Labor Advocate Online

Labor Party Leaders Meet
by Bill Onasch

Some Labor Party Background
In 1991 a remarkable labor leader,
Tony Mazzocchi, convinced his union, the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers (OCAW), to test sentiment in the labor movement for a new working class party. They set up an organization called Labor Party Advocates (LPA) and started making the rounds of union gatherings to talk up the idea of a Labor Party.

After several years of receiving good responses pressure started building among LPA ranks to move from being advocates to proclaiming a party. LPA launched the Labor Party at a Cleveland gathering of more than 1400 delegates and observers in June, 1996.
Tony Mazzocchi

Not A Typical Party
But this was not a typical party. Most agreed that running in elections would be premature. An electoral policy commission was established to bring a proposal to the following convention. That 1998 gathering in Pittsburgh, also attended by about 1400, adopted the
electoral policy now in place. Unlike the major parties the Labor Party is presently focused on promoting working class issues and actions, not running for elected office.

Two Levels
The Labor Party functions on two levels. Its main foundation is based on affiliated unions. These include national bodies such as the Paper, Allied, Chemical & Energy Workers (PACE-now includes the former OCAW); United Mine Workers; United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers (UE); Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE); American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE); Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC); state bodies such as the South Carolina AFL-CIO; New Jersey Industrial Union Council; California Nurses Association; and hundreds of local unions and labor councils. All told these unions represent about two-million workers.

The Labor Party also has community based chapters and local organizing committees open to all who agree with the party—regardless of whether or not they belong to a union. We are painfully aware that the big majority of workers are not in unions.

As comments from National Organizer Mark Dudzic, and Secretary-Treasurer Katherine Isaac confirmed, there has been steady progress in winning and retaining affiliations and endorsements from unions. However, activity levels in the community chapters have been more sporadic. Many local activists had high expectations when the Labor Party was launched and were disappointed when the new party didn’t experience massive growth and didn’t field candidates for office. Some drifted away from the Labor Party, often becoming more involved in issue movements. Some worked on Ralph Nader’s and other Green Party campaigns. We encountered nearly all of them in the movement against the Iraq war.
Mark Dudzic

The Long Haul
Rebuilding and launching new local chapters and organizing committees is crucial for the Labor Party’s goal of becoming a mass party of the working class that can contend for political power. But we need to be realistic in our expectations both in our communities and within the labor movement. We are in for a long haul.

Right now we have to patiently figure out creative ways to take our perspective into the community. We should expect to be recruiting new members in ones and twos, not masses. Hopefully we can win back some of our "fallen away" congregation as well as reaching new workers with our ideas. As the pace of the class struggle inevitably heats up and involves more workers we need to be prepared to reach them with our analysis and program—and then we can recruit and integrate in much larger numbers.

The highest body in the Labor Party between conventions is the Interim National Council (INC). It is made up of both representatives designated by affiliated unions, and those elected on a regional basis to represent community chapters. The INC meets from time to time to assess the political situation facing the working class; to review the party’s campaigns; and to establish positions on new developments. The following is a  report on an INC meeting that took place in Washington, DC September 8.

Unprecedented Attacks Across the Board
It was appropriate that we met at the headquarters of one of the hardest pressed unions today—the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). Between the cynical antiworker thrust of "Homeland Security," which in effect smears unions as security risks, and the privatization schemes of the Bush administration, this is a union very much fighting for their life.

Of course they are in good company. Most unions are under severe attack as nearly all workers, organized or not, are facing challenges to their living standards, job security, education for their kids, and retirement plans on a scale not seen for generations.

The Labor Party was launched during a period marked by widespread public optimism about what seemed like endless growth in jobs and the stock market. Today we continue maturing in an atmosphere increasingly dominated by pessimism, frustration and anger.

