From the Labor Commission of the CPUSA, updates, information, news, analysis, and organizing materials in solidarity with workers of the world.

Monday, November 19, 2007

2007 CLUW Convention

CLUW demands end to war in Iraq

LAS VEGAS — Some 800 women (and a few men) stomped and cheered as they passed a resolution demanding an end to the war and the occupation of Iraq. They were delegates to the 14th biennial national convention of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), meeting here Oct. 10-13.

The convention also passed strongly worded resolutions for single-payer health care, justice for immigrant workers, and promotion of more women and people of color to leadership of the labor movement.

The peace resolution called for “immediate and complete withdrawal of all American troops and private contractors from Iraq,” no permanent bases in Iraq and full war reparations to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure. It also called for Iraqi sovereignty over Iraqi oil and “the highest quality health care, rehabilitation and other needed benefits” for returning U.S. veterans.

Resolutions were also passed to support the Employee Free Choice Act, the Fair Pay Restoration Act, paid parental leave, gay marriage rights, fair international trade and the celebration of May Day.

The convention was a lively four days, with labor songs and snake dancing marking the beginning and end of every plenary session and the gala reception on the last evening.

A highlight of the convention was a presentation by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chief sponsor of HR 676, the national single-payer health care bill, and chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Everybody in, nobody out,” was Conyers’ slogan. He said that every industrial country in the world but ours enjoys health care for all. Delegates jumped to their feet, chanting, “Everybody in, nobody out!” in support of the legislation.

Conyers also announced that the House Judiciary Committee would be holding hearings on the Jena Six.

A panel of speakers from AFL-CIO constituency groups — the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Asian Pacific American Labor Association, Pride at Work and CLUW — discussed the need to advance diversity at all leadership levels of the labor movement. “Male, pale and stale” is the way they characterized many leading bodies. For the labor movement to grow, they stressed, leaders should “look like their memberships and face the same issues.”

An inspiring talk by Linda Chavez-Thompson reminded delegates of the challenge of the coming 2008 elections. Chavez-Thompson recently retired as AFL-CIO executive vice president. Arlene Holt-Baker, the new AFL-CIO executive vice president, also spoke about the coming presidential elections. She is the first African American to hold the second highest post in the AFL-CIO.

The resolutions adopted at the convention can be found here.

On the Road Again

What follows is an excerpt from Sam Webb's recent report to the CPUSA National Committee, "On the Road Again," given November 10, 2007. This particular section focuses on the current economic struggles of the working class. The report in its entirety can be read and downloaded here.

The struggle in the electoral arena has to be combined with struggles on immediate issues that are roiling millions – with the struggle to defend and expand the rights of immigrants, with the struggle to completely withdraw troops from Iraq and prevent a military strike against Iran, with the growing actions around global warming, with initiatives around health care, such as children’s health insurance, prescription drug funding, and HR 676, and with the fight for equality and against racism, male supremacy, and other ideologies and practices of division and oppression.

Of particular importance is responding to the deteriorating economic conditions of working people.

When housing prices began to collapse and then spill into financial markets, the Federal Reserve Bank eased credit, thinking that this would bring financial stability and counter downward pressures on the economy, even if it didn’t assist millions of homeowners who stood to lose their houses.

But it is becoming abundantly clear that they guessed wrong. The worsening economic and financial conditions appear to be spreading across the domestic and global economy.

In the recent decade, stock and housing bubbles (which put enormous wealth in the hands of consumers, especially the wealthiest), record levels of consumer and government indebtedness, astronomical military expenditures, and a readiness of other governments and investors to hold massive amounts of U.S. government and corporate securities has sustained the economy. But each of these factors is self-limiting and unsustainable.

To make matters worse, the slowdown is occurring in a world economy characterized by overproduction in commodity markets and unable to fully overcome a crisis of profitability and accumulation that dates back to the mid-seventies.

It was this insufficiency of profits, accumulation, and growth that neoliberalism in its right wing extremist garb was supposed to remedy. But it failed to match its practical deed with its ideological claim, namely a return to robust and sustained economic growth and rising living standards that were a feature of the U.S. economy in the immediate decades after WW II.

