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The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Urgent Need to Break the Grip of the Two-Party System

Statement by the Labor Fightback Network (LFN), the Ujima People’s Progress Party (UPP) and Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) 

The United States, the global epicenter of capitalist inequality, has become in fact the global epicenter of disease and death. After 40 years of cutbacks and relentless efforts to destroy everything the working class has been able to build over a century and a half of struggle, we are confronted now with a triple-layered crisis: public-health, financial and political.

On the Public-Health Front: A Vulnerable Nation

The nationwide cuts to public-health budgets have been drastic, and they have been bipartisan. To give just one defining example: In California, a state with Democrats at the helm, per-capita public-health spending has been cut by 18% since 2008, essential public hospitals closed, and funding slashed for two state programs designed specifically for a statewide response in case of an epidemic emergency.

At the same time, 28 million working people nationwide remain without healthcare insurance, while an additional 59.6 million people are under-insured. The unjust character of the U.S. healthcare system was on full display with the recent death of a 17-year-old boy in Lancaster, Calif., who had been infected with COVID-19 and was turned away from a private hospital for lack of health insurance. The boy died shortly afterwards from septic shock. 

“Apocalytic” captures the situation described by medical personnel trying to cope with the situation at New York’s Elmhurst Hospital without essential protective gear and equipment. 

As these lines were written, 305 died in New York City in just one day (one person every 4.7 minutes), and Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that the City would run out of ventilators to keep people alive in a matter of a few days. 

It has been scarcely more than one month ago, Feb. 29, that the first U.S. death was reported. By April 3, the Center for Disease Control counted 5,443 U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19. At 239,279, the U.S. ranks first in the world in the number of confirmed cases, and this at a time when test kits still remain largely unavailable. The actual number of people who contract the virus, including those who remain asymptomatic, never will be known.

On the Financial Front: Bail out Main Street, NOT Wall Street!

Both parties of Big Business — the Democrats and Republicans — created the conditions for the rapid spread of this pandemic. They are using it to enrich their corporate sponsors, and will pass the costs of stabilizing their profit system onto the working class. The $2 trillion “stimulus” packet is in essence a corporate bailout, with massive tax loopholes, forgivable loan terms, and provisions for increased deregulation and privatization. It features an unregulated $454 billion corporate slush fund to be administered by the Federal Reserve Board in conjunction with BlackRock, the financial corporation that bailed out Wall Street (not Main Street) during the 2007-2008 recession and that is destroying pension plans, jobs and public services the world over.

Leaders of the twin parties of the bosses tied the corporate bailout to the direct payments to workers and the unemployed with the full knowledge that the stimulus package would promote massive corporate consolidation and would further restructure the economy in favor of Wall Street and Big Business. 

There also was agreement to exclude the 22 million non-citizens from the payments and protections in the package. In fact, it is estimated that 140 million people living in or close to poverty will not get close to adequate funding to weather the pandemic. Their lives are at risk.

The $2 trillion “stimulus” packet, however, is just the tip of the bailout iceberg. The Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, quickly allocated no less than $4.2 trillion to bail out the banks and investors, already flush with cash reserves from near-zero interest rates and the Trump tax cut. The Fed has promised to do more if needed and for as long as necessary.

Meanwhile, a record 6.6 million workers filed for unemployment the last week of March. The real number of unemployed is actually much higher. Economists predict that the unemployment rate could shoot up to 30% in the coming months. 

We know already to whom the two parties of the bosses will turn to bear the brunt of keeping capitalism intact unless we wage a united fightback in coordination with the unions and organizations of the oppressed communities. The working class still is reeling from the 2008 bailout. Whether Democrats or Republicans are in power, the mantra will be that there are no funds to pay for essential social services, education, healthcare, and other public benefits. Employer-provided healthcare benefits, in particular, will be eliminated or the cost thrust onto workers since the insurance industry already has projected a 40% increase in rates. Wages, let alone wage increases and pension benefits, will be on the chopping block, too.

On the Political Front: A Bankrupt Two-Party System

Under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, finance capital is working overtime to block the rising movements for environmental justice; healthcare as a human right (Medicare for All); a living wage for all; full labor, civil and democratic rights; and equality. 

Joe Biden, a candidate beholden to Wall Street, is on the verge of being anointed the party’s presidential nominee, after a concerted effort by the party leadership to smash the progressive challenge from within its ranks. At a time when the bankruptcy of the current heathcare system has been exposed for all to see, Biden announced that if elected president, he would veto any Medicare for All bill that came to his desk!

It is likely that the Democratic National Committee will cancel the July Milwaukee convention and declare Biden its nominee, sharpening the political crisis and improving vastly the chances of Trump’s re-election.

Instead of promoting peace and international solidarity to fight COVID-19, the twin parties of war have increased sanctions on countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, causing further hardship and death to innocent civilians. In yet another desperate move, the Trump administration, without a word of protest from the Democrats, has raised bogus charges against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in its determined effort to foster regime change.  

“Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” Organizing Meeting

In the face of a massive corporate assault that has been heightened by the pandemic, workers are fighting back; in fact, they are fighting for their very lives. The resurgent, fighting spirit on the shop floors and in workplaces across the country of the past two years is being expressed in nationwide wildcat strikes and other job actions by workers demanding protective gear and safe working conditions denied them by unscrupulous employers. 

The list of wildcat strikes is growing by the day. Those involved include Instacart, Amazon and Whole Food workers across the country; nurses in Watsonville, Calif.; sanitation workers in Pittsburgh; ironworkers in Maine’s shipyards; bus drivers in Detroit; Fiat-Chrysler workers in Warren, Mich.; McDonalds workers in Illinois; grocery-store workers in McAllen, Texas; and poultry workers in Georgia. The list goes on.

In oppressed communities across the United States, the same fighting spirit continues to take on evictions and gentrification, police brutality, and mass incarceration (targeting Black and Brown people disproportionately). In Chicago, tenants unable to pay their rent came together to organize a rent strike. 

In Baltimore, a city where 30% of households live on an income of less than $25,000 a year, residents unable to pay their water bills are fighting back. Home owners are particularly outraged by the fact that major corporations and new developments in gentrified sections of the city have not been made to pay their water utility bills for years, while hundreds of homes were taken from low-income people for owing the city taxes or utility bills, thereby pushing Black and working class families out of the city to facilitate gentrification. 

The fight in defense of undocumented immigrants and prisoners’ rights also has stepped up. Appeals and actions, framed in both health and political terms, are growing to demand the closure of the immigrant detention centers and the release of all detainees, as well the release of prisoners from the over-crowded jails.

The current pandemic shows no sign of letting up any time soon in the United States, so given the restrictions on face-to-face conferences, our usual ways of building opposition and seeking justice will have to continue electronically at this time. We cannot take a break from promoting the desperately needed effort to jettison the two old parties of Big Business on our way to building a just society. 

In early March, the Labor Fightback Network (LFN), the Ujima People’s Progress Party, and Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) issued a call for a national conference to “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System.” The conference was slated to take place in Baltimore on July 31 to August 2, 2020. [See Conference Call attached.]

To prepare this conference (which may have to be held via webinar or zoom), the three sponsoring organizations will be holding an expanded Baltimore Conference Organizing Meeting on April 25, 2020. 

If you are interested in participating in this Organizing Meeting to help us promote the political orientation and aims of the Baltimore conference as outlined in the attached call to “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System,” please contact us as soon as possible at the email address above or at baltimorefightback@gmail.com. 

Our goal is to bring together unionists and community activists who support the Baltimore Conference Call and who are willing to join us in organizing a united fightback in our workplaces and communities and in projecting that fightback into the political arena by laying the groundwork for an independent working-class party rooted in the unions and the communities of the oppressed.

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

Left to right: Baldemar Velasquez, Nancy Wohlforth and Chris Silvera

• 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

Report 2: Closing Presentations to the “Break the Grip” Conference (Sept. 20, 2020)

Closing Three Presentations to the conference by (1) Millie Phillips, (2) Alan Benjamin and (3) Nnamdi Lumumba

Left to right: Millie Phillips, Alan Benjamin and Nnamdi Lumumba

(1) “Going Forward”: Presentation to Closing Plenary Session of the Conference by MILLIE PHILLIPS, Steering Committee member, Labor Fightback Network

What an amazing discussion! Let’s congratulate ourselves! What we are proposing is one of the hardest things ever done. Despite many efforts to create an independent working-class party in the U.S., generations have failed to figure out how to do it effectively.

However LCIP is an effort to learn the lessons from such efforts and to not repeat their mistakes. We are experimenting with a new approach: grounded in fundamental organizing, that is, local, bottom-up relationship-building in communities; directly engaged in the struggles of the most marginalized and oppressed, not subsuming or tokenizing their demands into the top-down fake unities advocated by the Democratic Party and non-profit industrial complex.

One thing we learned from past efforts is that there are no short cuts to success. Especially when the working class is so divided, this relationship building is an essential first step. Within those relationships, we recognize the latent power of organized labor, the only working-class institution specifically intended to represent the class as a whole and for itself, applauding a new militancy among the rank and file – and it is there – while also recognizing that much of the union leadership is still stuck depending on the Democrats at the expense of the membership, or worse.

