December 2012, Week 1


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Labor Party Time? Not Yet.

By Mark Dudzic & Katherine Isaac 
The Labor Party

During the first of the 2012 presidential debates,
President Obama opined to Governor Romney, "I suspect
that on Social Security, we've got a somewhat similar
position." This should come as no surprise to those of
us paying attention. Since at least July of the
previous year, President Obama has been dangling a
"grand bargain" in front of congressional Republicans:
cuts in Social Security and Medicare in exchange for a
temporary agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling.
While Republicans continue to hold out for deeper cuts
and more extensive concessions, this offer is still
very much on the bargaining table. And it is sure to be
part of the post-election "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

That a Democratic President would be willing to trade
away the crown jewels of the social safety net that
have defined the party's identity in the minds of
millions of Americans for generations is astounding.
Coming after the Obama Administration's first-term
failure to deliver on its campaign promises to labor on
job-creation and labor law reform, its embrace of the
"Bush Doctrine" and escalation of war in Afghanistan,
and its repeated capitulations in the fight to pass
substantive health care legislation, the proposed
gutting of Social Security and Medicare should have
marked the date when labor finally disowned the
Democratic Party and declared its support for the
establishment of a political party with a working-class
agenda. Instead, one union after another rushed to
endorse Obama for a second term, asking for little or
nothing in return.

Obama owes his re-election to the labor movement. Its
massive ground campaign mobilizations surely made the
difference in the key battleground states of Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Virginia. Labor
did so mainly because the "greater of two evils"
alternative-the inauguration of a national union-
busting regime committed to a Greek-style austerity
program-was, quite simply, unacceptable. But the
question still must be asked: will labor, as a social
movement, be stronger in four years than it is today?
Will the lives of working people be better or more

The history of the past four years is instructive.
Despite winning the presidency and both houses of
Congress in 2008 on a platform of hope and change, the
Democratic Party failed abjectly to articulate, much
less implement, a program enabling ordinary Americans
to recover from the worst economic meltdown since the
Great Depression. This failure generated a political
crisis with two exceptionally different expressions. On
the one hand, it fueled a right wing, populist rage
that pits workers who have lost secure jobs and decent
benefits against those workers-many in the public
sector-who have managed to maintain them. By
scapegoating "underwater" homeowners, immigrants, and
other victims of the economic crisis, this "populism"
diverts anger away from the Wall Street bankers who
caused the crisis while pursuing a political agenda
that threatens to repeal the major social gains of the
past 100 years. Although it purports to speak for small
business folks and hardworking Americans, this Tea
Party movement offers nothing in the way of real
relief. While its momentum may have peaked shortly
after its stunning successes in the 2010 midterm
elections, the results of the June 2012 Wisconsin
recall election and its repeated use as a Republican
trope in the fall elections bear testimony to the
continuing appeal of a well-financed and well-
publicized right-wing popular base which uses the
familiar themes of racism, religious and nationalist
bigotry, and intra-class resentment to advance its
anti-government agenda.

On the other hand, the current political crisis is also
the reason why the Occupy movement resonated with many
Americans. For all its shortcomings, it successfully
articulated the impact of the current economic crisis
in class terms. Occupiers focused on a critique of the
shortcomings of capitalism rather than simply a
temporary quick fix to the current crisis. It may well
have been the first critique of neoliberalism to gain
significant traction in the United States. However,
while the movement may have helped shift the terms of
debate, its lack of organizational unity, ideological
coherence, and institutional support clearly are
factors in its inability to coalesce into a serious
alternative to our current two-party political party
system - one that is clearly dominated by the "one-

Unlike nearly every other industrialized country in the
world, the U.S. working class has not succeeded in
developing a class-based political party substantial
enough to contend for political power. Instead, from
the Great Depression through the 1970s, a private
welfare state, negotiated via individual union
contracts and adopted by "me-too" non-union
corporations and supplemented by a relatively meager
social safety net, provided a rising standard of living
and a modicum of security for working Americans. This
arrangement, however, has made working people in the
United States particularly vulnerable to the ravages of
neoliberalism. Indeed, for the past thirty years, we
have experienced an unrelenting assault on the standard
of living and well being of the vast majority of
Americans who work for a living. As a result, wealth
and power are concentrated increasingly in the hands of
a globalized elite.

