Why a Mass Party of Labor?

The Appalachian Left supports the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor PDF Print E-mail

The vast majority of people living in the U.S. are part of the working class: we depend on wages and benefits linked to our jobs to support ourselves and our families. And yet, our needs are consistently overlooked by those in political power. The reason is clear: the richest one percent of the USA owns more than the bottom 95% of the population, and they want to keep it that way. These rich individuals and corporations use their wealth and influence to ensure that the government passes and enforces laws that defend their interests, not the interests of the majority.

Sick and tired of Bush and the Republicans, millions of Americans poured onto the streets during the 2008 election with a burning desire for change. They sincerely hoped that Obama’s policies would be fundamentally different. But the results are in: more of the same. Obama has said “no” to EFCA; “no” to universal health care; “no” to clean air protections; “no” the repeal of Taft-Hartley. But he has said “yes” to free trade agreements;  “yes” to expanding the Afghanistan war into Pakistan; and “yes” to authorizing the use of armed Coast Guard ships against the Longview, WA longshoremen in their struggle against scab labor. Now we are being told yet again to vote for this “lesser evil.” This is not a real choice. Workers are the majority and we deserve better!

Both the Democrats and the Republicans are controlled by the 1% minority that lives off the wealth it gets by exploiting the rest of us. It should therefore come as no surprise that despite this or that difference on this or that issue, they promote and implement policies that benefit the interests of their largest financial contributors. Without a mass political party of our own to defend our interests, the workers are forced to fight against the attacks, cuts, and austerity of big business and their parties with one hand tied behind our backs.

The labor movement has tremendous power, numbers, and resources. Instead of supporting corporate politicians and parties, we should use these resources to build our own party, a party that truly represents and is accountable to the workers. For these reasons, the Workers International League has decided to launch a Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor (CMPL). The Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor seeks to:

1. Explain the need for the labor movement to break with the Democrats and Republicans, run independent labor candidates, and build a mass labor party based on the unions.

2. Connect this idea with the struggles of workers and youth.

3. Show how a mass labor party could change society for the benefit of the working class, which makes up the
vast majority of the population.

We invite all those who agree with us to join and help build the CMPL.

Read on to learn more about why we think now is the right time to launch such a campaign.

The status quo is unacceptable

Since the mid 1970s, the income gap between rich and poor Americans has steadily grown. Real average hourly earnings have not risen since the early 1960s, yet everything else is much more expensive. Workers have been forced into working longer and harder for less pay while millions who would like to work are forced into unemployment. These large numbers of unemployed are then used to keep wages down. It is estimated that the economy would have to create 10.6 million jobs just to get back to pre-recession levels of unemployment, let alone create jobs for all.

Sending the kids to college has become nearly impossible for most families without taking out massive loans. Millions of workers have no retirement pension or health benefits and must pay for their health care out of pocket. The American Dream of owning a home has turned into a nightmare as millions of families have literally been thrown out on the street. At the workplace, whatever the boss says, goes. If we speak or act against the company’s interests (like mentioning the words “union” or “pay raise”), we can lose our jobs.

No wonder people want change. But big business and their politicians can only offer tougher times ahead, especially for young workers just entering the workforce.

A mass labor party would mean change for the better

We do not have to accept that the future is bleak and that we must work longer and harder for less. We do not have to accept a society where the majority produces such tremendous wealth in order to make profits for a few individuals, while receiving so little of the fruits of our labor. The fantastic technology that exists, if harnessed to meet people’s needs, could very quickly make life much easier and better for everyone. In a country as rich as the U.S., there is no rational reason why we have to endure homelessness, unemployment, and a lack of access to quality education, health care, retirement benefits, housing, and infrastructure.

If the labor movement set up its own political party, it could mobilize people to elect representatives who would truly be accountable to those who elected them. We would propose that all elected officials of a mass labor party accept the wages of an average skilled worker and donate the rest of their salary to the movement. If our representatives want a better quality of life for themselves, they should fight for a better quality of life for all.

The political program of such a party would have to be determined democratically by the membership, but we think the following six points would be a good start toward improving our quality of life:

1. Quality jobs for all and a minimum wage high enough that it would allow a person to live decently and support their dependents.

2. Health care as a right: free universal health care for all.

3. Stop bailing out Wall Street and instead invest massively in public education, day care, social services, and in new and improved roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

4. Pass the Employee Free Choice Act and repeal all anti-union laws including Taft-Hartley and laws restricting the right of public employees to strike.

5. Internationalism. US workers have more in common with Canadian, Mexican and other workers than with the American rich. Reach across borders to work with our brothers and sisters around the world. Cut the bloated military budget and end US intervention in other countries, which only serves the interest of big business.

6. Fight against all forms of discrimination. A united working class can not be defeated: an injury to one is an injury to all!

Labor begins to move in the direction of breaking with the Democrats

In the 1990s, the Labor Party was set up, but unfortunately, it did not develop into a mass party. This was because most of the unions did not join it and instead continued to support the Democrats. They also lost opportunities for growth because they decided not to run candidates. This party has not been very active nationally in the last few years. However, in South Carolina, the SC Labor Party has been re-launched with the support of the state AFL-CIO, and is running a candidate for the state House of Representatives. In North Carolina, SEIU has invested $1 million and committed dozens of activists to found the North Carolina Families First Party. In Pittsburgh, the United Steel Workers considered running an independent labor candidate against the Democratic incumbent. We wholeheartedly welcome these developments and urge workers and young people who live in these areas to get involved in these efforts.