What it did do, however, was to effect the most massive shift of wealth from the working class to the top layers of the capitalist class, raise deficit levels of all kinds (government, trade, consumer, etc), and grease the skids for capital to move from stagnant (and highly competitive) goods sector into the financial sector.

In turn, the financial sector has grown explosively, turned into the main site of high wire speculation and capital accumulation for financial and increasingly non-financial corporations, reconstituted relations within the capitalist class to the advantage of finance capital, and introduced a new element of instability into the national and global economy.

As for the working class: the historically unprecedented and savage assault on its living and working conditions makes for grim economic prospects.

Jobs (especially in manufacturing), have been destroyed by the tens of thousands, the low wage economy has spread to new and old sectors, health care and pension benefits have been cut and eliminated, and cities turned into wastelands. Tens of millions of working people feel a degree of insecurity that they never thought they would experience in their lifetimes. And for far too many African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, or immigrants, keeping hope alive as far as your economic future is concerned is almost a matter of self-deception. Racism amplifies many times over the economic crisis in these communities, while impeding more than any other weapon of division a united people’s struggle.

What is the upshot of all this? Suffice it to say that the economic struggles are sure to grow in scope and intensity and will be with us for a long while. Moreover, and I’ll say it one last time, the defeat of the extreme right and the consolidation of a new stage of struggle is imperative in order to begin to solve these deep economic and social problems.

We have a lot on our plate. But I am confident that Joelle’s report on the elections and the discussion that follows this weekend will give the entire Party the insights and enthusiasm to step to the front at such a critical time.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Focus on Ford

Autoworkers shift fight to Ford

With contract approval at Chrysler, the United Auto Workers is shifting gears to Ford, the third company with which it needs to hammer out a new contract.

Workers at Chrysler’s Belvidere, Ill., plant were the last to vote on the contract Oct. 26 and they rejected it, despite Chrysler’s $3,000 lump-sum bribe to each of its 600 “enhanced temporary workers.” Nationwide, the contract was approved 53-47 percent, but only after a major lobbying effort that saw union executive board members rush, at the last minute, to plants where the workers had not yet voted.

The Chrysler contract ratification process was much more difficult than the one at GM, where two-thirds of the members who voted approved it after a two-day strike.

Chrysler workers first went on strike for six hours. When local union leaders met after the strike, they were split over the contract agreement. At first, the deal was rejected by four large auto assembly plants and received support only from small factories. After an extraordinary lobbying effort by union leaders, four big plants in the Detroit area approved the pact.

Opponents voted against the contract for a variety of reasons, including the introduction of a two-tier wage system, the off-loading of responsibility for retiree health care by the company onto the lap of the union, and lack of future job guarantees. Many longtime observers of the labor movement believe that as a result of the new contracts at GM and Chrysler, the union will have to struggle to rebuild itself all over again.

The same issues, particularly the guarantees for future work, are now up front in the negotiations with Ford.

The company is crying poverty, claiming it lost $12.6 billion last year and that it does not expect to earn a profit in the United States until 2009. Ford does not have to include billions in overseas profits in its accounting reports. The company is not talking about billions it is investing in plants in eastern Europe.

Another difficult issue workers have to deal with is Ford’s “Way Forward” plan. It is a restructuring plan that will involve closings at plants whose identity has not yet been revealed. The union will push for the disclosure of these plans and the company will resist. Workers at Chrysler plants in Missouri rejected their contract precisely because they knew Chrysler had no long-term plans to invest in their plants.

Workers want assurances before they will vote in favor of a contract, and they know that even such assurances can come to nothing. Just weeks after approval of the GM contract, the company has already announced plans to eliminate shifts at two Michigan factories where no cuts were supposed to have been made.

Like their counterparts at GM and Chrysler, Ford workers are particularly unhappy about the two-tier wage system. They see it is a sellout of the young workers and a blow to the next generations of autoworkers.