I wish our U.S. readers a safe Memorial Day Weekend.
A Bivouac, Not Withdrawal
This WIR concludes a temporary three week departure from our normal format of commenting on timely events, and new issues, of concern to the working class. Instead I have attempted an in depth review of the oldest working class struggle—inextricably connected with nearly every other issue—secure employment with decent wages. I’ll return to “normal” next time.
I ended the last WIR with this pledge–“I promise to really complete this thread on Full Employment in the next WIR by showing how implementation of an updated and expanded version of the Labor Party program can lead to good jobs for all—and a whole lot more.”
‘The Bosses Have Two Parties—Workers Need One of Our Own!’
The two decades of Labor Party Advocates/Labor Party failed in one crucial task—it could not win necessary material support from unions that must be the base of a genuine labor party. This was not due to incompetence or unrealistic expectations by Labor Party leaders. Nor was it a matter of austerity by unions that collectively continue to spend hundreds of millions backing perfidious Democrat “friends.”
Key affiliated national unions that enabled the party’s promising start merged with bigger ones hostile to the Labor Party. Many local union affiliates vanished due to plant closings. Of the nine endorsing unions in Kansas City only four continue to exist.
After Bush II stole the 2000 election from Al Gore many union officials unfairly blamed Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign and sounded an alarm against “spoilers” aiding labor’s enemies. The modest dues of thousands of individual Labor Party members couldn’t come close to matching the loss of union funding.
A Legacy Waiting to Be Claimed
But while insolvency forced a lowering of its banner with honor intact five years ago, the Labor Party bequeathed a rich legacy of principles and program that are more relevant than ever today. This excerpt from the preamble for a Call for Economic Justice established its unabashed class bias and sets a combative tone,
“The Democratic and Republican parties serve the corporate interests that finance them. We oppose corporate power that undermines democratic institutions and governments. We oppose corporate politicians and parties that provide billions in corporate tax breaks and subsidies to the rich, selling themselves to the highest bidder. We reject the false choice of jobs versus environmental responsibility. We will not be held hostage by corporate polluters who poison our workplaces and our communities. We reject the redistribution of billions of dollars of wealth from poor and working people to the rich. And we reject every opportunist who plays the race, gender, or immigrant card to keep us from addressing our real needs, and the needs of our families and communities.
“Our Labor Party understands that our struggle for democracy pits us against a corporate elite that will fight hard to retain its powers and privileges. This is the struggle of our generation. The future of our children and their children hangs in the balance. It is a struggle we cannot afford to lose.”
The main body of the Program is relatively comprehensive about most of the major issues of our time. Later, specific major campaigns were developed around Just Health Care, Free Higher Education and Worker Rights. Those were aided by prominent sympathetic health professionals, economists, educators and lawyers. But for now I will stick to highlighting those parts most pertinent to full employment with decent wages.
“First and foremost everyone, both in the private and public sectors, needs a guarantee of a right to a job at a living wage — one that pays above poverty-level wages and is indexed to inflation. And in today’s world that comes to a minimum of about $10 an hour. We want this right written directly into the U.S. Constitution.”
Ten 1996 dollars works out to about 15 today—the current popular demand of a mass movement of low wage workers. Inserting these guarantees in to the Constitution would mandate Congress to pass legislation to implement them.
The Program also proposes a Job Destruction Penalty Act that would require employers closing plants to make punitive additional payments to both the displaced workers and their communities as well.
It further calls for a four-day, 32-hour work week; mandatory 20 days of annual vacation; one year of paid leave for every seven years of work.
And, even more urgently needed today, it reaffirms support for Just Transition–
“This Labor Party affirms its commitment to a clean and safe environment. We all need clean workplaces, clean air, and clean water. But we also need our jobs. We reject the false choice of jobs or the environment. We will not be held hostage by corporate polluters who poison our workplaces and our communities. We refuse this corporate blackmail. Corporations are not interested in either saving our jobs or protecting the environment. But we also know that environmental change is coming. What we produce and how we produce will change as steps are taken to protect people and the natural environment from harm. The Labor Party will support taking such steps if and only if the livelihoods of working people endangered by environmental change are fully protected. Therefore, the Labor Party calls for the creation of a new worker-oriented environmental movement — a Just Transition Movement — that puts forth a fair and just transition program to protect both jobs and the environment. All workers with jobs endangered by steps taken to protect the environment are to be made whole and to receive full income and benefits as they make the difficult transition to alternative work. The cost of this Just Transition Income Support program will be paid for by taxes on corporate polluters.”
Though climate change was not specifically mentioned in this language adopted twenty years ago it increasingly becomes the focus of Just Transition and is the centerpiece of the programs of the Labor Network for Sustainability and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. Jeremy Corbyn, head of a rejuvenated British Labor Party currently involved in an election campaign, has been a prominent supporter of TUED.
Implementation of the Labor Party proposals I have highlighted would certainly lead to full employment at decent wages. It would also enable humanity to avoid the disasters of unchecked climate change. But the Labor Party founders had no illusions about the struggle required to achieve these objectives.
A Trident Strategy
I served on the party’s Electoral Policy Commission and remain proud of our report that was approved after some contentious debate at the 1998 convention. It opened,
“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.”
This is what I have at times described as the Trident approach, combining struggles in the workplace, communities, and at the ballot box. Elections alone, while not unimportant, won’t get the job done. At best they can ratify and codify victories already won on the job or in the streets.
The Terminal Two-Party Crisis
The bosses’ two party monopoly is in terminal crisis. That was already evident in opinion polls over the last several years and was verified in shocking fashion in the 2016 presidential election. Hundreds of thousands voted for state and local offices while abstaining for president. In Michigan, where Trump was said to have a working class base, the fledgling Working Class Party, founded by veteran socialist trade unionists, with no budget for TV/radio ad buys, got nearly 225,000 votes for their one state-wide candidate. For only the third time in history, a second place candidate won the decisive electoral college contest. We now have the most reactionary administration since Woodrow Wilson and the most incompetent ever.
The opposition party has little to offer other than obstruction labeled “resistance”–though its “left wing’s” hyperbole often goes over the top. I was attracted to an In These Times headline–Amid “Constitutional Crisis,” Bernie Sanders Urges Workers To Seize Means of Production. But the only thing seized was a few minutes of my time. It was about bills that would provide piddling amounts to training and low interest loans for worker-owned cooperatives and ESOPs—micro-projects with historically high failure rates.
John L Lewis, who was fond of biblical references, once thundered “Heed the cry from Macedonia—Organize the unorganized!” That’s still a good, necessary thing to do. But even more important in today’s multiple crises is for our misdirected working class Sauls on the Democrat Road to Damascus to accept the vision of a resurrected labor party.
That’s all for this week.
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