NEW YORK — The mood was upbeat as leaders of the Communist Party and invited guests met here July 7-8. Buoyed by the sea change in the country’s atmosphere since last fall’s congressional elections, meeting participants from Oakland, Baltimore, Hartford and points between, analyzed the impact of that change on the labor and people’s movements. The meeting also projected a course of struggle in the new political landscape.
The Iraq war, health care, the Big Three auto negotiations, immigrant rights, racism, equality and the 2008 elections were the main topics considered in the meeting. Reports and comments interwove examples of the Communist contribution to the movements, and why a larger party is necessary. Many spoke with appreciation about this newspaper — the People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo — and the Young Communist League. Twelve YCL leaders attended the meeting.
Labor Commission Chair Scott Marshall delivered the opening report. He focused on the labor movement today and new responses to capitalist globalization. Marshall projected how Communists can help build and deepen these developments, including building the party among workers.
Marshall highlighted the union movement’s role in pressing to end the war in Iraq and for equality, including for immigrant workers. Plus, he said, labor is putting together a sophisticated political strategy and apparatus for national, state and local elections and for pro-working-families legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act.
Yet economic forecasts for workers, especially African American, Latino and young workers, are grim, Marshall said.
“Working families are losing their homes at an alarming rate. In April of this year foreclosures were up 65 percent over 2006. Loss of manufacturing jobs is one of the main contributors to the disturbing rate of foreclosures,” he said.
“Real wages and purchasing power are way down while the costs of everyday living are steadily climbing. College costs are skyrocketing and most working-class youth who can make it to college leave burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.”
But it was on the September autoworkers negotiations that Marshall rang the warning bell most loudly.
He warned that the companies will not be satisfied with “incremental cuts in health care, wages and other benefits.” The struggle to defend the Delphi workers from the corporate offensive “ended badly,” Marshall said, and the “bloodletting has driven the Big Three into a frenzy for more.”
Ford, GM and Chrysler all announced they would seek a 30 percent cut in workers’ wage and benefit packages in the upcoming negotiations.
Marshall urged Communists to help educate and build solidarity among their union sisters and brothers, churches and community groups on the autoworkers’ struggle. “This fight is central to the whole working class its and its allies,” Marshall said.
Sam Webb, Communist Party national chair, highlighted sections of a comprehensive report he sent out prior to the meeting. Webb placed considerable weight on the need for the left to develop broad and unifying tactics in the struggle to end the Iraq war and in the 2008 elections.
“Narrow and divisive tactics aren’t so much a problem among the core class and social forces in our country, like labor, the African American people and women. But it can be a challenge among the left and peace movement,” he said.
Webb said the 2008 elections could be a “turning point” for the direction of the country. Increasing the Democratic majorities in Congress and defeating the Republicans in the White House “has to be the main focus,” he emphasized. “Our goal cannot just be increasing the progressive voice in Congress, as important as that is; it has to include center forces as well,” he said.
“The Bush administration can still inflict a lot of damage in its last 18 months, so we have to still maintain that focus,” he cautioned.
Webb cited the Supreme Court — and its most recent decision supporting school segregation — as an example of the ultra-right damage that will confront us even when the Bush regime is gone.
Other officers of the Communist Party made reports, including Organization Secretary Elena Mora on party membership growth, Secretary-Treasurer Roberta Wood on financial projects and Executive Vice Chair Jarvis Tyner on the party’s recent outstanding African American equality conference and developing the party’s work in that struggle. All reports will be available in English and Spanish on the Communist Party’s web site, www.cpusa.org.
A special tribute honored national committee member Pat Barile. Barile, a veteran party leader, started his long history in the union movement when he was elected president of his electrical workers union local at the age of 20. Today he serves on the party’s National Board.
talbano @pww.org. Marilyn Bechtel contributed to this story.