Three Campaigns that Point the Way Forward in the Fight for Independent Working-Class Political Action: Maryland, California and South Carolina
[Note: The interviews – conducted by Alan Benjamin, member of the Continuations Committee of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) – were conducted in early May 2021.]
Interview with NNAMDI LUMUMBA, Co-Convener of the Ujima Peoples Progress Party (UPP)
Question: We would like you to address three questions: (1) your assessment of Biden’s first 100 days in office, especially in relation to the Black liberation struggle; (2) the Maryland-wide electoral campaign that the Ujima Peoples Progress Party (UPP) has launched; and (3) your views on how this electoral campaign relates to the work of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), of which you are a Continuations Committee member.
Let’s begin with your thoughts about Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office and the new challenges facing the movement for Black liberation today.
Nnamdi Lumumba: Certainly. There are a number of hot-point issues that are having a national impact on the struggle for Black liberation.
The first is the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd. What we’re seeing is the State offering up an individual police officer in hopes of taking the just demands of Black working-class people off the table. Their hope is that our demand for Black community control of the police will be averted if they can have this one officer convicted. The capitalist ruling class is not able to really respond to the just demands of the Black community. Their goal is to maintain intact the main instrument of coercion and force — that is, the police — so that they can continue to exert their control.
Question: Laws allowing lynching are still on the books at the federal level. Only now, after 150 years, it appears that Congress will finally be repealing laws that do not ban lynching.
Lumumba: This question has a long history. There have been nearly 1900 attempts to introduce anti-lynching laws in the Senate. All have failed. It appears that the Emmett Till Antilynching Act will finally be approved by the U.S. Congress. It should be noted that many of the leaders of the anti-lynching struggle have been Black women — Black working-class women — who put up a relentless fight to defend their community, their children, their sons, and their husbands. The heroic role of Black women has not been acknowledged.
Question: Another holdover from the era of the slavocracy is the Senate filibuster. …
Lumumba: The filibuster has been one such means of coercion, especially against the Black working class. If you look at the history of the Senate filibuster, you see that it was created to stop any attempts to establish social justice over the last 150 years — particularly in relation to slavery, lynching, or voting rights.
This goes to the question of how the U.S. government has allowed the use of terror by factions of radical white nationalist forces anxious to control the Black community. As the Derrick Chauvin trial shows us, the use of terror is still widespread.
Question: The recent drive by Republican governors and legislatures to suppress the Black vote is another expression of this reactionary agenda.
Lumumba: This is a major concern, particularly since we are attempting to build a Black working-class led electoral party in Maryland. Having access to the democratic right to vote is key to the electoral success that we envision. The suppression of the Black vote has been a key part of how sectors of the white ruling class have been able to maintain their control, especially in the South, where you have large numbers of Black working-class communities that have had no representation whatsoever — let alone working-class representation.
I think that the recent voter suppression laws in Georgia are in response to the defeat of Donald Trump last November. His cronies are trying to codify a lot of the things that he attempted to do by bullying state governors. This is why the fight for democratic rights is a mass-struggle question. We have to be organized both as Black workers and as working-class people to defend basic voting rights.
Question: How about Biden’s foreign policy initiatives since he took office?
Lumumba: Biden’s foreign policy directives over the past 100 days spell great danger for oppressed peoples and nations throughout the world. Biden is a hawk. He has launched attacks against Syria and Iraq. He is escalating hostilities against China. He has continued the funding for U.S. military bases in Africa under the Africom program.
Biden and the Democratic Party are counting on the support of the traditional leaders of Black and Brown political organizations for these U.S. wars of aggression; Blacks and Latinos have historically opposed these wars. Forces in the Black and Latino working-class struggles must not stop expressing our solidarity with peoples across the globe who are fighting for their liberation from imperialism and capitalism.
And it’s not just the stepped-up militarism abroad. Our allies in Black Alliance for Peace have exposed the increased militarization of the police forces across the United States under the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program. According to the Pentagon’s latest figures, $34 million in military equipment were sent to police forces across the country in the first quarter of 2021.
Question: Tell us about the work you’re doing as the Ujima Peoples Progress Party (UPP) in the state of Maryland in terms of building a Black working class-led electoral party.
