Jerry Gordon, December 23, 1928–October 28, 2016

By Thomas Bias, National Secretary, Labor Fightback Network

In the predawn hours of October 28, 2016, Jerry Gordon, who had served as National Secretary of the Labor Fightback Network from its founding until August of this year, passed into eternity. He had devoted nearly all of his eighty-eight years to the struggle of the working class for peace, justice, human rights, and a decent standard of living. He was an uncompromising fighter against racism, imperialism, and all forms of sexism. Most importantly, Jerry put his principles into action, organizing coalitions based on principled unity which brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. He taught a whole generation of young activists not only the importance of united-front action but how to make it happen in the real world. He will be sorely missed.

In the months and weeks ahead, many words will be written and spoken which will share the events of Jerry’s life and work—activity in the labor movement, civil rights struggle, and peace movement going back six decades. As Jerry’s friends and comrades commit their memories to paper—or electronic word-processing files—we will share them here in the weeks and months to come. At this time, I can only share my own reminiscences.

I first encountered Jerry Gordon in 1970 at a national conference of the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. The event was in Cleveland, Ohio, where Jerry lived for most of his life. Jerry was the keynote speaker. He was introduced as a labor lawyer, and he looked the part! He was dressed appropriately to appear in court—quite a contrast to us scruffy students, most of us barely out of our teens. I later found out that Jerry was exactly the same age as my own mother. The speech that he gave, however, was as fiery and militant as anything I had heard in the struggle—and by this time in my life I had heard a lot! He wasn’t afraid to call the Nixon administration’s Vietnam policy by its right name: imperialism. He didn’t shrink from calling for mass action by the student youth, working people, and military personnel, rather than relying on the good intentions of politicians trying to get elected to office.

Over the next five years, Jerry, along with his close associate Jim Lafferty of Detroit, worked tirelessly to bring disparate forces to unite around the demand that the United States withdraw its forces immediately from Vietnam, and—after May 1970—from Cambodia and Laos as well. After the massive student uprising of May 1970, sparked by the invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard murders of four students at Kent State University in Ohio and of two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi, Jerry and Jim, along with Ruth Gage-Colby of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and John T. Williams of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, led the formation of the National Peace Action Coalition. This coalition brought a combined total of a million people into the streets in Washington and San Francisco in April of 1971. For the first time, unions and labor officials were breaking with the pro-war policies of AFL-CIO President George Meany. Jerry Gordon was one of the best networkers I ever saw—and that was before we even had the term “networking”—and he knew to whom to reach out. He started with people he knew in Cleveland and people in the Amalgamated Meatcutters and Butcher Workmen’s Union, the union he represented, and worked from there. It became clear quickly to the warmakers that organized action in opposition to the Vietnam war could not be limited to the student youth, and if they did not want a deepgoing social explosion, they would have to bring the war to a close quickly.

Jerry Gordon played a direct and in many ways decisive role in forcing the United States to get out of Vietnam short of victory. It wasn’t Jerry as a single person who made the difference: it was his leadership in building a united and principled coalition for immediate U.S. withdrawal, based in the people—the working class, the student youth, and the GIs. It was his refusal to compromise his principles in the interests of getting someone elected to office; it was his insistence that the antiwar movement had to reach out to organized labor as that one social force which had the power to shut down the American economy and force an end to the war, if it came to that. The warmakers understood, and they made sure that it didn’t come to that.

I got to know Jerry much better personally in the 1980s and later, working with him in opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America and then in the efforts to stop Bush 41’s Gulf War and then Bush 43’s Gulf War. But those fundamental principles of coalition-building hadn’t changed. Jerry stood by them in every struggle: principled unity, the central role of labor, mass action by the people, rather than favors from the politicians. That’s what I learned from Jerry Gordon, and they are lessons I will never forget as long as I live. And Jerry Gordon was a working-class leader and a fighter for social justice, whom I will never forget as long as I live.

Jerry Gordon, ¡presente!