Regardless of who is elected in November, the working class in this country will still face cuts and attacks. For example, the Democrats are not going to even try to pass Medicare for All, one of most necessary and unifying demands there is for all working-class people.  Whatever happens, a movement to build a new working-class party needs to be in the streets, alongside all others fighting for the same concerns, not separate from, and certainly never above, the fray. Only by consistent solidarity can we create the trust and accountability needed to build the lasting relationships that will allow us to move forward.

The vehicle we have proposed for this is the building of labor/community coalitions for a party and of an effort within the unions to engage labor in such coalition building. We have many opportunities: Luis Angel reported on the efforts in Adelanto and McFarland, CA; small towns in CA with ICE concentration camps that could build into such a community-led break with the Democrats. Also, in CA, we have a team in Los Angeles that has been initiating this work.

We have potential in Oakland with the ILWU to get a coalition off the ground. Activists in Sacramento were among the founders of LCIP and are reviving our efforts there. In South Carolina, we already have a Labor Party ballot line. It’s time to get the party back up and running, maybe with some candidates next year.

Of course in Baltimore we have the Ujima People’s Progress Party, which is planning to run candidates as well as soon as possible. How this coalition will look in any given locale depends on the circumstances. Unlike previous efforts, we are firm supporters of self-determination. We are excited by the prospect of Black parties or those among other oppressed sectors as they may arise. This is not counterpoised to trying to unify the entire working class around its common interests.

Indeed, without parties of the oppressed, or the leadership of radical people color in unions, such as we see in the ILWU, their demands are not likely to be centered. The entire working class needs the leadership of these parties to set an agenda that does not leave any of us out.

We are about to move into our final plenary discussion. First, for some practical matters: The committees that built this conference were ad hoc for that purpose and are therefore dissolved. But we hope members of those committees will re-commit and we can form a new Continuations Committee with similar committees. If you were already part of the planning, please consider volunteering on the new committees that will convene after this conference. And, all of you, if you truly support LCIP’s goals, please let us know if you’d like to be on a Continuations Committee.

We hope that this final discussion will focus on how, practically, we we can build in our various locations.

Thank you so much for committing your weekend to this work. Now we need to commit ourselves for the long haul. Thank you to our organizing and tech teams and all the amazing work you have done to make this weekend a success. And thanks for your patience with the almost inevitable Zoom issues.

Now, I will turn this over to Sandy Eaton to facilitate our discussion.

* * * * * * * * * *

(2) Closing Presentation to the Conference by ALAN BENJAMIN, Editorial Board member of The Organizer Newspaper and delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council (for id. only)

[Note: This is an expanded version of the closing presentation that I delivered to the conference on September 20. I had to abridge my prepared statement because of time constraints. — A.B.]

Comrades,

Thank you, Donna, for your kind introduction, and thank you everybody for an incredible weekend. Comrade Clarence Thomas used the word “historic” to describe our gathering. That remains to be seen; it will be historic if we are able to carry through with our collective pledge this weekend to forge ahead and advance the struggle for independent working-class political action.

One-hundred-ninety-eight people registered for our conference, and the overwhelming majority participated at one point or another in the 8-hour zoom gathering over two days. We came from various political tendencies, including various socialist tendencies — and from various Black and Latino working-class organizations, among others. We displayed tremendous commitment and diversity.

We discussed difficult and challenging issues, often with great enthusiasm and passion. Comrade Millie Phillips pointed out in her introduction that the struggle to build and sustain a mass-based independent working-class party in this country has taken place over the past 150 years, without success. The task ahead, therefore, is onerous. But we showed that it is possible to engage in serious political discussion about the need for independent working-class politics, with lessons drawn from past defeats, with a wealth of experience among us, and with proposals on how to move forward.

We came together around a Conference Call — as comrade Connie White pointed out in her opening presentation to this gathering — that summoned us to implement the two prongs of the LCIP’s Statement of Purpose: (1) forming independent labor-community coalitions to run independent labor-community candidates at a local level, thereby laying the foundation of an independent working class party rooted in the unions and oppressed communities, and (2) building Labor Party committees in our unions to promote the two resolutions adopted by the national convention of the AFL-CIO in October 2017 that call for an end to labor’s support for “lesser-evil” politics.

Our Conference Call, as comrade Mya Shone reminded us, also summoned us to support the right to self-determination and self-organization of Blacks and other oppressed people as a condition for principled unity in building such a Labor-based party. This is what we wrote in our Conference Call:

“Such a national conference, of course, needs to incorporate the fight for independent Black working-class political action. Nnamdi Lumumba, co-convener of the Ujima People’s Progress Party, expressed well the articulation of the struggle for independent Black working-class politics and for a Labor-based party at the December ‘Break the Grip’ conference in Cleveland, stating:

“We need to organize people around their own class interests and their own interests as nationally oppressed people. Helping to break the active or even passive support to the two capitalist, imperialist and white supremacist parties has been a fundamental goal of our efforts as the Ujima People’s Progress Party, as we seek to build a Black workers-led electoral party.

“While we support a national Labor Party that recognizes both the shared and independent struggles of oppressed and exploited workers on the job and in their communities, we affirm that nationally oppressed people have to center the discussion and self-organization around their own specific oppression. … Having said that, we need to create a mass-based working-class party that says capitalism does not serve you, imperialism does not serve you, and racism does not serve you.”

Over these past two days we have reaffirmed these objectives and discussed the many ways we can begin to implement them in our own communities. It has been an extremely rich discussion.

Some people criticized us for convening this conference before the elections, calling our effort a “distraction.” Our gathering has proven them wrong. We were right to get the ball rolling today and to affirm a truly independent working-class road forward. A statement issued a couple of days prior to the conference by the Labor Fightback Network, one of the co-sponsors of “Break the Grip,” expressed this best, stating:

“No matter who wins in November, the bipartisan deficit hawks will be swooping down to shred whatever we have left, coming after Social Security, Medicare and our postal service. Pretty much whatever has ‘public’ in its name will continue to have a bull’s eye on its back, but the class struggle will become ever more intense.

“The weapons of the working class, our unions and our community-based movements, will need to be strengthened and brought to bear. It’s a question of survival. Dependence on the Democratic Party has weakened their fighting spirit and blunted their ability to fight the class enemy that it serves. We must learn to go on the offense while still playing defense, organizing rank-and-file and grassroots initiatives, uniting them into a mighty river to wash away the neoliberal, neoconservative mire of austerity, racism, war, and the lingering stench of fascism.”

Let there be no doubt: Working people will be made to shoulder the burden of a crisis inherent in an economic system, capitalism, which is in terminal decay.

Others have criticized us for going ahead and re-launching the fight for a Labor Party, as per the second prong of our Statement of Purpose. It’s not yet time, our detractors say. To this we have answered: Yes, it is time; in fact, the fight for a Labor Party is long overdue. The two AFL-CIO resolutions on independent politics must not remain paper resolutions. We need to bore into the labor movement with this effort, as comrade Ken Morgan proposed, and build organized support for these AFL-CIO resolutions in our unions [see statement by Nancy Wohlforth]. We must understand that a major obstacle facing the working class today is the subordination of the trade unions, the only class-based organizations of the working class, to the Democratic Party. We have to help remove this obstacle today — not tomorrow.

The time is now, when millions of people are in motion. Twenty million people were in the streets, despite the pandemic, to protest the police murder of George Floyd and countless other Black and Brown people. There has been an upsurge in the labor movement — from the educators’ strikes in the Red States — then in Los Angeles, Oakland and Chicago. There has been a reactivation of union organizing drives and strikes by meatpackers, UPS drivers, janitors, and other sectors of the workforce.

When will be the right time — when our public services, our jobs, and our communities have been totally dismantled by the twin parties of the bosses, when our collective strength as a class to fight back has been eroded?

Millions of people are looking for a political alternative to the twin parties of the bosses. Every poll confirms this. Many have gone through the experience, yet again, of the Bernie Sanders campaign, only to find their candidate urge support for a warmonger and Wall Street favorite. How many more times do folks have to go through this experience to realize that the Democratic Party cannot be reformed? That orientation is a dead end.

And let us be clear: The party that we seek to build is a working class party — not a middle-class People’s Party. It’s a party that projects the fightbacks and independent mass actions that we build — fightbacks that we discussed in each of our breakout sessions this weekend — into the political arena so that we are not sent into battle against our class enemy, as comrade Mya pointed out in her introductory report, with one arm tied behind our back.

At this point I would like to address one of the difficult questions that came during our conference: Is support for a Black-worker led political party “divisive,” as a few people asserted in this discussion? Is support for the right of Black people to self-determination “divisive”? Our answer is an unequivocal NO; it is NOT divisive. Support for the right to self-determination, including the fight to build Black working-class parties, is, in fact, a precondition for building principled working-class unity.

We must understand that the wealth of this nation was built upon the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the blood and sweat of the millions of Black slaves brought to these shores from Africa as chattel. We must understand that white supremacy, in its more overt or covert forms, is a scourge that continues to plague our country and our labor movement.

I am sure that comrade Nnamdi will take this up further in his concluding speech, but for my part, and given my own political background, I would like to quote from the “Freedom Now!” 1963 resolution of the Socialist Workers Party to underscore why I believe that we must support both a Black Workers Party and a Labor Party.

The “Freedom Now!” resolution helps us understand why there is no contradiction between these two struggles. The resolution notes that, “the labor and Black movements march along their own paths, but they march to a common destination, and the freedom of the Blacks from oppression and of the workers from exploitation can be achieved only through the victory of their common struggle against capitalism. … Blacks cannot win their goal of equality without an alliance with the working class.”