Lumumba: Our goal is to run candidates in 2022 all across Maryland. State law requires that we gather signatures from 10,000 registered voters to get on the ballot. The signatures have to be verified. Once that is done, we’ll be able to have ballot access statewide. We’ve been supported in this effort by comrades and allies all over the state and all over the country.
What this initial phase of our campaign has shown is that there are pockets of resistance everywhere to the oppression and exploitation of workers. Often those pockets of resistance are isolated. Even though Maryland is a Democratic Party-dominated state, there are extreme differences between the Eastern shore and the Western mountains, areas traditionally held by Republicans. Those regions are especially difficult for Black and Brown workers. Folks in those regions are resisting locally, and they’ve been really happy to see assistance coming from conscious working-class forces led by the Black community.
Building an electoral party is going to be important. It will allow us to link up to each other around a social justice platform with a database of thousands of people. We will be able to support our struggles more effectively and train people to raise money to improve our media and help our on-the-ground working-class organizers.
Question: There is another dimension to your campaign in Maryland — and that is the example of independent working-class politics that you are setting nationwide. That is why it might be a good idea to summon support for your signature-gathering campaign from unionists and activists in the Northeast region and beyond. Funds also could be raised to help this campaign. Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), on whose Continuations Committee you serve, might be willing to assist in this effort. What do you think?
Lumumba: That would be a big help. We’re going to have young workers from throughout our communities volunteering with signature-gathering.
We have created a GoFundMe page for this purpose [gf.me/u/zhyrip], with the goal of raising $10,000. Our goal is to be finished with the signatures by August, when we will turn them into the State Board of Elections.
Question: Our last question is this: How do you see your electoral campaign in Maryland fitting into the overall effort waged by LCIP to build an independent working-class party rooted in the unions and oppressed communities?
Lumumba: Our goal is to build as expansive a political party as possible and to be a place where unionists, activists, radical organizers and socialists can also find themselves connected. For too long, workers have hitched our wagon to the duopoly of the Democratic and Republican parties. This strategy doesn’t work, it only deepens our misery.
During the union-organizing drive in Bessemer, Alabama, the UPP took the lead in organizing solidarity demonstrations at various Amazon warehouses in Maryland. Black and Brown workers, in particular, felt that the UPP was the kind of organization that they would want to be part of. The organizing drive of Amazon workers is just beginning; on May Day we plan to organize picketing at sites where the Amazon vans come and pick up the workers.
We’ll be going into workers’ neighborhoods and start passing out flyers and start agitating about workers being organized. We feel that there’s a connection between labor and community organizing; they overlap. Workers need to be organized in the plants but also in their communities. Both are needed to push back the capitalists’ attempts to steal more and more resources from our people.
This, in turn, will help us move on a regional level toward a more unified working-class struggle. Large sections of Black and Brown workers have been alienated by the efforts of union organizers. Our effort as UPP will help them bridge the gap; it will help them become conscious of their class interests and of the need to build an independent working-class party, not just locally but nationally.
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Interview with CONNIE WHITE, Candidate for City Council in 2022 in Long Beach, California’s District 7
Question: You just announced that you’re running for City Council in 2022 in Long Beach, California’s District 7. What do you hope to accomplish with your campaign?
Connie White: What I hope to accomplish is to actually win. A lot of people who in this country consider themselves progressive or leftist view campaigns for public office as a platform to promote their ideas or their program. But I am fully committed in this endeavor to win so that, as a representative in City Council, I can promote and advocate for legislation around the work in which I am presently involved in the community – such as social housing. One of the pieces of legislation that I will be putting forth is for social housing. I am running to win so that these kinds of issues are not only addressed but are implemented in order to begin to alleviate some of the suffering of our working-class brothers and sisters. My intention, therefore, is to win and make change.
Second, I intend to promote building local Labor and Community coalitions and assemblies using an issue-based organizing model in the City of Long Beach where I have lived since 1990. I will be putting forth a perspective of organizing, not just within leftist circles, but oriented toward a broad-based strategy to build a labor party, which I think should be built from the ground up.
