NEW YORK — Communist Party USA leaders meeting here Nov. 15-16 celebrated the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, and of stronger Democratic majorities in Congress, saying it opened the way to progressive advances for America’s working families.
They adopted a call to action to carry out the election mandate, including immediate government steps to help Americans hit by the economic crisis and bringing peace to Iraq and Afghanistan. And they said maintaining the unity of the movement that elected Obama will be vital to making gains. Anything that disrupts that unity is “the worst thing that could happen,” an Ohio steelworker retiree declared.
The election outcome represented “the biggest political realignment since the 1930s,” said CPUSA Political Action Chair Joelle Fishman. “We can think back with pride to decades of hard work toward the goal of a big enough, broad enough and united enough labor and all-people’s movement that could overcome the ultra-right blockage to all progress,” she said. “That all-people’s movement has come to life. It is dynamic and it has the potential to grow.”
“This election showed magnificently what our people are made of,” the party’s executive vice chair, Jarvis Tyner, said with tears in his eyes. “This is not just a campaign, it is a movement,” one that has updated and made a reality of the slogan, “black, brown, white, unite and fight,” he said.
CPUSA National Chair Sam Webb said, “The people have taken a necessary first step toward a new society.” Obama is bringing a “reform agenda in a reform era whose character will be decided in the years ahead,” he said. The “biggest challenge” now, he told the meeting, is to “resist efforts by reaction and some on the left” to advocate a break in the coalition that elected Obama and is now led by him. “We will have our differences but they have to be handled so as not to break the overall unity,” he said. The elections showed the possibilities for building a bigger and broader coalition to effect progressive change, based in the labor movement and among women, racial and ethnic minorities and young people, and including small businesses and people who did not vote for Obama, Webb said.
Speakers hailed the role of labor, the African American people, Latinos, women and youth in the stunning Nov. 4 victory.
Activists from battleground states emphasized the key role that trade union leaders and rank-and-file union members played there. CPUSA Labor Commission chair Scott Marshall noted the “near-total unity of labor” in backing Obama, saying it bodes well for further labor unity.
He and others praised the labor movement for taking the lead in confronting the influences of racism, so that, as Fishman put it, “145 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 55 years after Rosa Parks sat down in the front of the bus, workers Black, brown and white helped elect the first African American president of the United States.”
Many said the results demolished the mythology that white workers are mired in racism. One participant recounted his experiences door-knocking in rural Virginia, where white voters welcomed African American campaign volunteers into their homes, including serving them a bountiful Southern breakfast.
Fishman stressed that the election took place in the shadow of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression and the endless war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now, “people are angry, hopeful and ready to go,” she said. “Our program should be strong and decisive. It should call for taking the profits out of basic needs like health care and energy and explore public ownership. At the same time, we should be part of the movement that puts the wind at Obama’s back.”
Webb said the seeds of today’s economic meltdown were planted in the 1970s with a combination of bad government policies, corporate greed and the destabilizing dynamics inherent in capitalism. The result was a ballooning unregulated financial sector and an economy fueled by government and consumer debt. Along with that came the collapse of manufacturing, mass unemployment, union-busting, wage and benefit cuts, and attempts to privatize public education, Social Security and Medicare. These policies, Webb charged, produced the biggest shift in wealth from working people to the rich in our history.
What is needed to reverse this crisis, he said, “is massive fiscal expansion, large injections of federal money into the economy” to fund public works job programs, extend jobless benefits and food stamps and help Americans hold onto their homes. As immediate priorities, Webb said, “We need to single out jobs and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, joining with others in the struggle.” The EFCA, labor’s top priority, will make it easier for workers to join unions.
The party leaders emphasized combining support for immediate and partial measures and for more advanced and longer-term reforms, along with projecting socialism as a fundamental solution, one that Americans are now open to hearing more about. The economic crisis shows that socialism is a necessity for our country, Webb said. “We need to put out our vision of socialism and how it will come about.”
Fishman cautioned against getting bogged down in disputes over Cabinet appointments. “Our energy and focus should be on building the labor and people’s broad movement at the grass roots,” she said. “That is how we can give a constructive push in a united way.”