Interview with Donna Dewitt on the PRO Act and the
South Carolina Labor Party 2022 Election Campaign
[Note: The following interview with Donna Dewitt, president-emerita of the South Carolina AFL-CIO and member of the Continuations Committee of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), was conducted by Alan Benjamin, editorial board member of The Organizer, on May 7, 2021.]
The Organizer: On May Day, unions in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the country marched to honor International Workers Day and to demand that Congress pass the PRO Act, which would dismantle the Taft-Hartley anti-labor act and give workers a fair chance to organize into a union. What’s it going to take to pass the PRO Act?
Donna Dewitt: The first thing is that we in the labor movement must not compromise. We need the full PRO Act. To get it, every one of our International unions must move quickly to educate our members about the Pro Act; most of them don’t know what it’s about. Combined with the education piece is mobilization; we must develop a powerful grassroots movement of unions and their community allies. The PRO Act will lift up all working people.
The Organizer: As far as I can tell, the only two major unions that have engaged in such an educational and mobilization campaign are the Painters Union and CWA. I have not seen on the part of the AFL-CIO national leadership a commitment to pulling out all the stops to pass the PRO Act.
Donna Dewitt: Other international unions like the Postal Workers have made this a priority, but there is no question that more, much more, needs to be done to educate and mobilize our union members. We have an opportunity now to get true labor reform. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by.
The Organizer: There are a number of political obstacles to enacting the PRO Act, in our opinion. The first is that the Democratic Party leadership, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, is strongly opposed to killing the filibuster. With their 51 votes in the Senate, the Democrats could overturn the filibuster in a jiffy and enact the PRO Act — in addition to passing the $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and other urgently needed measures. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Angus King, a so-called independent, now support the PRO Act, but they also support the filibuster — meaning that their “support” for the PRO Act is little more than cheap talk.
Biden has now included the PRO Act in his $2.2 trillion infrastructure bill in an attempt to get it passed through the budget reconciliation process. But here’s another obstacle. The Republican-nominated Senate parliamentarian could decide, as she did when she stymied the $15 minimum wage, that the PRO Act, as written, does not belong in the bill. Such a decision could kill the PRO Act altogether, or it could lead to compromising away the key tenets of the bill.
Donna Dewitt: You’re absolutely right about Manchin. But keep in mind that his office was flooded with calls and texts — 525,000 calls and 134,000 texts — from union members and labor rights activists urging him to support the PRO Act. This forced him to listen to his constituents. What this means is that we can make a difference. We need to be out in the streets, including in D.C., to make things happen. The labor movement has to keep the heat on the politicians to support the PRO Act. It has to educate our members — and, yes, it has to defeat the filibuster. Getting rid of the filibuster is the major task of the hour; it will require building an independent mass-action movement of labor and its community partners.
The Organizer: Moving on to our next question. At a recent labor gathering, a prominent labor official explained that the fight for the Labor Party is unfinished. We could not agree more. In South Carolina you have been able to preserve a South Carolina Labor Party ballot line over all these years, and you are now preparing to run a slate of South Carolina Labor Party candidates across the state in 2022. Please tell us about this important effort.
Donna Dewitt: To get the South Carolina Labor Party on the ballot in 2006, we gathered more than 10,000 signatures. We went to the flea markets and community events in all 46 South Carolina counties, and people from all walks of life were very supportive of our Labor Party issues: higher education, workers’ rights, and, of course, Medicare for All.
We’ve been able to maintain our ballot line by running candidates every four years. Ours is a pure line. South Carolina is one of seven “fusion” states where candidates can run both as Democrats and Workers Families Party candidates. But once these WFP candidates are elected, they forget their WFP credentials and just say they are Democrats. We have our own platform under with our main slogan, “The Bosses Still Have Two Parties, We Need One of Our Own.”
At our last South Carolina Labor Party convention, we decided that we will run candidates across the state for local office, and possibly even a few state offices, in 2022. We are developing a strategy to run labor candidates, but also community candidates, who agree with our platform and want to promote it widely. We will do trainings and nominate our candidates at our South Carolina Labor Party convention. Our focus will be on healthcare — on the fight for Medicare for All!
The Organizer: Your campaign will set an example for unionists and activists nationwide. Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) is supporting independent, working class candidates in Maryland and California and will no doubt fully support your effort as you run Labor Party candidates in South Carolina in 2022, championing the fight for Medicare for All and for workers’ rights.
Donna Dewitt: I look forward to collaborating with LCIP, of which I am an advisory board member. LCIP is a perfect fit for our campaign. We are hoping to include LCIP in our trainings. In South Carolina, it will be a challenge getting our unions involved. A large number of our members voted for Trump. We have a lot of racism and white nationalism in our unions. That is why educating and mobilizing around working-class issues will be so important.
Having said that, we are excited and look forward to this 2022 campaign. We are excited about sharing our progress with you.
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Celebrating Our 30th Anniversary:
Please Support Our Fund Drive!
