Political Action Remarks

October 31, 2001

Report given at the National Committee Meeting

Sam’s report is a wonderful contribution which should be circulated very widely.

Tomorrow we will be approving commissions, and I want to start out by saying
that the new Political Action commission members are prepared to play our role.

I’d like to change the pace for a moment, and start with a message from the
union retirees of Florida who have not forgotten the 37-day war regarding the
presidential election. During a large labor luncheon this week for John
Sweeney, the president of the Florida retirees, speaking about ‘Partisanship
and Patriotism’, urged that a message be carried to the Democratic National
Committee to ‘Wake up and Smell the Politics!’

‘There are more people living in fear with lack of health care and prescription
drugs than there are in fear of not having a Homeland Defense Secretary,’ he
said adding ‘It would serve us well to consider bringing them under some Home
Land Protection Benefits.’ {Thanks to Sid Taylor for express mailing this.)

The horror and shock of planes crashing into the World Trade Center did not slow
down the push by the Bush administration and the extreme right-wing to achieve
their anti-worker, anti-people agenda.

Even as rescue workers combed their way through twisted steel and rubble, the
Bush administration pressed those Democrats who were opposing weapons in space
to set aside their differences in the name of national unity.

Even as the President put his arm around a fireman at Ground Zero, Republicans
tried to force oil drilling in Anwar through Congress by attaching it to the
military appropriations bill.

While union members in New York and across the country mourned the loss of over
a thousand sisters and brothers, mostly low-wage workers, many from other
lands, Congress outrageously presented the airline executives with $15 billion,
allocating nothing for the 40,000 airline workers and their families who had
nowhere to go.

And, as the order was placed to drop bombs on Afghanistan under the banner of
‘liberty and freedom’, repressive legislation shredding our Constitutional
rights was being speeded through Congress by John Ashcroft, while the public was
distracted, and immigrant Americans have been shot.

At this moment, the legislative arena is key to the fightback, and to forging
the unity necessary to end the war. The climate of ‘bipartisan patriotism’
can be broken. We must not concede the support of Congress to the President.

There is a struggle taking place in Congress that is not being covered in the
general media. There are heros and heroines who have stepped forward sometimes
alone, like Rep Barbara Lee, whose re-election must be guaranteed. These
openings provide the basis for widening support against the ultra-right agenda.

Last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus forced a sharp debate about what
kind of economic aid package the Democrats will bring to the floor. The
Progressive Caucus $200 billion economic stimulus package parallels the AFL-CIO
‘Economic Stimulus that Puts Families First: A Blueprint for Economic
Recovery’. It includes extension and expansion of unemployment compensation and
health care, job training, infrastructure repair, job creation and aid to
hard-pressed states and cities.

Already as part of the AFL-CIO campaign union members have begun visiting their
Congresspersons at home; laid off workers have testified in Washington; and
allies in the civil rights, women’s and economic rights organizations have been
engaged in defense of unemployed workers and in opposition to tax giveaways to
corporations and the rich.

The AFL-CIO had not opposed the war. But John Sweeney has said the struggle for
workers rights will not be set aside. If, next week, when peace activists
call-in to Congress to end the bombing, the messages for workers rights and
civil liberties and environmental protection are also included, those calls will
be more powerful.

This economic stimulus legislative campaign should be a big priority of ours,
for building a grass-roots voice and progressive grass-roots voting blocs. The
safety net has been destroyed and thousands of families are in great need.
Thousands more poor families and people of color stand to be hurt by this war
which must be ended.

If an increase in the minimum wage could be won during Gingrich’s regime,
certainly it is possible now to win expansion of unemployment compensation and
health care.

Objectively, this struggle, along with the civil liberties, immigrant rights and
environmental protection struggles, cannot be separated from the effort to end
the war. As Sam said, they are all part of the ‘casualties’. The fightback
against each returns the spotlight back onto reactionary Bush policies, and
expands the potential for growing unity.

With the help of Tim Wheeler, we have quickly prepared a list of the status of
some of the key legislation now on the front burner, which will be distributed.
These include stopping: Anwar drilling, FTAA / Fast Track, anti-terrorism
repressive legislation, weapons in space, corporate tax giveaways; and passing:
economic aid for working people and other progressive measures including
infrastructure repair, and legislation to ‘leave no child behind’. Due to time,
Tim will discuss the anti-terrorism legislation when he speaks.

We have also duplicated a list of the 57 members of the Progressive Caucus.
There are different political trends within this Caucus. Those who are most
advanced need visible support, like Jan Schakowsky, Cynthia McKinney, Hilda
Solice, Dennis Kucinich, etc. Those who are more moderate need to be pushed to
support the best proposals on the table. They need to know that it is not okay
to split the difference between Wall St. and workers. They need to hear from
their constituents who oppose the war.

The stakes remain very high for the 2002 Congressional elections. The goal of
ending Republican control will take a concerted effort, beginning now. There
is a proposal that this be the focus of our National Committee meeting in late
January or early February.

The eyes of the nation will be on the Governor’s race in Florida next year:
Speaking to the union retirees on Wednesday, John Sweeney issued a ringing call
to action that labor repeat the same all-out effort of the 2000 elections, in

For our part, upping the ante on electing labor and people’s activists to public
office is where we must place special efforts. This includes expanding the
effort of the AFL-CIO to elect union members to Congress as well as to local
offices. It includes fusion tickets like Working Families Party. It includes
non-partisan races at the local level. And most particularly, it includes
increasing the number of Communists running for public office at every level.

It is very exciting that we have a number of comrades running right now in the
municipal elections. We have two candidates in Ohio; Lasker Smith in Detroit;
and of course Denise Winebrenner Edwards’ reelection campaign in Pennsylvania.
In St. Louis, a recall was just overwhelmingly defeated. Perhaps there are more
that I am missing. In 2002 we need more.

Certainly our candidates have a very special contribution to make toward raising
our sights and deepening our ability to build coalitions that can win peace and
shortstop the Bush-right-wing-corporate assault on our people and our nation.


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