The resolution goes on to note that the “tempos of development of the two movements are uneven,” and that Blacks may first want to unite in their own party in order that they can be able to bring about an alliance of equals, where they [the Blacks] can be reasonably sure that their demands and needs cannot be neglected or betrayed by their allies.”

This must be clear: You cannot fight effectively against racism if you don’t wage the most resolute fight against capitalism; conversely, you cannot fight effectively against capitalism if you don’t place front and center the fight against racism.

I would like to point to an example from my own experience of why building Black caucuses in our unions, or even in our Labor parties, is not enough — and is often a roadblock to the fight for Black rights and self-determination.

In 1998, the Second National Convention of the Labor Party, after much debate, voted to endorse a resolution calling for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The resolution was introduced by the Labor Party’s Black Caucus. Not long after this LP convention, many of us on the LCIP Organizing Committee — myself, Nancy Wohlforth, Baldemar Velasquez, Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone — organized an international delegation to the Justice Department in Washington, DC, to demand a new trial for Mumia. We brought 1.1 million signatures in support of this demand. Our delegation included Martin Luther King III and other luminaries.

When we asked the Labor Party leadership to join our delegation, given the convention vote, we were told that the Labor Party would not participate because one of its affiliates believed that Mumia was a “cop-killer.” And so a convention resolution was torpedoed.

Comrades,

These are uncertain but exciting times, full of opportunities. There are openings all across the country to launch independent labor-community coalitions that select their candidates and platforms democratically on a local level — expressing the consequences of national policies locally, such as the need for Medicare for All, or Black community control of the police, or closing detention centers and freeing all those detained, among so many other pressing matters.

• We heard this weekend about efforts underway to save the Port of Oakland and the thousands of Longshore, Teamster and other union jobs from the predatory land-grabbing Oakland A’s — a corporate drive that will continue and expand the gentrification of a predominantly Black city, yet another effort at ethnic-cleansing. Can we not seek to build the resistance to this corporate offensive by expanding the fightback, building a labor-community coalition, and running our own candidates, mandated and answerable to the coalition and the community in Oakland?

• We heard from comrade Luis Angel about the struggles by immigrant rights activists against Democratic Party politicians and policies — both at the federal level (with 3 million people deported under Obama) and at the local level, where cities have contracted with private for-profit prisons and detention centers to warehouse women and children under conditions where their very lives are at risk because of the pandemic. We heard that in places like Mcfarland and Adelanto, California, activists are fighting to close these detention centers, these concentration camps, and that they are open to building local labor-community coalitions to take over the city councils and shut down the centers and free the detainees.

These efforts, I should add, can be enjoined to the fight for papers for all, tearing down the Wall of Shame, and repealing the “free trade” agreements that force millions of peasants and youth off their lands in foreign countries and propel them on the road to exile in the United States. That is why I would like to salute comrade Liliana from Mexicali and relay her invitation to support and participate in the Binational Conference Against NAFTA 2.0 and the Wall of Shame, For Labor Rights for All, which will take place online October 10 and in person in Tecate, Baja California.

I should like to add here that I fully agree with a comrade who stated in the discussion that we must call to shut down the entire prison-industrial complex, with its hundreds of concentration camps where millions of Black and Brown political prisoners have been warehoused for years. Free all the political prisoners!

• We’ve heard about the efforts to preserve the South Carolina Labor Party and its ballot status. Can we not in 2022 run candidates for state-wide offices that could set an example for what the labor movement can and must do to lay the foundation of a mass-based independent Labor Party?

• And we heard about the efforts of the comrades in the Ujima People’s Party to seek ballot status and to run independent candidates as soon as possible in Maryland. Black-led working class electoral parties, with election campaigns that are open to all working people, are themselves a form of labor-community coalition that we must support.

So, yes, the forms of these labor-community coalitions will vary, but the bottom-up method, rooted in workers’ democracy, is the same.

One final point: A number of comrades raised the question of a Day of Action — which could include mass strikes and even general strikes — in the event that Trump attempts to steal the election. We must be clear about this: The fight against voter suppression is our fight. The fight to defend the right to vote is our fight. Millions of workers and oppressed people died in this country to secure this right.

In 2000, the Democrats threw their own candidate, Al Gore, under the bus by refusing to take on the electoral commissions and courts and by refusing to mobilize millions in the streets. They were unwilling to expose and confront the institutions of the bourgeois State, thereby enabling the Constitutional coup d’etat that brought G.W. Bush to power. Hundreds of thousands of Black voters in Florida had their votes stolen. Gore — whatever one may think of his totally reactionary policies — should have won, even with the Electoral College holdover from the slavocracy.

It is up to working-class people to defend the very bourgeois democratic rights that have been won through bitter struggles by working people and that have been eroded continually. Let us entrust to the incoming Continuations Committee the task of networking with unions and community organizations to see how we can best join the fightback against any attempt by Trump and his cronies to steal the election in November.

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(3) Closing Presentation to the conference by NNAMDI LUMUMBA, Co-convener, Ujima People’s Progress Party

I want to thank all the comrades who participated through the weekend. I too agree that open discussion among socialists, among anti-capitalists is very important. It is crucial to know who you’re working with and to understand the intricacies of the struggles that we all bring.

I think that we are in a process that will lead towards a real labor party that’s based in the unions and in the oppressed communities. I do not think we can skip this process, but I think there’s much work to be done. There are no assumptions that we should bring into this process that are untouchable. I think we really have to use history as a guide.

Before I go further, I want to state that I received a letter from a comrade who is locked down. He’s a prisoner of conscience who heard about this conference, and he’s close to us in the Ujima People’s Progress Party. He asked that I read this, but because of time I’m going to ask that we transcribe it to go with the discussion so that it is not lost. I really appreciate that the brother took his time and resources to write to this conference. [See transcribed letter in this conference report.]

I also want to read a very brief statement written by Karl Marx:

“Whilst the cotton industry introduced child slavery in England it gave in the United States a stimulus to a transformation of the early more or less patriarchal slavery, into a system of commercial exploitation. In fact, the veiled slavery of the wage earners in Europe and in America needed for its pedestal slavery pure and simple.”

We will not fix the contradictions on slavery by building socialism over the pedestal of slavery, genocide, and colonialism. Not only will you not do it, we won’t allow you to do it. You will not be able to use the oppressed nations and have partnership with conscious African workers in a process that delegitimizes what history has done to us to take our humanity.

It is not a question that we’re asking anybody to help us. We will be free and self-determined on our own terms. We know that there must be unity of all workers against imperialism and against capitalism, but it won’t come off our back. It won’t come off our blood and sweat. Ask those who have been able to benefit from being a wageworker under slavery, under colonialism. Ask them to make the contradictions, to make the sacrifices first. We’ve done enough sacrifices.

We’re going to have honest conversations regardless of our national origin, our gender, our sexual orientation. All of us come into this discussion understanding that imperialism is the enemy, that the capitalist ruling class is the enemy. But it has also created divisions that need to be worked out. We’ve got lots of work to do, comrades. 

There is not going to be a Labor Party that exists with African people who are tied to African suffering, who are going to give up the right of self-determination. We have seen forces who now are from the Black community join organizations like the DSA. And I’m not debating the DSA’s politics, I’m talking about the type of Black people who join the DSA ain’t the people that you find in the hood. These ain’t the same people you find doing the day-to-day work and struggle that makes it possible that mothers can feed their children, that people can get educated, that people can get healthcare one way or another, that people find housing. These ain’t those people. They can join whatever organizations and do whatever they want, but if you want to bring African people conscious of their working-class and national interest you’re going to have to have a discussion about our right to be self-determined and self-organized. 

We come to this process honestly saying that we’re anti-imperialist, that we’re anti-capitalist. We’re anti-colonialist, antiracist, antisexist. We are pro-liberation. We believe in radical unions. But we’re not going to compromise Black Power. Black Power is not on the table for discussion. Either we’ll have it in the alliance, or we’ll have it out of the alliance. But we will have Black Power. 

It’s an important discussion, and we think it’s important that we spread the discussion. I’m not asking you to necessarily give up your politics to be able to accept that position, but if you want this alliance then you have to make some considerations to how you want to move forward. 

It’s not an easy process. I don’t expect this one discussion to persuade anybody that that’s the right thing to do. But I’m telling you, it’s going to come up and we’re going to continue to have it. And when we get tired of having the damn conversation, you’re going to be talking to yourself. You’re not going to have fighters from Black and Brown communities come into this process and this specific discussion about the participation of oppressed communities to be dictated to. We told you what the condition is for the relationship. We fought this long without your support, and we’ll continue to fight this long without your support. That’s important.

I also want to say that the struggle to get on the ballot is not the most important question that we have. The most important question that all of us should be worried about is how do we build working-class power?

If the electoral process could have done it, it would have done it a long time ago. If anybody in this discussion believes that electoral politics is going to free us from imperialism and capitalism, I believe you’re in the wrong discussion. It is a tactic that we will use as long as is feasible.

This is a lesson coming out of the history of struggle in the African community: When we didn’t have the right to vote, we still fought. When we couldn’t join the racist-ass Democratic or Republican parties, we still fought. We built our own independent organizations. We took up our own self-defense. We built our own institutions of mutual aid to feed ourselves and to bury our children and our parents in the goddamned ground that this racist settler state stole us to.

