Call to Create People’s Committees to Defend Democratic Rights

Trump supporters try to intimidate early voters in Fairfax, VA on Sept. 20.
Photo: Anthony Tilghman

By David Sole

Donald Trump is making it clearer every day that he will not peacefully give up the office of president if he loses the election. Now, it is possible that Trump will “win” a second term by hook or by crook, by massive voter suppression, post office sabotage and/or attacks on absentee ballots. Or his right-wing supporters may be encouraged to take their own actions to prevent fair voting to proceed. He may also seek to stall the “official” determination of the election outcome indefinitely with hundreds of legal challenges in every state.

If Trump overturns the election, if he refuses to accept the will of the electorate or if his criminal interference is clearly unacceptable to the people, how can he be removed from the Oval Office?

Thinking the Unthinkable

These scenarios would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. Not now. To expect the United States military to intervene should not be our plan. And the Supreme Court of the United States cannot be relied upon to deliver even a semblance of justice. To wait upon the military or the courts to act would be foolish and disastrous. It is also important that we don’t depend on the Democratic Party to pursue a just resolution even if they might be the ones to most benefit. One only has to recall  the Dems’ weak response when George W. Bush stole the Florida election from Al Gore in 2000.

Only the broadest mass movement of the working class and oppressed peoples can protect basic  bourgeois democracy in this period. Who can pull together such a mass movement between the election of November 3 and the inauguration on January 20, 2021?

For a MassBased United Front

What is needed is to convene broad based People’s Committees to Defend Democratic Rights. There appears to be only one organization that has the resources and standing to gather together a real mass movement on a national scale. That is the American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

It isn’t as if the AFL-CIO has played a big role in any of the many struggles for social justice in recent decades. It has mainly limited itself to the economic defense of its member unions and also spent many millions to finance the Democratic Party. But the situation with Trump could conceivably catapult the AFL-CIO into a struggle that no one planned or ever predicted.

Even though the unions have taken a beating over the past decades and have been unable to organize the mass of low paid workers, the AFL-CIO still has a treasury, staff, communications channels and a membership of 12.5 million that could be quickly mobilized.

The AFL-CIO Has the Authority

The Constitution of the AFL-CIO also has a mechanism to respond to the dangerous situation that is looming that gives it the ability, as well as the responsibility, to intervene. The Preamble to the AFL-CIO Constitution says, in part:

“We will assemble a broad progressive coalition for social and economic justice. We will create a political force within the labor movement that will speak forcefully and persuasively on the public issues that affect our lives.”

Article II, Objects and Principles, Section 12 instructs the federation::

“To protect the labor movement from any and all corrupt influences and from the undermining efforts of authoritarianism, totalitarianism, terrorism and all other forces that suppress individual liberties and freedom of association and oppose the basic principles of our democracy and of free and democratic unionism.”

Under ordinary conditions the AFL-CIO could convene a special convention as spelled out in Article IV Section 3 :

(a) Special conventions may be called by direction of a regular convention, by order of the ­Executive Council, or on request of national and ­international unions representing a majority of the total membership of the Federation, as calculated for purposes of representation at the previous convention.

(b) In the event a special convention has been called all affiliated organizations shall be given at least 30 days’ notice, together with a statement of the particular subjects to be considered at such convention….”


Beyond the AFL-CIO to People’s Committees and a General Strike

But we live under the threat of a viral pandemic and a Special Convention is not an option. That doesn’t stop the union federation, or for that matter national unions or even local central labor councils and their individual local unions from convening  People’s Committees to Defend Democratic Rights. This could be done very quickly. To be truly representative these committees must extend invitations to any and every progressive organization in their locality. These must include churches, women’s groups, the LGBTQ community, immigrant rights groups, people with disabilities organizations, Black Lives Matter groups as well as traditional Civil Rights organizations, Indigenous nations, Latinx associations, Asian & Pacific Islanders groups and all other progressive associations.

The aim of People’s Committees should be very clear. They must prepare to shut the entire country down if Trump tries to steal or ignore the election. They must popularize the idea of, and prepare for, a General Strike.

Some will argue that such an action is illegal. But it is the only serious answer to the outrageously illegal actions of the president. We will be told that general strikes are not done in the United States. Perhaps not recently, but there are a host of examples of general strikes going back into the 1800’s to contradict that claim.

Besides, it is not necessary for a general strike to be called out of the blue. People’s Committees could call upon every union local, every organization and progressive group to immediately conduct a vote of their membership asking them to authorize the calling of a nationwide general strike if and when it is deemed necessary by the AFL-CIO Executive Council or a broader council of local committees.

Just imagine the terror felt on Wall Street among the big bankers and corporate bosses as word comes out of one union after another, one community group after another, one church after another, weighing in with a YES vote in favor of a general strike. Every day ruling class support for Donald Trump’s antics would dry up and his mass right-wing base would become more and more isolated. It might very well be so effective that no actual work stoppage would even be needed.

Where to Begin?

To begin, a simple draft call for action directed to the AFL-CIO Executive Council should be drawn up and circulated in local unions, labor councils, and community groups. This call for action should be voted on after members have a chance to consider the call. It is entirely possible that the idea will take hold and develop into a wave of support that cannot be ignored. The crimes of Donald Trump and his minions inside and outside of government will, no doubt, be a crucial driving force. But even if the national union council or local councils do not respond right away the work should continue.

Committees in every locality where there is interest should be established to discuss the proposal. In light of the ongoing pandemic these committees can communicate via virtual meeting  technology. The key is to get the idea out more and more widely, gathering endorsement and widening local committees and encouraging participating groups and union locals to move toward holding a vote of their membership.

Where it is appropriate, discussion can also begin and actions can be taken to organize local protests, demonstrattions or even mobilizations to protect unions, organizations or individuals that have come under attack from Trump’s ultra-rightwing goons. Solidarity between unions and the community needs to be developed and strengthened. Where unions come out in support of democratic rights, members and the community can join together to defend unions under attack, as in the cases of the postal service and other government workers.

Not to take Trump seriously, not to prepare and take action in advance of the worst scenarios,  endangers the rights and safety of the majority of the people in this country.

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