Labor movement – key link in chain of progress

The following is from the Communist Party USA convention discussion website. Juan Lopez is a vice chair of the CPUSA. Under the slogan, “People and nature before profit,” the CPUSA will meet in Chicago June 13-15 for its 30th national convention. It will be live streamed and will provide coverage. Join the conversation on Twitter #cpusa95 or on Facebook.

I believe today is both more necessary and possible for the party and its members to be involved in the labor movement.

Necessary because the labor movement – while the country’s biggest, strongest, best organized progressive force – is far too small for the challenges confronting our nation’s working class and people.

Possible because – unlike the dogged anti-communism of yesteryears conditioned by the Cold War and McCarthyism – experience of recent years has shown today the doors are open for honest fighters with positive energy and progressive ideas, including members of our party.

To buttress my arguments I’d like to briefly draw on highlights of last year’s AFL-CIO convention, which I had the privilege of attending.

The AFL-CIO convention projected an agenda and a vision aimed to transform the labor movement, its partners and allies into a formidable 21st century people’s force for economic justice and democracy.

Participating were delegations of the overwhelming majority of our country’s unions as well as representatives of progressive community-based groups and the nation’s main social movements, including civil rights, immigrant, women and youth.

The labor federation’s convention:

  • Mapped out a modern-day agenda (akin to wall-to-wall organizing of the 1930s CIO) when it took steps to promote the organization of all workers whether covered by collective bargaining agreements or not, whether protected by labor and social laws or not.
  • Committed to more energetically champion the fight for equality of people of color, immigrants, women, youth, LGBTQ, and other specially oppressed peoples.
  • Took steps to more closely collaborate with community-based groups and progressive social movements.
  • Recognized the strategic importance and the Herculean effort it will take to defeat the rightwing Republican cabal in the 2014 and 2016 elections.
  • Signaled new levels of political independence.
  • Highlighted far-reaching initiatives of recent years to strengthen international labor cooperation, including mergers.

With candor, leaders and rank and filers recognized as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka put it, “We have to change the way we’re doing business in a significant way to get out of the crisis we find ourselves in,” adding, “But, this crisis also offers us ample and tremendous opportunity.”

Perhaps the word “crisis” is too strong but otherwise this could be said about progressive people’s organizations generally, including our party.

Emerging out of our party’s convention, we must move to assist labor’s transformation with laser beam focus.

That means working in and with the labor movement to fulfill the AFL-CIO convention’s ambitious but necessary agenda and vision.

It means winning progressive social movements’ more fully to labor’s cause.

It means winning the left and, above all, our own present and future members to this singular mission.

A much larger, stronger, more united labor movement around a progressive agenda and vision, rooted in the workplaces and communities, intricately inter-twined with the nation’s core social movements is what the AFL-CIO convention set out to accomplish.

And this is the kind of transformative movement necessary to challenge in a fundamental way corporate power and move the class and democratic struggle to higher stages.

But, it won’t be easy, won’t happen overnight and the road ahead will be treacherous.

Needless to say transnational finance capital, particularly the far right wing, is leaving no stone unturned in its zeal to destroy labor and the other progressive social movements.

But, in the house of labor itself much hard work remains to be done because on the ground the process of fulfilling labor’s main goals as outlined by the labor federation’s convention is uneven and, at times, can be bumpy and challenging.

All the more reasons why it’s necessary for us to give it focused and persistent attention.

We can be of valuable assistance because we tend to bring to the table:

  • Dedication and honesty.
  • The dialectical method of analysis.
  • Assessments based, not on wishful thinking, but on reality.
  • Understanding of phenomena within the framework of the current economic and political stage of capitalism’s developmental decay.
  • An appreciation of the contending class and social forces at any particular stage of the class and democratic struggle and sober estimate of their balance of forces.
  • A strategy for the immediate, intermediate and longer range history-making stages of social development as well as in the process of current struggles.
  • Flexible tactics aimed to satisfy strategic aims.
  • The connection between partial and fundamental reforms and socialist transformation.
  • An understanding of the pivotal role of the working class, particularly its organized sector, around which the core progressive people’s forces and their mass organizations gravitate, that is people of color, women, and youth.

I say we tend to bring to the table because it is something acquired through study, practical experience, and the collective process, which speaks to the great need for continual education for our new and long-time members.

At the same time, we must be modest enough to recognize that others steeped in these struggles, not in the party, bring many of these qualities to the table accounting for the rise of the progressive trends of which we are presently a small but significant integral component.

Concentration on low wage workers

On the one hand, there has been an unprecedented level of globalization of productive forces facilitated by huge strides in new labor saving technologies, the effect of which has been to cut down drastically workforces and relatively decent paying union jobs in the nation’s industrial core.

My estimate is that this phenomena tends to transform the strategic importance of the industrial sector from a national to an international one because it compels it to organize globally in order to make economic and political gains.

At the same, transportation and communication acquire new global strategic significance with just-in-time and other technical advances. (But, this should be the subject of further study).

At the same time, the astronomical growth of the financial sector accompanied by the explosion in credit, mortgage-based and other financial schemes fueling consumerism has given rise to a huge growth in the traditionally low paying retail and service sectors.

Meanwhile, the big-time rise of big-box, fast food and other retail and service low-paying non-union jobs successfully compete with and supplant previously unionized jobs.

In arguing for turning our attention to assisting labor in the organization of low-paying retail and service economic sectors, comrade Sam Webb does a very convincing job of arguing that there is more than one way to view the working class strategic power.

I just wanted to add or underline a couple of things.

The militant struggles to redress grievances and unionize workers in fast food, big box, and other retail and service sectors are giving new energy and hope to the labor movement and to workers in our country generally.

The expectation is that the progressive trends in labor will increasingly help infuse these workers with a certain level of class-consciousness and appreciation for the broad democratic struggles.

As an integral component of this progressive trend, our party and members must make assisting labor and this sector of the class the bull’s eye of our work.

These workers represent a huge section of the working class.

They are multi-racial and multi-national in their composition.

At the same time, their numbers are overwhelmingly workers of color, immigrants, women and youth and they reflect the rapidly changing nation’s demographics.

They are well rooted in the lives of the communities where they live, including the churches and social clubs.

Some bring experience from struggle on other fronts and, among the immigrants, from their nations of origin.

This section of the class potentially constitutes a formidable force for developing the transformative movement necessary to radically advance the cause of all workers and the broad democratic struggles.

To grow the party among these workers will allow us to sink deep roots among the people as the party’s composition comes to mirror that of the nation.

It will sharpen our sensibilities to the needs and aspirations of the people and help us fine-tune together with the workers and their unions the strategy and tactics necessary.

As the party grows in influence and numbers among these workers it will be in a better position to assist the labor movement and the core social forces.


Juan Lopez
Juan Lopez

Juan Lopez is chairman of the Communist Party in northern California and statewide coordinator. He has been a labor and community activist during the nearly forty years he's lived in Oakland, where he and his wife raised three children. He was formerly a member of the Teamsters union and a shop steward.