by Bill Onasch
I Did My Duty
It was midmorning when we entered the magnificent Episcopal structure hosting our precinct’s voting. There was no waiting. Ignoring the side of the ballot with candidates, it took me less than a minute to check the No boxes on all propositions. After being rewarded with American flag stickers proclaiming I Voted, Mary and I decided since we had already driven half way to Brookside we might as well do lunch followed by grocery shopping.
I hope you won’t think my attitude toward voting is cavalier. I appreciate the right to vote was won through bloody struggle and the fight to defend it–which I fully support–is far from over. I do, however, plead guilty to contempt for the political Establishment that masks the rule of a tiny minority with the deceptive appearance of democratic choice.
My first response to the results of the midterms, posted on my companion Labor Advocate blog, was more of a vent than analysis. Essential needed statistics won’t be available for a while. Being an agitator rather than patient scholar, I took a shortcut around best practice by skipping empirical data to go straight to my logical conclusion–American workers more than ever need a party of our own to contest the twin ruling class parties for political power.
It is gratifying to see others I respect, such as Jerry Gordon of the Labor Fightback Network, and working class blogger Shamus Cooke, expressing a similar basic assessment. And I want to tip my hat to those who bravely battled our class enemy in the electoral trenches–South Carolina Labor Party congressional candidate Harold Geddings, a Sheetmetal Workers activist, who finished third with 4,137 votes in the second CD; and climate scientist Jessica Spear who on the Socialist Alternative ticket garnered 3,826 votes (16.4 percent) in a state legislature race in Seattle.
The Labor Party project founded in 1996–now in a sort of medically induced coma on the national level because of lack of material support from unions–rejected being exclusively, or even primarily a vote getting machine active only in election seasons like the boss parties. The Introduction to Its Electoral Strategy statement was clear:
“The Labor Party is unlike any other party in the United States. We stand independent of the corporations and their political representatives in the Democratic and Republican parties. Our overall strategy is for the majority of American people — working class people — to take political power. Within this framework of class independence, with the ultimate goal of achieving power, we accept the electoral tactic of running candidates. The Labor Party will run candidates for public office in order to elect representatives to positions where they can help enact and enforce laws and policies to benefit the working class. We will run at governmental levels where we can best advance the goals and priorities of the Labor Party. Unlike other political parties, public officials elected by the Labor Party will be accountable to the party membership and required to follow the positions outlined in the party platform. Although we accept electoral politics as an important tactic, we do not see it as the only tool needed to achieve working class power.
“Unlike other political parties, the Labor Party will be active before, during and between elections, building solidarity in our communities, workplaces and unions. Labor Party candidates will be run only where our basic organizational criteria are met. The Labor Party will build into its electoral campaigns, and the periods between them, procedures to ensure political education and mobilization of the working class, further development of the party structure and growth in membership, and strengthened relationships to community and labor allies.”
I think this perspective was correct when adopted and remains valid today. But it couldn’t and can’t be implemented as our unions give hundreds of millions of dollars to the Democrats in every election cycle while starving the once promising Labor Party initiative. A mass labor based party awaits a return of militant, class aware unionism.
There are some state and local Labor Party bodies still functioning–South Carolina being the most visible. Some, such as our small group in Kansas City, have retooled as Labor Party Advocates, adopting the name and tasks of the forerunner group that laid the groundwork for the impressive Labor Party founding convention. We raise the labor party question at appropriate times in our unions and wherever we show solidarity at picket lines and demonstrations. We sponsor occasional public meetings about timely issues.
In the electoral arena, the best we can do at the present is run local Labor Party, or Independent Labor candidates here and there with limited expectations. We can use them as an opportunity to get ideas out to a wider than normal audience, to try to sign up volunteers for the duration to defend ourselves in the class war being waged against us.
If we prevail in our day-to-day efforts in the workplace, campuses, and the working class communities, building a labor party in the process, we can one day win decisive victories in elections as well. A brilliant Russian military strategist once advised Train Hard–Fight Easy. I don’t expect the fight to ever be easy–even when we win elections fair and square–but his emphasis on preparation was spot on. That’s the stage we’re at today. There’s no acceptable shortcut around that best practice. But since we are the big majority, and do all the work, once we get our act together there will be no stopping us.
