The Communist Party lives

On a winter evening, eight people sat around the perimeter of Gail Ryall’s cozy living room and held a debate that could raise 1930s revolutionaries from the dead. The Sacramento Community Party Club was struggling with a question for the 21st century: Now that business is in the hands of multinational corporations, how do working people’s unions go multinational too?

The group didn’t mention the other obvious issue: Only eight people showed up for the discussion. That’s a pretty small number to overhaul international labor policy, but the local club was joining a national discussion from a four-day think tank organized by the Communist Party USA back in February of 2006.

In Ryall’s living room, Nell Ranta explained that the United Steelworkers of America already were jumping the pond to partner with unions in England and Germany. But that didn’t impress everybody. One of her peers wondered how American unions would help workers in the third world. For instance, if a tennis-shoe manufacturers’ union could get workers $14 an hour in America but only $0.14 an hour in a third-world country, would American workers give up half their income to get everyone $7 an hour? Great for the third world, disastrous for American workers. And would a strike matter when so many people around the world needed work? The discussion flared as participants tripped over each other with insights and questions.

Many of the intellectuals in Ryall’s living room were retired and had a long family history with the Communist Party; Ryall’s mother used to sell the party’s national newspaper, the People’s Weekly World. Now, Ryall writes for it.

A girlish looking retired librarian with braids and apple cheeks, Ryall said her party concentrates on putting political power into the hands of working people, supporting labor unions (especially in local dust-ups with hoteliers and almond growers), and defeating the Republican right wing whenever possible. “We’re ultimately for socialism,” Ryall said. “We work in all the people’s movements.”

Ironically, it was Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, an Irvine Republican, who recently recommended changing old state law that made membership in the Communist Party grounds for dismissal for public employees, according to the Sacramento Bee.