Why We Need a Discussion and Debate on Labor and Political Independence

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.

Conclusion

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!

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About elnwebmaster

This is the discussion blog of the Labor Fightback Network, an auxiliary to the laborfightback.org website. It is designed to facilitate discussion among labor activists concerning the critical issues facing working people in the current economic crisis. Readers’ comments are welcome, but flaming is not. Any comments which are racist, sexist/homophobic, or disrespectful on a personal level will not get past moderation.
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4 Responses to Why We Need a Discussion and Debate on Labor and Political Independence

  1. Brothers and Sisters,
    AT THIS TIME WE are not numerous enough nor powerful enough to form a successful Labor Party. Therefore, if we mean to be successful then we must get into the trenches of our local Democratic Party, get our “hands dirty” and do the work required to wrest the levers of power from the “corporatist faction”.

    http://www.laborforbernie.org/

    Here’s is where I am going….

  2. elnwebmaster says:

    I am forwarding a message from Colia Clark of New York City:

    I am positive given present reality in economics culture that if labor is to survive it must develop it base galvanizing it into a powerful political force that has its own interests at heart. I am just as sure that if labor does not organize communities into unions block by block field by field with purposeful design to own, develop and control the needs of community from health education and housing to business development: capitol, insurance etc required to build business, including credit unions, savings and loans and job development…infrastructure, transportation , energy source, sanitation, sewage whatever. The national crisis which labor find itself cannot be overcome. By continuing to beg big business to do the right thing and come up with jobs with a living wage, benefits right to collective bargaining etc. Labor will sink deeper into economic blight. We know from actual facts that depending on politicians and labor bosses gets private sector workers less than 8 percent organized labor and a declining public sector less than 40 percent unionized workers.

    We can turn this bleak picture into a portrait of hope for all sectors of the work force by taking control of labors vote with a labor party and taking control of communities of workers many of whom are unemployed, under employed and even large numbers of never employed.

    Labor must broaden its horizons to include labor owned businesses. Labor party now or TPP forever. This old lady say, “Let’s build the Labor Party forget the game of promise that the two party system has demonstrated for over a hundred year does not benefit organized labor.”

    In Solidarity, Colia Liddell LaFayette Clark

  3. Hal Sutton says:

    The question of whether or not there is adequate support among the working masses for a labor party at the present time is irrelevant. Ditto the Citizens United SCOTUS decision. The plain truth of the matter is that working people need a labor party yesterday, and that with every passing day that it lacks one, their rights and living standards are further undermined.
    Furthermore, the Democratic Party could not win a single national election without the zealous support of the trade unions, and it is ONLY THE LABOR MOVEMENT that could launch a viable third party that could develop into the dominant force in the nation’s politics.
    The TPP and all foreign trade agreements that facilitate the global race to the bottom, as well the militaristic policies of both major parties at home and abroad, clearly demonstrate that working people must confront foreign policy issues, which is the exclusive domain of the federal government, especially of the executive branch. These and national domestic issues can only be confronted with a labor party that is built on a national level, to run in federal elections.
    No lasting progress on a local level can be achieved without such a national effort, because local elected officials are completely handcuffed in what they can accomplish by the policies of the federal government. This is not to say that local campaigns are unimportant. It must, however, be acknowledged that to limit the initial struggle for a labor party to local issues and campaigns amounts to attempting to knock down a wall with a pea shooter. Any local election campaign must be conducted with campaign literature that clearly emphasizes the need for action on a federal level to enable progress at the local level, and that the goal of the campaign is to advance the struggle for a labor party that can lead the nation, with a program of issues that support the cause of working people.
    While LFN activists can and must conduct the struggle for a labor party by launching an advocacy organization, such an organization must adopt as its central slogan the demand that the two main labor federations call a congress of labor to launch a national labor party that will strive to implement national policies that serve the needs of working people.
    Another matter that is totally lacking in the discussion on political independence is the need to launch a youth organization focused on building a labor party. It is not just the “sons and daughters of working people” that are sent off to fight wars that benefit only the corporate interests — it is young workers themselves. These young workers, as well as students who have not yet entered the work force, must constitute the very vanguard of the struggle for a labor party, and will need their own organization in order to struggle for the issues that confront the nation’s youth.
    Solidarity forever,
    Hal Sutton

  4. Alan Maki says:

    I think Bernie Sanders’ supporters should be pushed to force him to run as the candidate of a new party similar to Canada’s NDP.

    The point needs to be made is that after the Democratic Primary he can’t become president if he isn’t on the ballot.

    And the other point that needs to be made is that he has a very good chance of becoming president with the votes split three or four ways.

    In addition, these supporters and others need to consider running on the same ticket for House and Senate seats and state and local offices. We must remember that hundreds of people were elected to state and local offices on Eugene Debs’ political shirt tail.

    And the people, not Bernie, should choose his running mate and a shadow cabinet that would include those who would be appointed should be selected to get out on the campaign trail.

    No matter what anyone thinks of Bernie, he is not the issue here.

    The real issue is the potential among those who are supporting him to become the catalysts to break free from the two-party trap.

    We must reject the sectarian demands that this be an exclusively left or socialist party; the effort must reflect liberals, progressives and the left because together we form the largest block in the country.

    This idea of “incremental reforms” and using the problems of the people as mere campaign gimmicks must be rejected in favor of bringing forward very specific solutions to the major problems with peace at the top making it clear peace is required to so we have the funds and resources to solve our many problems of unemployment, poverty/poverty wages, the health care mess. The cost of living crisis must be addressed.

    Most of Bernie’s supporters are rejecting the idea they should support and vote for Hillary even if Bernie tries to lead them in this direction.

    People understand Hillary Clinton is now part of the Wall Street crowd of profiteers and warmongers as much as the Republican ticket which appears to be shaping up to be Jeb Bush and Scott Walker with the possibility Trump will run on a third party ticket.

    The real solutions to our most pressing common problems should be what a new progressive party is centered around:

    End the wars.

    A national public health care system.

    A full employment act.

    A real living Minimum Wage legislatively tied to the actual cost of living.

    A national public child care system.

    Raise Social Security to a real living income based on actual cost of living.

    A moratorium on student loans and mortgages until these messes are sorted out and solutions found. Public Banking.

    Defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    And, finally, it must be stated that we the people are challenging Wall Street for political and economic power.

    There you have a winning program liberals, progressives and leftists who understand that politics is more than a game can unite around.

    We should be holding round table discussions in every single Congressional District and these kinds of ideas should be placed in the hands of each and every person supporting Bernie Sanders for their consideration.

    Why not organize some kind of network to discuss all of this. We could accomplish this as community and rank and file activists and fund it on a shoestring.

    We need to stress that our movement would be like a new broom we would use to sweep Congress clean in order to restore and expand democracy.

    The very best examples we have of attempts to break free from this Wall Street manufactured two-party trap are the campaigns of Eugene Debs on the Socialist Party ticket, the Progressive Party which ran Henry Wallace and the most successful of all, the old socialist Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party which also serves as the best example of a political setback when people are brought back into the Democratic Party fold.

    Alan Maki

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