We would be hard-pressed to identify a period of U.S.
history where the need for a labor-based political
party was greater than it is now. After all of the
events since the financial meltdown of 2008 - the
"Wisconsin Winter," the "Occupy Wall Street Autumn,"
another "lesser of two evils" election season - the
next logical step might seem to be the launching (or
re-launching) of just such a party. Yet the short-term
prospects of an independent, pro-worker political
movement emerging on the American scene are virtually

A Party of Our Own Hard as it may be to believe today,
in the mid-1990s, a group of progressive unions and
individual activists initiated a substantial organizing
project to create just such a party. In 1996, after
five years of intensive organizing, 1,400 delegates
from unions representing more than two million workers
met in an over-flowing convention hall in Cleveland,
Ohio to launch the Labor Party. After contentious
debate about issues from abortion to running
candidates, we adopted a comprehensive program - "A
Call for Economic Justice" - and began the difficult
yet exhilarating task of developing an organizing
strategy to wean the labor movement from the corporate-
dominated two-party political system.

This Labor Party moment reflected the confluence of a
number of significant developments in the 1990s: 1. A
belated understanding on the part of broad sections of
the labor movement that the PATCO debacle of the
previous decade (when newly-elected President Reagan
busted the air traffic controllers strike and fired all
of the strikers without any significant response from
the labor movement) signaled the end of the post-war
collective bargaining regime.

2. A growing fury among union members against the
Democratic Party's support - via Bill Clinton's version
of neoliberalism - for NAFTA, the first of many trade
agreements that implemented a globalization program
that enriched a global elite at the expense of workers

3. A resurgence, after decades of marginalization, of
the longstanding labor/left tradition which had long
focused on class-struggle unionism and independent
political action. This tradition helped to inform and
inspire a new generation of union leadership.

After fifteen years of retreat, disorganization, and
defeat, we witnessed in the mid-1990s an upsurge of
trade union militancy, focused on taking the offensive
against corporate greed. This upsurge was forged in the
crucible of the Pittston coal strike of 1989-90 where
the United Mine Workers of America put their union on
the line and won, and in militant corporate campaigns
against BASF, Ravenswood Aluminum, and other
multinational corporations, where unions embraced new
tactics and a mobilization model that was able to beat
back the worst of the corporate offensive. In 1991, Ron
Carey won the presidency of the Teamsters, setting in
motion a member-driven upsurge of militancy and
activism and reuniting the largest union in America
with the AFL-CIO. In 1993, the revitalized labor
movement turned Decatur, Illinois into a "war zone" to
confront megacorporations Staley,
Bridgestone/Firestone, and Caterpillar. In 1995,
workers at the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press - in
the very city that gave rise to the modern labor
movement - were forced to strike and subsequently
locked out. Unionists everywhere vowed that these
battles would not end in another defeat for workers.

In response to growing demands for change, the "New
Voice" slate of John Sweeney and Rich Trumka swept into
office in 1995 in the only contested election in the
history of the AFL-CIO. They promised a revitalized
labor movement with the goal of organizing one million
new members per year. A "labor spring" emerged in which
the Cold War-inspired anti-intellectualism of the labor
movement gave way to new leadership, welcoming
academics and activists from other social movements to
bring their experience and energy to help revitalize
the movement.

It was no accident that many of the unions and
activists involved in these struggles also led the
effort to launch a labor party. A small number of
unions associated with the labor left, including the
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
(UE), had long agitated for independent political
action but the effort took a leap forward when the Oil,
Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) allocated the
necessary resources to implement both an internal
union-wide as well as labor movement-wide organizing
effort. Like many industrial unions,
deindustrialization, off-shoring, and automation had
begun to decimate the industries where OCAW
unionization had thrived. OCAW's long history of anti-
corporate activism and rank-and-file mobilization
includes its 1973 strike against Shell Oil during which
one of the first labor-environmental coalitions was
forged. Its advocacy on health and safety legislation
for workers, which received national attention when
union activist Karen Silkwood was killed in the midst
of her attempts to blow the whistle on the nuclear
industry, was embraced by both the feminist and anti-
nuclear movements. In 1988, a progressive caucus led by
Bob Wages and Tony Mazzocchi won election to national
office in the OCAW.

