Summary of the Decisions of the Third National Labor Fightback Conference (Cleveland, Ohio — July 21-23, 2017)
[Note: The following report, with its summary of the conference decisions, was presented by Alan Benjamin, on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Labor Fightback Network. The decisions were approved, following amendments and additions from the floor, by the closing session of the Cleveland conference on July 21. Part 2 of the Conference Report will include the transcription of all the main presentations, as well as the conclusions and full list of Action Proposals from the workshops.]
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
It has been a truly excellent conference, perhaps our best to date. In plenary sessions and in workshops over the past three days, we heard powerful keynote speeches and a thought-provoking introductory report yesterday morning by our LFN national secretary, Tom Bias. We participated in two of the conference’s 12 workshops, and we also heard the reports from all the workshops in a plenary session. Everyone had a full opportunity to present his or her point of view and to discuss proposals for action. We listened to each other, and we learned from each other.
Last night, after the banquet dinner and panel of speakers, the LFN Steering Committee met to discuss all the action proposals submitted to the conference in the plenaries and workshops, and to distill from all of them those proposals around which we, as a Steering Committee, would like to focus our energies. We came up with seven main campaigns in which we, as the LFN, can make a special contribution.
Many of these campaigns, moreover, could be taken to our trade unions for submission to the upcoming national AFL-CIO convention in St. Louis.
Before proceeding to review with you our main action proposals, I should tell you that the Steering Committee of the LFN has agreed to publish on our website and to our listserv (with its many thousands of subscribers) the keynote speeches presented on Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday night. We will also publish the conclusions and full list of action proposals, with attached documents, presented from each of the 12 workshops. In addition, we will publish all the greetings — national and international — sent to the conference.
I should also point out that all our keynote sessions were videotaped. We will make available the links so that all our supporters can have access to the videotaped presentations. We will provide these video links in Part 2 of full conference report. (I should also add that, unfortunately, because of a technical glitch, one of our keynote speakers was not videotaped.
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(1) Independent Working Class Political Action
In keeping with our LFN Mission statement and our past two Labor Fightback conferences in Rutgers, N.J., we are retaining our focus on promoting independent working class political action, along with our support to the Black Liberation Movement and its expressions of independent Black working class political action.
Our opening night session on Friday and our specific workshop on independent politics came up with the following proposals:
* To build labor-community coalitions around workers’ pressing demands, with mass actions in the streets and workplaces, but also as vehicles for independent political action in the electoral arena, beginning at a local level. Independent political action — with independent labor-community candidates — should be seen as a complement to independent mass action, not a substitute.
* To promote and publicize independent Black working class candidates such as Devin Branch (who is running for mayor in East Cleveland in November 2017 on the Green Party ticket, as the election rules do not allow candidates to run as independents) and Nnamdi Lumumba of the Ujima People’s Progress Party (who ran for City Council in Baltimore in November 2016). We need many more such candidates across the country.
* To pursue the rich and necessary discussion that we opened with our Friday night panel and our Saturday workshop among activists from various political backgrounds and affiliations about what kind of independent politics are needed today to move the struggle forward. We will post this discussion on our blog.
* To open a discussion in the labor movement around the urgent need to launch a Labor Party Advocates-type organization to promote building a mass working class party, a Labor Party, based on the trade unions and the communities of the oppressed. As was stated repeatedly in different forms throughout the weekend, a major obstacle facing working people is the subordination of the trade union leadership to the Democratic Party. The bosses have two parties; working people need a party of our own.
* To support the National Assembly for Black Liberation. This is not just one more task for the Labor Fightback Network; it must be a central task. We have a major responsibility to organize support for this Assembly.
Supporting the Black nationalist movement — that is, the struggle for Black self-determination — is not a step away from working-class unity. On the contrary, it is the very condition for working class unity. Black workers are stepping forward to build a National Assembly for Black Liberation, and it is the task of the broader working class to support this effort — so that working-class unity can be built on the basis of mutual trust and respect.
Endorsements and financial contributions for the National Assembly should be sent to: Ebony Unity Club, 3 Clark Street, Boston, MA 02125. Please write “For National Assembly” on the memo line of your check. For more information about the National Assembly, please contact Saladin Muhammad at <email@example.com>.
The workshop on independent politics had a number of additional proposals regarding ballot access and related issues. These will be included in the report on workshops in Part 2 of the Conference Report-Back.
[See Attachment 1A: Call for National Assembly for Black Liberation.]
