Labor Fightback Conference

Final Report on Decisions of the Second Labor Fightback Conference

Rutgers University Inn and Conference Center, May 17, 2015

(report presented by Alan Benjamin on behalf of the Labor Fightback Network Steering Committee and approved unanimously, following a Motion to Adopt by Donna Dewitt, President Emeritus of the South Carolina AFL-CIO)

Alan BenjaminThe Second Labor Fightback Conference brought together a little over 100 union leaders and activists, along with representatives of progressive community organizations, with the purpose of developing an independent mass-action program to advance the interests of the working class and our allies.

Their deliberations were spurred by the opening remarks to the conference presented by Carol Gay, president of the Industrial Union Council of New Jersey, who stated, in part:

The winds of change are blowing! Several strong movements are now bringing people together, unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time.

“In recent years we have been inspired by the Wisconsin uprising, the Chicago teachers, and the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, to give only a few examples. Today we are seeing new movements spring up — $15 NOW [minimum wage –ed. note] and a Union, first in Seattle and now spreading across the country, as fast-food workers and WalMart workers strike for dignity and respect.

“The #BlackLivesMatter movement is growing and spreading by leaps and bounds. Communities from Ferguson, MO, to Baltimore, MD, to Newark, NJ are coming together to loudly denounce police brutality, racism and inequality saying, ‘Enough is Enough!’ and ‘No to Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow!’ And students are rising up to swell the ranks of these movements as well as mount their own resistance to student debt and rising tuition costs.

“This is the political context in which our conference takes place.…We have an opening right now to build on these uprisings, rebellions and courageous stands for justice and democracy. The bold, united resistance and the forging of an independent labor movement — in the streets, in the workplaces and in the electoral arena — show the path that will help us realize this vision for justice and equality.”

Eight conference workshops were held with the goal of coming up with agreed-upon Action Proposals. The workshops topics were as follows: Attacks Against Labor: Forging a Fightback Strategy; Independent Labor Political Action; Crisis in Education; Redirecting War Spending to Meet Human Needs: Stopping Unjust Wars and Occupations; Immigrant Rights; Black Freedom Struggle; Single-Payer Healthcare; and Organizing the South. The Action Proposals were then submitted to plenary sessions, where they were discussed, expanded and approved.

All the Action Proposals were audio-taped and will be compiled in a comprehensive report that will be distributed widely and published on the Labor Fightback Network website.

Among all the initiatives that were proposed, however, the Labor Fightback Conference will be focusing its energies to promote three central campaigns in the coming weeks and months. These will be, so to speak, the LFN’s signature campaigns. They are:

(1) The July 25 Million People’s March Against Police Brutality, Racial Injustice and Economic Inequality in Newark, NJ

The Labor Fightback Conference will actively build the July 25 Million People’s March Against Police Brutality, Racial Injustice and Economic Inequality. This march will take place in Newark, N.J., at the initiative of the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) and a broad list of Black community organizations. The conference urges its supporters nationwide to take this action to our unions, in particular, for endorsement and active participation.

Toward that end, the conference organizers have prepared a Sample Resolution to be submitted for adoption by unions and community organizations nationwide. The Sample Resolution frames the current situation as follows:

“Police brutality is an ongoing, growing and deadly problem in the United States of America.

“It includes the unwarranted and unjustified killing of unarmed people, the use of excessive force, the violation of peoples' constitutional rights, racist and discriminatory practices, criminal activity, corruption and misconduct, increased militarization of police forces, and the failure of the criminal justice system to hold police accountable.

“Police brutality is not an isolated problem. It is an historical problem with roots that are deep in the social fabric of this country. It must be seen within the broader context of racial and economic injustice and inequality.

“While the victims of police brutality come from all racial groups in society, the vast majority comes from African American, Latino, Native American and other communities of color. They are overwhelmingly poor and working class. . . .”

“For these reasons the People's Organization for Progress (POP) is calling a MILLION PEOPLE'S MARCH Against Police Brutality, Racial Injustice, And Economic Inequality. We will march to demand an end to police brutality and justice for all of its victims, police reform, and an end to the problems of racial injustice and economic inequality, which lead to police brutality.”