Better Not Yet Trending
A headline over a perceptive story in the Kansas City Star “Unemployment rate hits a six-year low, but no wage growth” confirms trends we discussed in the October 27 WIR–flat wages overall and hiring strongest in jobs either low wage, part-time, or both–relentlessly continue.
But the BLS October Employment Situation report upon which the article is based does not capture the true depth of ongoing bad times. Last month, a New York Times story reported,
“Walmart Stores, the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s largest private employer, said on Tuesday that it would terminate health insurance coverage for about 30,000 part-time workers, joining a string of retailers that have rolled back benefits in response to the Affordable Care Act. Starting on Jan. 1, Walmart will no longer offer insurance to employees working less than an average of 30 hours a week…. From Jan. 1, 2015, [the Affordable Care Act] will require companies with 50 or more employees to offer health insurance coverage to employees working at least 30 hours a week, or pay a penalty. Employees working less than that can apply for subsidies in new government-run insurance exchanges that opened last year.”
Other big retailers such as Home Depot, Target and Trader Joe’s are also shifting the cost of employee health insurance to the tax-payers–if the workers are lucky. An “oversight” in what the Republicans like to call ObamaCare provides subsidies only to those signing up through state run exchanges. Most states, in the spirit of obstruction, refused to set up exchanges and the Supreme Court has agreed to review whether the subsidies granted through the Federal exchange are legal. The same Obama hating regimes that resisted the exchanges have also rejected funds appropriated to expand state-run Medicaid programs–at no cost to the states.
Of course, the whole health care system is a mess but come the first of the year millions of workers may have to cough up money they don’t have or go without any kind of health coverage they thought was now guaranteed.
One of the apparent counter trends in recent voting patterns is the readiness to give some relief to the working poor by raising state or local minimum wages. San Francisco approved a 15 dollar minimum and several other areas more modest hikes in the 8-12 dollar range. These efforts follow the first big breakthrough by 15 Now in SeaTac/Seattle. Along with the organizing strikes of the Fast Food workers for Fifteen and a Union, these minimum wage initiatives seem to offer the most likely short-term success for those struggling to make ends meet.
Postal Actions Friday
According to the American Postal Workers Union website, “Plans are taking shape for a National Day of Action on Nov. 14, when members of the four postal unions and supporters will send a powerful message to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the USPS Board of Governor’s: Stop Delaying America’s Mail. The four unions are working together at the national level to produce flyers, posters, T-shirts and press releases, and they are encouraging their members to work together to organize local events. A special web page, www.StopMailDelays.org, has been created to share information and resources. Flyers are now available for union locals and branches to distribute to their members. Information about local activities can be printed on the back. Additional material will be made available as it is produced, including a list of local activities showing the times, locations and contact information.”
In Kansas City there will be a support rally at the Main Post Office, 1700 Cleveland, at 11AM.
* The Portland [Maine] Press Herald reports, “Hundreds of chanting FairPoint Communications workers rallied in Portland’s Monument Square on Saturday afternoon as their strike entered its 23rd day. Dressed in red and black, the 400 or so workers and their union representatives vowed to continue to fight for a fair contract. ‘We are not just striking for good jobs at FairPoint but good jobs in the Northeast,’ said Peter McLaughlin, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 in Augusta and one of the union’s chief negotiators. Some of the attendees traveled from as far away as New Jersey and New York to support union members from the IBEW and the Communications Workers of America, the unions representing the striking workers.”
* Bloomberg complains, “U.S. retailers appealed to President Barack Obama to intervene in contract negotiations between West Coast dockworkers and maritime companies after a work slowdown spread to the nation’s largest container hub ahead of the holiday shopping season.”
* More than 100,000 Belgian workers marched in Brussels Thursday protesting government austerity plans that include raising retirement age. Considering Belgium’s population is only a little over eleven million that would be equivalent to a demonstration of three million in the USA.
* A strike by 18,000 RNs in the California Nurses Association at Kaiser seems likely to begin Tuesday.
After a few glitches we are resuming our invitations to join our new Google Group that will gradually replace our old list at Yahoo. Our listing will be week-in-review[at]googlegroups.com. If you have any problems with switching contact me at: billonasch[at]yahoo.com
That’s all for this week.
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