[Following is an interview with Gabriel Torres, a professor of Spanish at Los Ríos Community College in Sacramento, Calif., and a trade unionist with the California Federation of Teachers. The interview was conducted by Alan Benjamin at the March 20-22, 2019, convention of the CFT in Los Angeles.]
U&I: During the plenary session of the convention this morning, you announced your candidacy for vice-president of the federation on an opposition slate. You called for the CFT to take a more energetic stand against privatization of public education and you called on the CFT, and all unions, to take a firm stand in opposition to U.S. wars and interventions the world over. Can you tell us more about this?
Gabriel Torres: One of the reasons I decided to run for vice-president was so that I could address all the delegates to the convention. This is pretty much the only way a rank-and-file member can get a hearing for positions such as the ones I put forward.
The questions of war and peace — though they have such an overwhelming impact on society — are not discussed in our unions. The fundamental problem is that our trade union movement is attached at the hip to the Democratic Party.
Trillions of dollars are being spent, with the support of Democrats and Republicans, to prop up the American Empire — an empire that is being challenged the world over, and even slapped around in some cases, which only makes it all the more dangerous for workers and oppressed peoples. Sanctions are tightened against Cuba, coups are being plotted against Venezuela — not to mention all the U.S.-sponsored atrocities in the Middle East, from Yemen and Palestine to Afghanistan and Iran. The list is almost endless.
Even Mexico is under pressure from Trump to toe the line on U.S. policy in Venezuela. That was the meaning of Jared Kushner’s recent visit with [Mexican President] Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Then there is the war against working people in this country: It is not possible to fund human needs here at home, beginning with quality public education, if you don’t make drastic cuts to the war budget, which makes up about 60% of the yearly budget. But the Democrats, with only a few exceptions that can be counted on one hand, are not opposing the war buildup. They are one of the twin parties of war, funded by the military-industrial complex and beholden to Wall Street.
U&I: So how, in your opinion, can the working class start turning things around?
G.T.: For starters, we need a new independent political party that will fight for the interests of the working class. And the term “workers” has to be in its name. This is fundamental. There is a concerted effort to try and convince us that there is no longer such a thing as the class struggle. There are no longer social classes with fundamentally contradictory interests. We have all been dissolved into the category of “people” — of “citizens” or “civil society.”
No. We have to reclaim the mantle of “working class.” What we need is a Workers Party, with unions playing a central role but with the full involvement and participation of the communities of color. This is what will make the Captains of Capital tremble.
This is what we have set out to build in Sacramento, where we have Democrats who promise to support our unions and communities but then turn around and support the District Attorney, who — in the name of “safeguarding our security” — acquitted the police officer who shot and killed Stephon Clark.
We will need build our own labor-community assembly in Sacramento so that we can select truly independent candidates for public office.