Mazzocchi was widely regarded as a visionary at the
forefront of the labor movement's involvement in the
major struggles for social justice in the postwar
period - from the civil rights movement, nuclear
proliferation, and the Vietnam War to environmental
justice and the movement for occupational health and
safety, in which he and the OCAW played a crucial role.
He conceptualized health and safety issues as a fight
against corporate power and for worker empowerment.
Wages and Mazzocchi campaigned on the promise of
breaking away from labor's lockstep allegiances to the
Democratic Party.

To counter skeptics who claimed that the union's
members would not support such a radical move, Wages
and Mazzocchi commissioned a survey of International
staff, local union officers, and rank-and-file members.
The survey found that 65 percent of members agreed
that, "Both the Democratic and Republican Parties care
more about the interests of big business than they do
about working people." In addition, 53 percent of
respondents agreed that, "It's time for labor to build
a new political party of working people independent of
the two major parties." These survey results
facilitated top-to-bottom discussion of political
alternatives within the OCAW and led the Executive
Board (made up of both non-voting union officers and
voting rank-and-file union members) to pass a
resolution calling for a "new crusade for social and
economic justice."

The survey became an organizing tool in its own right,
prompting open discussions about politics and labor
within the OCAW. Mazzocchi spread the idea to other
unions. No matter what union administered it,
regardless of geography, occupation, race, or gender,
the results were strikingly similar. More than 50
percent of survey respondents agreed that neither
political party represented the interests of working
people and that the time had come to build a new party
of labor.

Building on its successful worker-led small group
trainings on occupational health and safety issues, the
OCAW commissioned the Labor Institute to develop
training materials (which later evolved into the Labor
Party's "Corporate Power and the American Dream"
training curriculum) to engage thousands of union
members in discussion and debate. It was during one of
these sessions that a union member coined what would
become the Labor Party's slogan: "The bosses have two
parties. We should have one of our own!" Local unions
established labor party committees and began to reach
out to potential allies in their communities and in the
broader labor movement. One popular organizing tool was
the video Mouseland, narrated by Tommy Douglas, leader
of Canada's New Democratic Party. The video is an
animated story of a mouse that faces the false dilemma
of voting for either a black cat or a white cat,
parties that clearly do not represent the interests of
the mouse.

By the early 1990s, the Labor Party movement was in
full swing. The OCAW assigned Mazzocchi (who had
stepped down from his position as International
Secretary-Treasurer) to work full time on building
Labor Party Advocates (LPA) within the broader labor
movement. The LPA organizing committee was established
solely to organize debate within the labor movement -
not unlike an organizing committee in a union
representation campaign. OCAW President Bob Wages used
his national office and position on the AFL-CIO
Executive Council to reach out to other national union
leaders. OCAW funded the organizing work of veteran
activist Bob Kasen who produced the newsletter, Labor
Party Advocates. On the West Coast, organizer Leo
Seidlitz worked out of the offices of the San Francisco
Labor Council. Other unions contributed significant in-
kind resources.

On April 7, 1991, the loosely-formed, multi-union LPA
organizing committee issued "An Invitation from Tony
Mazzocchi to Join Labor Party Advocates" to 5,000 union
leaders and activists to better gauge support within
the labor movement. In August of that year, conventions
of the OCAW, the UE, and the Pennsylvania Federation of
the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE),
one of the old railroad brotherhoods and now a division
of the Teamsters, became the first three union bodies
to endorse LPA officially. The following year the
California State Federation became the first state AFL-
CIO body to endorse. By the end of 1992, more than 300
trade unionists attended an LPA educational conference
sponsored by LPA chapters in Detroit and Cleveland.

Momentum grew for the Labor Party as passage of the
NAFTA trade agreement at the end of 1993 made the
newly-elected Clinton Administration's neoliberal
loyalties painfully clear. The first LPA interim
steering committee convened in Chicago in October of
that year and was attended by 80 labor leaders
representing unions with more than half a million
workers. The committee called for a founding convention
within two years and urged local groups to begin
holding hearings about what a real Labor Party would
look like.