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(2) Cancel NAFTA, Tear Down the Wall of Shame/Not One More Deportation, and Support Farm Workers in North Carolina and San Quintin (Baja California, Mexico)!
We are proposing a multi-pronged campaign to Cancel NAFTA, Tear Down the Wall of Shame/Not One More Deportation, and Support Labor Rights on Both Sides of the Border (beginning with support for farmworkers in North Carolina and in San Quintin, Mexico).
The campaign will be launched on August 16, the day that the NAFTA Renegotiation talks open in Washington, DC. To promote the fightback around the above-listed demands, a two-part binational conference will be held, first in Southern California in the fall and then in Mexico City early next year.
This campaign was proposed at the conference by FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez, by the farmworkers of San Quintin, Mexico (who sent a videotaped greeting to the conference urging our continued support to the Driscoll’s boycott), and by Luis Carlos Haro, from Tijuana, Mexico (who sent us the Appeal — signed by 100 leading trade unionists and activists in the United States and Mexico — for the binational conference).
For more information about the RJ Reynolds “Vuse” Boycott, contact Baldemar Velasquez at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For more information about the Driscoll’s boycott, contact Al Rojas, Sacramento LCLAA, at <email@example.com>. To endorse the Binational Conference, contact Alan Benjamin at <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Luis Carlos Haro at <email@example.com>.
The immigrant rights / fight against Islamophobia workshop, having heard in-depth reports from two Muslim sisters, also urged us to take up more seriously and vigorously the campaign to stop Islamophobia and the attacks that it spawns across the country. The workshop also called for ending the attacks on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program that the Trump administration is seeking to end. We propose to defend DACA as part of our fight to end all deportations.
[See Attachments 2A: Call for Binational Conference; 2B: LFN Appeal to Support FLOC farm workers in North Carolina and RJ Reynolds’ “Vuse” Boycott; 2C: FLOC Appeal to Support its 7th National Convention; and 2D: LFN Model Resolution to Support the Driscoll’s Boycott; 2E: NAFTA Renegotiation Is a Sham]
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(3) Mass Actions in the Spring of 2018 to Fight for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality
The Third Labor Fightback Conference took place in Cleveland, Ohio — a city with a sordid history of police killings and violence against the Black community. It is a city known infamously for two recent cases of police homicides: the “Cleveland Atrocity/137 shots” on November 22, 2012, and the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on November 29, 2014.
Protests were numerous and large after the police homicide of Tamir Rice. Black Lives Matter, a hashtag that created a movement, fostered a Cleveland chapter founded by the cousin of Tamir Rice, Latonya Goldsby. The Labor Fightback Network was honored that Sister Goldsby addressed the Saturday night banquet dinner at the conference, where she summoned all participants to continue the fight for Black lives and against police brutality under the slogan, “All Lives Matter When Black Lives Matter.”
The conference also heeded the words of Sister Genevieve Mitchell from Cleveland, who gave the report back from the Black Lives conference workshop and urged us to pay specific attention to the defense of Black women and their families.
To advance this struggle, we are proposing to promote and actively build the April 2018 Poor People’s March called by the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina.
Speaking at a rally in mid-May in Raleigh-Durham, the Rev. Barber explained the reasons for launching this campaign, 50 years to the day since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and in the footsteps of Dr. King’s original Poor People’s March:
“The fights for racial and economic equality are as inseparable today as they were half a century ago. Make no mistake about it:
“We face a crisis in America. The twin forces of white supremacy and unchecked corporate greed have gained newfound power and influence, both in statehouses across this nation and at the highest levels of our federal government. …
“Americans across the country are crying out in defiance — and for change. Bringing this cry into the public square, a Resistance has emerged. … At such a time as this, we need a new Poor People’s Campaign for Moral Revival to help us become the nation we’ve not yet been.
“Throughout America’s history — from abolition, to women’s suffrage, to labor and civil rights — real social change has come when impacted people have joined hands with allies of good will to stand together against injustice. … Poor and impacted people knew in their bones both that power concedes nothing without a fight. …
“This moment requires us to push into the national consciousness … an agenda to combat systemic poverty and racism, war mongering, economic injustice, voter suppression, and other attacks on the most vulnerable.
“We hope you’ll join us and invite others to come along as we commit to go forward together, not one step back!”
