Posted on the Labor Standard Web Site

‘We Are Unabashedly a Class Formation’
“Workers Must Be Compensated Fully If Jobs Are Lost for Environmental Reasons — We Call This ‘A Just Transition’”

Text of Tony Mazzocchi’s Speech at Green Party Convention

Our thanks to Rita Shaw of the Seattle Chapter of the Labor Party for providing a videotape of the remarks by Tony Mazzocchi, the Labor Party national organizer, at the Green Party convention, June 23–25, in Denver, Colorado, as broadcast by C-Span. Thanks also to Lee Denoyer of the Tucson LP Chapter, for transcribing the videotape.

The Nation magazine reports in its issue for July 24/31, 2000, that at its convention the Association of State Green Parties, besides nominating Ralph Nader for president and Winona LaDuke for vice president of the United States, ratified “a platform of political reform, economic justice, universal healthcare and environmental sustainability.” Reportedly the Greens adopted the Just Health Care campaign as advocated by the Labor Party, along with virtually the entire program that the Labor Party had adopted at its founding convention in 1996 and revised at its First Constitutional Convention in 1998.

Many reports indicate sympathy among trade unionists for the Nader/Green campaign, but few actual unions are involved, and the Greens, while moving in a pro-labor direction, do not constitute a labor party based on the unions, the kind of formation required for fundamental change of this society.


I’m honored to share this space with you today. And after that spirited introduction I think maybe I should just applaud and leave. (Laughter.)

The Labor Party really appreciates the invitation to be at this convention. And appreciates the graciousness of the Greens’ inviting us — in view of the fact that the Labor Party does not endorse candidates other than its own. That was a policy that was developed by 1,600 voting delegates at our convention in November 1998.

We are unabashedly a class formation! We have no bashfulness about our position. Our concerns are strictly the concerns of working people. And when we say working people we use that term generically: those who work, the average Joe or Jane that works, and those who would like to work but are denied that right.

We represent — in the organized sector of the labor movement — probably a little over two million people. Two million trade unionists whose unions have endorsed the Labor Party.

Now, it's a fairly complex situation because although we've agreed not to endorse, as a Labor Party, any candidate, the unions that make up the Labor Party have endorsed various candidates. In fact, the California Nurses Association, one of the founders of the Labor Party, of course has endorsed Ralph Nader. (Applause.) And other unions in the Labor Party have endorsed other candidates.

What we share is a commitment to justice and a desire to remove want from our nation and bring justice to all those who reside within its borders. And that's what I want to discuss with you today. I think that Jim Hightower and others have talked about the problems, and there are many, and we certainly share in those concerns.

The “Free Trade” Con Job

Just a moment on some of our anger as organized and unorganized workers about what’s happened to us. I'm from Brooklyn, New York, and we're used to con jobs. I mean we've tried to sell the bridge to everybody we've had an opportunity to talk to, and I'm convinced I should have kept up at that trade because obviously there are a lot of people out in our nation willing to buy the Brooklyn Bridge, because bipartisan politics has created the biggest con job of all.

During the early years of the Clinton administration we were told that NAFTA would create two hundred thousand jobs in this nation. Well, let’s talk about the facts and about that con job. The Economic Policy Institute, a labor-backed economic think tank, has demonstrated very decisively that 394,000 jobs have been lost since NAFTA was passed. General Electric, in their testimony before Congress attempting to enact NAFTA, claimed that NAFTA would create 10,000 jobs at GE and its suppliers alone. And they have certified that they’ve lost 3,800 jobs due to NAFTA.

Now what about Mexican workers? What's happened to them since NAFTA? Well, NAFTA reinforced Mexican government policies that reduced real wages by 25% and increased to 38% the share of the Mexican population living on less than $2.80 a day. That's 38% of the population living on less than $2.80 a day. And that's the population that's expected to buy all the products that we're going to manufacture and ship south under NAFTA. That's a con job.

Under the recent trade treaty with China we've heard all sorts of promises on what would occur. The Economic Policy Institute again cites the fact that it is projecting the loss of 894,000 jobs. It was correct on NAFTA, and I have no reason to believe that it won't be correct on this particular trade treaty.