The national convention of the BMWE, instigated by Penn
Fed Chairman Jed Dodd, endorsed LPA in 1994 as did the
International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), a
union with a long militant history, in 1995. The
California Nurses Association, which had just emerged
from a period of internal turmoil to embrace a militant
and organizing-oriented union model, soon followed.
Organizations that sought to organize marginalized and
excluded workers such as the Farm Labor Organizing
Committee (FLOC) and the Kensington Welfare Rights
Union (KWRU) also joined. Respected and innovative
leaders like the Nurses' Rose Ann DeMoro and American
Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Vice
President Ken Blaylock joined the National Council
which, at a January 1995 meeting in St. Louis, issued a
call for a founding convention of the Labor Party in
the spring of 1996 and appointed convention committees.
By January of 1996 affiliations included the 50,000-
member California Council of Carpenters, the 20,000-
member regional health care union 1199 New England, the
12,000-member Chicago Teamsters Local 705, and
Machinists Local 1781 in San Mateo, California with
more than 13,000 members.

The year leading up to the founding convention was a
period of intense public discussion and debate almost
unprecedented in the history of the labor movement.
Thousands of members began to pay membership dues and
worker-activists (as well as a number of groups with
various ideological axes to grind) formed dozens of LPA
chapters around the country. LPA moved out of the
cubicle donated by Ralph Nader to open our own office
and begin planning for the convention. LPA sent a
convention call to every local union in the country and
set up convention committees for rules, program, and
constitution. Resolutions and affiliations from
hundreds of unions and LPA members began pouring in to
the new office.

Unlike previous party-building efforts led by the labor
left, Labor Party Advocates had established enough
legitimacy and breadth of support that mainstream union
leaders did not publicly denounce it. Instead, our
efforts blended with the broader flowering of "new
activism" and debate surrounding the election of new
AFL-CIO leadership. Newly-elected AFL-CIO President
John Sweeney, while skeptical about the Labor Party's
chances for success, commented: "I would be the last
person, however, to discourage the dedicated brothers
and sisters who are organizing the Labor Party movement
from taking their best shot and I hope the progress
they are making sends a clear signal to a Democratic
Party that has moved away from working families just as
surely as it has moved away from the old, the young,
the disabled, and the poor." (Labor Research Review

In preparation for the founding convention, LPA held
hearings around the country to draft a constitution,
program, and structure for the new party. LPA members
also debated what the party would do, once founded. The
majority understood that, despite the movement's rapid
growth, it would not be possible to intervene
immediately in a serious way in electoral politics and
advocated a longer-term organizing approach that
focused on building power and density and on broad
issue-oriented campaigns. Three key factors influenced
the debate about whether or not to run or endorse
candidates at the outset. First, because of legal
restrictions on the use of union funds for direct
political purposes, engaging in electoral politics
would have cut off access to union treasury funds
needed to fund the party. Second, the newborn party
would immediately have lost the support of key unions
that were not yet ready to divorce the Democratic
Party; and, third, it would have exposed the fact that
the burgeoning party was not yet strong enough to win
campaigns much less keep elected officials in line.

The founding convention ratified this perspective. As
Labor Party activist and political scientist Adolph
Reed Jr. described this organizing model of politics in
his Progressive column in 1996, "The idea is to build a
coalition on the model of union solidarity: developing
a base, consolidating it, expanding it, consolidating
again, and so on." This "organizing approach to
politics is based on intensive, issue-based organizing
of the old-fashioned shop-to-shop, door-to-door
technique. The paramount objective is to reach out to
people who aren't already mobilized in left politics,
to begin a conversation that builds a movement."

The founding convention in 1996 was a boisterous four-
day event attended by 1,400 delegates and endorsed by
nine international unions and 117 state or local union
bodies. Invited speakers Jim Hightower and Jerry Brown
brought delegates to their feet with anti-corporate
messages. Brown, then out of elected office, declared
himself a "recovering" politician who had to tell the
truth. Ralph Nader, running for President on the Green
Party ticket, spoke from the floor as an at-large
delegate. Nader said, "This convention will be looked
upon as the rebirth of the labor movement after so many
years of being subordinated to corporate power."

Inspiring as the speakers were, it was the delegates
who set the tone and energy of the convention.
Committees met into the wee hours of the night to craft
resolutions and work out compromises on the program and
constitution. Threats were made to walk out over yet-
to-be resolved disagreements. An impromptu march to
city hall was organized to denounce the anti-collective
bargaining initiatives of Cleveland's mayor and funds
were raised for various unions on strike, including the
Detroit newspaper workers.

