In early March 2011, against the background of the vicious union-busting attacks by Governor Walker on the public employees of Wisconsin, about 100 union and community activists met in Cleveland, Ohio for a weekend of discussion. Convened as an “Emergency Labor Meeting,” the dramatic events in Wisconsin overshadowed the meeting.
A sense of urgency filled the room as union officers, stewards, and rank-and-file activists from AFSCME, CWA, UAW, USW, ILA, ILWU, AFT, Jobs with Justice, and USLAW, among others, described the cuts in education and public services taking place across the country. It was made clear that we are facing a broad-based offensive on the working class in general and on public sector unions in particular. The struggle taking place in Wisconsin was linked to the general attacks on wages, pensions, union rights, collective bargaining, Social Security and Medicare.
There was an extensive discussion on tactics and strategy. The ideas of the general strike, breaking with the Democratic Party, and building independent working-class politics were in the room. Socialist Alternative members who were there argued that we need to move toward building local campaigns of all those who want to fight against the cuts in education and social services and the attacks on public workers. These campaigns should be broad-based and democratic, drawing in students and community organizations as well as union locals and central labor councils. These campaigns should organize mass demonstrations and rallies to fight against the cuts, calling for taxes on the rich and big business, full funding of services, an end to wars, a mass jobs program, and nationalization of the banks. They should prepare to run anti-cuts candidates in elections, where possible, as a step toward a working-class political
alternative to the parties of capitalism and war.
There was broad support for this position. Following the Cleveland meeting, a “Continuations Committee” of activists who attended the Cleveland meeting was convened. This committee met and, using the contacts made in Cleveland, formed the Emergency Labor Network (ELN). A website was established (laborfightback.org), and it was decided to organize a follow-up meeting at Kent State, Ohio, on June 25 and 26.
The conference is organized around these demands:
- No Cuts – No Concessions!
- Hands Off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!
- Tax the Rich and the Corporations!
- Federal Public Works Jobs Program Paid for by Taxing Wall Street!
- Bring Home the War Dollars to Meet Human Needs!
- Defend and Expand Our Collective Bargaining Rights!
This meeting is intended to draw in a broader section of labor and community activists, to build for a national day of action in the fall, and to organize local anti-cuts campaigns or “Labor-Community Fight-Back Committees” as the ELN material states.
Socialists should take a constructive approach to this meeting. We encourage all labor, student, youth and community activists who are able to attend the Kent State conference. There will be discussion on tactics and strategies for fighting back as well as an extensive discussion about the action program around which local anti-cuts campaigns could be organized. We should argue consistently for local campaigns to be democratically organized and against any reliance on the Democratic or Republican political machines. The outcome of this meeting will be determined by who shows up. It may be that we are seeing the beginning of the rebuilding of a broad network of labor and community activists determined to fight back.