The Sample Resolution goes on to put forward the following demands, all lifted from the call by POP for the July 25 action:

“We demand an end to police brutality, police violence, police torture and police terror.

“We demand the firing and prosecution of police officers involved in unjustifiable killing of unarmed civilians, use of excessive force, and violation of citizens constitutional rights.

“We demand community control of the police. We demand the establishment of Civilian Complaint Police Review Boards with subpoena and disciplinary powers over police forces.

“We demand legislation at the federal, state, and local levels that will punish police that engage in the unjustifiable killing of unarmed civilians, use of excessive force, and violation of citizens’ constitutional rights. . . .

“We demand an immediate halt to all efforts to further militarize the police in this country. We demand the immediate termination of the federal government’s 1033 program that provides military equipment and hardware to local police forces. . . .

“We demand justice for all victims of police brutality. We demand justice for every person who has been unjustly abused, brutalized, and killed by the police.

“We demand that the police stop the mass arrest of protestors.

“We demand an immediate halt to all police actions and policies that impair, limit, attempt to control, or aim to prevent the exercise of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, other civil liberties, and the right to protest.

“We demand an immediate halt to police efforts to spy on, infiltrate, disrupt, and destroy organizations, associations, political parties, unions and dissident groups that are not involved in illegal activities.

“We demand local, state, and federal legislation that will give Civilian Complaint Police Review Boards the power to discipline police officers.”

This, again is a very important call — and our role must be to get our unions on board. As Brother Saladin Muhammad from Black Workers For Justice put it in his message to the conference:

“The slogans Black Lives Matter and Stop the War on Black America need to be embraced by the labor movement. . . . Today’s Black-led resistance to the capitalist neoliberal policies raises the question for labor of: Which Side Are You On? As the labor movement is the largest and most organized framework with the greatest resources of the U.S. working class, this becomes a decisive question for any long-term strategy to organize and mobilize contending and transformative power. . . .

“The call for Black self-determination and liberation is a call for the organizing of Black power to ensure the challenges to the deepest structural economic, social and political policies necessary to bring about a real transformation of society that benefits the entire working class without privileges."

We agree. Forward to the July 25 Million People’s March!

(2) The Fight Against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Under Any Guise

Anyone who thinks that Fast Track and TPP have been defeated, think again.

Less than 72 hours after the Senate voted down Fast Track, surprising all political pundits who expected the Senate to support Fast Track and the House of Representatives to oppose it, the Senate did an about-face, with a majority of Senators now saying they could support Fast Track.

What changed?

Obama and his administration offered the liberal Democrats who opposed Fast Track a deal they could not refuse. They offered a side agreement to address the concern about currency manipulation by China and other Asian countries, and they offered a side agreement on labor rights, stating that this agreement could even be written into the body of the agreement itself.

This is déjà-vu all over again. With NAFTA, the Clinton administration proposed labor and environmental agreements to sweeten the deal and neutralize opposition to that “free trade” pact — especially opposition from the labor movement. Special tribunals were set up to prosecute violators of labor, environmental and human rights — tribunals that never met and had no mandate. While labor continued to oppose NAFTA, it backed down from challenging the president. It soon became clear that all these side agreements were not worth the paper they were printed on.

And why is this? Why can’t these “free trade” deals be rendered acceptable by “social clauses,” “social charters,” side agreements — or even labor agreements added to the body of the “free trade” deals? It’s because the very nature of these “free trade” agreements is to “remove all barriers to free trade” — meaning labor rights, trade unions, public services and public enterprises, national regulations over the environment, monopolies over the natural resources…and democracy itself. All these must go in the name of “opening up markets” and investments, as per the dictates of the “neo-liberal” agenda.

When side agreements are added, they are immediately trumped by the main clauses in the agreements. These parallel agreements — whether in separate documents or written into the body of the texts — are not enforceable. They have no function other than to woo an unwary public and unwary public officials into going along with these unacceptable pacts. In a word, it’s a swindle.