The new party's program, "A Call for Economic Justice,"
includes a call to amend the U.S. Constitution to
guarantee a job at a living wage; restoration of the
rights to organize, bargain and strike; universal
access to quality health care; access to quality public
education; an end to the corporate abuse of trade; an
end to corporate welfare; and revitalization of the
public sector. The program was visionary and yet could
pass Mazzocchi's often-repeated litmus test: "Can you
get this passed in your local?"

Delegates to the founding convention set up a governing
structure that assured that unions and worker
organizations would play the predominant role in the
party and made provisions for a committee to define
conditions under which the Labor Party would embark on
an electoral strategy. The list of new affiliate unions
continued to grow, including the American Federation of
Government Employees (AFGE) and the United Mineworkers
of America (UMWA).

Between 1996 and 2002, much of the Labor Party's
organizing focused on campaigns to organize labor
support for issues including single-payer health care
and worker rights. The Labor Party launched its Just
Health Care campaign with a nationwide radio show
hosted by Pacifica's Amy Goodman, and our financing
plan was adopted by single payer advocates in the U.S.
Congress including Paul Wellstone and John Conyers. We
also launched the Free Higher Education campaign which
called for free, publicly-funded higher education. The
Campaign for Worker Rights based an expansive view of
worker rights on constitutional principles that went
far beyond calls for expedited union election
procedures. We published a monthly newspaper, Labor
Party Press, edited by labor journalist Laura McClure
and designed by the Labor Institute's Michael Kaufman.
Veteran UE organizers Ed Bruno and Bob Brown joined the
national organizing staff. We developed an electoral
strategy which committed the party to electoral
politics as an important tactic but not the only tool
needed to achieve working-class power.

Labor Party chapters hosted public events in dozens of
cities, launched a number of issue campaigns, and, in
Massachusetts, Maine, and Florida, initiated and won
non-binding referenda in support of single-payer
national health care. The Labor Party also encouraged a
vigorous cultural celebration of workers in theater,
film, music and art, including the establishment, in
conjunction with the American Film Institute and the
Washington Metropolitan Council, AFL-CIO, of the annual
DC Labor FilmFest.

In the first few years of the new century, however, a
number of events contributed to a significant loss of
momentum in the movement to establish a Labor Party.
The effects of globalization and deindustrialization
had ravaged the membership of many of the sponsoring
unions. Several ceased to exist, including the OCAW,
which merged with the Paperworkers union in 1999. Soon
thereafter, the leadership of the newly merged union,
PACE, ceased its active support for the Labor Party
(PACE later merged into the United Steel Workers of
America). The debacle of the stolen 2000 Presidential
election - and the subsequent scapegoating of Green
Party candidate Ralph Nader as a spoiler - created an
environment hostile to any attempt to build an
independent political movement. The attacks on
September 11, 2001 and the subsequent rush to war also
had a chilling affect on efforts to promote a radical
break with the two-party system. The Bush
Administration's attacks on unions and the entire
social insurance model gave rise to an "anybody but
Bush" mindset within much of the labor movement and
thus squelched any political vision beyond the urgency
of defeating Bush and his political allies and
defending the remnants of the New Deal and Great
Society programs.

In 2002, Tony Mazzocchi, the "founding brother" of the
Labor Party movement, died after a year-long illness.
While Mazzocchi had been careful to avoid the "cult of
personality" that has plagued many political movements
and had cultivated a diverse group of committed leaders
and organizers, his death was nonetheless an
organizational setback. The Labor Party lost his years
of experience, his strategic vision, and the vast
respect that unionists at all levels had for him.

The 2002 Labor Party convention reflected these
diminished prospects. Delegates opted to focus efforts
on our issue-oriented organizing campaigns. While a
step back from the dream of a fully-developed party
with the capacity to contend for power in the political
sphere, these campaigns were far reaching in their
analysis and continue to inform the political discourse
in the labor movement today. And many of the activists
who founded U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) worked
together in the Labor Party and participated in its
2002 discussion about how labor should respond to
President Bush's growing threat to invade Iraq. Labor
Party National Council members Noel Beasley and Jerry
Zero hosted the first meeting of USLAW in Chicago early
the next year.

In 2004, the Labor Party's analysis of labor's role in
that year's disastrous election campaign received wide
attention in progressive circles. It also weighed in on
the contentious debates about the future of the AFL-CIO
and the rise of the Change to Win alliance, a debate
that was over almost before it started. Despite these
efforts to find some strategic traction, the momentum
was no longer there. The labor movement itself was in
broad retreat. Huge sections were aligning themselves
with a new global company union perspective that had no
room for an expansive, anti-corporate political
movement like the Labor Party. Much of the rest of
labor was embroiled in losing, defensive battles and
could no longer conceive of the possibility of a broad
political advance for working people.