Click here for a Personal and Political/Trade Union Biography of Jerry Gordon

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It’s Time for a New Political Party

With each passing year, elections in the United States have been increasingly insulting of working people’s intelligence. To be sure, the politicians have never had much respect for the people who vote them into office. During every election campaign season the voters are subjected to a chorus of “My opponent is a crook! My opponent is a bum! My opponent will raise taxes! My opponent does not love America! Vote for me!” Meanwhile, working people are facing with each passing month more difficulties paying to keep a roof over our heads and the choice of paying for prescription medicines or food, difficulties which have increased exponentially since the economic crash of 2008. We look to the elected officials—or those who would take the place of the elected officials—for answers, and all we hear is the same old drivel: “My opponent is a crook! My opponent is a bum!…”

In 2016 working voters are fed up to the teeth, and they are unleashing their anger on the political elites of both major political parties.

The Democratic party seemed poised to give former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a coronation, with little or no opposition as the campaign for the nomination began in 2015. In that context, the independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made a decision to challenge her in the Democratic nomination process. What happened next was completely contrary to all expectations. The 74-year-old self-described socialist ran a campaign not about how wonderful Bernie Sanders would be as President, but about a single-payer national health plan, stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a tax plan to make the richest pay “their fair share,” and a call to break up the big financial institutions, arguing that “too big to fail” is too big to be in business. He ran a campaign about the issues and called for change, and the people responded.

A funny thing happened: Sanders gave Secretary Clinton a run for her money. He fought her to a tie in the Iowa caucuses and beat her decisively in the New Hampshire primary. The states that Clinton won were states where the Democratic party had strong urban political machines which could turn out the vote for the leadership’s favored candidate. Even so, as e-mail messages that were exposed by the Wikileaks website on the Internet have shown, the Democratic National Committee violated its responsibility to be neutral and took whatever undemocratic steps it could to ensure Clinton’s victory.

Sanders could not prevail in an undemocratic Democratic party. Though the voters in large numbers rejected establishment politics, it was establishment politics that ultimately won, and Secretary Clinton became the nominee, choosing a nondescript conservative, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, as her running mate.

If the Democratic nomination campaign was unusual, the Republican campaign was downright bizarre.

A huge field of candidates initially sought the Republican nomination, from well-established senators and governors, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (son of the forty-first president and brother of the forty-third president), like incumbent Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Two business executives who had never before held elective office also sought the nomination: former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina and New York real estate developer Donald Trump.

The conventional wisdom was that a third member of the Bush dynasty would be nominated to face off against the second of the Clinton dynasty. Senators Cruz and Rubio and Governor Christie were also considered possibilities. But the Republican voters had a different idea.

For decades Republican politics has been strongly influenced by hateful radio and Fox News talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, along with reactionary preachers such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell.

Trump proved to the Republican party St. Paul’s warning (Galatians 6:7): “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Years of racist, sexist, and hateful lies had sufficiently eroded the political discourse within the Republican party that the most outlandish and groundless conspiracy theories found a sympathetic hearing among Republican voters. But something else was happening, too. The economic uncertainty that attracted Democratic voters to the anti-establishment candidate Bernie Sanders attracted Republican voters to the anti-establishment Donald Trump. His completely unworkable and even unconstitutional proposals, such as building a wall along the Mexican border to keep “illegal aliens” out (and making the Mexican government pay for it) and excluding all Muslims from entering the United States “until we can figure out what the hell is going on,” struck a sympathetic chord with older working-class white males. Even if they understood that Trump’s proposals would never work, but they appreciated his anti-elitism.

Contrary to all expectations, Trump blew the establishment candidates out of the water. Even when the Republican leadership brought in the “big guns”—including former President George W. Bush and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney—it was not nearly enough. All of the accusations against Trump—that he was a dishonest “con artist,” that he was not qualified for the job as President, that his policy proposals were completely unworkable, and many more—are all true. The Republican voters seemed not to care. Trump ran away with the nomination.

In polling, both Clinton’s and Trump’s disapproval ratings exceed their approval ratings; Trump’s net disapproval exceeds Clinton’s. It is clear that in 2016 the voters will be voting against a candidate rather than for a candidate, and the campaigns are reflecting the negativity, as Trump rants about “Crooked Hillary,” and Clinton counters with “Dangerous Trump.” It’s the same old political game, and American working people are sick of it.

