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Call to the Third National Conference of the Labor Fightback Network
July 21–23, 2017 — Cleveland, Ohio

For the labor movement, business as usual is no longer an option. If the eight-year aftermath of the 2008 economic crash did not send the message loudly enough, the November 2016 election of Donald Trump as president of the United States surely has done so. The jury is in; the verdict is unanimous. It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that what the labor movement has been doing is no longer working.

Organized labor’s campaign to bring back the “good old days” — when employers and unions shook hands over contracts that provided a pay raise in each year of the agreement, increased health and retirement benefits, and high enough wages to support a family comfortably — may have made sense at one time. During the quarter century after the Second World War, American workers, by and large, enjoyed a better standard of living than any working people at any time or place in history. But those days are gone, and they are not coming back.

Organized labor’s very survival is in question. The threat that a labor-hating Republican Congress will pass a national “right to work” law and send it to the desk of a labor-hating Republican president is a clear-and-present danger. Indeed, the human species’ very survival is in question, as the science-denying Congress and president green-light pipelines for Bakken crude oil and dirty oil from tar sands. Efforts to curb the causes of climate change are off the agenda under this administration. In this light, the AFL-CIO officials’ support for the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline is inexcusable.

But all is not doom and gloom. Far from it! The working class majority is fighting back against Trump — and challenging the entire establishment in the process. Millions have taken to the streets in the historic January 21 Women’s March and in protest actions taking place up and down the country on an almost daily basis. The Resistance movement is growing by the day, and it is already scoring some victories — such as the decision by Andrew Puzder to withdraw his nomination as incoming Secretary of Labor.

Immigrant rights activists are demanding “Not One More Deportation!” Black Lives Matter activists are demanding an end to police killings and a halt to the disenfranchisement of Black voters. Labor and community activists are protesting the illegal travel ban and denouncing the rise of Islamophobia, as they ratchet up the fight for a $15 minimum wage and a union. “We Won’t Go Back!” to the days of back-alley abortions and Jim Crow segregation is a chant that is sweeping the country.

The big question now is: What direction for this Resistance movement? Does it get channeled back into the Democratic Party, as so many politicians are already urging, or does it chart a new and independent course?

And what should labor’s role be in all this? If the strategies employed by the labor movement in recent years have not worked, what will?

Should the labor movement continue to rely on Democrats and heed the call to bring back the Democrats in 2018? Can the Democratic Party be “reformed,” as Bernie Sanders is proposing?

Or should labor embrace a new strategy, an independent mass-action strategy (including mass strike action, following the example of ILWU Local 10’s port shutdown in Oakland, Calif., on Inauguration Day) with hundreds of thousands of union members in the streets, in union contingents, joining with the millions who, since the epic January 21 Women’s March, have launched this ever-growing Resistance movement? Should labor not be making common cause with the activists and youth fighting against misogyny, racism and police violence, homophobia, immigrant-bashing, Islamophobia, environmental degradation, and other such scourges?

And should such a mass-action strategy not be coupled with the drive to promote labor’s own independent political voice in the electoral arena, including the possibility of running independent labor-community candidates for local office?

These discussions are already taking place on the campuses, in the union halls, and on the shop floors. New appeals are springing forth calling on Bernie Sanders to form his own party (a petition by Bernie activists has gathered thousands of endorsers around this call), or calling on labor to form its own party.

There is a growing sense that labor needs a new strategy, a new direction. But what direction is this exactly?

We need to share our ideas, our proposals, our energy, and our dedication to a better future — indeed, simply a future — for working people. For that reason the Labor Fightback Network calls on working people dedicated to peace and social justice, whether union members or not, to attend a national conference at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio, from the afternoon of Friday, July 21, through the morning of Sunday, July 23.

We need you to be there. Information on workshops, speakers, registration, housing, costs, and other logistics will be forthcoming. Please make plans to attend!

Remembering Jerry Gordon, 1928–2016

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