The last formal initiative of the Labor Party was a
petition campaign to gain ballot access for the South
Carolina Labor Party. With almost unanimous support
from South Carolina's small but feisty labor movement,
led by state AFL-CIO president Donna Dewitt, organizers
fanned out across the state (flea markets in addition
to union halls were the ideal venue to address working
people) to speak one-on-one with thousands of South
Carolinians who agreed that working people needed
"another choice for South Carolina." With minimal
resources, Labor Party activists gathered more than
16,000 signatures from registered voters, securing, in
the fall of 2006, a ballot line and proving that we
could build a party of labor in the heart of the right-
to-work South.

Even this inspiring effort, however, fell victim to the
growing marginalization of the labor movement and the
rising tide of Obamamania. By the end of 2007, the
Labor Party ceased accepting individual memberships and
union affiliations and suspended its active operations.

Lessons Learned Mistakes were certainly made in the
short history of the Labor Party. And some obstacles
proved too difficult to overcome. Perhaps the most
difficult was the development of a strategy to extract
the labor movement from the tentacles of the two-party
electoral process. An organizing dynamic took hold in
which enthusiasm for developing an alternative to the
Democrats peaked in the off-cycle election years and
diminished as unions mobilized for yet another round of
elections. This dynamic cannot solely be attributed to
muddled, compromised, or timid union leadership.
Unions, and working people in general, have real,
concrete interests and concerns which must be defended
in the electoral arena even as we work to transcend the
boundaries set by the two parties of the bosses. The
prospect of breaking completely with the Democratic
Party without an established alternative was too risky
for even the most militant unions and remains the
biggest challenge to any effort to build an independent
labor politics.

The somewhat disjointed internal structure of the Labor
Party also gave rise to conflict between union-based
organizing and chapter-based organizing. Although a
number of local chapters developed with a strong union
base, many others were organized with no base to which
to be held accountable. Many chapters contributed
significantly to the advancement of the Labor Party's
goals, others devolved into sectarian debating
societies, drove out serious worker activists, and
sucked resources from the organization. Another
constant topic of debate was how high to raise
expectations of this newly-created party. Many unions
and activists pressured Mazzocchi and other early LPA
leaders to hold the founding convention in 1996 to
capitalize on that year's momentum. In retrospect, it
may well have been wiser to secure support more
significant support from the labor movement, retaining
a looser, Labor Party Advocates structure rather than
the raised expectations of a formal party.

None of the internal mistakes and weaknesses would have
proved fatal if the labor movement had continued to
gain strength from its revival in the mid-1990s.
Instead, the pressures of neoliberalism,
deindustrialization, and globalization led many unions
to cut their losses and focus on holding the line. Even
the most dynamic unions put their efforts into
organizing union density rather than political power.
Ultimately, it was this structural decline of the labor
movement which made the Labor Party untenable.

Those of us who worked to build the Labor Party have
little to regret. The fact remains that this was the
most successful effort to construct an independent
working-class party since the LaFollette campaigns 75
years earlier. The Labor Party did many things right:

* The Labor Party adopted a party-building model that
was patient and inclusive. We resisted attempts to
convene a body of self-appointed leaders with a
shopping list of demands for the working class to
follow. Rather, we focused on building a broad movement
of working-class institutions, leaders, and activists
to speak on our own behalf.

* The Labor Party understood that unions had to be at
the core. As the only institutions with the resources
and the capacity to implement a broad political
strategy, no viable party can exist without the support
and participation of a significant percentage of the
national labor movement. At the same time, success also
depends on being inclusive enough to resonate with the
interests and concerns of unorganized workers as well.

* The Labor Party avoided the expediency of identity
politics and liberal talking points and instead
organized around broad class-based interests and
concerns. When faced with controversial or socially-
divisive issues, we built consensus by developing a
program and a vision that can appeal to and educate the
broadest possible constituency without sacrificing a
working-class agenda. For example, Clinton's 1996
"reform" of welfare demonized welfare recipients in
ways that could have divided workers. The Labor Party
framed it as a class issue and as a mechanism to
undermine union rights, and members rallied in

* The Labor Party understood that elections were not
about playing the spoiler or about bearing witness.
Rather, the electoral process should be about building
power for working people. The Labor Party's Call for
Economic Justice is an eloquent statement of what
politics would look like if workers had a party of our
own. Our electoral strategy, crafted after two years of
internal debate, stands as a concise statement of what
is required for an independent working-class party to
intervene seriously in electoral politics.