If there was ever an opportunity for an electoral alternative to Big Business’s twin parties, it is staring us in the face, right now.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the labor movement, of the African-American community and other Communities of Color, and even challenger candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, have chosen the route of “defeat Trump at all costs” and are calling on working people to vote for Secretary Clinton. Polls have indicated that while most Sanders voters will likely vote for Clinton; the campaign activists, those who phone-banked, canvassed, and fund-raised for Sanders, are not coming around to support Clinton in the numbers that the Democratic leaders had hoped. It was visible at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, where anti-Clinton street marches brought together hundreds of people, including Sanders delegates who had walked out of the convention. The Democratic National Committee did its best to stage manage its convention so that those protests were invisible, but they had limited success.

The largest independent electoral initiative—not counting the right-wing Libertarian party—is the Green party, whose candidates are Dr. Jill Stein for President and Ajamu Baraka for Vice President. Various polls show Green support at between four and eight percent, considerably higher than the support that the Green party received in 2012. Any social-justice trade unionist would react favorably to the Green party’s platform. It is broadly pro-labor; it supports racial justice—including Black Lives Matter; it opposes hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for fossil-fuel extraction, as well as nuclear power for generating electricity. It opposes war and U.S. intervention into the affairs of other countries—and includes opposition to the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian Arab territory. This platform was developed by good people who got together on this programmatic basis, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But what we need today is a political party that represents the organized working people, through their own organizations, the trade unions. It is up to social-justice-minded trade unionists to fight within the unions for the perspective of a new political party, rather than trying to use one of the big business parties in a vain attempt to win a few concessions. The Green party and other independent electoral alternatives can and must be a part of the process of developing the massive party that is so desperately needed. Dr. Stein herself set a good example during July when she invited Senator Sanders to join the Green ticket (imagine if he had agreed!). The Communities of Color, and especially the Black Lives Matter movement, are indispensable to the independent political action that is needed, as are the hundreds of thousands of young people who flocked to the Bernie Sanders campaign and are now feeling betrayed and disillusioned.

The strategy of relying on the Democratic party to represent the interests of working people and our community allies has again proved to be a losing strategy. A united effort by the social-justice wing of the labor movement, by the Black, Latino, Native American communities and other Communities of Color, by the young, by women, and by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer communities, to forge a new political party which can represent the 99% in upcoming elections is on the immediate agenda. It’s going to take us all.

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U.S. Labor Must Lead Fight to Stop the TPP!

In a statement issued shortly after the June 23 referendum in Britain, in which the majority of the voters chose to leave the European Union, Bernie Sanders wrote an Op-Ed article in The New York Times, titled, “Democrats Need to Wake Up.” In it Sanders noted that,

“In the last 15 years, nearly 60,000 factories in this country have closed, and more than 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Much of this is related to disastrous trade agreements that encourage corporations to move to low-wage countries.

“Despite major increases in productivity, the median male worker in America today is making $726 dollars less than he did in 1973, while the median female worker is making $1,154 less than she did in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.

“Nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty. An estimated 28 million have no health insurance, while many others are underinsured. Millions of people are struggling with outrageous levels of student debt. For perhaps the first time in modern history, our younger generation will probably have a lower standard of living than their parents. Frighteningly, millions of poorly educated Americans will have a shorter life span than the previous generation as they succumb to despair, drugs and alcohol.”

Sanders’ assessment of the devastating effects of “free trade” is spot-on. Working people at home and across the globe are sick and tired of “free trade” agreements that are driving them into poverty, smashing and/or subverting the independence of their trade unions, and rolling back their collective rights—while only benefiting the speculators and corporate robber-barons.

Democrats: The Party of “Free Trade”

There can be no question that the anger that exists in Britain as a result of the destruction of jobs and working class communities by the EU and the corporate globalizers is just as strong, or stronger, in the United States against the devastating effects of NAFTA—and against the threats posed by the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP).

But herein lies a major problem. Hillary Clinton, the candidate that the U.S. labor movement will be supporting in November, was one of the main architects of TTP in her days as Secretary of State (when she called the TPP the “Gold Standard” of trade agreements). The Democrats are the ones who brought us NAFTA, CAFTA, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.-Colombia TPA, the U.S.-Peru TPA, and more.

Already, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has rejected including opposition to TPP in the Democratic Party platform (just as it has rejected including Single-payer healthcare and other vital questions facing working people).

Clinton’s nomination of Tim Kaine as her vice-presidential running mate is another signal that the Democratic Party is unabashedly on the side of “free trade.” Kaine voted to “fast track” TPP (not to mention his support for “right-to-work” laws in his home state of Virginia and his call for restricting abortion rights even further).

