Only an independent labor party can speak for the working class
Linda Averill
volume:  
volume 37
issue 6
December 2016
imagestuff

Striking fast food workers show their fighting spirit. An independent working-class party could amplify their demands on the streets and in the halls of power. Photo: Andrew Burton / Getty Images

The steep price that U.S. workers pay for having no independent political voice is hitting home with Donald Trump’s upset victory. Many voters, squeezed between shrinking paychecks and inflation, saw this election as a referendum on the beltway insiders they associate with neoliberalism. With no working class option to choose, many white working class voters picked Trump, who brilliantly cast himself as an outsider agent of “change.”

Leading up to this disaster, union officials squandered $180 million dollars on Democrats since 2015. They did turn out millions of voters. Imagine if that money and people power had gone to labor candidates! Instead, while winning a few battles such as raising the minimum wage in four states, they lost the war because they won’t divorce a party with a long history of making and breaking promises to the working class.

This reality was in full display after the election; as protesters hit the streets chanting “not my president,” Obama and Clinton were preaching reconciliation and unity with bigot Trump.

The Democrats signaled they will orchestrate a “smooth transition” for the open season that Trump and Company has declared on labor. Many people realize that the only way out of this blind alley is to fight. But to give this potential movement arms requires a political party and voice. Not in decades has the time been so ripe, or need so urgent, for a movement to build an independent party of the working class.

Time to get radical. The formation of a labor party could revitalize the unions, bring millions of unorganized toilers into labor’s fold over night, and help unify a deeply divided country around a program that champions the survival needs of the workingclass majority.

Workers would be inspired by a party demanding tax hikes on U.S. corporations and the wealthy to fund infrastructure and full employment. Such a party could mobilize to stop police brutality in communities of color, and defend reproductive freedom for women and the rights of sexual minorities. It could lay out a plan for an economy that benefits working folks by demanding nationalization of essential industries, such as banking, energy, and healthcare — under the control of workers and community.

A bold pro-labor program could also peel away some of the disillusioned white workers who are part of Trump’s base, and provide a platform to the anti-Trump movement that is already building up steam.

A workers party could help coordinate the large and sustained effort to stop the attacks on labor, civil rights, and civil liberties that are soon to come from the courts, Congress, White House, and state legislatures.

Perhaps most importantly, it could be a springboard for educating and inspiring a whole generation of young workers about the economic and political power that is theirs to take. Imagine the impact of a party uniting labor and environmentalists in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux who are defending their land against Big Oil.

Against Trump’s efforts to divide and conquer along lines of nationality, race and gender, it is more important than ever to have a party that can unite on the basis of class. This means embracing the needs and leadership of today’s most disenfranchised — low-wage workers, communities of color, undocumented immigrants, sexual minorities, old and young, unemployed and injured. And to counter Trump’s ugly nationalism, it must promote international workingclass solidarity.

Dump Trump and the Dems. Senator Bernie Sanders illustrated the potential support for such a party with his failed bid for the presidency. Major unions backed his campaign because they were pressured to do so by their ranks. He swung 15 million voters and 22 states, but in hitching his wagon to the Democratic Party he betrayed his base.

In the weeks that followed, legions of Bernie’s backers rebelled. They let it be known they were not for the Democratic Party.

Some of his supporters sucked it up for Hillary or abstained altogether. Others jumped aboard the Green Party bandwagon. But the Greens are not a labor party, as their tepid platform on labor issues shows. Nowhere is there mention of opposition to “right-to-work” laws or defense of the right to strike. How candidates are held accountable to the Green Party platform is a mystery, as is which class it represents.

And buyer beware. When a political party, such as the Democrats, pretends it can represent all classes, it is the bosses who win. A labor party would represent the working class, though it should support small business owners and professionals too. Where it can’t compromise is in challenging the normal operation of the capitalist system that is ruinous to so many workers and their allies. This the Green Party won’t do.

Yet if a labor party is such a no-brainer, why does one not exist?

In the late 1990s, movement towards a U.S. Labor Party did gain ground. But conservative labor officials maneuvered to keep it as only a pressure tool on the Democrats. At its founding convention in 1996, hundreds of activists gathered, eager to run candidates on a radical platform that included demands such as taxing big business and creating full employment. But the top layers of organized labor prevailed. They set an impossibly high bar for running candidates. With no genuine plan to contend for political power, this party eventually withered on the vine, and labor’s top leaders continued their suicidal policy of tying unions to the Democratic Party.

No time to lose. This story is instructive. Any labor party movement that gets off the ground will come from the bottom up — from the union rank and file, unorganized workers, and communities who stand to gain from its formation. To survive and thrive, full democracy will be key, with an agenda set by a diverse membership, not high-paid labor officials. In turn, its program must reflect the needs of the entire working class, especially the lowest paid.

To effectively fight in the coming period, labor must remove the Democratic Party straightjacket that is killing it. In the 1930s, labor made a giant leap forward when it began organizing along industrial lines. Militants and radicals then pushed for, and almost achieved, a labor party. Today, as the ruling elite sharpens their knives, nothing less than organizing a mass workingclass party is needed to insure labor’s survival. Let the struggle begin!

Send feedback to Linda Averill at avlinda587@gmail.com.

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