There Is No Alternative Many consider the perennial
efforts to build a party of labor to be a fool's
errand. Indeed, the challenges do appear
insurmountable. Those who would build a Labor Party
must find a way to extract a labor movement that is
enmeshed in all types of instrumental political
relationships from an entrenched two-party system where
the winner takes all. In addition, a labor movement
that now represents only seven percent of the private
sector has difficulty setting terms and conditions of
debate, much less building and sustaining political
power. Is there an alternative to the labor party
strategy in which working people can build such power?
Activists within and outside of the labor movement have
engaged in a number of significant attempts during the
past two decades, including the following:

Reform the Democratic Party. Although individual
progressive or pro-labor candidates have won office on
the Democratic ticket and have impacted the party's
platform, their efforts have not led to the
transformation of the party into a vehicle for a
working-class political agenda. One reason is that the
Democratic Party defines itself as a multi-class party.
But more significantly, neither of the two major
parties has a structure that would hold them
accountable to a living, breathing constituency.
Rather, the parties exist in the ether as a series of
unaccountable relationships between funders,
candidates, and interest groups. Instead of
accountability to masses of voters, and especially
since the rise of neoliberalism, the overriding
allegiance is to a globalized capitalism whose
interests trump all other concerns. In this context,
the periodic emergence of "insurgent" candidates may
pull those who would stray from the Democratic Party
back into the fold. But when the dust settles, we are
left with the same unaccountable and unresponsive
national party, a political graveyard for progressives.

Organize first, build political power later. This
position has both a "left/syndicalist" (all power
springs from the active organization of workers at the
point of production) and a "right/opportunist"
(organization of workers can only be achieved by
building a broad partnership with the bosses)
variation. Both ignore the reality that the ability to
organize and the broad social insurance programs that
make it possible for workers to live a decent life are
determined politically. After almost seven years of
trying such an approach, those unions that formed the
Change to Win alliance because they believed the AFL-
CIO was spending too much of its resources on political
activities rather than on organizing have not met with
any breakthrough successes. In fact, many of them are
now expending a higher percentage of their resources on
political activities than many of the old AFL-CIO

Green Party/Nader electoralism. The Greens have
maintained that the way to build a new political
movement is to first engage in electoral politics. They
have been at it for more than twenty years and have won
hundreds of local offices, though many are in
nonpartisan elections. In 2000, presidential candidate
Ralph Nader garnered 2.7 percent of votes cast. And
although the party's economic program is inclusive
enough to be considered a labor program, the party is
unable to mobilize the institutional resources that
even a weakened labor movement can still marshal. The
party continues to promote candidacies that serve to
protest the status quo. While that may assuage the
consciences of the politically pure, it has not
produced transformative political results.

Fusion. Several states allow candidates to be endorsed
by multiple political parties. New York State, in
particular, has a venerable tradition of "fusion"
wherein minor parties endorse major party candidates in
an attempt to gain some leverage and influence in the
major party's administration. It has proven to be an
effective tool to build some power within the current
political system. In New York, the Working Families
Party has for nearly 15 years used cross endorsements
to win increases in the minimum wage and other benefits
for working people (though activists in other states
have also succeeded in raising the minimum wage and
other similar initiatives through old-fashioned
lobbying and pressure campaigns). However, fusion
advocates have not been able to transform this power to
advance a broad working-class agenda. Rather, fusion
parties become creatures of the major parties that they
are hoping to transform. New York witnessed the
disgraceful spectacle of the Working Families Party
being forced to endorse a gubernatorial candidate who -
even before the election! - promised to attack public
worker unions and undermine public worker benefits. It
is possible that pro-worker fusion parties where they
exist could become allies in a revived Labor Party
movement but efforts to build new fusion parties in
states that have no history of such politics and no
legal framework of cross-endorsement appear to be a
colossal waste of energy and resources.