The labor movement has been down this road before with NAFTA. Our slogan must be, “Never Again!” The demands of an independent labor movement must be drawn as a hard line in the sand: No Fast Track, No TPP under any form, under any name! This must be the battle cry of the labor movement. For our part, we must be the most resolute advocates of this position within labor; when others waver, we must be there to insist on No TPP Under Any Guise!

And to strengthen our message, we can distribute widely and promote the adoption of the resolution passed on May 11, 2015, by the San Francisco Labor Council titled, “No Labor Money for Supporters of Fast Track/TPP.” Let the politicians know in advance that if they go down this road they will not have labor’s support. The SFLC resolution states, in part:

“Whereas, United Food & Commercial Workers International President Marc Perrone, in a March 2015 statement, declared: ‘At a time when our elected leaders should be focusing on raising wages, creating more opportunity, and addressing income inequality, the TPP would do exactly the opposite. That is why labor unions from across the U.S. are joining together to cut off funding to those who are pushing this harmful agreement.’ Perrone announced that the 1.3-million-member UFCW will no longer make any contributions ‘to federal officeholders who support or refuse to take a position on the TPP and Fast Track.…Unless a member of Congress is on the record opposing both, they will no longer be receiving our financial assistance.”

And the SFLC resolution concludes as follows:

“Therefore be it Resolved, that the San Francisco Labor Council urges its affiliates, Bay Area labor councils, California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and the entire labor movement to refuse to provide any union or PAC funds to any Senator or member of Congress who supports or ‘declines to take a position’ on Fast Track and the TPP. Unless a member of Congress or Senate is on the record opposing both, they should no longer be receiving labor’s financial assistance. Nor should these politicians receive any endorsement or in-kind assistance, such as phone banking, campaign mailings or precinct walking, from the union movement.”

(3) Campaign for Independent-Labor Community Politics

Two years ago, at the First National Labor Fightback Conference we were not yet ready to bring in a proposed campaign for independent labor-community politics. Our focus was on building an independent labor movement in the streets and workplaces across the country, with a focus on “No Cuts!”

Building an independent labor movement is still at the heart of our orientation — but two years later, the objective situation has changed and we can expand our message to labor’s independence in the electoral arena. The 2014 mid-term elections witnessed a massive rout of the Democrats, as a huge majority of working-class voters opted to stay home, and a sizeable number of workers voted for the Republicans. The issue of independent politics has surfaced big time, moreover, with the election of a socialist to City Council in Seattle, largely with labor’s support, and the election of an independent labor slate of candidates, supported by the city’s central labor council, in Lorain, Ohio.

[See Attachment A: Open Letter to the Delegates of the North Shore (Ohio) AFL-CIO Federation of Labor by rank-and-file trade unionists urging the Central Labor Council to run independent labor candidates for public office.]

The political anger and frustration that has continued to mount over the years within the working class needs to be channeled by the labor movement into a positive direction toward running independent labor-community candidates, beginning at the local level, lest this anger be misdirected and led into dead-ends or dangerous adventures by forces hostile to labor and democracy.

On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, many in labor will be attracted to the Bernie Sanders campaign, as his platform echoes many of the platform planks that we stand for — though his silence on some other vital questions that we champion (notably on the U.S. wars in the Middle East and the uprising of Black youth across the United States against police terror) is no less evident.

The Labor Fightback Conference does not endorse any candidates in the mainstream parties. What has united us from the beginning, what is in the LFN Mission Statement, is the view that the bosses have two parties and that working people need one of our own. We take our cue on this central point from Tony Mazzocchi, our departed mentor from the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union and the Labor Party.

What has united the Labor Fightback Network, what unites us here at this conference, is the view that a break with the twin parties of the bosses is more urgent than ever, and that across the country the most immediate task is the running of independent labor-community candidates rooted in the labor movement and the communities of the oppressed. The spread of such candidacies, we have insisted in our multiple postings over the past two years, would lay the foundation for building a party of and for the working-class majority based on the unions and organizations of Black people, Latinos, and other oppressed groups.