It is very possible that the Democratic Party leadership will make some minor, mostly window-dressing changes to the DNC position paper on TPP. Clinton and other top Democrats have said that they now oppose TPP “as it stands”—indicating they would be in favor of some changes.

But it cannot be excluded that the Democratic Party leadership will simply uphold the DNC decision on TPP—and plow ahead. Making even cosmetic changes to TPP might not be so easy, as the dozens of countries that have already passed TPP would have to revisit the issue.

Need for Labor Movement to Take the Lead

Many political leaders—including Bernie Sanders—are warning that President Obama may push for a vote to approve TPP during the “lame-duck” session (after the November elections and before the new president takes office in January 2017). In this way, Hillary Clinton does not have to take the heat—and Obama can make TPP passage part of his legacy, which is one of his stated goals.

Given the very real possibility that TPP could be brought to a vote during the lame-duck session, which is only a few months from now, isn’t it imperative that the labor movement take the lead in organizing mass, united-front actions to Stop TPP, in alliance with labor’s community allies? [See Model Resolution.]

Top labor officials, who are tied at the hip to the Democratic Party, will tell us that this is neither possible nor desirable, that our Number 1 priority today must be to Stop Trump in November and get Hillary Clinton elected. But isn’t Clinton the very personification of the global “free trade” agenda? Shouldn’t labor rise to the occasion in the face of such an imminent threat to all working people—and to democracy itself? And couldn’t the Labor for Bernie organizers and members champion this struggle in the labor movement?

Having said this, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people in the streets in massive united-front actions to stop the TPP is only the first step.

It will take more than united mass actions to put a halt to the corporate juggernaut. As former (and now-departed) OCAW leader Tony Mazzocchi was fond of saying, “The bosses have two parties, workers need one of our own.”

With the choice of Trump vs. Hillary Clinton in November, never has Mazzocchi’s saying rung so true: Working people today need a mass workers’ party, a Labor Party based on the unions and on the communities of the oppressed.

How do we get there from here?

A recent posting by the Labor Fightback Network offers a necessary—and viable—perspective in this regard. It states, in part:

“While labor has been waging a vigorous campaign against the TPP, it remains preoccupied with electing Democrats, as if that is the way forward. But even here, it is stymied, as we can see by the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee’s failure to take a stand against the TPP. So why should labor continue to support such a party or even be part of it?

“We again urge transition steps to forming a party of our own. As we wrote previously:

“‘It is high time for labor to challenge the monopoly that Big Business exercises in the electoral arena. To be sure, this requires the spearheading of a coalition with its community allies. Labor could be a magnetic force in helping to unite tens of millions in support of a program that reflects the needs of workers, communities of color, youth, environmentalists, and other progressive forces.

“‘For the above reasons, the Labor Fightback Network urges the formation of independent labor-community coalitions in cities and states around the country based on a program collectively decided. Such coalitions, functioning democratically, could serve as building blocks for a national party, which is indispensable, and in the meanwhile run its own candidates to challenge the status quo. The alternative is despair, dissolution, and irrelevance.’”

The time is now for labor to take steps in this direction.


MODEL RESOLUTION

U.S. Labor Must Lead Fight to Stop the TPP!

Whereas, in the last 15 years, nearly 60,000 factories in this country have closed, and more than 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared largely as a result of disastrous “free trade” agreements (such as NAFTA, CAFTA, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, etc.) that encourage corporations to move to low-wage countries;

Whereas, despite major increases in productivity, the median male worker in America today is making $726 dollars less than he did in 1973, while the median female worker is making $1,154 less than she did in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.

Whereas growing numbers of working people are sick and tired of “free trade” agreements that are driving them into poverty, smashing and/or subverting the independence of their trade unions, and rolling back their collective rights—while only benefiting the speculators and corporate robber-barons;

Whereas, the labor movement has taken a firm stand against the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), which, if passed, would further devastate the working and living conditions of millions of working families across the nation;

Whereas, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has rejected including opposition to TPP in the Democratic Party platform, while Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, voted to “fast track” the TPP, and Clinton herself has stated that she opposes TPP “as it stands”—meaning that she could support TPP if changes were made (most likely minor, mainly window-dressing changes); and

Whereas, Bernie Sanders warned at the Democratic National Convention that President Obama may push for a vote to approve TPP during the “lame-duck” session of the Congress, as the president has insisted he would like TPP passage to be part of his legacy.

