A few years ago when I first heard that workers were holding meetings around the country to lay the basis for a Labor Party, I was skeptical. Even though one of the founding lights of this effort, Tony Mazzocchi, former vice-president of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, was known to be energetic, strategic and mindful of the careful groundwork needed, it still did not seem that organized labor would ever allow a break with the Democratic Party.
A year and a half of Clinton has changed my mind. The hope that after 12 years of Reagan and Bush, a Democratic President would start representing working people at least as much as corporate lobbies has come crashing down. Out the door has gone Clinton’s promises.
The federal minimum wage, frozen from 1981 to 1989 and now at $4.25 an hour remains the same. Clinton was expected to ask Congress, at least to adjust it for inflation, as are Congressional salaries, but he has put it off two years running and no change is in sight.
Labor law reform, long overdue, was another Clinton pledge. Forget it. He has a study commission on the subject, but any proposed legislation by the White House to give American workers the effective organizing rights that other western industrial nations have long possessed is just a pipe dream.
Also reflecting the disinterest by the White House is the bill in Congress to ban striker replacement. It is legal to strike in this country, but if workers can be replaced, what is that right to strike worth? Clinton gave it lip service, used very little muscle and saw the bill go down under Republican and some conservative Democratic Senators on a cloture vote.
In contrast, Clinton’s energies have been gung ho on NAFTA and now the proposed World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement which trade unions and their rank and file oppose. Oh, how zealous he can become when the global companies give him his marching orders.
Now he is scheming to whip the WTO through Congress under fast-track procedures that prohibit any amendments to this international layer of autocracy over our modest democratic practices and consumer, environmental and worker safety laws.
Here comes the Labor Party Advocates (LPA) to explore whether enough working people believe that a Labor Party should be formed. Polls of workers show deep disillusionment with the Democratic Party and other polls show that 50% of them believe it is time for the labor movement to organize an independent party of working people.
LPA believes the Democratic Party has been irrevocably changed. In a recruitment booklet, it writes that the Party “once was a real grassroots organization, sustained by an active membership and able to deliver votes to candidates who stuck up for its platform. Today it is little more than a fund-raising umbrella for a self-perpetuating club of politicians who feel a greater obligation to their campaign contributors, regardless of party, than they do to the voters who elected them.”
With wages (adjusted for inflation) stagnant or declining for the past twenty years, with companies using more temporary workers to avoid paying health insurance, with the shredding of benefits under threat of industrial layoffs, and with increasing job flight abroad, the LPA is persuading more workers that it is time to go independent. “We have wasted enough of our time, money, and energy working for the Democratic Party,” LPA organizers say to their fellow workers.
The LPA is quite heedful of third party history. The early Republican Party was a third party, found its issues and candidate, Abraham Lincoln, and rose to power.
Other third parties in our history have won reforms without winning power, have pushed the agenda of the two major parties and have quickened political interest among the citizenry.
Full of ideas and seasoned reality, the LPA is a rising force on the move. Not seeking publicity, it is doing its work carefully in face to face discussions with blue-collar Americans.
It is in no hurry to start a Labor Party that fields candidates, because its architects know that a broadly supported agenda of change must precede candidates so that the latter come from fundamental grassroots movements and never forget where they came from.