CMPL at the AFL-CIO Young Workers Summit

On the last weekend of September, the AFL-CIO hosted over 800 young unionists from across the country in Minneapolis, MN for a weekend-long conference aiming to strengthen the ties between the youth and the labor movement. Eight Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor members from around the country attended the conference to engage our union brothers and sisters and raise the demand for a labor party.

The organizers of the conference had set a very energetic and somewhat militant tone for the conference. This was evident in videos referencing working class struggles from Egypt to Wisconsin, and pro-union ads with slogans like “Kicking ass for the working class!” Despite this, there was no clear political message formulated by the organizers.

On the first night, U.S. Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, was welcomed on stage to campaign for Obama’s 2012 re-election bid touting his new jobs bill. The delegates welcomed her obvious electioneering with mild applause.

The next day was begun with a plenary session focusing on the state of the economy and the labor movement. A labor economist led the session with a slide show containing facts and figures on the large concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the deterioration of the social safety net, and the declining state of the “American Dream.” This was all presented with a focus on our shrinking union density and how the youth are critical to solving this problem. Following her presentation and a short panel session during which panelists lauded Obama as a “good guy in a bad town” (a comment which received cat calls and hisses from the floor), the rank-and-file attendees gave some great advice on how to move the labor movement forward.

The comments from the floor shared the same basic theme, an urging of the union movement to stop always playing defense and start going on the offensive. “Hell yeah!” and other cheers were shouted at the mention of being more “radical” in our demands and actions. A non-CMPL brother from the University of Central Florida asked the panel when the unions were going to get serious about building a labor party. The audience broke into applause at the mention of this demand.

The next day was filled with “breakout sessions” focusing on things like how to build a young workers group, how to agitate for the union movement, and the unification of the labor movement with struggles for immigrant and LGBTQ rights. Following these sessions were two hours dedicated to “unconferences.” These were sessions proposed, voted on, and led by the attendees.

Members of the CMPL had proposed a session on “Independent Labor Politics,” which got the largest number of votes and was one of the best-attended. Two CMPL members introduced the discussion on why we need a labor party and the work of the campaign. Of the 70 or so attendees, the response was overwhelmingly positive, with only 4 or 5 delegates coming to the mic to speak in opposition (one of whom was a national officer for the Young Democrats).

During the three full days of conference activity we were able to set up a table with CMPL materials, including fliers, buttons, etc. We had a number of great conversations and even had one UNITE HERE member from Las Vegas sign up for a solidarity membership on the spot. Delegates gave a number of donations, bought numerous Why U.S. Workers Need a Labor Party booklets, and took dozens of CMPL buttons. We also gathered dozens of signatures from people around the country interested in learning more about the campaign.

From the conversations at the table it is clear that the question of a labor party and the need for an independent political voice for workers is being discussed in workplaces and union locals around the country. This shows that there is a growing discontent with the political system and that there are some contradictions building up in the rank-and-file over the leadership’s continued support for the Democrats.

Over the course of the weekend, we distributed nearly 2,000 leaflets, including our open letter to President Trumka on the need for a labor party. We distributed hundreds of copies of the letter to the delegates, and one CMPL member, in a surprise run-in with Mr. Trumka, was able to hand him one personally. After looking over the letter he asked the brother to ask him about the labor party from the floor. Even before the question was finished, applause erupted from the floor.

Trumka answered that both the Republicans and the Democrats are funded by the big corporations and that is why the AFL-CIO has decided to keep their money and spend it on a so-called Super PAC. But he also said that a new party was not necessarily the answer right now. His argument was essentially that this party could end up being just another party of the bosses. Unfortunately we were unable to give our response, which is that we believe a labor party’s main political platform would be to defend and fight for workers’ rights, and that it should be funded by and be directly accountable to the unions and the rank-and-file.

All of us who participated in the youth summit felt that our work was an overall success for the CMPL. We were able to raise our ideas in a friendly way and expand the CMPL network further across the country. There can be no doubt that virtually every participant knew that the “labor party people” (as we were dubbed) were present and represent a growing sentiment within he unions. While the discontent with the Democrats and interest in a labor party was strong, we do not yet have such a party, and that makes the question somewhat abstract at the moment. It is up to the labor leaders, starting with brother Trumka, to give expression to the rank-and-file’s demand that we break once and for all from the the parties of big business and build one of our own.

Originally published by the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor.

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