Therefore be it resolved, that the ___________ [name of union] calls on the leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win to take the lead in organizing mass, united-front actions in the streets, in alliance with labor’s community allies, in the coming weeks and months to prevent TPP from being adopted during the lame-duck session of Congress or any time thereafter.

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2016 Elections Underscore Need for Independent Labor Political Action

Once again the U.S. electorate is given the “choice” between two corporate parties and urged to vote for one of the two, despite their low ratings even among their members and supporters, not to mention independents.

To be sure, insurgents—first Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran in the Democratic primary, and Dr. Jill Stein, expected to be the Greens’ candidate (their convention is in August)—are throwing unexpected wrenches in the election machinery cycle.

The ultra-radical reactionary anti-labor Donald Trump will be the third insurgent in a presidential election year where a dissatisfied electorate shows unmistakable signs of disgust with business as usual.

And once again the predominant labor leadership will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of the Democratic Party nominee, regardless of its collaboration in whittling away at issues affecting working people. And once again AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka continues to declare that a Trump victory would be an unmitigated disaster for the labor movement, implying that a Democratic win would be a victory for the working class.

As has long been the pattern of labor politics—with a growing number of dissenters among several unions and millions of rank-and-file workers—“lesser evil” is the controlling consideration in determining labor’s strategy. But how is that working out?

As these lines are being written, the Democratic Platform Committee in an initial draft has rejected single-payer health care, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and opposition to fracking. To be sure, this will be challenged in the days and weeks ahead with the controversy settled at the Party’s convention in Philadelphia in late July. Sanders’s 1,900 delegates show no signs of buckling into the fold easily.

But the question is this: labor has been characterized as the base of the Democratic Party so why should there be any issue regarding including its priorities being capstones in the Party’s program?

The answer to that question is that the Democratic Party is corporate- controlled and remains subservient to the big money rollers, not to the working class. Today that Party stands exposed for the sham that it continues to perpetrate as the “party of the people.”

Needed: an Independent Labor Movement with Its Own Political Party

It is high time for labor to challenge the monopoly that Big Business exercises in the electoral arena. To be sure, this requires the spearheading of a coalition with its community allies. Labor could be a magnetic force in helping to unite tens of millions in support of a program that reflects the needs of workers, communities of color, youth, environmentalists, and other progressive forces.

For the above reasons, the Labor Fightback Network urges the formation of independent labor-community coalitions in cities and states around the country based on a program collectively decided. Such coalitions, functioning democratically, could serve as building blocks for a national party, which is indispensable, and in the meanwhile run its own candidates to challenge the status quo. The alternative is despair, dissolution, and irrelevance.

Labor’s failure to seize this rare moment will mean a continuation of the old politics, which has led to a deepening of multiple crises: unending imperialist wars, as in Afghanistan; the escalation of gunning down unarmed people of color on our streets by cops out of control; social programs under attack by both parties; massive unemployment and under-employment; mass incarceration; runaway military spending; the further poisoning of our environment; fifty million people living in poverty while two-thirds of all corporations pay no income taxes; upending assaults on abortion rights (despite the recent Supreme Court decision); climate change and more fracking.

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Larry Cohen and Carol Gay on Where the Sanders Movement Should Go From Here: Two Different Views

Introduction

Below please read two different views on where the Sanders movement should go from here. The authors are Larry Cohen and Carol Gay. Readers are urged to submit their own ideas, which will be posted here.

Larry Cohen is Past President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Senior Adviser of Labor For Bernie; Carol Gay is president of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council and Retired CWA International Representative.


Three Next Steps in the Political Revolution
Bernie Sanders Can’t Do It Alone

By Larry Cohen

Bernie Sanders will campaign all the way up to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia to seek the nomination — and to continue building the “political revolution.”

What is that political revolution, beyond his call to get the billionaires and corporations out and the people in?

Electing candidates to public office like Sanders — both this year and in years to come — is one leg.

The second leg is democratic, structural political reform. This means changes to our electoral system, such as instituting automatic voter registration and matching small donations with public funds.