This March, so we understand, will overlap with May Day 2018, which is why we are proposing that we publicize widely the resolution adopted by the Longshore Caucus of the ILWU, the West Coast longshore workers’ union, which reads as follows:
MAY DAY 2018 and ONWARD
AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL
WHEREAS, May Day International Workers Day began in the U.S., with the May 1st 1886 National Strike for the 8-hour day and international solidarity in defense of 8 martyrs charged in the May 1886 Haymarket incident; and
WHEREAS, on May 1, 2008, the ILWU Longshore Division shut down the West Coast to oppose the war in Iraq; and
WHEREAS, ILWU Local 10 has honored May Day with May 1st stop work meetings, marches and rallies for the 3 consecutive years of 2015, 2016, and 2017; and
WHEREAS, Principles 3, 4, and 8 of the 10 Guiding Principles of the ILWU guide us toward honoring this day of international solidarity; and
WHEREAS, as President Robert McEllrath stated in the March 2017 Dispatcher article on Trump’s attacks on workers: “Workers and unions have never gotten anything handed to them on a sliver platter, because progress only gets made by pushing the powerful to do what’s right. That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s what we need to be doing now and in the future.”; and
WHEREAS, racist and undemocratic attacks against immigrants and people of color, including Native Americans, have increased and will potentially intensify and broaden to other people in the future, and it has become even more necessary to live by our slogan “An Injury To One Is An Injury To All” and unite with others to resist this aggression; in that spirit therefore be it
RESOLVED, That ILWU Longshore (PCLCD) locals coastwide will honor May Day International Workers Day 2018 with May 1st stop work meetings and local activities, and continue this as a tradition on May 1st in all future years.
It is not too early to circulate these two calls: the call for the Poor People’s March and the Call to support May Day 2018 with actions such as those that will be taken coastwide by the ILWU. Let’s make May 2018 look more like the huge mass mobilizations of May Day 2006. We can do it!
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(4) Building a United, Mass-Action Antiwar Movement
The Labor Fightback Network’s mission statement calls for “redirect[ing] war spending to meet human needs. End the unjust wars and occupations!” Since its founding, the LFN has sought to promote a united, mass-action-oriented antiwar movement based around the simple principle of “U.S. Out Now!” from all countries and conflicts in which the U.S. government is interfering. We stand for the immediate, total, and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops — and non-intervention.
Building a united, mass-action antiwar movement is more necessary than ever. The 2018 “defense” budget has been upped to $696.5 billion, which is $75 billion higher than Obama’s record-high war budget. According to the National Priorities Project report in May 2017, the U.S. government has spent $7.6 trillion on the military and homeland security since 9/11. And this does not even include the long-term costs of caring for the badly wounded soldiers. It’s a war budget against working people and the oppressed — at home and abroad.
The American people are tired and wary of all the U.S. wars and interventions abroad. Poll after poll continues to register the prevailing antiwar sentiment of the working-class majority.
We were very pleased to have with us at the Cleveland conference a representative of the United National Antiwar Coalition, Joe Lombardo, who recounted at our banquet dinner UNAC’s commitment to building a broad-based, mass antiwar movement based on “Out Now!” We concur with what Brother Lombardo told us, and we are glad to put behind us the issues that once had separated us. We have moved on and found common ground with UNAC to go forward together to build a united antiwar movement capable of mobilizing hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of this country, just as we did during the war in Vietnam.
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(5) Renewing Our Commitment to the Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
We received a statement titled, “Open Letter to the Labor Fightback Network Conference to Further the Struggle to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.” It was signed by Jeff Mackler, director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, Northern California; and Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone, producers of Taking Aim.
The Open Letter points out that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Williams v. Pennsylvania could open a small crack to expose the entire cover-up and travesty of justice committed against Mumia. Judith Ritter, Mumia’s attorney, and Christina Swarms, the Litigation Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, have filed a Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition to, once again, demonstrate the violation of Mumia’s due-process rights and to demand an impartial tribunal free of judicial bias.
“The PCRA petition provides a crucial opportunity for Mumia,” the authors of the Open Letter tell us. “There is no time to lose to protest the cover-up.” And the authors conclude:
“Against this vast system of cruelty and oppression, Mumia Abu-Jamal has been a heroic voice, his clarion call echoing around the world. We call upon you to renew your commitment to work together as we struggle for a new trial and freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
We propose that we heed this call to action to free Mumia!
