Last June 1500 delegates from hundreds of local unions and several International Unions founded the Labor Party at a giant convention hall in Cleveland, Ohio. Elaborate thought and planning over five years went into this new workers political movement. So much so that the Party has no intention, for the time being, to field any candidates for political office.
History has been their teacher. The major changes in American political history have come from grass roots movements that have not fielded any candidates; instead they have pressured both incumbents and challengers to adopt their position.
Tony Mazzocchi, a World War II veteran, who rose from the shop floor to high office in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, gives examples: the labor movement of the 1940s and 1950s was vigorous enough to cause even the Republican Party’s candidates for President, Thomas Dewey, to say in 1944 that for workers who cannot find work, the government should be the employer of last resort. Imagine any Republican saying that today, given the weakened state of organized labor.
Other examples, he cites are the farmers’ progressive revolt around the turn of the century, the women’s rights and civil rights movement. Once can add the consumer, environmental and disability reform drives, among others.
So what are the Labor Party’s adherents doing, if not raising money and finding candidates? They are shaping a broad political-economic-social agenda that is deeply rooted and galvanized around by a growing legion of working families and community activists.
First, there are meetings rich in discussion and debate with tables full of materials for further reading and reflection and the inevitable sign-up sheets. Union halls are gradually coming alive again throughout the country. So are other former gathering places of despair.
The first national campaign by the Labor Party is a constitutional amendment to guarantee a job at a living wage — to make real the right to earn a living.
Before you laugh, consider the major issues regarding the economic plight of the great majority of workers in this country. About 80% of workers are receiving less real wages, adjusted for inflation, than 25 years ago — around 20% less. According to the Department of Labor, one out of four workers is either unemployed, involuntarily working part time, or working full time at poverty wages.
We’ve read the headlines — mass layoffs by companies reaping huge year after year record profits, exporting of jobs to Third World countries, including high-tech and white collar jobs increasingly, gigantic foreign trade deficits, the creation of new jobs paying less and with fewer benefits, the pressure on more members of families to work outside the home to make ends meet, record consumer debt and personal bankruptcies and huge record executive boss compensation.
With the Labor Party standing for an end to corporate welfare, a tax system where the wealthy pay their fair share, an end to corporate domination of elections and a revitalized public works sector, the stage is set for significant issues being injected into political campaigns by a well organized grass roots mobilization.
Pressing for the 28th amendment to guarantee the right to a job in order to earn a living is a mechanism to raise all these and other matters. Greater awareness that the lack of jobs at livable wages, as the Labor Party puts it, costs more in many ways than assuring that an economy is at full employment.
In the Labor Party’s step-by-step planning guide, there is this remarkable assertion: “We’re not interested in big-time media coverage. A grassroots effort needs grassroots media coverage. If you wish to do media work, concentrate on union newspapers, neighborhood and other free weeklies, and radio talk shows.”
Not surprisingly, the big-time media has ignored this rising tide of focused Americans, preferring to concentrate on official -source journalism and massive doses of repeated coverage of assorted mayhem, homicide trials and celebrity outrages from sports to Hollywood.
So if you want to immerse yourself in what the Labor Party is doing near and far from you, send a self-addressed large envelope to The Labor Party, P. 0. Box 53177, Washington, DC, 20009 or call toll-free 1-888-44LABOR.