It’s not acceptable that we be told to sacrifice our right to national liberation as a nation of oppressed people.  Yes, class unity is important, but not off our backs. Not off the backs of our children. It is serious, because when we have these struggles today around police brutality, it is not a general workers’ question. It is a question of how the African American community is being treated. It is a question of how the indigenous community is being treated.

We die and disappear; we don’t end up on damn milk cartons. No one cares because we’re just supposed to be dead. Because that’s how America built itself, off the bones and blood of African and indigenous people. You want to tell me about the unity of a workers’ struggle? Fuck a workers’ struggle if it wants to opportunistically build itself off the suffering of oppressed people while denying those same people the right of national liberation and self-determination. Centuries of colonial oppression cannot be solved by simply winning demands for jobs for all or free education for all. Our contradiction started with the loss of our sovereignty, colonial theft of land and forced labor as chattel. African people had full employment under slavery so full employment doesn’t solve our contradiction. Freedom and self-determination does. African and indigenous peoples winning our national liberation is a strategic part of defeating U.S. capitalism. Maybe we will be your allies, maybe we won’t, as self-determined people it’s our decision. It is our choice.

We helped build this conference because we made the conscious choice to find working class allies who understand that we must work together to free ourselves from capitalism and imperialism. But if that is not good enough for you then it won’t be good enough. We came to explain our strategy and our work of building a party in the state of Maryland.

The truth is that it’s open to everybody. Some people can’t even imagine the fact that a Black workers’ party could lead white people. You just make the assumption that a Black Party is exclusively Black. That is the racism that you have to deal with. We will go build a workers’ movement led by Black workers in this state and wherever African people fight to build Black power and national liberation. We will have self-determination, and we will only have allies that respect our right to be a free and self-determined nation, led by the African working class.

Uhuru!

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Report 1: Opening Presentations to the “Break the Grip”National Conference (Sept. 19, 2020)

Listing of some of the speakers at the “Break the Grip” conference

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

Connie White

“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

Mya Shone

“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

Nnamdi Lumumba

“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.

Uhuru!

Why We Will Be Attending the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” Conference — and Why You Should Too

(titles listed for id. only)

Nancy Wohlforth, Secretary-Treasurer Emerita, OPEIU (AFL-CIO)

(Washington, DC)

The time is now to begin laying the groundwork of an independent, labor-based political party. Two resolutions adopted by the national convention of the AFL-CIO in October 2017 are our reference point. The first one states, “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 working people have generally been set back.” The second convention resolution talks about the need “to break with lesser of two evils” and to “create a Labor-based Political Party.” Breaking the grip of the two-party system can’t wait. It is our task. The method and conceptual framework adopted by LCIP to get the ball rolling is a good one; it’s a method that will open doors for this work within the trade union movement.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ajamu Baraka, National organizer, Black Alliance for Peace

(Washington, DC)

Building an independent labor party is both timely and historically necessary. The “Break the Grip” national conference will move us in this direction by engaging in a serious discussion of why we need such a party and what are the obstacles before us. From our point of view as BAP, such an independent party cannot ignore or marginalize the issues of imperialism and militarism; these are working-class issues. We will also need to engage in the electoral process, starting at the local level, and develop a strong presence in the broader social movements — in the struggles involving labor, and the working class in general. We look forward to a strategic discussion about how we move forward in forging this new political formation.

* * * * * * * * * *

Millie Phillips, Steering Committee, Labor Fightback Network

(Berkeley, Calif.)

In this election season, the focus is on the presidential race; a choice between a sociopathic wannabe dictator and a “neoliberal” warmonger who won’t even support Medicare for All. This is not a choice anyone should have to make. If working-class people had our own political party and could elect our own representatives accountable to us and not to corporate lobbyists, we wouldn’t be in such a dire situation. We must start efforts now to build a new party — an independent working-class party rooted in the trade unions and communities of the oppressed — focusing at the local level and building upward, so that we have a choice to vote for what we want and need, rather than what little we can get. We need to start now. Join us September 19 and 20 for the online “Break the Grip” national conference.

* * * * * * * * * *

Nnamdi Lumumba, Co-convener, Ujima People’s Progress Party

(Baltimore, Md.)

The discussion around an independent labor party based on the unions and oppressed communities has been in the works for some time. This is because we have not seen any political party coming forward to represent our interests. We want to have a discussion at the “Break the Grip” conference about how best to build a national labor party, and in Maryland, how best to build a Black worker-led political party. It’s important for Black workers to define our relationship to the workers’ movement. We are struggling for Black liberation on our own terms. We want to be able to talk honestly about what it will take to move forward and build a working-class movement that doesn’t use Black and Brown peoples to advance itself but then leaves us in the lurch.

* * * * * * * * * *

Donna Dewitt, Steering Committee, Labor Fightback Network; Co-Chair, South Carolina Labor Party; President Emeritus, South Carolina AFL-CIO (Charleston, S.C.)

“The bosses have two parties. We need one of our own.” The continuing affronts on the country’s workers and their families has given voice to a diverse community reeling from the impacts of  pandemic, increasing police violence and police murders of minorities, environmental injustices, centuries of injustices, and other unprecedented challenges. An empowered movement is rising from the current struggles and pains of history, striving to bridge the gaps of cultural differences and forge a party of principles, a party of leaders, not politicians. From local community issues to national priorities, now is the time to build and give a cumulative voice to the concerns of working America. Join us for the “Break the Grip of the Two Party System” national conference on September 19th & 20th!     

* * * * * * * * * *

Chris Silvera, Secretary-Treasurer, Teamsters Local 808

(Long Island City, N.Y.)

COVID-19 has revealed once again the failure of either major political party to pass a stimulus bill that benefits working class-people, providing instead a massive bailout to the ruling class and corporations. Just two years ago, trillion-dollar tax cuts were given to the ruling class, and they are still in need of a bailout. Really? Capitalism is dying. Organized labor must recognize that it is time to separate from the parties of the bosses. Labor must begin to mobilize its masses and invest in organizing essential, non-union workers. These workers are exhibiting great degrees of bravery and militancy in the face of their experience with the wanton disregard for their health and safety.  We must re-allocate the millions of dollars wasted on political parties each year toward this vital organizing drive.

* * * * * * * * * *

E.J. Esperanza, immigrant rights attorney

(San Francisco, Calif.)

The problems facing working-class people have seldom been more dire, and seldom has the need for a truly independent working-class political party been more necessary. Nowhere is this question more pressing than in the immigrant community. There is no question in the immigrant community about the real threat presented by the Trump administration. We know – we’ve spent every waking hour fighting it. But there is also a growing awareness that the Democrats are no “lesser evil.” The Democrats created the deportation regime under which we are living today. Obama and Biden deported nearly 3 million immigrants in eight years. No effort to build an independent working-class party will be successful without tapping into the fight for immigrant rights and making this fight central to its formation, in deeds as well as words. I look forward to joining in this fight for an independent working-class party. Let’s seize this opportunity.

* * * * * * * * * *

Clarence Thomas, Retired member, ILWU Local 10

(Oakland, Calif.)

The Bay Area International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) locals have spearheaded the formation of a broad coalition to prevent the privatization of the Port of Oakland, Calif., which would destroy thousands of longshore and other union jobs, and drive thousands of Black families out of West Oakland in a massive gentrification onslaught.  One of our major obstacles in this effort is the Democratic Party, not to mention the unions that remain tied at the hip to the Democrats. They have joined forces with the real-estate moguls and developers to push through this corporate, racist, neo-liberal scheme. We in the ILWU have embraced the slogan of the Million Worker March: “Mobilizing In Our Own Name.” There is a strong need for independent politics. We will not be fully effective if we don’t run our own candidates to champion this struggle. We have to strike while the iron is hot.

* * * * * * * * * *

Connie White, Labor Party advocate

(Los Angeles, Calif.)

One of the major problems that I saw with the Labor Party in the 1990s is that it did not break with the Democratic Party. The Labor Party that we seek to build today must position itself in opposition to the Democratic Party, and it must participate in the electoral process. This should be a minimum strategy. One of the reasons that I joined Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) is because I believe that the Labor Party should be built from the ground up, not from the top down. I don’t believe it should start out running a presidential candidate, but I definitely think that a strategy for power must include running candidates for the House of Representatives. This should be a goal as we help to promote and build the Labor Party in the United States. The “Break the Grip” conference should point us in this direction. Please join us.

* * * * * * * * * *

Baldemar Velasquez, President, FLOC (AFL-CIO)

(Toledo, Ohio)

I would like to extend my greetings, and that of all FLOC members, to all those who are organizing the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” national conference. We appreciate the work you are doing to revitalize the Labor Party movement. We’re in solidarity with you. We as FLOC are taking action ourselves because we know that the federal government is not going to do anything for us, and nor will they enforce any standards, assuming they do set standards. Our independent electoral work is also important to us. We’re expanding our base and educating around why we need an independent voice in the electoral arena. We cannot continue to rely on people who don’t know the reality of workers and community members, especially those who are on the front lines.