It also means transforming the Democratic Party to a populist-based party by reforming its inner workings. Sanders’ campaign offers the most comprehensive challenge to the wealthy Democratic establishment since Jesse Jackson’s historic 1988 campaign. Sanders stumped that year for Jackson, helping him win in Vermont. At the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta, the Jackson campaign negotiated party reforms that included ending winner-take-all primaries and halving the number of super delegates.

Partly as a result of the end of winner-take-all, Bernie is on track to win at least 500 more delegates than Jackson did in 1988. But the reforms to the super delegate system were never enacted, and the Sanders campaign (to which I am an adviser) plans to bring some version of that demand back this year. The delegate selection process will also be back on the table, based on a growing list of serious flaws beginning with the Iowa Caucus, where the Democrats refused to release or review the caucus precinct results.

Twenty-three years before Occupy Wall Street, Jackson also pressured the Democrats to include a call for higher taxes on the 1% in the party’s platform. This and other platform demands pushed Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in a more progressive direction. Today, as in 1988, issues are the third leg of the political revolution—and the most apparent. Clinton and Sanders hold clearly different positions on trade, foreign policy, financial reform (including breaking up the big banks), the role of money and super PACs in politics, and critical economic reforms such as free higher education, Medicare-for-all and Social Security expansion. These issues will not only be raised from now through July, but for years to come in mobilizations of the emerging progressive base.

Those of us who are working day and night to elect Bernie Sanders president are determined to sustain this movement beyond the moment. The congressional and other electoral campaigns this year, combined with the emerging focus on democracy itself and the issues that mobilize our supporters, will carry that movement forward.


Another Point of View

By Carol Gay

I agree with almost all the points raised by Brother Cohen in this important and necessary discussion, but what I do not understand is why we are talking about reforming a morally bankrupt party, the Democratic Party.

Why are we not at the very least leaving open the possibility of a discussion about a new party, a party of our own that embraces all progressive forces — Labor, Environmentalists and Greens, Black Lives Matter, $15 NOW, Money Out of Politics, etc.?

The Bernie Sanders campaign has unleashed so much new energy that is adding to the already growing movements for progressive change, and I don’t think we want to discourage participation by any of these groups by supporting the party of the establishment, even if it is couched in “reform” terminology.

The Democratic Party is almost unrecognizable to most of us who have worked for progressive change our entire lives. I am speaking as a life-long Democrat and active member of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), but I cannot find it within me to support the status quo any longer.

I think this is an historic moment in time that will probably not come again in my life.

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Interview with Mark Dudzic on Equal Time Radio, Vermont (March 12, 2016)

[Note: Following is an interview with Mark Dudzic, national coordinator of the Labor for Single Payer campaign and past coordinator of the Labor Party. The interview was aired on March 12, 2016 on Equal Time Radio (WDEV 550AM/96.1FM–Vermont) and was conducted by radio host Traven Leyshon, secretary-treasurer of the Vermont state AFL-CIO. The transcription is by Unity & Independence, the labor supplement of The Organizer newspaper.]

Traven Leyshon: The Sanders victory in Michigan rocked the political establishment. Sanders tapped into and expressed the deep anger among labor and youth, and he is making more inroads into the African-American community. Beyond the immediate primaries or Democratic Party national convention, could we be seeing the first steps toward a party of our own?

Mark Dudzic: Certainly that is my hope, and it’s the hope of a lot of other activists in the labor and other social movements. But it’s a little too early to tell. Clearly the Sanders campaign has captured the widespread disgust with the kind of “accommodationism” that characterizes Democratic Party politics, especially at the national level. There’s a constant feeling of betrayal. Senator Sanders has given voice to working people who never recovered from the 2008 economic crisis and who see no future under the current system.

Traven Leyshon: Labor unions are diminished in strength, but they’re still the largest mass organizations that people have. What do you see in regard to the ferment in labor or more widely among working people? A lot of people who had given up on the political process, it seems, have become more politicized.

Mark Dudzic: I don’t think people who are active gave up on politics; they gave up on politics that produced no real benefits for themselves, their neighbors, and their co-workers. Sanders represents a real sense of hope for them. I do most of my work within the labor movement, and, as you said, despite being weakened over the years, labor is still central and essential to the working class and to working-class politics.

