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Friday, February 22, 2008

Obama-file 16 Barack Obama and the Legacy of Harold Washington

Obama-file 15 here

Barack Obama did not rise to prominence from nowhere.

He was groomed for the national stage by a coalition of Chicago socialists.

This alliance, comprising the Communist Party USA, their Marxist comrades from Democratic Socialists of America and the far left of the Democratic Party has been influential in Chicago since the early 1980s.

The coalition came together in 1982/83 to elect Chicago's first black Mayor Harold Washington. A Democratic Party Congressman, Washington bravely and successfully ran for mayor against the previously invincible Daley machine.

Washington died in office in 1987, but his coalition remained intact and went on to elect one of their own, Carol Moseley Braun, to the US Senate in 1992.

That same coalition groomed the young Barack Obama. It has broadened out across the USA and plans to put their man into the White House.

Writing in the latest Peoples Weekly World, Chicago Young Communist League leader and Barack Obama fan, Pepe Lozano gives some history of the 1983 Washington campaign and touches on its relevance to Obama's campaign.

Washington’s election was the outcome of a multi-racial citywide coalition beginning within the African American community. Then immediately he included the involvement of Latino and white working-class communities representing a progressive and independent reform movement that eventually carried him to victory.

One thing that has been unsung was how the Chicago labor movement, especially Black trade unionists, led the way in registering tens of thousands of new voters, including a recruitment drive of petition signers, door knockers, phone bankers and an army of volunteer foot-soldiers on Election Day.

It was precisely labor’s role in Chicago that helped shape Washington’s campaign turning it into a broad people’s movement that revolutionized the city’s Democratic machine politics under former Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Washington was a progressive leader who stood up for working people’s causes including the peace movement, civil and immigrant rights and especially the rights of workers.

By 1983 when Washington decided to run for mayor, he was a respected member of Congress and became an important ally in progressive political circles throughout Chicago. Still, many people in the city’s political machine just didn’t believe an African American could win. And some – deeply influenced by racism — were extremely hostile to the idea of a Black mayor.

Washington had ties to the Communist Party since the 1940s and was also closely associated with the Marxists who went on to form Democratic Socialists of America in 1982.

These Marxists organised a major dinner every year to honour US socialist leaders, Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas and Michael Harrington.

Harold Washington MCed the 1981 Debs Dinner but had to cancel out of the 1983 event.

The 1983 Norman Thomas - Eugene V. Debs Dinner was held at the McCormick Inn on Saturday, May 7... Newly elected Mayor Harold Washington was unable to attend at the last minute. Carl Shier, who was to have introduced him, read a message from him instead, and spoke of DSA's considerable role in Washington's election campaign.

Future DSA leader Carl Marx Shier, veteran socialist Egidio Clemente and Harold Washington at the 1981 Debs Dinner

Despite the racism, a labor coalition for Washington was formed and led by Black unionists. It became one of the most organized forces in his campaign.

Before the 1983 mayoral primary, the Chicago Teachers Union held a delegates’ meeting where pro-Washington campaign literature including “Washington for Mayor” buttons were passed out before a motion was made to have the union endorse his run.

During the meeting teachers were chanting Washington’s name, and the white and Black union leadership had no choice but to endorse him with overwhelming support. After that, support for Washington started steam rolling within some of the city’s unions.

Leaders of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), including service workers and Teamsters, endorsed Washington. It was CBTU that pressed the Chicago Federation of Labor — made up of integrated unions with white, Black, Latino and Asian memberships — to endorse Washington in the 1983 general election.

“We saw Washington as a viable candidate and we endorsed him wholeheartedly, and we felt he was more qualified than those before him,” said Elwood Flowers who just retired as vice president of the Illinois AFL-CIO and was a close friend of Washington. “But we as labor were just one arm of the Washington movement.”

Union endorsements and support are a large part of the momentum building behind Barack Obama in his campaign for the Democratic nomination. Obama's campaign is Chicago 1983 "upsized".

There were a number of African American labor leaders who were important allies for Washington and played influential roles in his administration, Flowers said. For example, he cited Charles Hayes, vice president of the then United Packinghouse Workers Union (now known as the United Food and Commercial Workers union), who won Washington’s seat in the 1st District, a powerhouse African American community on the city’s south side, after Washington was elected mayor.

Other notable allies of Washington at that time included Addie Wyatt, who was the first African American woman vice president of the Packinghouse Workers, and Jim Wright, who was the first Black director of United Auto Workers Region 4. Jackie Vaughn, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union and first African American to hold that post, was also instrumental in Washington’s administration. All were leading members of CBTU.

The Coalition of Black trade Unionists was and is a Communist Party/socialist front.

Charles Hayes helped Washington win the mayoralty, then took over his congressional seat. Less than a decade later, Barack Obama helped Carol Mosely Braun win a seat in the US Senate, then took over the same seat in 2004.

Like many black trade unionists of the era, Hayes, (as was almost certainly Harold Washington himself) a long time secret member of the Communist Party.

From the late '70s on Hayes was also heavily involved with the the Debs Dinner socialist set.

Addie Watt was a regular sponsor of the Debs Dinners in the late '70s and was herself honoured with a Debs Award in 1979.

Jackie Vaughn headed the re-elect Harold Washington Campaign in 1986 and was honored for her work at that years Debs Dinner.

Congressman charles Hayes left, Jacquie (Jackie) Vaughn centre and DSA founder Michael Harrington at the 1986 Debs Dinner

In the predominantly Latino communities of Pilsen and Little Village, my father, the late Rudy Lozano was also a key ally in Washington’s labor-based coalition.

He was also a community activist and decided to run for alderman in the 22nd Ward, a predominantly Mexican and Mexican American neighborhood. Although he narrowly lost, Lozano was a rising political star and leader that advocated for multi-racial coalitions and worker unity. He rallied and mobilized the Latino constituent base to vote for Washington.

Lozano understood the need for Black, Latino and white working class unity, especially the importance of union solidarity among all workers including undocumented immigrant workers. Lozano’s independent and grassroots-based organizing, along with Washington’s mayoral victory, sparked a movement throughout Chicago’s Latino communities, which hardly had any representation in City Council. Washington’s victory galvanized the majority of the Latino electorate and soon new Latino leaders emerged as viable elected officials under his administration.

Rudy Lozano was murdered in 1983. He was known to be very close to the Communist Party.

Twenty-five years later the struggle for workers rights and the fight for multi-racial unity continues — perhaps not on the same level that Washington was able to achieve — but it continues. Witness the 2007 aldermanic elections where labor-backed candidates won and helped to strengthen the City Council.

The Communist Party backed several successful candidates in last years Chicago municipal elections.

The movement to elect Barack Obama today is almost identical to Washington’s, but nationwide, said Flowers. “Our members wanted to be involved in the political process, similar to people today for Obama,” said Flowers.

“What Obama can do for the country will help all communities including providing jobs and health care. And the number one issue is stopping the Iraq war, which is draining our economic resources. If those things bear fruit, then they will benefit all working-class communities,” he added.

It was Washington’s example and the power of working people that will always remind us about what is possible. The greatness is in our hands.

Harold Washington's Chicago mayoral campaign victory inspired a young Barack Obama to move to Chicago.

Will Harold Washington's political legacy, now send Barack obama to the Whitehouse?

Obama-file 17 here


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