CPUSA labor group praises workers for shutting down the shutdown
Marilyn Bechtel | People's World

CHICAGO—The mass movement that defeated GOP President Donald Trump’s lockout/shutdown of parts of the federal government – ending the saga of leaving 800,000 workers unpaid for 35 days – was “a real victory for democracy” over the right wing, Communist Party Chair John Bachtell says.

And the party and its allies on the left can use that win “to engage in a broad campaign” to build unity in the run-up to the 2020 election, he adds.

In a telephone interview, Bachtell said the campaign would be a part of the discussion at the party’s centennial convention this summer in Chicago. The stage was set for the discussion by a 3-page position paper on the Trump lockout/shutdown which the party’s Labor Commission issued last month.

Trump’s lockout/shutdown was more than “just an attack on government workers, but on the role of government in a democracy,” Bachtell explained. News reports, including those in the People’s World, reinforced that point, showing how government is vital to various functions of society.

The CPUSA has a Labor Commission which issued a paper that particularly praised the largest union of federal workers, the Government Employees (AFGE), for leading the crusade against the lockout/shutdown and against Trump executive orders to destroy federal workers. And it says Trump aimed his lockout/shutdown at more than just federal workers, a point Bachtell reinforced.

“The Trump shutdown had nothing to do with so-called ‘border security,’” the paper said, referring to Trump’s demand that Congress kowtow and give him $5.7 billion to build his racist Mexican Wall. The House’s majority Democrats stood firm against that, and Trump eventually caved the paper notes.

But the lockout, “with its disruption of the lives of working-class families, harm to our economy, and threat to public safety, was a continuation of the campaign to inject racist anti-immigrant poison into the American people, to divide and weaken our working class, and to shift attention away from the corporate attacks on living standards, Social Security, Medicare, and union rights.”

“It was an effort to deflect attention from the deep corruption of this monopoly-capital-dominated administration, starring the most billionaire-heavy Cabinet in U.S. history.”

Trump also tried to destroy workers, the paper notes, by a federal pay freeze and executive orders curbing worker rights for all two million federal workers, including barring them from communicating with lawmakers. A D.C. federal judge later overturned those executive orders, but several Trump Cabinet members, notably Education Secretary Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, are defying the ruling.

“In 2019, the actions of workers, with strong leadership and an energized rank-and-file action were decisive in backing down an anti-union president,” the Labor Commission paper said. That’s unlike when safety issues forced the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization to strike in 1981. Then, pro-corporate union leaders produced a weak and disunited response, the paper noted. Labor historians have noted that PATCO’s then-new leaders did not do a good job in lining up support.

That year, GOP President Ronald Reagan fired and blacklisted all the PATCO members. Though the Labor Commission paper does not say so, Reagan’s success gave the corporate class a green light to increase its vilification of workers and its schemes to destroy them, their unions and the working class.

This time, the Labor Commission report said, workers stuck together and struck back – and the public, alerted and energized, rallied to their side. One union leader, Sara Nelson of the Flight Attendants-CWA, even called for a general strike.

“Reports of call-offs, resignations and work-by-rule situations were heard. This response was the final nail in the coffin of Trump’s racist wall lockout!” the Labor Commission stated.

“Defeat of the Trump lockout is not only a watershed moment, but it is also a learning moment for our labor movement.”

“Signs point to a new nationwide, even worldwide, wave of strikes and other worker resistance in response to corporate attacks and growing inequality. Government and teachers’ unions are demonstrating how to involve rank-and-file members, their families, and how to build wide community support in order to create new conditions where we can win.”

“They are showing that workers’ strength is in mobilizing not just the members of one union, but of the entire labor movement, entire working class, community, academic, and legislative allies, to isolate our corporate enemies by all combining our power together.”

Going forward, “The main thing is to build a very broad anti-ultra-right alliance, including organized labor, government workers and other workers,” Bachtell said. The alliance would coalesce around issues already developing before the 2020 presidential campaign.

Those issues include – but are not limited to –Medicare for All, workers’ rights, raising the minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and comprehensive immigration reform, he added. The party just added another issue to the list by establishing a special committee to flesh it out its position on, and push for, a Green New Deal. That cause, too, has caught on with Trump’s foes.

“Building that tremendous unity is what we’ll continue to do to isolate Trump,” Bachtell said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.