We will work with Bernie Sanders supporters on all the big united-front campaigns where we agree — building the 50th anniversary of Medicare marches and celebrations on July 30 with our demand of “Protect, Improve and Expand Medicare!” We will be out in the streets alongside Bernie Sanders supporters to demand “No to Fast Track, No to TPP!” These are just two of many issues.

The LFN is a network. Unionists and activists who support our network are free to support whatever candidate they (or their organizations) wish to support, but they cannot do this in the name of the Labor Fightback Network.

So what are we proposing to do? How can we begin to break out of the stranglehold of this two-party system dominated by the parties of Big Business?

We are proposing to make use of our Labor Fightback Blog and establish an electronic newsletter (as part of our regular LFN postings) to promote an open dialogue around this much-needed perspective and to support practical initiatives toward independent labor-community politics.

Again, there is a new political climate — and even the top echelons of the labor movement are not shielded from these winds of change.

There has been discussion at the highest levels of the AFL-CIO about focusing labor’s energies, in a select number of states, on issue-oriented campaigns, including referenda, as opposed to election campaigns.

At a recent meeting of State and Local AFL-CIO bodies, it was strongly advised that labor should run its own candidates — as only labor candidates can know and fully articulate our issues — as opposed to supporting candidates who say their uncles or aunts were part of the labor movement.

The downside, of course, is that these candidates from the labor movement will run in the Democratic Party. But again, we in the LFN can take the discussion one step further: Yes, we need our own candidates, as only people from our ranks can truly embrace and put forward our issues. But can we run them in a party that is not ours — a party that is run, funded and controlled by the bosses?

This is where our Open Dialogue for Independent Labor-Community Politics comes in. We can have a sustained discussion on these and other questions. For example, we can begin a serious discussion on the balance sheet of Labor Party Advocates and the Labor Party. What were the strengths, what were the weaknesses, could we have done things differently, and if so, what would that have been?

We can discuss the balance sheet of the recent Chicago municipal elections: What was the role of the Chicago Teachers Union during these elections? What were the obstacles?

And, hopefully, through these discussions we can help motivate union locals and possibly even city-wide labor bodies to do what the Lorain (Ohio) Central Labor Council did by running its own independent candidates for city office — or to build labor-community coalitions, with unions at the center, that can host labor-community congresses to run candidates that take their mandate from these congresses and are answerable to them. Hopefully we can generate some examples of success.

The time is ripe to open this dialogue.

Other Immediate Action Items Approved by the Conference

In addition to the three central campaigns outlined above, the LFN Steering Committee took note of the fact that there are important items brought up in the workshops that must be acted upon immediately. These include the following:

Send a solidarity letter on behalf of the Fightback Conference to the organizers of the June 1 Day of Action in Haiti against the UN/MINUSTAH occupation of Haiti. The Conference supports their demands and will also urge unionists and activists to organize forums and actions on or around June 1 in support of the demands contained in the Call from Haiti. [See Attachment B: Haiti June 1st Call.]

Send a letter, care/of c. Fernanda J., to the Caravana Yaqui [the Yaqui indigenous people in Northern Mexico have organized three separate caravans to Mexico City to demand the cancellation of the “Independencia” Aqueduct project and the defense of their water rights – Ed.] and to the Political Organization of the Workers and People (OPT) and the National People’s Convention in Mexico in support of the five demands put forward by the National Meeting of the Resistance Movements (Encuentro de las Resistencias) held in December 2014 at the initiative of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) and ratified at the February 2015 National People’s Convention in Ayotzinapa (Guerrero). These five points are as follows:

* The disappeared students must be brought back alive;
* The perpetrators of the heinous actions must be brought to justice;
* All political prisoners must be freed;
* The government’s “counter-reforms” (energy, education, labor, healthcare, etc.) must be repealed.
* Enrique Peña Nieto must step down!