You Can Count On the Bosses
There’s an old saying in the labor movement: "Unions don’t organize workers—bosses do." If workers perceive that they are being paid adequately and treated fairly by their employer they don’t see a need for a union. But not many bosses long succeed in maintaining such an image. The greed and arrogance usually associated with their class interests frequently leads to conflict with their employees. That’s where unions have a shot at success.

I think we can extend this conventional wisdom to the political arena as well. The Labor Party will not convince millions of workers of the need for a party of our own—the bosses’ parties, the Democrats and Republicans, will eventually do that for us.

The Disappearing Dream
As long as workers have believed there is a middle class American Dream ahead for them and their kids they have been content to either ignore politics or to support the Democrats masquerading as "friends of labor."

But confidence in the employers and the government keeping that dream alive is severely shaken. Good paying jobs are fast disappearing as Wal-Mart has overtaken General Motors as the biggest private sector employer. And the cloud of war darkens everyone’s outlook.

For the fledgling Labor Party to attract those becoming disillusioned by the status quo we must first of all have a convincing analysis of what’s at work and realistic proposals to make things right. That has in fact been the strong point of the party since its inception.

Program Our Strength
Call for Economic Justice adopted at the 1996 Founding Convention is a comprehensive program addressing most of the major "domestic" questions facing the American working class.

Health Care
No issue is of more concern to American workers than health care. The Democrats and Republicans have staged sham battles over inconsequential reforms. Even those talking about "universal health care" are really proposing to require everyone to get private health insurance. They favor massive injections of tax payer money into the very insurance companies who are largely responsible for the health care crisis.

The Labor Party Just Health Care campaign not only demands what’s really needed, what every other industrialized country has had for years--free, universal health care for all as a tax-supported public service. The party has also shown in detail how much that will cost and how we can afford to pay for it.

Noel Beasely, an International Vice-President of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), reported to the INC on a Midwest regional conference initiated by the Labor PartyThe 2004 Elections and the Fight For Just Health Care. This gathering in Chicago October 17-18 will bring together hundreds of union leaders and activists to discuss how to get the Just Health Care campaign into the public debate.
Noel Beasely

Worker Rights
Bill Kane of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council reported on the
Workers Rights Campaign This effort is not content simply to denounce the many unfair restrictions on our rights to organize, bargain, and take collective action. Lawyers, legal and constitutional scholars, and labor leaders came together to understand how constitutional protections can be combined with mass action in the workplace and streets to overcome antilabor laws. This has been likened to the successful approach of the civil rights movement. An ongoing discussion paper, subject to revision and amendment, continues to be debated in union gatherings. Kane talked about workshops held in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and a Day of Action For Workplace Justice being called by Jobs With Justice on December 10.

Free Higher Ed
The party also has commissions working on free higher education, and the crisis of affordable housing Adolph Reed Jr. spoke to these efforts. Double-digit tuition hikes nearly everywhere are keeping a lot of qualified working class youth out of college and trade schools. Many more are being saddled with heavy debt before they ever get a full-time job. The Labor Party favors free tuition, and help with other expenses, for all qualified students who want to pursue their education. This proposal has been endorsed by the American Association of University Professors, and numerous local faculty bodies. It is also generating much discussion among the professional association of political science faculty.

Housing Crisis
The LP education proposal is loosely based on the model of the GI Bill that guaranteed education for returning veterans after World War II. Another important aspect of veteran’s benefits was assistance in obtaining decent, affordable housing. That was an essential component entitlement of the American Dream.
Adolph Reed Jr

But today that entitlement is long gone. Homelessness is a growing problem--and it’s not just winos or drug addicts. Many working class families are losing their homes due to layoffs, and reduced income in lower wage jobs, and go through periods of homelessness. Lots of adult children, sometimes with families of their own, are moving back in with their parents. Overall, housing costs are about 27 percent of consumer spending. However, 14 million households spend more than half of their income on housing; another 17 million spend 30-50 percent. Millions more are risking their homes by refinancing with second, and even third mortgages, in attempts to keep their heads above rising debt levels.

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