By the Labor Fightback Network
At our recent conference, the Labor Fightback Network (LFN) agreed to open and facilitate a conversation on labor independent political action. This conversation will be held on a special LFN blog and this statement is intended to kick off and frame the discussion.
All LFN activists agree that labor must be willing to act independently of the Democratic and Republican parties. Part of the LFN Mission Statement reads “… we call for ensuring that the labor movement functions independently of any political party or the corporate class. Building an independent labor movement that breaks with the strategy of ‘shared sacrifice’ that is deployed by labor’s adversaries to prevent labor’s fight-back is absolutely essential.” Now more than ever, we are facing crises so deep and a labor movement so decimated by business-as-usual that a thorough discussion about labor’s political direction is essential to our survival.
However, there are many definitions of political independence and many different forms of independent or alternative political action. Does independence refer primarily to the willingness to take actions that are not supported by mainstream politicians or the corporate class? What about electorally? Does it mean that labor must never endorse candidates of the major parties? Should labor build its own party, support alternative parties, or run our own local candidates?
The blog discussion is intended to air all of our different views on this vital subject; not to denounce anyone’s approach, but to analyze successes and failures, propose areas of common work, recommend alliances with others, and critique and debate ideas in a spirit of collegiality.
First, where do almost all LFN activists agree?
We agree that the Democrats and Republicans consistently do the bidding of the corporate interests that bankroll both parties. While their rhetoric, style, and focus on issues varies, neither major party serves the vast majority of people in the United States. Their foreign policies are murderous: devoting the majority of our nation’s budget to fund destructive militarism; using our children as cannon fodder in wars of economic dominance and aggression that kill, displace, and impoverish workers in other countries; denying the sovereignty and destroying environments and infrastructures of other countries.
The two major corporate parties refuse to take on the most critical issue facing the world today: climate change. Indeed, they undermine efforts to prevent and mitigate worldwide environmental disaster. Their domestic economic policies focus on undermining the historic gains won by labor and other social movements, such as public education and pensions, now allegedly unaffordable because the parties refuse to maintain effective tax rates on corporations and the wealthy.
Both parties act to starve social programs and then turn them over to unaccountable private interests. They enable and defend the highest level of mass incarceration in the world while refusing to act humanely on many other issues that disproportionately affect people of color, such as police brutality, gentrification, and immigrant rights.
At a point when virtually all other developed countries have universal health care and paid family leave policies, the major parties refuse to bring us into alignment with the modern world. They are continuing to allow our internal infrastructure to decay, putting us all at risk for more Katrina-like disasters.
Both parties are now presiding over the most secretive regime in U.S. history, thus building the base for a true police state. The current Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is a classic example of this secrecy: Voters have no legal access to the proposed text and politicians are banned from revealing its content to their constituents; meanwhile, many corporations have a full seat at the table to write rules tailored to their interests alone; rules that could override popular and democratically enacted labor, health, safety, and environmental protections. The recent Congressional decision to “fast-track” this disastrous trade agreement could not have passed without the misleadership of President Obama and the support of many Democrats, as well as Republicans.
We agree that all the policies listed above are aided and abetted by the extreme consolidation of the mass media, which either presents anti-corporate views as unserious or refuses to cover them at all. Labor and other progressive social movements cannot depend on politicians or the media to present our views fairly.
We agree that the people of the United States can do little to address the crises we face via the current electoral structure alone, especially on a national scale. The extreme cost of holding elections, now aggravated by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that money is a form of protected free speech, ensures, with very few exceptions, that only wealthy individuals or those who can raise huge sums of money from corporations can afford to run campaigns that will be covered seriously by the media. Undemocratic election laws prevent third parties and independent candidates from having ballot access, winner-take-all rules deny representation to minority viewpoints, and, increasingly, voters who are more likely to vote progressively, especially Blacks, are being subjected to new voter ID laws, increased gerrymandering, and the often permanent disenfranchisement of people convicted of crimes. Neither major party is committed to changing any of this.
We agree that overcoming any of our current challenges requires mass social movements not limited to electoral strategies or lobbying. We need to pose a credible threat to the jobs of existing politicians if we are to have any hope of pressuring them to act in our interests. That threat includes refusing to support or re-elect those who have not acted in our interests, but it must also be publicly visible—featuring mass demonstrations, civil disobedience, boycotts, and direct job actions.
We agree labor cannot act alone. We need to help build a broad movement that unites labor with the movements of people of color, women, youth and students, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community, and with the environmental and antiwar movements. Labor must be accountable to these movements by fostering the practice of mutual respect and committed action. Candidates should be accountable to social movements, too, not to political machines and wealthy donors.
We agree that we need to develop local labor and community electoral campaigns independent of the major parties. In addition, most, if not all of us, agree that labor needs its own political party.
Where might LFN activists disagree?
We may disagree on the definition of political independence. Recognizing that viable alternatives may not exist in many venues, some of us may support major-party candidates in specific races, usually Democrats with a liberal voting record on, or a history of, supporting labor and other progressive social movements. Others in the LFN argue that these candidates could only be supported if they leave the Democratic Party; their participation gives it legitimacy and helps maintain its hegemony. Currently, many of us differ over the Bernie Sanders campaign in the Democratic Party presidential primary. (In order to remain open to activists with a range of views, the LFN itself does not endorse any candidates affiliated with the corporate parties, leaving affiliates and supporters free to endorse whomever they wish so long as they do so in their own names and not in the name of the LFN.)
We may disagree on the best tactical ways to address political independence in our own unions, labor councils, and state federations.
We may disagree on if, how, or when to build a labor party and/or the relative importance of a labor party vis-à-vis other forms of independent electoral action. Many LFN activists were involved in the Labor Party effort of the 1990s. Other than in South Carolina and, to an extent, Ohio and a few other outposts, the Labor Party effectively dissolved for a range of reasons, many of which are disputed. Understandably, we don’t want to repeat any of the errors made at the time and we want to ensure that there is sufficient material and ideological support within organized labor before attempting such an effort again. Yet we can’t move forward without advocacy; thus some of us want to form a Labor Party Advocates-type organization to re-spark this conversation in the labor movement and we would like the LFN’s support.
We may disagree on whether or not to support or participate in other alternative parties (Green Party, Working Families Party, Peace and Freedom Party, Socialist Party, Socialist Alternative, etc.) or to endorse specific independent or alternative party candidates.
We may disagree ideologically. For example, some LFN activists are members of socialist organizations and many others are not. We may disagree on issues, specific legislation, or internal union campaigns. These differences may influence our views on political independence.
The unity of the LFN is based on those views we hold in common and on our commitment to address our differences with mutual respect. We all want a vibrant and growing labor movement capable and willing to address today’s crises, not beholden to anyone but the working class and its allies. But, there is no monopoly of truth on how we build it; all of us have something to offer. Let the discussion begin!