NEW HAVEN, Conn.-Messages from labor and community leaders, participation by young people, and adoption of a Connecticut Economic Bill of Rights highlighted the lively and powerful convention of the Connecticut district of the Communist Party on May Day weekend.
"It's time to turn up the heat," said Rev. Scott Marks, recognizing the YCL and New Elm City Dream youth group who have been marching to end violence with the theme "Jobs for Youth - Jobs for All." The demands that the youth have brought forward have been adopted as top priorities by the New Haven Board of Alders on which union members and their allies hold a super majority.
Jennifer Graham and Jackie Marks, high school students representing New Elm City Dream on the mayor's planning committee to rebuild the Q House youth center, got loud applause when they explained, "We wanted to bring the violence down. We marched and campaigned for the Q House."
Local 34 Unite Here president Laurie Kennington, Alderwoman Evette Hamilton and Hartford City Council Minority Leader (Working Families Party) Larry Deutsch also appreciated the Communist Party for always being there for working people.
The multi-racial and multi-generational gathering took stock of the last four years and discussed how to win living wage jobs and other gains to improve the lives of working people, unemployed and youth.
"People are talking everywhere about how the system is broken. They're looking for answers," said Joelle Fishman, who chairs the Communist Party in Connecticut. "They see in the Communist Party an organization that is part of the working class, part of them. It's a big responsibility."
She said Connecticut has bucked national trends in elections because of labor's grassroots organizing on issues and fielding union members as candidates. This has resulted in the ability to expand the right of workers to organize, take major steps towards protecting the rights and safety of immigrants, and increased protections on the job. It has also made the state a target of extreme right-wing organizations that are spending huge sums to try and recapture the governor's seat and Congress in November's elections.
Participants cheered as the story was told of how 4,300 low-wage women home child care workers, mostly African American and Latino, won the right to collective bargaining at the state legislature. Once Governor Malloy signed the bill into law, the workers chose SEIU to represent them and successfully negotiated their first union contract.
Highlighting that and other Connecticut "firsts" including paid sick days, raising the minimum wage, same day and on-line voter registration, drivers license and in-state tuition for immigrants, and a Futures Commission study for economic conversion, Fishman decried the fact that Connecticut is also first in income inequality. She called for immediate steps to make Connecticut first in ending inequality, such as taxing the incomes of the top 1% at a higher rate equal to the rate the 99% pay.
Delegates old and new embraced a culture of organizing has led to steady growth of the Communist Party and YCL. After hearing presentations from the North Main club in Hartford which is known for holding the civilian review board accountable for police conduct, and the Newhall club in New Haven which is organizing door-to-door on the issue of jobs, the convention broke down into small groups to discuss how the work of their clubs makes a difference in their communities and why the Communist Party is needed to give people a voice and a vision.
"We wake up the neighborhood to act when there's a problem," said one group emphasizing use of the People's World in the community to get out the news from a working-class point of view.
"You are active in your community, which is what you should be doing," said national vice chair Libero Della Piana, who added that the national convention will provide a venue to share experiences from around the country and to hear from international guests. Placing the struggles in a bigger perspective, he warned of the dangers of extreme right-wing voter suppression and big spending to try and gain control of Congress and state offices in 2014.
The convention adopted a Connecticut Economic Bill of Rights that proclaims a living wage job with the right to a union, housing, health care, education and a peaceful, sustainable environment are basic human rights. While stating "fully ending inequality needs socialism," the document details immediate local and national demands to tax the rich and move money from military spending to infrastructure repair and people's needs.
The convention also adopted a resolution encouraging voter education and participation in voter registration and voter turnout efforts for November's election. A delegation of 25 was elected to represent the state at the 30th national convention in Chicago next month.
"The Connecticut YCL youth are incredible," said Lisa Bergmann who co-chaired the convention and is an organizer for the YCL nationally. They march, they chair meetings and recruit new youth to join them. They are making a qualitative difference in the lives of youth in Connecticut and inspiring the whole movement."
Following the convention, a People's World May Day tribute to Pete Seeger and Amiri Baraka was held upstairs in the sanctuary of the First and Summerfield Methodist Church, site of countless union rallies and mobilizations. The public event featured folk music, rhythm and blues, spoken word, Latin American New Song and a slide show of May Day Around the World.
Photo: Connecticut Communist Party convention was held in New Haven on May Day weekend. Art Perlo