Where workers fight, were there

CHICAGO — Delegates to the Communist Party USA convention here July 1-3 can’t keep away from a good picket line.

“Join the picket line at the Congress Hotel, on strike for two years,” is the noontime agenda item for day two of the party’s three-day meet at the downtown Palmer House, a union hotel.

“This is who we are — where workers fight, we’re there,” says Scott Marshall, chair of the CPUSA Labor Commission.

The 130 Congress Hotel workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 1, were forced to strike in 2003 after management refused to join a citywide hotel agreement, and instead slashed workers’ pay and benefits. They have been maintaining a spirited picket line since then.

Responding to the party’s solidarity and deep roots in the labor movement, UNITE HERE workers at the Palmer House sent one of their members to greet the 500 convention delegates and guests.

Also scheduled to greet the convention are William McNary, president of USAction and co-director of Illinois Citizen Action, and James Thindwa, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice.

The Communists here range from seasoned veterans of labor, peace, civil rights and other progressive movements to youth who got their first taste of national politics in last fall’s anti-Bush upsurge.

It seems appropriate that the “reds” are meeting in the hotel’s “Red Lacquer Room.” Under a colorful banner reading, “The people can win! ¡El pueblo sí puede ganar! Defeat the Bush agenda. Build the CPUSA,” they are here for three days of discussion, workshops, slideshows and celebration of the party’s rich 85-year history. Joining them are representatives from workers and communist parties around the world.

As the delegates wind up their gathering, they’ll be getting their marching shoes back on. Continuing the spirit of unity and action, the party is closing the convention with a panel of labor and Jobs with Justice activists highlighting major labor/community campaigns that are picking up steam — the Employee Free Choice Act, the anti-Wal-Mart campaign, the fight to save pensions and retiree health care, and the fight for national health care and HR 676.

“We really want to have the convention end on an action note, pointing people in the direction of struggle as they go back home,” Marshall told the World.

Of course, he added with a chuckle, like all the party organizers he was looking forward to taking the 4th of July off. But after that, he said, “it’s full steam ahead with the struggle.”