That is one of the reasons why I like the concept of LCIP’s model of building the labor party by building Labor and Community coalitions and assemblies. LCIP is Labor and Community for an Independent Party and its organizing strategy is to unite labor and community to build assemblies that will be the base of a national, independent political party – the labor party.
My vision for labor-community organizing or labor-community assemblies is that it would be a coalition-type formation. Back in the day, in radical circles, we used to call it a “united front.” I see these local, labor-community coalitions and assemblies as organizations and individuals coming together to strategize to build a base for organizing a labor party nationally. These labor-community coalitions and assemblies would promote issue-based organizing in their area – because each city, each area, each neighborhood might have different issues that are more of a focus for them at the moment. There are certain issues that I believe are generic to all of us in the U.S. – such as to alleviate hunger, to increase the minimum wage, to provide social housing. Those issues are pretty across-the-board important to all of us. However, in each area people might focus on one or the other of those issues at any given moment in time.
I believe that it is important for all of us to come together and strategize together. Right now, there are too many disparate organizations and groups of activists that are out doing their thing, but we need to come together to organize in our interests to affect change related to the social issues that are affecting all of our lives.
So, my hope is that out of this model of issue-based organizing to build labor-community assemblies, we will build a base for organizing an independent, working-class labor-community political party.
Question: Tell us about the labor movement in Long Beach. Is there a base to be able to reach out to teachers, faculty members, longshore, Teamsters, and others? Is there a possibility of involving them in a victorious campaign that goes beyond union halls?
Connie White: Definitely. As you may know, there is in Long Beach a long history of labor activity, often militant, especially at the docks because of the Long Beach port and the principled stands of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The ILWU has always been politically active here. Also, I am acquainted with and connected to many teachers in Long Beach. My daughter comes out of the group that is called the Freedom Writers, led by a teacher named Erin Gruwell who taught at Wilson High School in Long Beach. There is a movie that you might be familiar with that was done about the Freedom Writers. I am proud to say that my daughter was one of the original Freedom Writers. The movie tells the story of these Wilson High students, calling themselves the Freedom Writers, who were inspired to academic achievement by their teacher, Erin Gruwell, and who wrote a book about their life experiences living in Long Beach. My daughter has contacted Erin about my campaign for Long Beach City Council. Erin now teaches at Cal State Long Beach.
I also have some close friends who are teachers in Long Beach, and they have indicated that they are willing to help with the campaign. These are important connections. Although I do not know any Teamsters locally, they have been politically active in Long Beach. I plan on reaching out to them. They have a strong base in Long Beach. Then, of course, we have our LCIP-L.A. chapter which supports and endorses the campaign and is willing to work with my campaign team. LCIP-L.A. will be the backbone and anchor of organizing for the campaign. We are hoping to grow LCIP in Southern California as we work to promote my campaign for Long Beach City Council.
Question: Many people say that within the Democratic Party there are those who are strong advocates for the homeless and many other important issues, so why build a separate political party? What is it about the Democratic Party that impedes it from carrying out its many pledges?
Connie White: They are not consistent in any state, city or neighborhood – they are just not consistent in advocating for and putting forth legislation in the interests of the U.S. working-class. You cannot depend on them. They can claim to be whatever they want to claim. However, their actions tell the story of who they represent, and it is not us – it is not the U.S. working class interests that they represent. At least that is how I see it related to my experiences with the Democratic Party nationally or in Southern California, especially among those people that I’m familiar with in the African American community. I do not speak for the entire African American community nationally or in Southern California, but my experience with the Democratic Party is that they will come out of the woodwork during an election cycle but disappear shortly afterwards.
Their candidates and representatives are never consistent to follow through even on the issues they put forth in their election campaigns. They will often try to elicit campaign contributions and votes by making promises during an election cycle, and by playing to some issue that is in the forefront at the time. But when it comes time to enact legislation, if they haven’t disappeared altogether, they always find an excuse about why “now is not the time.” In a few words: You cannot depend on them to be consistent advocates in the interest of the U.S. working-class. I am not that kind of person – I’m not inconsistent nor will I say one thing during the election cycle and then do another thing in office. I believe in advocating consistently for working-class interests, and I don’t take “no” for an answer. I believe in figuring out how to get it done – to get that legislation passed or implemented, no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem.