We believe this is only the beginning of what will eventually become a mass collapse of union support for the Democrats, and toward the formation of a mass labor party on a national scale. In the absence of such a party, the CMPL will support independent labor candidates when and where they run. We may also consider supporting candidates from other parties that are truly independent of the Democrats and Republicans, if they are putting forward a pro-worker program and the need for a mass party of labor.

We need to bring the idea of such a party into our unions, to picket lines, and anywhere workers and young people are in struggle. We need to bring this idea to union organizing campaigns and demonstrations against cuts and layoffs. We need to raise these ideas in every union local and central labor council in the country. We need to bring this campaign to the campuses, where workers of the future are facing increased tuition and fees, cuts, indebtedness, and unemployment.

The role of the unions

The labor movement is a powerful force. If the 12 or so percent of the labor force that is unionized went on a one-day national general strike, industrial production would drop dramatically; major ports would be shut down; much construction would stop; the presses at many newspapers would be stopped; tons of crops would not be harvested; most schools, including some higher education would close; airlines, railroads and mass transportation would be almost totally shut down; there would be no mail or UPS deliveries; a lot of sanitation would not be collected; and many other city, state, and national government services would not be available. Add to this the millions of unorganized workers, as well as the millions of undocumented workers, and you can just imagine the effects of a total work stoppage. This is a graphic reminder of just how much power organized labor has: it is the working class that makes this country run.

If the labor movement followed the example of workers in the 1930s in the aftermath of the Great Crash of 1929, using mass picketing and unionization drives, workplace occupations, and other similar tactics, we could organize even more workers into unions. These union members and their families, friends and neighbors, not to mention the millions of retired union members, could become a powerful movement that would encompass the vast majority of the population. A party based on this can transform the country.

The CMPL does not believe that with its small forces, it alone can build a mass labor party. This will require the participation and strength of organized labor. Only the unions have the numbers and resources to effectively challenge the domination of the bosses’ parties. If in North Carolina the labor movement has been able to begin the founding of an entirely new political party by investing just $1 million and a few dozen activists, imagine what could be done nationally with the $450 million organized labor gave the Democrats in 2008, only to get nothing in return. It’s time to stop throwing good money after bad.

The current policy of the labor leadership

Unfortunately, the policy of the labor leadership is the main road block toward building a truly mass labor party. At present, most of the union leaders give money and support to the so-called “friends of labor” Democrats and sometimes even to Republicans. The result has been dismal. After sending tens of thousands of volunteers in the field and donating hundreds of millions in the last election, the Democrats won control of the Presidency, Congress and many states. And yet, they did not even pass the Employee Free Choice Act, let alone create the millions of jobs we need or even raise the minimum wage to a decent level. The health care bill will still leave over 20 million without care and it puts the burden of insurance on the individual, while giving massive handouts to the already rich insurance companies. There is even a provision that will eventually increase health care costs for union members who have comprehensive coverage, the so-called “Cadillac tax.”

For far too long, working Americans have been offered only “evil” at the voting booth: “greater” and “lesser”. The approach of supporting the “lesser evil” has been proven a failure in practice time and time again. Experience shows that if you limit yourself to these two choices, you will inevitably end up with the “greater” evil every few years. It’s time for a new approach and a new strategy, one that relies only on the power and resources of organized labor, and not on politicians beholden to the corporate interests that really control this country. Eventually, the labor leaders will have to change their policy or new leadership suited to the needs of the workers will take their place.

Build the CMPL

There are many smaller “third” parties out there, but none of them have proven capable of truly challenging the power of the Democrats and Republicans. And besides, we don’t want to build a “third” party — we want to build a “first” party! Let the Democrats and Republicans fight for second place or complete their fusion into a single party with two right wings.

The CMPL wants to organize among union members, their families, and those who are not currently union members, but understand the key role the unions need to play in changing the status quo. You can help us by joining the CMPL, participating in or building new chapters of the campaign, and bringing these ideas to labor and other struggles. In the face of the vicious cuts and attacks that are already beginning, we are confident that interest in the CMPL and the idea that we need a mass party of labor will grow in the years ahead. Already, some unions are moving in this direction. Others are sure to follow.

We believe that given the crisis of capitalism both in the USA and on a world scale, the big business parties have no choice but to continue the attacks and try to further drive down our standard of living. The effects of the economic crisis are not going away anytime soon. Things are not going to go back to the “good old days” of the 1950s and 1960s. This is the “new normality.” This is what life will be like for the majority from here on out. Therefore, working people have nowhere else to go. Labor must eventually build its own party, and the sooner this is done the better. Joining the CMPL now will help to bring this idea forward.

Frustration with the two major parties is growing. Let’s not wait until yet another election year passes us by to raise these ideas. Let’s work together to bring the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor to our work places, communities, and schools.

The Bosses Have Two Parties: We Need One of Our Own!


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