Notes on the 9/9/10 Meeting at Mayday on a Party of Labor –
I attended the forum given by the “Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor” (whew) and made some notes. It was a full house, with Greens, some Socialists and many independent progressives in the house. The main initial issue, of course, is ‘why’ a labor party? After all, other organizations have run. The Greens, independents like Henry Wallace and Jesse Ventura, and some radical African-American politicians have run or attempted to run candidates. Dennis Kucinich, who carried many of the south-side precincts in Minneapolis, has announced he would not break with the Democrats, according to one attendee, so a split right now of the Democrats is not in the offing. He will not run away from his Party. And so why not labor?
As panel-member David Riehle ably pointed out, Minnesota and the Midwest have a history of successful Labor Party – specifically “Farmer-Labor” activism - which continued from the late teens to the early 50s.
In the present period, the first issue everyone questions is the role of the labor leadership. What wasn’t noted by anyone is that Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIo, actually initiated and lead a demonstration of 10,000 workers to Wall Street itself, protesting against the bailout of the investment banking industry right outside the NY Stock Exchange. The bailout of GM and Chrysler from declaring bankruptcy, ‘cash for clunkers’ program and the ‘house-buyer’ tax break were a relatively small part of the stimulus, and bailouts. Much of the ‘relief’ money is going to projects and states with no relation to future growth or actual need. Most went to bailout investment banks. Trillions in free money is being made available to the banks to loan to us at 6% and back to the government at higher rates than the Fed charges. (!) The AFL-CIO made the point in a mass way. Who else has summoned that many to Wall Street? Rage Against the Machine? Trumka also initiated a mass demonstration in Chicago against the banking industry that moved right into the bank lobbies and shut them down. Of course, Trumka has also sweat bullets on TV when asked by Bill Moyers why he continues to uncritically support the Democrats.
Why labor? Questions from the floor suggested the word ‘labor’ was a bit archaic. The difference of a ‘labor’ or ‘workers’ or ‘working families’ or whatever you want to call it, party, is that it represents the most numerous class in the US. By nature, a labor party is the most ‘democratic’ party – really a word that should not be owned by the people that misuse that word, the “Democrats.” The Democratic Party is run by rich people from finance, communications, high-tech and advertising companies, who use labor as voting cattle. It cannot be said to be a “democratic” party at heart.
Why labor? Labor, by being the most numerous class in the US, is also by its very nature able to shut down the functioning of the whole society if it chose to. While investment bankers ‘toil’ away on their computer screens, it is the material world of brokerage back-offices, tech support, subways, communications, electricity and food that keep these people in business. Of course in the long run, who made their three-piece suits, their computers, their Beemers, transported their steaks, generated their electricity and heat, and mixed their martinis? Not them, that is for sure. They’d be naked without the working class.
One of the questioners asked about the role of some trade union leaders, who are only concerned with jobs for their little bargaining unit. A response from one speaker was that ‘some labor unions would make gas chambers’ if it got members jobs. This seemed to be an intentionally over-the-top comment to point out that some unions do not care what they build, or make, as long as they make it. The nature of a Labor Party is that it breaks unions and union members out of ‘small group’ thinking and gets them to look at what is good for society as a whole. And enables them to work towards doing something other than building stadiums for private enterprise, for instance, or weapons, or any other useless or anti-social product. After all, you are somewhat trapped in a job, no matter what they do.
For instance, converting the old Ford plant to making wind turbines and equipment would be a socially and environmentally progressive thing to do, but Ford is not interested in doing it. However, the local UAW thinks it is a good idea. I might add, perhaps better than continuing to build F-150s. The UAW in Fremont California is working with Tesla to manufacture an all-electric car in the old Saturn plant closed by GM. This too shows the UAW is not as asleep as GM is.
As panel-member Greg Gibbs pointed out, many Labor Party activists from the 1996 “Labor Party” became activists for Ralph Nader and the Greens in 2000 when the Labor Party failed to run candidates, or show any interest in running candidates. The Green Party still exists in town, and has made a gallant attempt to change the dynamics in Minneapolis - creating a situation where the battle is not between Democrats and Republicans in the city, but between Democrats and Greens. However, recent events are showing the Greens are running out of ‘fuel’ – organizationally, ideologically, etc. The recent mayoral campaign that eschewed a Green Party label, and ran John Kolstad as an ‘independent’ with support from the Ron Paulites, on a ‘small business’ platform, is indicative of this. And there is a reason why – especially during a massive recession/initial depression like we have now. The Green Party does not have a proletarian orientation, to put it bluntly.
Another astute question from the floor was questioning the typical labor program of higher wages and more production, irrespective of environmental issues. This is certainly a timely question. The exact labor approach to this question is still being worked out, but the ‘green jobs’ initiative is a start. Converting the economy from a non-sustainable to a sustainable one, while helping workers not loose jobs, is probably one of the main tasks faced by labor.
Gibbs pointed out that Tony Mazzochi, who founded the Labor Party in 1996 and Labor Party Advocates in 1984, was the first chair of Earth Day. We also mustn’t forget that in Seattle in 1999 at the protests against the World Trade Organization, unions and greens formed a block. Labor may have to prioritize fundamental issues – creating a full employment economy, single-payer health care, sustainable food and sustainable jobs, job democracy - and not just getting the highest wages possible. The material fundamentals of life have to be seen as more important than simple high wages.
Anyway, just notes on the discussion at Mayday.