997 we argued that PAW should be recognized as a constituency group with equal rights with other groups such as the Coalition of Black Trade Unions (CBTU), the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). It wasn’t easy but we pressed on and by the time a final vote was taken those who opposed us abstained and we had a rousing show of support from the convention floor.

The struggle for full recognition didn’t end there. We weren’t provided a budget for a few years and even then financial support was minimal for almost a decade.

We can move towards our goal with this step-by-step approach, forming caucuses in our union locals that link finding solutions to the issues of importance to labor activists and the community at large with the necessity for labor to intervene in the political process in its own name.

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• Report from Breakout Session on LCIP’s Relationship to the Anti-War and Anti-Imperialist Movements

(First in series of Breakout Session Reports)

Session facilitator: Jacqueline Lugman – Black Alliance for Peace

The breakout focused on the militarization of the police and police functioning as an occupying army in cities across the U.S. to suppress oppressed communities (Black and Latino) as well as political dissent.

There was a report on the important work of Black Alliance for Peace (BAP), which stresses that the international struggle against war is a working-class issue with a local dimension, particularly as the weaponry designed for war and the crowd-control as well as dispersal techniques, have become standard parts of policing in the U.S.

BAP finds the connections between the Black struggle (the historic Black movement as well as the upsurge today) and anti-war positions today. U.S. troops are stationed in 80 countries throughout the world, with AFRI-COM extending the reach of the U.S. imperialism.

We discussed particularly the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Program, commonly known as the 1033 program, the section of the National Defense Authorization Act in which it is defined. It enables federal, state and local agencies to access equipment no longer in use by the military. Incidentally, while Republican George H.W. Bush was president, it was the Democratic Party that controlled both houses of Congress in 1990 that enacted the 1033 program.

The official website for the DLA shows that as of June 2020, there is widespread use across the country with 8,200 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies from 49 states and four U.S. territories participating in the 1033 program. What has drawn our attention particularly are the tear gas canisters, surveillance technology, armored trucks, and water cannons used in cities across the U.S. during recent protests and previously at the large protests at Standing Rock and Mauna Kea.

Other policing programs are becoming prevalent, too. Trump and Barr have deepened federal involvement in local policing with Operation Legend and Relentless Pursuit, with resources from the FBI, U.S. Marshall Services, DEA and ATF. Seven cities are participating in these programs to date with more expected to follow.

One participant in the breakout session pointed out that even in the small community in which he lives, police are driving around with semi-automatic AR 15 rifles.

Another participant pointed out that 95% of the funding for the National Guard (state militia) is provided by the Federal Government. The diversion of the National Guard from important functions within local communities is best seen with what is happening with the intense fires sweeping the west. Six Oregon National Guard helicopters that could have been used for evacuating people were diverted to Afghanistan.

Another participant noted that the war budget (half of the discretionary federal budget) comes at the expense of funding for jobs and education. We must demand to move these funds from war to human needs.

Another participant referred to the use of police to break up labor and other protests against the ruling class (such as anti-war) but most notably their primary function now is as an occupying army – especially since the Watts Rebellion in 1965 with the development of fully armored SWAT teams. She also noted that police in individual communities derive extensive funding through civil forfeiture, that is seizing money and possessions particularly in real or supposed drug raids.

Another participant added that particularly in the Southwest the police function as an occupying force in Brown communities.

With reference to current campaigns: Defund the police and removing police from labor councils, Gabriel P. noted that the ILWU Local 52 in Seattle has had a campaign to expel the Police Guild from the Seattle labor council.

These and other issues, such as Stop and Frisk, as well as community control of policing are powerful organizing efforts with which to foster labor-community coalitions.

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• Get-Well Wishes from “Break the Grip” National Conference to Brother CHRIS SILVERA, Secretary-Treasurer, Teamsters Local 808

Dear Brother Chris,

We were all saddened to learn about your hospitalization. We hope it’s nothing serious and that you will soon be back in the trenches, fighting the good fight for justice. We were looking forward to hearing your thoughts and proposals to help us move forward collectively to lay the foundation of a Labor-based political party, a workers’ party. We hope that you will be back soon on our conference Continuations Committee, which we hope will be an expansion of our current Organizing Committee.

We wish you a speedy recovery on behalf of all the participants of our “Break the Grip” conference, to whom we read this letter and asked for their endorsement of our well-wishes to you.

Stay strong, Brother Chris!