In the end, the creation of a party of our own remains
the great unfinished task of the U.S. working class and
the only real way out of the two-party political
wilderness. There are no political shortcuts. Nor is it
conceivable that such a party could emerge without
having, at its core, a revived and revitalized labor
movement. While these tasks may be even more daunting
today than they were in the 1990s, it doesn't make them
any less urgent or necessary.

Next Steps This is a time of tremendous opportunity.
After years of economic crisis and political impotency,
working people are questioning the legitimacy of the
entire political system and exposing its corrupt
domination by a rich oligarchy. The Occupy movement
struck a chord with so many because its organizers
understand that the system is rigged to generate
inequality. Unfortunately, because of the reasons
enumerated above, this is not yet a time when the
revival or re-launching of a working-class political
party is in order. No matter what individual activists
may desire, the simple fact remains that you cannot
build a party of labor when the labor movement itself
is in disarray and retreat.

While this is not the time to dust off the Labor Party,
it certainly is the time for working-class activists to
begin the discussion of what it would take to build an
independent, class-based political party. That
discussion can be greatly informed by the history of
the Labor Party movement and we need to encourage a
broad discussion of this history and its lessons for
today. Many current leaders and activists in the labor
movement were not around when the Labor Party was at
its heyday more than a decade ago. Many of the key
participants in the Labor Party are nearing retirement
and have valuable lessons to share with a new
generation. We believe that the current political
moment is a time when people will be very responsive to
such a discussion.

We should also work to support initiatives that could
promote class politics. Groups such as the Labor
Campaign for Single Payer and U.S. Labor Against the
War (USLAW) fight for issues of broad concern to
working people and require the construction of a
powerful anti-corporate movement to achieve their
goals. They help to educate working people about the
nature of the political system and bring together the
best and the brightest activists across geographic
lines and union jurisdictions. They challenge labor to
fulfill its historic role to lead a social movement of
working people. In addition, unions should embrace
internal mobilization projects that educate members
about a real working-class agenda, identify and develop
new leadership, and build relationships with potential
allies. National Nurses United's "Robin Hood Campaign"
is one concrete example of how thousands of union
members can be moved to action around issues not
directly tied to the next election cycle.

It might also be time to revive the Labor Party
Advocates political survey. The history of the Labor
Party shows how political action questionnaires can be
a valuable organizing tool. In the current period, it
would provide an immediate task to engage advocates, a
low-commitment "ask" for union leaders at all levels,
and an opportunity to gather valuable information about
the state of mind and political attitudes of union
members, activists, and leaders.

The "10% Solution" It is not realistic to demand that
today's labor movement completely disengage itself from
its current ties with the Democratic Party. However,
the ongoing economic crisis, and the failures of the
Obama administration seem to provide an opening to
begin to challenge labor to move some of its resources
towards long-term projects that would advance a broad
working-class program that goes beyond the next
election and is geared toward building independent
political power for working people. We could launch
such a project if labor contributed just 10 percent of
the resources and finances that it spent in the 2012
election cycle.

What could we do with those resources and commitments?
We could connect with the 10 million Americans who are
underwater on their mortgages. We could reach out to
the 42 million Americans forced to rely on food stamps
to feed their families, and the 50 million without
healthcare, the 15 million unemployed, the 15 million
underemployed, the 20 million immigrants with no rights
to a secure life, the millions of college graduates
condemned to a lifetime of debt peonage, the tens of
millions of workers trapped in a series of Wal-Mart-
style jobs and facing the prospect of the loss of even
the minimal social insurance benefits that used to be
the birthright of everyone in the United States. In
short, we could begin to mobilize and speak on behalf
of a working class that has become fragmented and
disenfranchised because of a political system that
inexorably distributes wealth and power upward to the
"one percent."

There is much to learn from the Labor Party movement.
Until we have a party of our own, working people are
doomed to fight with one hand tied behind our back.
"This is the struggle of our generation," said the
Labor Party founders in 1995. "The future of our
children and their children hangs in the balance. It is
a struggle we cannot afford to lose."

    Mark Dudzic was president of OCAW Local 8-149 and
    OCAW District 8. He became the Labor Party's
    National Organizer in 2002. Dudzic is currently
    National Coordinator of the Labor Campaign for
    Single-Payer Health Care.

    Katherine Isaac, author of Civics for Democracy,
    worked for the OCAW's Alice Hamilton College and
    served as the Labor Party's Secretary-Treasurer.


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