* * * * * * * * * *

Berthony Dupont, Editor, Haiti Liberté 

(Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Today, in the face of this COVID-19 pandemic, Haitian workers need to build their own organization: a Workers Party. Only this tool is capable of enabling them not only to resist against the bosses but also to defend their own interests for the construction of another society — a society that will not defend the banks and the companies of the bosses but will be at the service of the workers, the youth, the peasants, the country and humanity in general. The same is true in the United States, the heartland of U.S. imperialism, where building a Labor-based party — a Workers Party— is an urgent need. I look forward to a productive “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” national conference and urge labor and community activists to attend.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sandy Eaton, Former Chair, Legislative Council, National Nurses United 

(Quincy, Mass.)

Democracy is too important to leave to the Democratic Party and its ways. The Democrats paved the way for the multi-layered crisis we are witnessing today. Bill Clinton was called upon to get NAFTA passed. He went on to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable. Together with Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich in the House, he managed to devastate the gains that the working class and its allies had been able to wrest over decades. Our public health infrastructure was devastated. It’s about class rule. We have well-heeled enemies. That is why we have to build an independent political force. Toward that end, we will be meeting online September 19 and 20 at the “Break the Grip” conference. Please join us.

* * * * * * * * * *

Bill Leumer, Former President, International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local 565

(San Francisco, Calif.)

The working class today in the U.S. is not organized as a class because being organized as a class requires an independent political party of the working class. The  “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” conference is a step in the direction of winning working people from the stranglehold of the two parties of corporate America. The employers use these two parties as weapons against us. We working people need a party of our own so that we can fight back effectively and free ourselves from a system that only seeks to exploit us for profit.

* * * * * * * * * *

Alan Benjamin, OPEIU Delegate to SF Labor Council; Editorial Board, The Organizer Newspaper

(San Francisco, Calif.)

As the economic crisis deepens, with a major Depression in sight, we read in the financial press that mass layoffs and drastic cuts to social spending will be needed to pay back the trillions of dollars of debt incurred by the 2020 Wall Street “stimulus” bailouts. In fact, the corporate assault on working people has already begun. The labor movement should be demanding: No Layoffs, No Cuts!; Tax the Rich!; Fund a Marshall Plan-scale Public Works Program (to put the 36 million unemployed people to work in union jobs, at union scale)!; Medicare for All, Now!; Slash the War Budget to Fund Human Needs!; Defund the Police and End Systemic Racism! — among other such demands. Affirming labor’s independence in our workplaces must go hand in hand with affirming labor’s independence in the electoral arena, beginning at the local level in alliance with the communities of the oppressed. Promoting this dual effort must be a task of the “Break the Grip” conference.

* * * * * * * * *

Don Bryant, NALC Branch 40 Retired, LFN Steering Committee, LCIP Organizer

(Cleveland, Ohio)

We should be talking about expanding our democracy, not limiting it. We should be talking about what we can have, not what the plutocracy won’t give back. This nation has never been a beacon of freedom and democracy as has been pronounced since its inception. This lie is now festering as COVID 19 rages and our racist history plays out in modern-day lynchings by cops and vigilantes (still), bringing a new and sustained uprising that won’t go back. Accepting the lesser of two evils in our candidates has gotten us nowhere, and it has watered down our social contract to eviction notices and death certificates for far too many; it’s gotten pretty expensive too with Pentagon annual budgets now exceeding $700 billion annually, supported by the duopoly for decades. Talking about reforming the parties is fruitless when we really must reform the system by widening the political field and raising a party that truly represents the working class and the millions of people struggling under poverty and oppression.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Keil, Political activist

(Boston, Mass.)

I’m a union activist and socialist who belongs to the Mass. Teachers Association (delegate to the 2020 MTA and MSCA/state-university conventions) and to the Green Party of the US. We need desperately to build toward a mass labor party, a mass party of the working class. The conference sponsored by LCIP and other groups is an important step toward that goal. 

Working people in 2020 are facing loss of their income, their health, their kids’ education, and even the democratic right to elect their leaders. The reality and the threat of bipartisan imperialist war hang over us. The Republicans are falling into an authoritarian, racist abyss, but the Democrats offer no solution. It is clearer and clearer that the issues of 2020 will be decided in the streets. These issues are political, but we lack a party of the working class. The October 19 conference will offer ways to move in that direction.

* * * * * * * * * *

Daniel Reif, Youth activist 

(Los Angeles, Calif.)

The call for working class and impoverished people to break the grip of the two-party system is a tradition famous to the organized American left. As a young member of the Labor and Community for an Independent Party, I continue tradition, but my age affords new perspectives on that practice.

My generation of young voters are the least confident in corporate Democratic politics, championing a Post-Ferguson/Post-Bernie insurgency movement at the down-ballot level in a radically motivated effort to command that future elected officials be accountable to the people. Unfortunately, class-consciousness teaches us that this effort will inevitably lead the neoliberal bourgeoise and the oppressed lower classes to vote together, compromising their distinctly separate interests.

It’s time to capitalize on a pivotal moment for our famous practice and create a strong electoral future for the working class. This mission begins at the LCIP’s Break The Grip conference on September 19th and 20th, where I wish to see you.

* * * * * * * * * *

Michael Carano, Unionist and political activist

(Tallmadge, Ohio)

Crappy jobs. Low wages. Mass unemployment. Endless wars.  Regime change. Monumental student debt.  No health “care” but bankruptcy priced health “insurance.”  Black brothers and sisters gunned down on the street with impunity. Deportations. Splitting of families. These failures that impoverish and disempower the working class have a reason — that reason is the two parties that work in unison to prevent change.

Let’s quit doing the same thing and getting the same results. Forge a new path. It requires effort. We must build a party oriented to working people that aligns with our vision, where labor and community candidates sharing that vision actually do the bidding of their base, unlike the two-party corporate vultures that leave bone-dry scraps for the masses.

Join the Labor and Community for an Independent Party’s call to participate in the Break the Grip of the Two-Party System Conference, Sept 19-20.  Virtually gather with community organizers and Labor activists (virtually) to forge a path forward to create a party where the needs of workers and community are center to a path we build in good conscience.

* * * * * * * * * *

Desiree Rojas, President, Sacramento Chapter, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, LCLAA/AFL-CIO

(Sacramento, California)

I look forward to attending the Break the Grip conference. This is a moment in our history where there is a great need to discuss and reach an understanding on what it will take to re-invent our politics, and to re-think where labor fits in.

We need to figure out how we can best organize and mobilize for a future in which workers and their families can have a healthy life, a good job with a living wage and benefits, universal healthcare coverage from cradle to grave, and clean water and clean food. We cannot accept being enslaved by this capitalist system, which is destroying all living things on the planet.

So I am going to be present because I feel that it is important to engage and share ideas, and to create a platform that we can use as a blueprint to move forward in building our own independent voice and finding solutions to the existing problems of today.

* * * * * * * * * *

Kali Akuno, Executive Director, Cooperation Jackson

(Jackson, Mississippi)

I look forward to attending the LCIP conference on independent politics. What has been happening over the past six years inside the Democratic Party and to the efforts to reform the party prove that we need our own independent political voice.

We’ve seen the Bernie campaign make some good social and political gains in terms of educating lots of folks, but it ran into a concrete wall of neoliberal Democrats and the DNC. This underscores the historical limitations of this party and its role in killing social movements.

A large part of this is because working-class and oppressed people have not built our own institutions. And it’s not that we haven’t built them, it’s that they have been blocked, they’ve been destroyed. We have to build our own, so that we can speak in our own voice, so that we can represent and advance our own interests. The liberals don’t have our interests and perspectives in mind. They’re not going to represent our interests. We have to do this ourselves. And it starts with us building our own independent politics, our own independent political vehicles.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mya Shone, National Organizing Committee, Socialist Organizer

(Vallejo, California)

Many of us realized a couple of years ago, along with other labor and community activists, that the best way to forge a working-class party independent of the one big property party with two names was to join the specific struggles of oppressed communities with the struggles in the workplace most defined by organized labor — that is, root the party itself in labor and oppressed communities.

We also realized that the most effective way to create a working-class party would be to 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 the community and beholden to the platform and coalition. It is a building-block approach — organize the democratic structure from the base on up.

* * * * * * * * * *

Al Rojas, Vice President, Sacramento chapter, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, LCLAA / AFL-CIO; National Coordinator, Driscoll’s Boycott Campaign

(Sacramento, California)

We are living in a dangerous time. Workers’ rights are under heavy attack. Their welfare and that of their families are under attack. Just this past week, nine workers died from COVID-19, and 358 others tested positive, in a Foster Farms chicken-processing plant in California’s Central Valley. Infected workers were forced to come to work. “The company doesn’t care about workers; they only care about money,” stated one of the workers. Statements like this are being made by millions of workers in the fields, meat-packing plants, warehouses, and factories across the country.

California’s Democratic governor refused to meet with a LCLAA delegation to hear our life-and-death concerns as Latino workers. Our state’s politicians are basically protectors of the agricultural corporate industry.

The same corporate assault, relayed by both capitalist political parties, is being carried out with NAFTA 2.0 — a bipartisan corporate “free trade” agreement. Workers are being exploited; they, too, are dying on the job in U.S.-owned plants — from the maquilas along the border to GM in Silao, Guanajuato. There is no real and effective enforcement mechanism in this agreement to protect workers.

The Break the Grip conference is extremely important. We need to let it all out, especially regarding this trade agreement.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jerry Levinsky, Steering Committee, Labor Fightback Network, (Amherst, Mass.)

