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Labor Party Prepares To Enter Electoral Arena
Party Seeks Breakthrough In Heart Of the South

by Bill Onasch

[A version of this article will appear in the print edition of Socialist Action and online edition of Labor Standard]

The Labor Party will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its Founding Convention in June. It is just now preparing to engage in electoral politics for the first time. This time line will seem strange to most American workers who have been raised to believe politics consists solely of getting elected to office and staying there as long as possible.

Most will also view the venue for the party’s maiden voyage into electoral waters odd as well–South Carolina. Not many would have put this "right-to-work" state, with a union density of only three percent, on a short list for a union-based party’s initial effort at the polls.

There are both good reasons and disappointing explanations for the Labor Party’s seemingly sluggish approach to contesting elections. There are nothing but good reasons for choosing the state with "smiling faces, beautiful places," as the stepping off point for the march of the working class to take political power in the USA. [Background to put the Labor Party South Carolina campaign in perspective can be found in an accompanying article.]

The bosses and their politicians have certainly given the working people of South Carolina some solid reasons for turning to a party of their own. The state has the country’s fourth highest unemployment rate. 76,000 decent paying jobs in manufacturing and textiles have been lost for good over the past five years–20,000 in 2005. Wages are about twenty percent lower than the national average.

The LP-South Carolina Connection
The South Carolina union movement may be small but it has a long, proud history of determined struggle. The predominantly Black Longshore local in Charleston traces its successes back to Reconstruction days. The Labor Party has close ties to this local going back to the big struggle known as the Charleston Five.

Ken Riley, 2001
Ken Riley, Charleston Longshore leader

A few years ago, the South Carolina AFL-CIO became the second state labor body to endorse the Labor Party (the New Jersey Industrial Union Council was first) and fed president Donna DeWitt serves as a national LP co-chair. Labor Party affiliates, such as the United Steelworkers and United Mine Workers, have a prominent local presence in the state. And the Labor Party’s Free Higher Ed campaign has received a good response there as well.

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South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna DeWitt

All this adds up to South Carolina being fertile ground for implanting the Labor Party as the opposition party in the state.

Petition Drive
The next step is a petition drive to get the Labor Party recognized as an official party, with ballot access. This requires 10,000 signatures of registered voters. To be able to run in next fall’s election this must be accomplished by January 31. That’s a big job, by no means a slam dunk, but the folks on the ground in South Carolina seem optimistic they’ll make this goal on time.

At least one prominent South Carolina trade union leader has indicated availability to run as an LP candidate once the petitioning is complete.

Campaign Finance
Of course, election campaigns cost money. Labor backed campaigns also face numerous legal obstacles. This is one area where support of the national Labor Party is crucial to the South Carolina effort.

Because the Labor Party’s general treasury includes contributions made with union dues income it can only spend on issue campaigns–not electoral activity. A special new "527" account–the Labor Party Political Fund–has been established to support election campaigns. Union PAC money can be legally donated to the new fund. (The Labor Party does not accept corporate donations.)

Expenses have already begun with the petition drive–and so has the fund raising. Two substantial donations from USW refinery workers Local 675 in Los Angeles, and the BMWE Pennsylvania Federation, have already been made and numerous pledges were elicited at the December meeting of the LP Interim National Council. Major fund raisers have been scheduled, or are in the works, in Washington, New York, New Jersey, Detroit, Chicago, Amherst, San Francisco and Los Angeles–and many more will follow in smaller cities.

What Can Be Done to Help?
Just about anyone can find some way to help out.

If you’re not yet a Labor Party member you can sign up  on the party’s web site, where you will also find much other useful information. Annual dues are twenty dollars–ten bucks for unemployed and low income. You don’t have to be a union member; you need only be in agreement with the party’s perspective.

You can contribute money to either the Labor Party general treasury or the Labor Party Political Fund.

You can hold a house meeting for coworkers and friends to talk about the campaign and ways to support it.

At the close of a dismal year for the American labor movement it helps to see a glimmer of of hope and opportunity in South Carolina. A breakthrough there will be an opening for us all.

Bill Onasch, a retired Kansas City bus driver, was elected at the Labor Party’s last convention to represent Midwest chapters on the LP Interim National Council. He also served on the party’s Electoral Policy Commission.

12/24/2005

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