Rebuilding the Labor Party

For a newspaper that published several long articles on the downsizing of America, the New York Times missed an important story a few days ago in Cleveland. For a new labor leader who pledged $35 million to help elect Democrats this fall, John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO missed a great opportunity a few days ago in Cleveland.

From June 6 to June 9, a group that has been four years in the making, called Labor Party Advocates (LPA) (tel. 202-234­5190), brought together 1400 delegates from dozens of unions and 45 states to the Cleveland Convention Center to establish a national labor party. In an atmosphere reminiscent of working class mobilizations earlier in this century, delegates from many blue-collar and service unions proposed, debated and voted on the Party’s constitution.

With huge banners and murals proclaiming what they hoped would be the resurgence of the labor movement and its working class agendas, the delegates voted to postpone fielding any candidates during the next two years. More groundwork, more roots in communities across the nation, more commitments to a fundamental set of policies to change the power in balance and decision-making around for the people, instead of for the global corporations and their political minions, are needed.

Although such a convention has not been held for many decades, the national press, including the Washington Post, Wall St. Journal and the New York Times, plus the three networks ignored this event. The Democratic Party, in the laps of big business and RepDems like the so-called Democratic Leadership Council, will ignore this event at their political hazard. These delegates are going back to their unions to build the Labor Party. They included the general counsel to the United Mine Workers and the executive Director of the California Nurses Association.

Four unions directly sponsored this mobilization — the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees and the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union. Other unions have endorsed LPA.

Granted, these are among the smaller national unions but then what pioneering initiative ever came out of the Big Guys. Once the election is over, the Big Buy Unions will start saying to the Democrats — continue to kowtow to the global corporations and you’ll see the ranks of the Labor Party swell.

For now, these unions have nowhere to go, they plough their money and energy behind a Bill Clinton who has taken them for granted while kowtowing to Big Business (Jerry Jasinowski of the National Association of Manufacturers told me over a year ago that they like Clinton because he fights for their issues, such as GATT and NAFTA, and is indifferent to labor agendas, such as strengthening the weak labor laws). When there is nowhere to go, given the Dole-like alternatives, there is no bargaining power with what’s left over. The AFL-CIO received no specific support for their agenda from the Clintonites.

John Sweeney made a mistake in not accepting the LPA’s invitation to address their convention. He was in Cleveland at the time addressing the Cleveland Club on the subject “America Needs a Raise.” He told the press that Labor should be putting-their energies behind electing Democrats. But LPA was not competing with their own candidates this fall.

Other than signaling to the Democrats that over the horizon in the coming years there will be a place for Labor to go, what could possibly have been the reason for Sweeney declining to speak to men and women who work with their hands and their brains and other delegates-at-large from other citizen groups there in support? He would have enhanced his own status and placed himself early on the side of the tides of labor history.

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