The development of the Labor and Community for an Independent Party initiative arrives as the inability of the two major parties to minimally meet the needs of millions of people throughout the United States has reached catastrophic proportions. Building a working-class political movement — starting at the local level, through organizing and education, in order to deepen the connection between labor and community — is the way forward.

* * * * * * * * *

Linda Thompson, Retired unionist, Green Party member

(Framingham, Mass.)

I am an AFSCME Retiree who served in many leadership positions in my locals in Chicago and Baltimore and am a member of the MA Green Rainbow Party. A Gallup Poll in 2014 showed that a majority of U.S. adults, 58%, say a third U.S. political party is needed because the Republican and Democratic parties “do such a poor job” representing the American people. 71% of independents say a third party is needed. That compares with 47% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans who say the same. The two major parties just bailed out the major corporations and left the working class out of luck in their so-called stimulus bills. These bipartisan policies hurt people of color and women the hardest.

Most of the progressive movement and even many on the left have failed to devote sufficient energy to supporting and building our own party representing the working class or challenging the discriminatory election, ballot access laws or debate restrictions. This conference will give us the opportunity to unify people for independent political action and campaigns to the left of the Democratic Party. The majority want a viable alternative to the duopoly. Let’s unite to give them one!

 * * * * * * * * * *

Ralph Schoenman, Editorial Board member, The Organizer newspaper

(Vallejo, Calif.)

Fifty-seven years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, DC for Jobs and Freedom, not only have living and working conditions failed to improve for the exploited working-class majority and the poor, conditions have worsened significantly. 

Why is this? It’s because we are living under a capitalist system in terminal decay — a system that only knows how to stem its growing crisis by fueling speculation and war spending, on the one hand, and by slashing workers’ wages and working/living conditions, on the other. To achieve this, divisions are created among workers and all the oppressed to prevent us from uniting and fighting back against this predatory system.

We’re in this dire situation because the capitalists have been able to count on their twin parties — the Democrats and Republicans — to do their bidding over these past 50-plus years. To beat back this racist and anti-worker offensive by the employers and the politicians in their pay, we need to build democratically run coalitions that bring together labor and oppressed communities, so that they have a decisive say in formulating their demands and mapping out a strategy. At the same time, we need to seek out every opportunity to run independent labor-community candidates at the local level, as a step in the effort to build a new independent mass labor-based political party.

The candidates and the coalitions themselves cannot be limited to electoral politics; they must be fighting for the issues contained in the platforms, projecting these struggles into the electoral arena. This will help cement the alliance between labor and oppressed communities.


 

Immigrant Rights and the Fight for Independent Working-Class Politics

VOICES FOR INDEPENDENT WORKING-CLASS POLITICS

By E.J. Esperanza (Immigrant Rights Activist)

(presentation to the April 25 Expanded Organizing Committee meeting of Labor and Community for an Independent Party / LCIP)

It’s with great enthusiasm that I join you all here today.

I join you as a removal defense attorney, yes, but first and foremost, as an undocumented lawyer fighting tooth and nail for our community.

As has been said, the problems facing working-class people have seldom been more dire, and seldom has the need for a truly independent working-class political party been more necessary.

Nowhere is this question more pressing than in the immigrant community. There is no question more important for us to properly address at this time.

As you know, immigration was the Trojan horse that Trump rode to the White House — under the sham of putting American workers first. It has been central to his first term. It’s been key to fomenting the reactionary forces of White Supremacy in this country — forces that have become reinvigorated under this administration.

No two ways about it: This administration’s attacks on immigrants have been ruthless. Every day, I witness what amounts to ethnic cleansing of the clients and families that I represent.

– From the administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy, where 5,500 children were separated from their parents, and where hundreds remain unaccounted for, as if they had evaporated into thin air.

– To the January 2019 Migrant Protection Protocols – better known as the Remain in Mexico Policy – where 60,000 asylum seekers (parents and children) are forced to live in crowded and dangerous camps along the border, exposed to violence, rape, and kidnapping, not to mention the raging COVID-19 pandemic. This policy was upheld shamelessly by the Supreme Court on March 11, 2020.

Other examples mount:

– The administration’s Muslim Ban, which the Supreme Court upheld in June 2018;

– The administration’s executive order (9/5/2017) rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – a program of which I am a beneficiary. This has left 800,000 undocumented youth in limbo and exposed to deportation. A case currently pending before the Supreme Court with a decision is expected any day now. [Note: On June 18, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s cancellation of DACA because of the method Trump used, leaving open the possibility of its rescission in the future. — The Editors]

– The administration’s policy a few days ago (4/23) halting most legal migration to the United States from all countries for 60 days under the pretext of protecting American workers from the swelling unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is no question in the immigrant community about the real threat presented by the Trump administration. We know – we’ve spent every waking hour fighting it.

But more important, there is a growing awareness in the leadership of the immigrant rights movement that the Democrats are no “lesser evil.” This is an assessment borne out by experience and 15 years of struggle against Democrats and Republicans alike. It’s a perspective that any true working-class party must foster. It would be a missed opportunity not to heed these lessons from the immigrant rights movement.

First, we must be clear that the Trump administration did not create the deportation regime under which we are living today. Trump has enacted no new laws. His administration has merely enforced existing laws drafted and signed into law by the Clinton administration, in the infamous Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. These laws gave unprecedented power to the federal government to militarize the border, criminalize immigrants, and detain and deport families on a mass and unprecedented scale. We in the immigrant rights movement know that we must abolish these laws enacted by the Democratic Party.

Second, the immigrant rights movement knows all too well that the laws created by the Clinton administration were turned into an effective and efficient deportation regime by another Democrat – the Obama and Biden administration – during the Great Recession, as a means to discipline and divide the working class at precisely the same time that the Obama administration and the Democrats – who had control of both houses of Congress – were bailing out the banks in the largest swindle in American history.

The sophisticated machinery that leveraged for-profit detention centers and state-of-the-art surveillance technology was the work of the Obama and Biden administration, and their administration alone. Its aim has been to militarize the border and establish a deportation militia in the interior under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that could effectively leverage and commandeer every local law enforcement agency in the country, every database, to identify, to track, to detain, and to deport immigrants on a mass scale.

Obama and Biden deported nearly 3 million immigrants in eight years, deporting on average nearly 400,000 immigrants a year. In comparison, Trump has deported far fewer, and has yet to deport more than 260,000 immigrants in any given year.

The infamous detention of children at the border is also a policy that began under Obama and Biden, back in 2014, which received much less attention than Trump’s policy.

Trump inherited this machine.

Now Trump hasn’t reached the record numbers of deportations seen under Obama not because the Democratic Party has resisted in any meaningful or substantial way – on the contrary, every appropriations bill increasing funding for ICE and CBP, for private detention centers, and for militarizing the border has been approved by the Democrats, including in the House of Representatives, which the Democrats now control.

In fact, and notably, in the fight against Trump, the immigrant rights movement has increasingly come up against the Democrats, as they have failed to espouse the movement’s demands and pose any real resistance to Trump. This is a significant development. Let us remember that the immigrant rights movement was largely under the thumb of the Democrats during the Obama administration, and mass mobilizations against deportations were rare in comparison to what the movement has achieved under Trump.

The crisis exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has only sharpened this opposition between immigrant activists and Democrats. As COVID-19 spreads into detention centers, hundreds of immigrants have gone on hunger strike across the country. From Northern California, Central California, Southern California, to Colorado, to Louisiana, an unprecedented wave of hunger strikes has swept the country, largely ignored by the media.

We also have secured important court injunctions recognizing that detention is a death sentence for immigrants under this pandemic, something that was tragically confirmed with the passing of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility, the first COVID-19 death in ICE custody. Over 10,000 immigrants have secured releases due to this growing movement in the last several weeks. Detentions are at a 10-year low, down to 29,000 at the present moment. In comparison, there were nearly 50,000 immigrants in ICE custody at the peak of the Obama and Biden administrations.

During COVID-19, the immigrant rights movement has secured victories precisely by opposing and mobilizing independently of the Democrats in California, Colorado, Louisiana, Texas, and beyond.

Specifically, local struggles to close private detention centers have gained unprecedented victories under the COVID-19 pandemic, pitting Democrats in the pockets of private detention centers against an increasingly independent immigrant rights movement.

Places where the immigrant community had previously been unorganized – like the Central Valley in California, rural regions in Louisiana, Vermont, and Texas – have seen important battles taking on private detention centers and the Democrats alike.

In these localities, local Democrats have time and again sided with the Private Detention Centers, posing the question for immigrants to run their own candidates locally in a way never seen before. In rural places like McFarland, Bakersfield, and Adelanto in California, and Williamson County in Texas, the question of an independent working-class party has been urgently presented by the limitations of the Democratic politicians that sit in power locally. Just in McFarland two days ago, Latino Democrats sided with CORE CIVIC, a detention corporation, to expand an immigration jail by 350 percent after CORE CIVIC paid off the Democratic politicians. It’s in places like these where the conditions to run independent labor candidates are ripening.

So as we fight to liberate our people from detention centers, the question of independent working-class politics is posed to the immigrant rights movement during a Presidential Election where Biden represents no “lesser evil” to immigrants anywhere.

