Labor Advocate Online
Labor Party Leaders Meet
by Bill Onasch
Some Labor Party Background
1991 a remarkable labor leader,
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.
years of receiving good responses pressure started building among LPA ranks to
move from being advocates to proclaiming a party.
LPA launched the
at a Cleveland gathering of more than 1400
delegates and observers in June, 1996.
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
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.
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.
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
from National Organizer
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.
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
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
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Party—The
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.
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
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
Free Higher Ed
The party also has commissions
free higher education,
and the crisis of
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
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
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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