The LCIP Organizing Committee and the “Break the Grip” National Conference

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• Letter to the Conference from COMRADE ATIBA, a Prisoner of Conscience

Letter from Prison

Uhuru Sasa!

To begin, please allow me to extend my hand in fraternal umoja (unity) as well as [to] send a Comradely Clenched fist salutation and heartfelt Revolutionary Greetings! to all present elements representing the Revolutionary political Left from within the “first world” of developed capitalist countries and within the epicenter of global capitalist-imperialist international control and aggression. At this historical moment, our movement is collectively embroiled in fragmentary divisions that have resulted in the current leadership crisis which restrict most of our mobilizing efforts in times of general strife.

The dialectical relationship between “inside” and “outside” struggles in regard to our political and politicized prisoners has long since been neglected at best or totally disregarded at worst, meanwhile, the oppressive contact with the forces of reaction continue to intensify with effort to disrupt, discredit, and eliminate our Activist, Revolutionist, and ultimately, our Movement entirely; this oppressive force seeks to reduce our struggle to the level of a mere fringe element and through its corporate media, characterize our legitimate grievances as nonsensical. Today, we have come together; we are united in mind, body, spirit, and most importantly, in struggle.

We have come together with an abundance of love for one another for the cause of true liberation of all oppressed Peoples and groups with the realization that this is only possible by the intensification of our efforts in the process of resolving those age old contradictions within our movement which have hindered our development into a united force, our organization of political force which transcends that organization of civil frustration we all know well.

Although it may seem that time is on our side, the true urgency of our situation has yet to resonate into the minds of a great portion of the masses, others misunderstand these same issues and resort to counter- Revolutionary activity based on false “good intentions,” we all understand the true path forward, the path that has been followed less the one with the greatest perilous dangers and commands the greatest of all sacrifices. We all await our glorious day of Revolutionary counter-offensive, but the struggle of contention is still underway; this is the struggle for hearts and minds. With this understood, our movement needs democratic space to grow; this is the phase of the national democratic Revolution.

With this statement, I may depict a bleak picture to some, but experience has taught me to emphasize the importance of producing realistic expectations in the minds of our activist and cadre; our conditioning during times of relative “peace” should be utilized to better our capacity to defend our future gains.

As a Revolutionary African Man, I consciously issue this statement in the spirit of solidarity in support of the Ujima People’s Progress Party, as well as other social and political forces who, as well, struggle for a better tomorrow. I pledge my mind, body, and energy to the cause of ending all oppression and environmental/ecological destruction. I salute you all! Look for me in the whirlwind!

In Love, Struggle & Solidarity,

Comrade Atiba

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• Tribute to COMRADE KEVIN ZEESE – Sent to Sept. 19 Memorial Meeting by the “Break the Grip” Conference Organizing Committee

Dear comrades,

It is with sorrow and great respect that we join you in honoring the memory and contributions of deceased brother and comrade Kevin Zeese. Kevin was a champion for equality and socialism, a concise and empowering orator, and author for the cause of liberation for all working class sectors and oppressed people in our country and across the globe. 

We pay tribute to Kevin who, together with his partner Margaret Flowers, co-founded “Popular Resistance” and played a central role as Embassy Protectors, occupying the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC, on April 10, 2019 at the invitation of the Maduro government. This was the last line of defense against the attempted U.S.-backed right-wing coup to overthrow the democratically elected leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. We watched and cheered as the federal prosecution against the Embassy Protectors failed and a “mistrial” was declared a year later.

Kevin and Margaret joined us near Cleveland, Ohio last December 7 when they attended the first “Break the Grip of the 2-Party System” conference sponsored by Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP). Kevinaddressed the group on the issue of U.S. militarism. He was joined on the speakers’ platform by Nnamdi Lumumba, co-convener of the Ujima People’s Progress Party, who spoke about building community power. 

Kevin joined Cleveland activists again this past July as a keynote speaker at the Cleveland Peace Action Annual Meeting (on Zoom). He declared that the peace movement must be a “movement of movements,” since all our issues are connected. The U.S. empire has a huge carbon footprint and perpetuates racism both at home and abroad. 

The loss of Kevin Zeese is a loss for our movement. 

In his final words published in “Popular Resistance,” Kevin writes, “We must build power so that no matter who’s in office, we can stop the government from operating … so that our demands are heard and met. That is how we will win.”

Kevin Zeese, Presente!

— The Organizing Committee of the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” National Conference

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