This independence is unprecedented and unheard of in any other movement today. No other movement is more ripe for independent working-class politics than the immigrant rights movement is today. Overcoming the NGO structures will be an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one

No effort to build an independent working-class party will be successful without tapping into the fight for immigrant rights and making this fight central to its formation, both in deed and words. Just like no working-class party will be successful without the Black community. I am encouraged by the Baltimore brothers and sisters, by Brother Clarence Thomas, joining this effort. The immigrant rights movement looks to the Black community. I look forward to working together more intently and joining in this fight for an independent working-class party. Let’s seize this opportunity.

Thank you.

Photos above:Activists demanding release of all detainees from ICE detention centers are arrested at protest in Sacramento, Calif.

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Call for the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” 2020 National Online Conference

(September 19-20, 2020)

Millions of workers and youth have taken to the streets since police officers in Minneapolis assassinated George Floyd. Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, they took to the streets in ever-growing mass protests — forging an insurgent movement not seen in many decades — to demand an end to police terror and systemic racism. Enough is enough, they proclaimed.

In Oakland, Calif., on Juneteenth, a march organized by International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Locals 10 and 34, made a stop at the Oakland Police Department. Community activists, including former political prisoners, spoke about their experiences with the Oakland police. Thousands chanted, “No Justice, No Peace — No Racist Police!”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the United States, a resurgent, fighting spirit has flared up among frontline workers deprived of protective gear and measures essential to ensure their safety and that of their families and broader communities. Their daily struggle has amplified the resistance of workers across the country — teachers, autoworkers, and others — who over the past few years have been fighting to take back their unions and fend off the bosses’ assault on their rights, wages, benefits, and working conditions.

In oppressed communities across the United States, the same fighting spirit continues to take on police brutality, mass incarceration (targeting Black and Brown people disproportionately), gentrification and evictions, environmental injustice, and attacks on immigrants. In many cases, these movements overlap and support each other.

With inequality skyrocketing, healthcare costs and student debt mounting, climate change roiling the planet, democratic and civil rights (especially voting rights) under increased assault, wages and benefits evaporating, as well as gentrification and the lack of affordable housing on the rise, a majority in the United States (57%) have called for a new independent political party. (Gallup Headlines, July 19, 2019)

Now the crisis confronting the working class and communities of the oppressed will deepen under the impact of the economic and social shutdown that has been imposed to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. How will working people pay the accumulated debts from unpaid rent, mortgages and other loans, as well as costly utilities? Will we be confronted with the unacceptable choice of paying astronomical increases in healthcare insurance or losing coverage?

We know full well that it is the working class and communities of the oppressed who will bear the brunt of the corporate bailout – disguised as a stimulus package – as Democratic and Republican politicians declare that there are no more public funds available and as bosses maneuver to break union contracts and coerce the rollback of wages and benefits.

Unfortunately, most of the leaders of the trade unions and of many organizations representing oppressed nationalities remain to this day tied at the hip to the Democratic Party — a party that implements the permanent war agenda of global capitalism. This relationship is the number one obstacle to building working-class power and advancing the interests of the working class and all oppressed people.

A bolder worker fightback is essential.

New Openings for Independent Working-Class Politics

More than 700 leading labor and community activists have endorsed a Statement of Purpose — at the initiative of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) — that calls for running independent labor-community candidates at the local and state level, as a step in the effort to build a new independent mass labor-based political party.

These candidates — mandated by local labor-community coalitions — are not limited to electoral politics; they must be fighting for the issues contained in their fightback platforms. This will help to cement the alliance between labor and the oppressed communities.

An important step has been taken to promote this orientation, with the convening of the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” regional conference on December 7, 2019, in Cleveland, OH, sponsored by the Labor Education and Arts Project (LEAP), in cooperation with the Labor Fightback Network (LFN), and LCIP.

In keeping with these developments, the LFN, the Ujima People’s Progress Party (a Black-led party based in Baltimore), and LCIP are convening an online national conference for independent working-class politics.

Such a national conference, of course, needs to incorporate the fight for independent Black working-class political action. Nnamdi Lumumba, convener of the Ujima People’s Progress Party, expressed well the articulation of the struggle for independent Black working-class politics and for a Labor-based party at the December “Break the Grip” conference in Cleveland, stating:

“We need to organize people around their own class interests and their own interests as nationally oppressed people. Helping to break the active or even passive support to the two capitalist, imperialist and white supremacist parties has been a fundamental goal of our efforts as the Ujima People’s Progress Party, as we seek to build a Black workers-led electoral party.

“While we support a national labor party that recognizes both the shared and independent struggles of oppressed and exploited workers on the job and in their communities, we affirm that nationally oppressed people have to center the discussion and self-organization around their own specific oppression. … Having said that, we need to create a mass-based working-class party that says capitalism does not serve you, imperialism does not serve you, and racism does not serve you.”

ILWU Local 10 retiree Clarence Thomas summed it up best when he noted that now is the time to point the way forward for independent working-class political action. “We have to strike while the iron is hot,” he stated.

If you agree with this call, please join us at the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” online conference on September 19-20. The conference Program Agenda is included below. The list of speakers will be sent out shortly.

Following is the registration link to the conference:

https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEvcu2gqD0uGN0rcvUdae8EvdLYpfZUnhIx

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Break the Grip of the Two-Party System Program Agenda 

Saturday, September 19, 2020 2 PM EST/11 AM PST

Introduction/Q&A 2:00 -2:25 EST

LCIP Opening Panel Discussion/Q&A 2:25-2:51 EST

BREAK 2:51-3:10 EST

Intro to breakout rooms 3:10-3:20 EST

First Breakout Sessions 3:20-5:20 EST

a. Breakout room #1: Title: LCIP’s Relationship to Organizing with Working-Class Communities to Combat White Supremacy and End Systemic Racism

b. Breakout room #2: Title: LCIP’s Relationship to Migrant Workers and Immigrant Workers, Families, and Students

c. Breakout room #3: Title: LCIP’s Relationship to the Anti-war and Anti-imperialist movement(s)

Panel/Q&A Why We Endorse/Support LCIP: 5:20–5:50 EST

Overview of Sunday’s Program & Breakout Groups 5:50-6:00 EST

Sunday, September 20, 2020 2 PM EST/11 AM PST

Introduction 2:00 -2:15 EST

Second Breakout Sessions 2:15-3:15 EST

a. Breakout room #4: LCIP’s Relationship to Independent Political Action and Defending the Right to Self-Determination for Oppressed Communities of Color

b. Breakout room #5: LCIP’s Relationship to the Women’s Right’s Movement

c. Breakout room #6: LCIP’s Relationship to the Labor Movement

Report back from Saturday Breakout Session 1 & recommendations to LCIP on how to proceed 3:15-4:00 EST

BREAK 4:00-4:15 EST

Report back from Sunday morning Breakout Sessions 4:15-5:00 EST

Plenary session, Organizing LCIP Going Forward 5:00-5:40 EST

Closing remarks 5:40-6:00 EST

All Out on Jan. 25 to Stop U.S. War on Iran!

Statement by Labor Fightback Network

The Labor Fightback Network adds its voice to the global demand to stop the march toward war with Iran!

– Bring all the troops home now!

– End drone, missile and bomber attacks on other countries!

– End sanctions against the peoples of Iran and all other countries!

– Take to the streets on Saturday, January 25th to win these demands!

As our country moves dangerously close to war with Iran, let’s stop this march to war in its tracks! The Trump administration has been ramping up threats of war against Iran ever since Trump departed from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement with Iran negotiated during the Obama administration.

Secretary of State Pompeo has fabricated and pushed charges against Iran, just like George W. Bush, Mike Cheney and Colin Powell did in 2003 to wage an unjust war on Iraq. Pompeo claimed that the U.S. has shown restraint with Iran, referring to false flag incidents in the Gulf of Oman and an attack on a Japanese tanker in the Straits of Hormuz in May and June 2019, respectively. Following Trump’s illegal and unconstitutional acts of war, including military attacks in Iraq and Syria on December 30, 2019 and mimicking Obama’s signature policy of assassination by drone of Iran’s top military officer Major General Qassim Suleimani, in Iraq on a diplomatic mission, Trump ordered an additional 3,500 troops to the region.

In a tweet and off-the-cuff response, Trump promised retaliation against any Iranian attack, threatening to target 52 Iranian locations, including cultural sites. This would endanger civilians and constitute a war crime according to international law.

Now that Iran has retaliated with missile attacks on January 6, 2020, on two U.S. military bases in Iraq with no serious casualties, there’s no telling what the Trump administration will do. Despite a recent national address saying there will be no further strike against Iran, Trump offered no strategy, called for further isolation of Iran and rejected any plans for troop withdrawal, as the Iraqi parliament has recently demanded.

Anti-war actions are planned around the nation and the world. Around 200 organizations, including the United National Antiwar Coalition-(UNAC), ANSWER Coalition, Code Pink, Popular Resistance, US Labor Against the War, the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) and others are calling for a Global Day of Protest – No War on Iran for January 25th, 2020 in Washington DC and across the nation. 

The Labor Fightback Network endorses this call for the January 25th Global Protest – No War on Iran. We further call for the U.S. to pull out all troops from Iraq, Syria and the region. End drone strikes and missile assaults on these and all countries. End all acts of war, economic as well as military. We also call for an end to collaboration with Israel and Saudi Arabia in further war designs.