This month of May, Socialist Organizer and The Organizer Newspaper are celebrating our 30th Anniversary. We thank you, our readers, for your support over these many years, and we call on you to renew your subscriptions, support our 30th anniversary fund drive, and continue your support for our campaigns.
We urge you not only to continue supporting us, but to join our efforts to advance the revolutionary struggles of the working class in the U.S. and around the world.
The last 30 years in the U.S. have been marked by permanent war, increasing police murders and attacks against Blacks and other people of color, rising income and wealth disparity, rampant homelessness, mass incarceration, brutal attacks on immigrants, open white supremacist activity, further attacks on workers’ rights,the increasing assault on women’s reproductive rights, the drastic impact of profit-driven climate change, and most recently, the criminally inadequate response to a pandemic that has killed over half a million U.S. residents (and more than 3 million people worldwide).
Year after year it becomes even more obvious. The degradation of life resulting from capitalism — the private ownership of the means of production — places us at a crossroads: socialism or barbarism.
The Alarm Manifesto adopted in November 2020 by the 3rd World Conference of the OCRFI formulated it this way:
“There is no way out, no future for humanity is possible, within the framework of maintaining this capitalist system. Whatever the forms or illusions about a possible improvement or ‘humanization’ of the system, these have always been shattered by the reality of a capitalist system that knows only one law: profit based on the exploitation of the wage labor force, and which, in order to preserve its profit margins, does not hesitate to destroy en masse the existing productive forces, starting with what is the first of those: the productive force of the worker.”
It’s not that working people and the oppressed around the world are failing to fight back against all the injustices that result from a capitalist system in terminal decay. They are fighting, tenaciously — from the 25 million people across the U.S. who mobilized last year under the banner of Black Lives Matter to protest the police murder of George Floyd; to the workers and peasants in India whose general strikes have been the most massive in world history; to the millions who continue to mobilize in Algeria in their hirak (mass uprising); to the millions who mobilized in France against Macron’s pension “reform” and who today, despite the pandemic, are striking against the massive layoffs and cutbacks. The list goes on, in country after country.
But these are not merely defensive struggles. As the OCRFI’s Alarm Manifesto explained:
“Our experience in the class struggle in our respective countries leads us to consider that millions and millions of workers engaged in the struggle of resistance are not motivated solely by the will to wrest satisfaction of the most immediate demands. Through this struggle, the working class poses forcefully the need for a reorientation of the course of humanity, and therefore a break with the capitalist system. On this agenda is the fight for socialism.”
What has been lacking is not the will of workers to fight back. The overarching problem has been the obstacles placed in their path by misleaders in the workers’ movement — misleaders who are subordinated to capitalism and imperialism and who tie the hands of the working-class movements.
What has been lacking is a revolutionary leadership capable of helping the working class and all the oppressed overcome these obstacles, thus paving the way for socialist revolution. That is the historic task of the Fourth International and its sections worldwide, a task to which we in Socialist Organizer are fully committed.
Despite the many difficulties that we have faced over the past 30 years, we are proud of the work we have accomplished – especially our consistent call for an independent political party in the U.S. that would bring together all components of the working class and oppressed communities to build a movement that takes on racism, imperialism, militarism, economic exploitation, and corporate practices that destroy our environment and further promote drastic income and wealth inequality.
We are proud of our sustained and determined support for the right of Blacks and all other oppressed peoples to self-determination, a precondition for building working-class unity.
It is clearer than ever to us that the defeats of the past era are largely the result of the ruling class political monopoly embodied by both the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the subordination of the trade union officialdom and misleaders of oppressed communities to these capitalist parties.
We also are inspired by what we’ve seen in the last few years: a mass movement against police brutality and in defense of Black people, a revival of union militancy, and renewed support for socialism, including the rise of a generation of youth and young adults ready to explore and embrace socialist ideas.
Now is our time! Though the issues and tasks facing us appear daunting, the possibilities for an effective working-class fightback have seldom been better — but only if we can continue to organize.
A stronger and nationally rooted Socialist Organizer is needed. That is why we call on you to continue support us as we celebrate our 30th Anniversary.
The OCRFI’s Alarm Manifesto affirms this point clearly:
“It is possible to imagine a society capable of taking into account not only humanity’s short-term needs, but also its historical, long-term needs. Such a society cannot be based on the drive for profit for the few; it must be based on the quest to meet human needs and develop humanity in a totally different, harmonious, relationship with its environment. This requires putting an end to the system of private ownership of the means of production. It requires putting the socialization of the means of production, their collective ownership, on the agenda – and this poses the need for a government by the working class, by the workers’ councils. It poses the need for a working-class revolution overturning the regime based on exploitation.“
We will be publishing a Special Issue of The Organizer Newsletter with greetings from all over the world. We invite you to send a greeting at your earliest convenience. And, again, we invite you to make a financial contribution to our 30th anniversary fund drive either by sending a check, made payable to The Organizer (send to PO Box 40009, San Francisco, CA 94140) or by PayPal at our website: http://www.socialistorganizer.org.)
We thank you in advance for your support.
The National Organizing Committee of Socialist Organizer