[See Attachment 5A: Open Letter]
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(6) Renewing Our Commitment to Win Single Payer Healthcare
The failure of the Republican Party to pass TrumpCare has not only placed the issue of healthcare in the national spotlight, it has raised the urgent need to find a real healthcare solution that is an alternative to both ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act) and the Republican’s illusory (and devastating) “replacement.” As Dr. Margaret Flowers told us in her keynote presentation on Friday night, “It is not enough to be against the Republican health plan, we must be for something. This is the time to fight for National Improved Medicare For All as embodied in John Conyers’ HR 676: the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act.”
Dr. Flowers emphasized the need for mass action in the streets to win Single Payer. She also pointed us to a tool to advance this struggle: HealthOverProfit.org.
Another tool, especially for activists in the labor movement, is the Labor Campaign for Single Payer. Its national organizer, Mark Dudzic, who participated in the first two national Labor Fightback conferences in New Jersey (but was not able to join us this time in Cleveland), has issued an important statement underscoring the urgency of this fight for Single Payer. Titled, “Picking Up the Pieces,” the statement reads, in part:
“Six months of heroic resistance by millions of Americans has brought the Republican Trumpcare juggernaut to a dead standstill. The significance of this victory [in beating back the Republican crusade to gut Medicaid and deprive over 20 million of their fellow citizens of healthcare in order to give a huge tax cut to the 1%] cannot be overrated.
“We are not out of the woods yet. The political and financial stakes are too high for healthcare profiteers to just walk away from the table. The fight is far from over. We’ve learned how to defeat our opponents. Now we have to learn how to win.
“Like never before, people are embracing expanded and improved Medicare for All as the long-term solution to the healthcare crisis. A recent AP-NORC poll shows that 62% of all Americans believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has health care.
“Now is the time to pick up the pieces and move forward. … We have won a great victory against overwhelming odds. Join us now as we work to regain the offensive.”
[See Attachment 6A: Picking Up the Pieces — with a more complete list of events you can attend and things you can do to move this crucial effort forward.]
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(7) Organizing the Fightback to Defeat “Right to Work”
Throughout the conference, in plenary presentations and in the specific workshop on the subject, conference participants warned of the imminent danger of a national “Right to Work” law and sounded the alarm that the labor movement, in alliance with its community partners, must mobilize in huge numbers in the streets to prevent such a law from passing.
It was reported that Republicans in Congress have introduced amendments to the National Labor Relations Act and Railway Labor Act today (2/1/17) aimed at crippling the right to organize a union. Such national “Right-To-Work” legislation has long been on the wish list of the right wing and big business and is aimed at gutting the ability of the unions to finance themselves and fight back against the bosses’ agenda. The proposed legislation would target the union shop and the unions’ right to collect fees for representation.
These laws, with their roots in the Jim Crow segregated South, have spread to 27 states. In every state where “Right to Work” has passed, the income of working class households has fallen, and the unions have been weakened by attacks on the unions’ dues base and the union shop.
With Trump now in the White House, and with Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, the danger of a national “Right-To-Work” law is very real. Trump, playing the populist card during the campaign, talked up his support for hard working union members. At the same time he was clear about his support for “Right to Work.”
“We’ve had great support from [union] workers, the people that work, the real workers, but I love the right to work,” Trump said. ”I like it better because it is lower. It is better for the people. You are not paying the big fees to the unions. The unions get big fees. A lot of people don’t realize they have to pay a lot of fees. I am talking about the workers. They have to pay big fees to the union. I like it because it gives great flexibility to the people. It gives great flexibility to the companies.”
Many Democrats have been supportive of “Right-to-Work” provisions, notably former Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, who “supported Virginia’s “Right-to-Work law since he ran for governor in 2005, and … that position has not changed.”
The top AFL-CIO leaders met with Trump soon after he took office, and they commended the president for his alleged commitment to job creation — but they said nothing, according to all reports on the meeting, about Trump’s commitment to support “Right to Work.” This silence sent chills throughout the labor movement.
Labor meetings are being held across the country to educate members about the devastating effects of “Right to Work” in the 27 states that have adopted this draconian legislation. Most of the discussion is centered on how labor can maintain its members once “Right to Work” is enacted. There is a place for this discussion, but the most important discussion is: How can we mobilize to stop national “Right to Work” in its tracks and to reverse “Right to Work” everywhere that it has been passed.
Mass mobilizations, united-front mass actions, and political independence are crucial elements of a fightback. We urge our supporters to take up this fightback campaign.
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