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A CPUSA Primer on Progressive Orgs in Virginia

This, as the name suggests, is meant to survey and bring comrades up to speed on the state of organizing in Virginia as well as familiarize readers with organizations, big and small, that operate within the state.

For our purposes, the Virginia AFL-CIO is, like most similar AFL-CIO organizations in each state, comprised of the largest agglomeration of labor unions in the area. The unions and the members within the Virginia AFL-CIO will no doubt be itching to work with people that will attend their rallies, protests, etc. and in general be present in a helpful manner.  According to Cause IQ, there are 650 labor unions in Virginia with a total of 2,713 members. And, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 164,000 union members across the state, making up 4.4% of the workforce as of 2020. To get the bad news out of the way first, that’s below the national average. However, this is an increase from 4% in 2019.

Establishing and tightening relations with the Virginia AFL-CIO shouldn’t be too hard, given that the Communist Party USA, or CPUSA, is known as a workers’ party, whatever the ultimate reputation of our organization may well be. Communists are known for being for the workers. That many may, perhaps banally, relate the phrase “Workers of the world, unite!” with The Communist Manifesto points to this.

On the flip-side, the AFL-CIO has had a long history of anti-communism and other reactionary tendencies since its inception. As Jeff Schuhrke from Jacobin writes:

“Throughout the Cold War, the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council and International Affairs Department were run by zealous anti-communists determined to undercut the rise of left-wing trade unions overseas. Like their counterparts in the US government, George Meany, AFL-CIO president from 1955 – 1979, and Lane Kirkland, his successor who served until 1995, understood that if allowed to thrive, class-conscious labor movements would pose a serious threat to global capital.”

Both Meany and Kirkland would promote “business unionism,” which advocated to forego any attempt to topple capitalism in any sort of revolution. Instead, they promoted a sense of class collaborationism and paltry bargaining room over “bread and butter” issues; championing “economic nationalism over transnational labor solidarity, reasoning that US workers would see higher wages and lower unemployment as long as US corporations had easy access to foreign markets to sell products made in the United States.” Indeed, the current president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, decrying the coup against Evo Morales two days after Evo himself was ousted in the rightwing government takeover in Bolivia is an important break from these trends, but we must never forget that there will be elements within the AFL-CIO that holds these views. Less we forget, William Z. Foster even said that what would become the AFL-CIO would be an anti-communist organization at its inception.

One natural ally in Virginia will, of course, be the Poor People’s Campaign, which at least politiclaly active in Washington, D.C., though how much this will translate to activity outside the city and around the state of Virginia remains to be seen. We can participate in marches and protests with them, mutually helping each other establish a presence in the state, if that is possible. 

The Virginia NAACP will be a good ally to have as they’ve recently called for state and federal policing standards to be enforced, which would give us an opportunity to show that we share a common cause and establish a rapport with them. Again, this partly depends on which organizations are active and to what extent. We can, and should, remain in more-or-less frequent contact with the organization to see what opportunities come up.

The ACLU, while perhaps controversial to some people, has recently put in a new director of the Virginia branch of the organization in place. However, it should be noted that the ACLU, at least on a national level, has upheld “free speech” rights for far-right groups and other immoral organizations of a similar nature that we wouldn’t want to associate with; how this will play out in Virginia with the new Director of the ACLU in the state, Mary Bauer, is something to look out for, though she has expressed support for teaching about U.S. racism in schools (in response to the recent controversy in places like Loudoun County in regard to what’s called “critical race theory”).

The Sunrise Movement, having started in 2017, has an outreach that’s national. Having endorsed Jennifer Carroll Foy along with Sam Rasoul for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, we should definitely remain in contact with them as it is likely that they will continue to wade into Virginia politics. Indeed, they were recently active in Washington, D.C, having blocked the entrance of the White House in order to protest the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which runs from southern Virginia all the way to northwestern West Virginia, as well as Line 3 pipeline. As an aside, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, or MVP, is certainly an issue we can capitalize on.

The Working Families Party, having also endorsed Carroll Foy, may well be a natural ally given the ties the CPUSA have with such figures as Angela Davis. The Working Families Party has also expressed eagerness to work with various political figures such as Norfolk’s commonwealth’s attorney Ramin Fatehi. It seems that at this juncture, we should make overtures to the people in the Working Families Party within the state of Virginia as much as the other major organizations.

That’s all for now, but there are other organizations and groups of a more smaller nature that could use our help and should be worked with, as this doesn’t even cover the crucial, though no less important, advocacy and social justice organizations for minority communities within the United States, such as the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) or the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO). Many of the peoples in a minority group will no doubt face double-oppression, to use a term from Angela Davis, especially in the current climate of the United States where voting rights are being rolled back. 

This primer is aimed to help those that want to get involved in an activist role within the state of Virginia, even if you aren’t apart of the Communist Party USA. But especially for us Communists, working in coordination with other groups will no doubt be a huge undertaking, and we should be prepared to be humble and cooperative with such groups. We should also keep abreast of current and upcoming activities of these organizations, be that through subscribing to their newsletters or creating more direct connections. Even just one or two working relationships with any organizations mentioned (or not mentioned) will be a huge boon to us and, by extension, the people of Virginia.

Stan Simms

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