Draft a Conference Resolution and send a letter to the leadership of the Alianza de Organizaciones Nacional, Estatal y Municipal por la Justicia Social del valle de San Quintín – that is, the Alliance of Farm Workers of San Quintin (Mexico) – in solidarity with their struggle for an increase in their daily wage from 100 pesos to 200 pesos [raise from $8 per day to $16 per day], for an eight-hour workday, for social security, and for recognition of their independent union as the bargaining agent for the 70,000 workers on strike since mid-March. Both the resolution and letter will link the struggle in San Quintín with the struggle of the Sakuma farmworkers in the state of Washington, where a boycott of Driscoll’s is also under way.

[See Attachment C: Model Resolutions in solidarity with the San Quintín and Sakuma farmworkers. Note: A version of this resolution is available in Spanish upon request.]

• Send an urgent LFN posting to unionists and activists urging letters, emails, and phone calls to the authorities in Pennsylvania demanding the release from prison of Mumia Abu-Jamal and immediate attention to his emergency medical needs.

In addition to these letters, we commit to promoting and/or actively building the following:

• The Labor Fightback Conference will promote and actively urge unions and our allies to build the July 30 actions celebrating the 50th anniversary of Medicare with the demand of “Protect, Improve and Expand Medicare!” This demand is a bridge to single-payer healthcare. We will promote this pivotal struggle and continue to support the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare. In this same vein, we pledge to support every effort that promotes retirement security — particularly by protecting and expanding pensions. In addition, we will continue to fight for the expansion of Medicaid to every state.

• The Labor Fightback Conference will continue to actively promote the campaigns organized by U.S. Labor Against the War, including the Campaign to Move the Money (away from war spending toward rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and massive job creation), the Campaign for Economic Conversion and Just Transition, and on a more immediate and urgent note, the USLAW campaign directed at the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress to demand: (1) repeal the sanctions against Venezuela, (2) end the funding of the forces inside Venezuela that are organized to destabilize the government of Nicolás Maduro, (3) remove Venezuela from the list of countries that represent a threat to the security of the United States, and (4) restore full diplomatic relations with the democratically elected government of Venezuela. The U.S. government is hell-bent on removing the Maduro government and will find any and all pretexts toward this end.

[See Attachment D: USLAW Statement on Economic Conversion and Just Transition, and See Attachment E: USLAW Resolution on Venezuela.]

• The Labor Fightback Conference will distribute widely throughout the labor movement and among our community supporters the letter sent to this Conference by veteran Black labor and political activist Saladin Muhammad titled “Black Workers and the U.S. Labor Movement” calling on the unions to embrace the Black Freedom struggle – and in particular calling on the unions and their community allies to discuss the Draft Manifesto for Black Liberation and to send Black representatives from their organizations to the National Assembly for Black Liberation to be held in the spring of 2016. [See Attachment F: Letter from Saladin Muhammad.]

• In relation to the struggle for immigrant rights, the Fightback Conference goes on record in support of the Dignity Campaign and its 8-point platform. This is especially important today, when politicians in the Democratic Party are reviving the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) as a means to corral voters — especially Latino voters — back into the Democratic Party. As the Dignity Campaign has noted, the CIR proposals fall short of what is needed, and, moreover, they include unacceptable trade-offs. [See Attachment G: Dignity Campaign Platform]

• The Fightback Conference will promote the campaign for a $15 Minimum Wage And a Union, Not a Penny Less! This last clause – Not a Penny Less – is the demand of an independent labor movement. Politicians who are wooing labor’s support in the 2016 elections are claiming support for the $15M campaign while explaining that they would settle for $10.25, perhaps a bit more. The unions need to draw a hard line in the sand, to demand nothing less than $15 per hour.

Rutgers Closing Comments by Jerry Gordon —
Secretary, Labor Fightback Network

Jerry GordonThis is the final point on our conference agenda. As the saying goes, “Last but not least.”

My purpose here is to urge you to consider joining forces with us in the Labor Fightback Network. Yes, this is a room full of activists who already belong to a range of other organizations. But here is why the LFN is unique and why we believe building unity and solidarity within the LFN is essential as well.

What especially distinguishes the LFN is its call for independent labor/community political action. This means ending the bankrupt strategy of supporting lesser-evil Democrats and running our own candidates for public office on a program advancing the needs of the working class majority.  