We’re now in an unusual situation where the contradictions of what labor is all about are really coming to the fore. On the one hand, you have a long-term practice of “instrumentalism,” trying to utilize whatever small space labor can find within politics to protect or preserve the institutions within labor and the conditions of the people they represent. And we’ve been doing this for ages, to the point where labor’s vision becomes restricted to the very narrow politics of what’s possible.

On the other hand, there is what I would call labor’s “transformative” side—that is, its capacity to act and think in terms of the long-term interests of working people. And Sanders has crystallized this transformative vision: What would politics in this country look like if it were conducted on behalf of people who work for a living? Why should college not be free, just like high school? Why shouldn’t we have healthcare for all like every industrialized country? These are issues that wake up and energize working people, and reach the core of the group of activists who do the work of the labor movement.

Traven Leyshon: What is Labor for Bernie, and where is it going?

Mark Dudzic: Labor for Bernie is an informal structure; it is not connected to the Bernie campaign. Labor activists were asked to sign a pledge. Close to 20,000 people have joined the network. Some national unions have come on board. These are the change agents in the labor movement; they are people who feel that labor’s many compromises have made it impossible to represent our members. They have a different view of how we must do our politics and where we must be as a labor movement. It’s very exciting.

It’s such a significant movement, in fact, that it’s resulted in the national AFL-CIO maintaining a position of neutrality in the campaign—which has certainly disrupted the plans of the Democratic establishment and the Clinton campaign.

Traven Leyshon: Let’s review for a few minutes the period of the Labor Party in the 1990s. It was a period of great hope, when people had a broader vision, where a wing of the labor movement made links with poor people’s organizations; there was institutional support from labor organizations. First we had Labor Party Advocates, then the Labor Party, which was more of an organizing committee for a future Labor Party, as we were not running candidates. Do you see the possibilities of networks, Labor for Bernie, unions that have come out for the Sanders campaign, or other community organizations…creating some kind of institutional support for other experiments, non-partisan networks, with some kind of political independence?

Mark Dudzic: It’s a complex situation. Everything is in flux right now. It’s always hard to make a prediction when you’re at this point in the movement.

I think that what happened in the 1990s is very relevant to what’s happening today. You had two significant things going on in the 1990s: You had an internal insurgency in the labor movement after decades of getting our butts kicked, both politically and in the shops and bargaining units. There was a sort of fightback movement that talked about new ways of organizing, be it new-member organizing, more sophisticated campaigns to represent our members, or breaking with some of the collaborationist ideas that the national labor movement had adopted when it was fat and lazy in the 1950s, ’60s. and ’70s. All this resulted in the only contested leadership election and a new leadership in the AFL-CIO.

This was coupled with the deep disillusion with another Clinton—Bill Clinton—who was elected in 1992. There was a lot of hope after 12 years of Reagan and Bush that Clinton would start advocating for workers’ interests—but instead, the administration completely dropped the ball on healthcare reform, instituted vicious blame-the-victim welfare reform and criminal-reform policies, walked away from labor-law reform and then, the thing that really capped the disgust, was Clinton’s wholehearted support for the NAFTA agreement—which really was the fast march toward globalization and de-industrialization.

That disgust and that insurgency combined for about 10 years. We had a very powerful movement within the labor movement to call for a party of our own, for a Labor Party, that would represent the interests of working people—not the compromises in parties that were dominated by corporate interests.

What’s different today is that the labor insurgency basically was defeated; the labor movement is a lot weaker and more isolated than it was in the 1990s. But today, there are all sorts of new coalitions and organizations that aren’t strictly speaking part of the institutions of organized labor, but are talking about economic and social justice issues for working people. These movements are coming together and are becoming more and more significant in working-class life.

But new opportunities for organizing and for doing politics are a lot less clear. I’m not sure there’s a consensus in the activist community that we must move toward a complete break with the Democratic Party to build a party of our own, as the next step to take.

I am very hopeful that this moment will result in a broad discussion within the labor movement and other social movements about how we can move away from corporate-dominated politics toward independent working-class politics. But I am not sure anyone yet knows what exact form that discussion and that organization will take at this point.

Traven Leyshon: A lot will be impacted by whether or not the Sanders campaign continues to develop momentum. People are holding their breath every time there is a mega-Tuesday. Sanders is proving the pollsters wrong, like in Michigan, where he proved he can win a greater percentage of African-American voters. You now have more union activists and more community organizations, like National People’s Action, doing real grassroots organizing for Sanders—and many of these organizations are going to continue mobilizing around their issues after the campaign, no matter what happens.