Question: Deceased labor leader Tony Mazzocchi, who founded the Labor Party in the mid-1990s, often explained that the fundamental reason that you cannot depend on the Democratic Party is that it is financed by same the big corporations and financial institutions that bankroll both major parties: Democrats and Republicans. The bosses have one big corporate party, and working people need a party of our own, Mazzocchi repeated time and again. Though the Labor Party of the 1990s has been put on hold, Mazzocchi’s message is as valid today as it was then. Would you agree?
Connie White: Yes. Absolutely great points.
Question: This raises the issue of the trade unions, which are the only organized expression of the working class as a class. Our union leaders, however, see themselves as the partners of the bosses by and large; they try to convince their members that we are all “middle class,” that we have to advance the interests of both Wall Street and Main Street (meaning the workers). Isn’t it time for workers to reclaim our unions for struggle against the capitalists? Isn’t it time for workers to reclaim the instruments of power built through bitter struggles? Most important, isn’t it time for the unions to break with the Democratic Party and build a working-class party of our own? This, in turn, raises another question: Is it possible to win our demands and advance class consciousness by forging electoral alliances with wings of the capitalist class, namely, the so-called “progressive” or “socialist” sectors of the Democratic Party?
Connie White: There is an ongoing debate over whether we can change the Democratic Party from within: do we have a so-called “dirty break” using the ballot line of the Democratic Party or do we make a “clean break”? I advocate for independent working-class political action that makes a “clean break” with the Democratic Party as we organize an independent political party working in the interests of all sectors of the laboring classes in the U.S.
Both capitalist parties are not our parties, and they will never work for us. They were never established to be working class parties; they are not our organizations. That is why, yes, absolutely, the unions need to break with the Democratic Party and the Republican Party and form our own, independent working-class party based in labor-community assemblies. However, the labor unions themselves are our democratic, working class organizations. Workers fought hard-won battles, and many died to get these labor unions. We never want to give up our organizations just because of the misleaders. We need to reclaim the labor unions; we must not give them up. People fought, suffered, and died in these battles. No, I am not going to give them up.
In that vein, we need to overturn Taft-Hartley. That has been the most damaging law regarding worker rights implemented in our history. Taft-Hartley is a clear example of law that was imposed to keep power from the majority in order to serve the minority.
Question: You mentioned that you see your campaign setting an example for other communities and other activists across the country to do the same thing?
Connie White: Any campaign that unabashedly advocates for a working-class majority in the United States is a good example of what a campaign should be. And because I advocate for building labor and community assemblies along with building that power base for a labor party, I believe my campaign can serve as a worthwhile example. I believe that my campaign, centered around issue-based organizing, is of paramount importance because our class is suffering. If people across the country get on board in their respective areas, and we show success in the labor-community assemblies endorsing candidates that are answerable to these assemblies, that is the example we want to set for building a base for an independent, working-class political party. When we organize these local assemblies around issues and advocate for legislation to alleviate some of the suffering and oppression rampant in our communities and workplaces, we can make a difference in everyday lives of the U.S. working class. So, yes, I definitely think that my campaign in Long Beach’s District 7 can serve as an example.
Question: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Connie White: Yes. I want to add something concerning what is going on in Minneapolis. For too long, the capitalists have been able to divide us around issues of race. This only diminishes the overwhelming power that we have. But in our organizing, we can overcome these obstacles and achieve our goals when we work together to make change, when we explain who the enemy really is and how it is a common enemy of all working-class people.
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Interview with Donna Dewitt on the PRO Act and the South Carolina Labor Party 2022 Election Campaign
[Note: Donna Dewitt is president-emerita of the South Carolina AFL-CIO and member of the Continuations Committee of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP).]
Question: On May Day, unions in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the country marched to honor International Workers Day and to demand that Congress pass the PRO Act, which would dismantle the Taft-Hartley anti-labor act and give workers a fair chance to organize into a union. What’s it going to take to pass the PRO Act?