Our focus is the organized labor movement, a movement of about 14 million workers. It has the power, numbers, resources, staff, and structure to take on and defeat the billionaire class. Most important, it is in a commanding position in manufacturing, communication, transportation and the other facets of the economy to exercise decisive power. Simply put, if workers decline to work, the economy comes to a halt.

A copy of the LFN’s Mission Statement, which spells out its program of militant struggle on behalf of the working class majority, is in your kits.

In the course of our two-year history, the LFN has been actively involved in the fight against police brutality and the unjustifiable slaying of Black youth and others; preventing cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other human needs programs, while expanding and improving these programs; and stopping the endless U.S. wars and occupations resulting from the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.

We fight for immigrant rights, stating with an immediate end to all deportations. And as supporters of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, we advocate a single payer health care system.

The critical need for a network of the type we are speaking about here can, perhaps, best be seen by recollecting what happened in Wisconsin in 2011.

When Wisconsin workers occupied the Capitol and took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands in February and March 2011 to defend their unions and living standards, the effect was electrifying. Workers throughout the U.S. and the world were elated to see American workers taking such militant actions, reminiscent of the 1930s. Messages of solidarity poured in. “WE ARE ALL WISCONSIN!” were heard around the globe. The fight against the bosses’ union-busting and austerity offensive was at last being joined by masses of U.S. workers. 

But from the beginning of this struggle, labor leaders, with some significant dissenters, settled on a strategy of agreeing to Governor Scott Walker’s economic demands, which were that union workers in the public-sector pick up a significant part of the tab for their health care and pension benefits, while Walker’s budget called for $2.3 billion in tax cuts to the wealthy over the next decade. These concessions were announced publicly — without a vote taken of the affected workers — and amounted to over $100 million. But Walker rebuffed the idea that this was a sufficient basis to bring about a settlement of his dispute with the unions involved. Walker’s appetite having been whetted, he continued to demand that the public-sector unions also agree to having their members’ collective-bargaining rights stripped away, with police and firefighters excepted.

With the occupation of the Capitol and the gigantic demonstrations reaching a showdown stage, something had to give. The South Central Federation of Labor in Wisconsin adopted a resolution calling for exploration of the idea of a general strike as a possible next step.

If the labor movement had united on a national basis at that point and called a truly massive Solidarity Day 3 “March on Madison!” it could well have spurred more far-reaching actions by the Wisconsin labor movement, including a generalized work stoppage and mass civil disobedience. In the absence of such national support, Walker’s legislation was approved, and the struggle was then diverted to electoral channels by labor leaders and the Democratic Party.

Not surprisingly, the attempt to recall Walker and elect Democratic candidate Tom Barrett as governor was decisively defeated.

As Milwaukee mayor, Barrett sought union concessions that went beyond those mandated by Walker’s collective-barraging law. In a debate with Walker, he made clear he was not labor’s candidate. He also said that he would not increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

The Wisconsin labor movement was deeply divided in the recall campaign. According to the exit polls, 38% of union households voted for Walker, as did 67% of male blue-collar workers.

For the labor movement to shift its focus from independent mass action in the streets to supporting Democratic Party politicians was a sure recipe for defeat.

Imagine what could have happened had there been a strong Labor Fightback Network, with supporters in cities across the country at the time of this Uprising in Wisconsin? We might have been able to tip the balance of forces inside the labor movement in favor of that nationwide March on Madison, with its possible extension in massive strikes and mass actions. Hundreds of thousands of union members were only hours away and could have been called upon to join a March on Madison.

The Wisconsin experience also underscores again the need for the U.S. labor movement to establish independent labor/community coalitions and run candidates for public office, based on a program reflecting the needs and aspirations of the working class majority, and with candidates accountable to the base. Such an independent working class political movement could go a long way toward unifying the working class and cementing ties with the youth, students, communities of color, and other progressive sectors of the population.

To conclude: I urge you to join forces with us to build a network of unionists and activists pledged to bring about the changes that will enable the labor movement — with our community partners — to lead the way to establish a just society that reflects the interests of the overwhelming majority, instead of the wealthy 1%.

Thank you.