Report on the Cleveland“Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” Conference

Cleveland, Ohio — December 7, 2019

By Labor Fightback Network

The people of the United States deserve better than what two-party politics has delivered on the important issues — jobs, healthcare, equal justice, peace and the environment. In fact, large numbers of people are ready to move toward independent politics. According to a recent Gallup poll, 57% of the people see the need for a third major political party. Virtually three-quarters of independents (72%) “support a third major political party.”

We may not get too many more chances to give an organized expression to this quest for independent, working class politics. The U.S. could be one cracked head away from Hong Kong, Gaza, Bolivia, or Baghdad. Civil and labor rights are already being strangled by the powerful corporate front group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is pushing anti-protest and anti-labor laws, and by the far-right turn of politics promoted by SCOTUS and by any U.S president who chooses to emulate his or her favorite oppressor of the week.

People of color and low-income people are still fighting for equal opportunity and justice. Mass incarceration rates in the U.S. exceed all other nations at 724 per 100,000 people. Workers struggle to survive on low wages, waiting for their piece of the “American Dream.” In 2016, people in this country spent twice as much on health care than other high-income nations, with 27.4 million people still without health insurance in that period. The U.S. “war on terror” — a bipartisan war on working people at home and abroad — has claimed millions of lives and is expected to cost taxpayers $6 trillion! It’s time to reclaim governance, equal rights, fair pay and dignity for all.

The Labor Fightback Network encourages community and labor activists to venture out and explore the options to build a Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP).  We’ll be in Middleburg Heights, Ohio on December 7, 2019 for the “Break the Grip on the Two-Party System” conference https://www.facebook.com/events/486321765290865/ hosted by the Labor Education and Arts Project (LEAP). We’ll be unpacking the main question of an independent political party. The topics for deliberation will include: (1) Medicare for All; (2) endless regime change wars and deadly sanctions vs. international working class solidarity; and (3) forced migration and deportation.

HEALTH CARE

The twin parties of Big Business fatten at the trough of health care, which is nearly 18% of the U.S. economy. Spending twice as much on health care per capita as the other industrialized countries, we in the U.S. have by far the worst outcomes in terms of infant mortality and longevity. We already spend enough to provide a high standard of care to everyone, but the Republican and Democratic parties maintain the unjust, unequal and inefficient status quo in order to preserve the cash flowing from the profiteers. They are bought and owned by the commercial health insurance corporations, hospital chains, the Wall Street drug cartel and so many vendors.

Dominated by the marketplace and finance capital, our health-care system is a story of haves and have-nots, with services and facilities shut down in working-class communities, particularly in communities of color, while gargantuan health-care empires grow through mergers and takeovers. A single-payer financing mechanism, such as expanded and improved Medicare for All, will value each one’s health and life equally, undercutting this drive toward inequality and weakening the grip of Big Capital on our lives. But the old parties of the bosses block us at every turn, terrified that we are finding the path to victory over their crushing oppression.

JOBS

The Republican Party is known for its anti-labor positions, so union workers have tended to support the Democrats to fight for U.S. workers and low-income people. Democrats have failed to push for meaningful labor law reform leaving loopholes and free rides for corporations. For example, employers must recognize unions once workers ratify an agreement in an election, but employers can delay elections for months or even years. Once a union shop is established, they face no obligation to reach a contract with their newly unionized workers. Employers are prohibited from firing workers or threatening to closing shop if workers organize to unionize, but the penalties for such violations are insufficient. Democrats also could have repealed the part of the Taft-Hartley Act, which allows states to pass “right to work” laws that penalize organized labor by allowing workers in unionized workplaces to enjoy the benefits without paying dues to the union that made that well-paying job possible.

Between 1978 and 2017, labor union membership in the United States dropped by more than half — from 26% of the workforce to 10.7%. The U.S. economy is breaking records in economic disparity, according to Census Bureau data. CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978, while typical worker compensation has risen only 12% during that time. [2] From 1979 to 2016, the wages of the top 1% grew nearly 150%, whereas the wages of the other 90% grew just 21.3%, about one-seventh as fast. Today’s low unemployment rate is not enough to spark any meaningful wage growth for most workers.

With a declining middle-class, workers want change. About half of all nonunion workers say they would vote for a union if given the opportunity. This is up by 50% when a similar survey was taken in 1995. Nationally, 64% of people are favorable toward unions, according to a 2019 Gallup survey. [3] Despite this reality, the National Labor Relations Board under Trump has stymied workers’ ability to form unions and engage in collective bargaining by curtailing worker protections and failing in its obligation to administer and enforce the National Labor Relations Act.

The Democrats also have failed the labor movement. Barack Obama won the election in 2008 by promising workers that once in office he would enact the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have removed the main obstacles to organizing unions in the workplaces across the country. During Obama’s first two years in office, the Democrats held a majority in both Houses of Congress. Passing EFCA was do-able. But the Democrats buckled to Big Business, which funds both the Democrats and the Republicans.

JUSTICE

Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million, with African Americans incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. This was fueled by both major parties competing in “tough on crime” agendas.

Bill Clinton handed a huge gift to the private prison industry with the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill. This legislation gave federal approval for states to pass even more punitive laws and harsher practices by prosecutors and police, incarcerating more people and with longer sentences. The 1994 law shaped Democratic Party politics for years to come.

Under the leadership of Bill Clinton, Democrats sought to wrest control of crime issues from Republicans, so the two parties began a bidding war to increase penalties for crime, trying to outdo one another. Republicans continued their fear-mongering and pushed for more punitive policies in the states. Trump has ratcheted up white supremacy with his racist language and his directives aimed at rolling back federal oversight over police brutality and killings targeting African Americans.

The George W. Bush administration fostered a climate of fear and loathing for immigrants, particularly Muslim-Americans, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Unconstitutional policies — a regime of disappearances and torture, special registration of men from Muslim-majority nations, and expanded use of Guantanamo Bay Prison — were implemented under Bush. Fear in our nation allowed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Barack Obama continued all these policies and earned the name “Deporter-in-Chief.” Guantanamo is still holding 40 men indefinitely. Now under Trump, asylum seekers, immigrants and Jewish and Muslim-Americans are more predominately facing discrimination and the wrath and violence of hate groups.

PEACE

Our bloated military budget has averaged around $700 billion annually since 2008, and, rather than secure peace, it just fuels more wars, deaths and devastation. It’s true that the military supplies some union jobs, but that money could supply plenty more union jobs in the civilian sector. After World War II, the economic conversion movement played an important role in joining union leadership with the peace movement to figure out the nuts and bolts of converting from war time industry to peace time. A Just Transition to a peace economy is possible and necessary. Candidates from both parties are heavily funded by top weapons contractors at the rate of $26.5 million in 2008 and well over $30 million in 2016. There will be no peace as long as war parties are in charge.

THE CONFERENCE

With 80% of us now living paycheck to paycheck with little to no savings, a precarious nation is at its limits. Ominous economic data and politics as usual suggest that working people will be subjected to another economic downturn and another rigged Democratic primary. By taking steps now, we can be prepared to offer a genuine alternative in the face of those crises. Without it, Trump and the far right will continue to fill the growing void in political representation.

Join us for this two-fold conference to be held on Saturday, December 7. The first session, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. with luncheon, will take place at the Middleburg Heights Branch of the Cuyahoga County Library, located at 16699 Bagley Road’ in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. It will be followed by a dinner session with speakers from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Brew Garden,18590 Bagley Road also in Middleburg Heights.

Speakers include:
• Margaret Flowers, MD, Co-chair Green Party US; • Dan Kovalik, labor and human rights lawyer, author, and radio and TV commentator; • Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC, AFL-CIO); • Nnamdi Lumumba, Representative, Ujima People’s Progress Party; • Kevin Zeese, public interest attorney who co-directs PopularResistance; • Robert Fitrakis, political science professor and investigative journalist; • Alan Benjamin, Editorial Board member, The Organizer newspaper; • Chrissy Stonebraker-Martinez, co-director, InterReligious Task Force on Central America; and • Don Bryant, Board member, Cleveland Peace Action, among others.

This conference is being held in cooperation with the Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), a nationwide network that traces its continuity back to Tony Mazzocchi’s Labor Party Advocates and to the 1996 Labor Party Convention in Cleveland. Our organization, the Labor Education & Arts Project (LEAP), is indebted for their support. The 1996 Labor Party Convention in Cleveland was attended by 1,400 delegates from 9 international unions, over 300 union locals, state and regional bodies and 40 chapters nationwide with union and non-union workers as members. Though there was contention regarding running candidates immediately following the founding convention, it did accomplish adopting a constitution and program. Reconnecting with that effort today should be a top priority of the U.S. labor movement.

The conference is sponsored by the Labor Education & Arts Project (LEAP) and Labor Fightback Network (LFN) in cooperation with Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), a nationwide network of labor and community activists. On the web at: https://lcipcampaign.org/

Donations, gratefully received, may be sent to: LEAP, P.O. Box 5334, Cleveland, OH 44101 and made payable to same. Alternatively, a donate button appears on our Labor Education & Arts Project social media page: https://www.facebook.com/LaborEducation/.

Contributions are tax deductible in accordance with Section 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Code. For donations of $25 and above, we will gladly send you, postage prepaid, copies of our LaborFest booklets: “Eugene Debs Centennial” and “A Tribute to the IWW a.k.a. The Wobblies.” If you choose to donate via the donate button on our Facebook page, please send your name and return address to newdeallaborart@gmail.com.