Donna Dewitt: The first thing is that we in the labor movement must not compromise. We need the full PRO Act. To get it, every one of our International unions must move quickly to educate our members about the Pro Act; most of them don’t know what it’s about. Combined with the education piece is mobilization; we must develop a powerful grassroots movement of unions and their community allies. The PRO Act will lift up all working people.
Question: As far as I can tell, the only two major unions that have engaged in such an educational and mobilization campaign are the Painters Union and CWA. I have not seen on the part of the AFL-CIO national leadership a commitment to pulling out all the stops to pass the PRO Act.
Donna Dewitt: Other international unions like the Postal Workers have made this a priority, but there is no question that more, much more, needs to be done to educate and mobilize our union members. We have an opportunity now to get true labor reform. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by.
Question: There are a number of political obstacles to enacting the PRO Act, in our opinion. The first is that the Democratic Party leadership, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, is strongly opposed to killing the filibuster. With their 51 votes in the Senate, the Democrats could overturn the filibuster in a jiffy and enact the PRO Act — in addition to passing the $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and other urgently needed measures. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Angus King, a so-called independent, now support the PRO Act, but they also support the filibuster — meaning that their “support” for the PRO Act is little more than cheap talk.
Biden has now included the PRO Act in his $2.2 trillion infrastructure bill in an attempt to get it passed through the budget reconciliation process. But here’s another obstacle. The Republican-nominated Senate parliamentarian could decide, as she did when she stymied the $15 minimum wage, that the PRO Act, as written, does not belong in the bill. Such a decision could kill the PRO Act altogether, or it could lead to compromising away the key tenets of the bill.
Donna Dewitt: You’re absolutely right about Manchin. But keep in mind that his office was flooded with calls and texts — 525,000 calls and 134,000 texts — from union members and labor rights activists urging him to support the PRO Act. This forced him to listen to his constituents. What this means is that we can make a difference. We need to be out in the streets, including in D.C., to make things happen. The labor movement has to keep the heat on the politicians to support the PRO Act. It has to educate our members — and, yes, it has to defeat the filibuster. Getting rid of the filibuster is the major task of the hour; it will require building an independent mass-action movement of labor and its community partners.
Question: Moving on to our next question. At a recent labor gathering, a prominent labor official explained that the fight for the Labor Party is unfinished. We could not agree more. In South Carolina you have been able to preserve a South Carolina Labor Party ballot line over all these years, and you are now preparing to run a slate of South Carolina Labor Party candidates across the state in 2022. Please tell us about this important effort.
Donna Dewitt: To get the South Carolina Labor Party on the ballot in 2006, we gathered more than 10,000 signatures. We went to the flea markets and community events in all 46 South Carolina counties, and people from all walks of life were very supportive of our Labor Party issues: higher education, workers’ rights, and, of course, Medicare for All.
We’ve been able to maintain our ballot line by running candidates every four years. Ours is a pure line. South Carolina is one of seven “fusion” states where candidates can run both as Democrats and Workers Families Party candidates. But once these WFP candidates are elected, they forget their WFP credentials and just say they are Democrats. We have our own platform under with our main slogan, “The Bosses Still Have Two Parties, We Need One of Our Own.”
At our last South Carolina Labor Party convention, we decided that we will run candidates across the state for local office, and possibly even a few state offices, in 2022. We are developing a strategy to run labor candidates, but also community candidates, who agree with our platform and want to promote it widely. We will do trainings and nominate our candidates at our South Carolina Labor Party convention. Our focus will be on healthcare — on the fight for Medicare for All!
Question: Your campaign will set an example for unionists and activists nationwide. Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) is supporting independent, working class candidates in Maryland and California and will no doubt fully support your effort as you run Labor Party candidates in South Carolina in 2022, championing the fight for Medicare for All and for workers’ rights.
Donna Dewitt: I look forward to collaborating with LCIP, of which I am an advisory board member. LCIP is a perfect fit for our campaign. We are hoping to include LCIP in our trainings. In South Carolina, it will be a challenge getting our unions involved. A large number of our members voted for Trump. We have a lot of racism and white nationalism in our unions. That is why educating and mobilizing around working-class issues will be so important.
Having said that, we are excited and look forward to this 2022 campaign. We are excited about sharing our progress with you.
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