Interview with Baldemar Velasquez

[Following is an interview with Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC-AFL-CIO). Velasquez is a member of the Organizing Committee of the Labor-Community Campaign for an Independent Party, or LCCIP.]

U&I: You attended the meeting of the Organizing Committee of the LCCIP in Washington, D.C., at the end of February [2019]. At the meeting you told us about FLOC’s program for working on the issue of independent politics and how you are planning to incorporate it into your overall organizing efforts. Could you tell us about the Committee of 100 and how you see it develop?

Baldemar Velasquez: Because of the immigration issue, we have delved into organizing in the urban area of Toledo, where our office is based, and also in Eastern North Carolina, where we have an office that administers all our collective-bargaining agreements. These areas in North Carolina are flooded with immigrant workers in agriculture, but also in food-processing and the building trades. In Toledo, many of the immigrants work in restaurants and landscaping, and some overlap with our farmworkers who work in the rural areas.

But immigration is the issue that is common to all. So we decided to do community organizing in an “associate member” program — which is going quite well. Many of these immigrants have been here for years. Their children were born here. And now their children are 18, 19 or 20 years old. So we started an active youth program called the FLOC Homies Union. We’re now able to ride the back of an employment and training service program where we recruit youth, pay them, intern them into local jobs, and put money in their pockets. We’ve had over 100 kids go through that program.

So that’s when the idea of organizing 100 Latino registered votes arose. Some of our local elected officials are sympathetic to our issues, like immigration, but they’re not going to put their political careers on the line to come out front and push the issues that are important to us. So we decided that we’d do that ourselves, running folks for positions that are important to us.

We’re upt to 60 people toward our goal of a Committee of 100, where we decide on our issues and candidates. With a bit of organizational support, this effort will take on a life of its own. I’m hopeful that the grassroots group will grow into a larger one where we can run our own candidates. Of course, we will tie this to any national effort to build an independent political party.

U&I: On your last point: The meeting in D.C. put forward the perspective of organizing labor and community assemblies to develop political platforms and start running candidates on a local level to begin laying the foundations for a new independent political party. How do you see your campaign fitting into this perspective?

B.V.: I think what we are doing is a first step toward the effort you describe. If we have a Committee of 100 registered voters committed to this goal, we as Latinos can go to other unions and organize an assembly, to which we can also invite community groups allied to us, like our Black-Brown Unity Coalition.  We will have something to contribute. We will have a confidence-builder for the rest of the people who are there.

U&I: Do you have any futher thoughts on the meeting in D.C. and how this effort by the LCCIP can move forward?

B.V.: Getting the word out across the country is critical. The more examples like the ones we are doing will help us get to the point where we can call broad-based local assemblies and then hold a national gathering like we did when we founded the Labor Party in 1996.

U&I: Exactly. More examples of success will be needed. We in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, organized a tour last March of Mexican member of Congress Gerardo Noroña, an independent who caucuses with the MORENA party. We organized some very powerful events in San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento.

One of the points Congressman Noroña stressed in San Francisco and Sacramento was the need for Latino activists in the United States to link up with their working class sisters and brothers of all backgrounds and nationalities to build an independent workers’ party that fights to advance the interests of Latinos, particularly recent immigrants, but also the interests of all working people. Noroña called to support the campaigns of the LCCIP.

We immediately received positive responses from activists in four cities in Northern California, who asked LCCIP organizers to come and present the proposals of the LCCIP to their unions and community organizations. This work in Northern California, we believe, can provide more examples of success. Together with your Committee of 100, and what the sisters in brothers in the South Carolina Labor Party and in the Cleveland are doing, we are hoping we can have some functioning labor-community assemblies and some independent candidates running for local office in November 2020.

B.V.: This report is encouraging, now we have to get to work.

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