We certainly have that in Vermont. The most enthusiastic supporters of Sanders are not the Democratic Party establishment; it’s independents, it’s Progressive Party members, it’s the affiliates of National People’s Action. Do you see any formations developing that can capture and express in an organized way this Labor for Bernie campaign, this enthusiasm and upsurge nationally, that we’ve got to do something?

Mark Dudzic: I think that the understanding that we need to do something is everywhere across the country right now. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, even if Sanders never wins another primary. I think that the energy and vision that he unleashed are not going to go away, certainly not in the labor movement. These are folks who have taken a stand against the way their unions do politics. So that’s not going to go away. But I’m not so sure at this point that there’s any clarity about what kind of coalition will come together after the campaign.

The trouble with an election campaign is that it’s an urgent moment when you have to work exclusively around campaign issues. Historically, it’s been very difficult for permanent organizations to emerge from the aftermath of progressive campaigns. So there’s reason to be concerned that all this energy will dissipate once the campaign is over, however it ends.

I am hopeful, though, that people can weigh in now, while the campaign is still viable and still reaching millions of people, on what we need to do to communicate with one another and keep momentum going after the elections are over in November.

Traven Leyshon: Exactly. In the 1980s, the Rainbow Coalition was dissolved, nothing was left.

Mark Dudzic: This is an important lesson: You have to think about the future while the campaign is still going on. There’s a difference between a political campaign, on the one hand, and a substantive and sustained campaign and movement-building for working people, on the other. An election campaign is just one manifestation of this—but you can’t build a movement around a political candidate.

I hope that these lessons will inform the work that we do here. Also Senator Sanders, to his credit, has talked about the need to build a movement; he has said that he supports any effort during this campaign to turn it into a real, long-term force for social change

Traven Leyshon: Any concluding thoughts?

Mark Dudzic: We are going to be meeting soon to put together the activist core of the Labor for Bernie movement. There are also other efforts under way; folks are organizing a People’s Assembly in mid-June in Chicago.

This is a time when we have to put our energies into continuing the Sanders campaign on the ground while building networks of activists that use this campaign as an opportunity to build the kind of movement that is needed to build the kind of politics that can represent the real concerns of working people in this country.

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Regardless of Who Ultimately Wins the Democratic Nomination for President, Labor Must Have Its Own Independent Voice

Senator Bernie Sanders’ victory in Michigan has clearly rocked the political world. It has exposed Hillary Clinton’s vulnerabilities and underscored the deep anger of working people nationwide with Wall Street and with the politicians funded by Wall Street. It has also demonstrated the massive support nationwide for the far-reaching demands put forward by Sanders, including tuition-free education at public colleges and universities, Medicare for All/Single Payer, breaking up the big banks, and strident opposition to the corporate “free trade” agenda.

The race for the Democratic Party nomination is still not resolved, but regardless of who ultimately wins the Party’s nomination for president, labor must have its own political voice.

More voters now call themselves independents due to many years’ disenchantment with, and disenfranchisement from, the policies of the oligarchic two-party system. They are disgusted with a system that no longer even pretends to hear their needs or their voice.

In our view, it is not too soon for supporters of independent labor political action to map out a strategy for the post­election period. If we decide to wait and attempt to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the November election, we risk confusion and disorientation setting in.

Recognizing that a significant sector of the working class has become politicized to an extent not seen in decades, here is what we in the Labor Fightback Network believe:

  • First, that a large number of unions and labor activists have had it with “establishment politics” and are open to an independent course in the period ahead.
  • Second, that it is essential that a forum or network be provided for these forces to come together and unite in mass actions around the kind of domestic program that Sanders has popular­ized, while adding a plank on foreign policy that opposes U.S. interventions, occupations and military engagements in unjust wars. In this context, the groundwork will be laid for running independent labor-community candidates for public office at the local level.
  • Third, that community of color groups need to be included from the start, together with other progressive forces, as part of the mix.
  • Fourth, that the Labor for Bernie campaign be encouraged to help spearhead the development of this network.
  • Fifth, that whatever formation is created, it be and remain staunchly nonpartisan and function democratically.

If you agree with the perspective as explained above and wish to be updated regarding future developments, click here and fill out the contact form.

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