The day after that treaty was passed, the Wall Street Journal stated that it's not a trade treaty; it's an investment treaty. They were up front and truthful in telling us exactly what that treaty was all about. They're going to use cheap labor — labor without rights in many instances — to produce the products that they will then export (from China) rather than the nonsense that we’re going to produce all these products here and ship them throughout the world.

Now the labor movement — and the Labor Party — are firmly for fair trade. We believe in international labor solidarity. We truly want to lift everyone, not be reduced to the least common denominator. A free labor movement, a free organized labor  movement, will help lift everyone's condition. But these treaties — and the bipartisan relationship that the corporations have established with both political parties — are corporate America's message that corporate interests come before people's interests.

Free Public Education for All

Well, let's talk very specifically about some parts of the program that we share. For instance, on education our program is rather simple. We have analyzed the cost of public education for graduates and undergraduates in public institutions. And it turns out that the total cost of tuition in all public institutions for undergraduate and graduate work comes out to $23 billion a year. A pittance. So we're for free public education, both graduate and undergraduate. (Applause.) And not only that. Our proposal is not only free education, but we should be paying for folks to go to school. (Applause.)

Now for those who may think this is a far-out proposition — I see a few of you here in this audience who are as old as I am, and I'm out of the generation that grew up in the Depression and fought in World War II. When we came home we got precisely that. Free education, whether it was Harvard or any other institution, and we were paid to go to school and our families were supported and we had child care. It was called the GI Bill of Rights. (Applause.)

So this is no far-fetched idea. Our job is to reintroduce notions that have worked, to lift the veil of historical amnesia from Americans and say, “We've been there, we've done it, we can do it again.”

We had meager resources in those days. The national debt was 135% of the GNP, the deficit was four times what it was when it was bad just recently, and we created the most progressive piece of legislation that created the intellectual capital that helped the postwar boom in this nation. And we can do it again, because we did it before. That's part of our platform, and we hope you share in that educational conceptualization. (Applause.)

For Workers Rights

The brother who introduced me talked about workers rights. We certainly share that notion. We are for bringing the First Amendment into the work place. (Applause.) Most people don't realize that the right to assemble and the right to free speech doesn't exist when you cross the portal of any work place. We want the right to organize, we want the right to be able to address our fellow workers, and we want the right to be able to organize workers in a simple fashion and see that their democratic rights are expressed without fear. NAFTA and other trade treaties and GATT have chilled the American work place. Workers are afraid to organize in many instances. They are afraid to establish the rights that we've won in the legislature, like OSHA and other rights, because the unspoken threat is: “If you complain and if you organize, we'll move.”

You have this situation (which barely got a paragraph in the New York Times the other day) where three people who were entrusted to protect the health of all Americans — meat inspectors — were murdered by a boss because they were carrying out the law. How many of you read about that? (Several hands go up.)

You know, if someone went out on the street in Denver and shot three people today, it would be blazing headlines. Where is the indignation about the assault on those who were there to protect us by virtue of law? That’s law and order. But the media chose to diminish this notion. It’s all part of the chilling effect.

The Just Health Care Campaign

Let’s talk about something that the Green Party can help make a reality soon. Let’s talk about health care. (Applause.) Everyone’s for it. I’ve never found anyone against universal health care, some in this century, some possibly in forthcoming centuries, and those who wish to get there by taking a few feeble steps one at a time. The Labor Party, after much deliberation, says and is able to document word for word that we can enact a single-payer national health insurance plan covering every single resident of this nation from birth to death — covering medical care, hospitals, nursing homes, prescription drugs, eye care — whatever medical care is needed can be provided. So when people ask “What are we for?” That’s what we’re for. Medical care for every resident of the nation. (Applause.)

The next question that comes up is, “That’s great, but how are you going to pay for it?” Well, friends, we have a briefing paper here and we itemize how it can be paid for. We want to discuss that with you candidly, and we hope you’re on the barricades over the next months with the facts that address this specific problem. The answer is here. Let me just briefly talk about it. You know, the enemies of national health care say, “Well, you know, it’s going to cost all sorts of money, and the government is going to interfere with choice.” But we’re very plain. Private delivery of care funded through a single-payer insurer, the federal government, just like Social Security. (Applause.)

Now you’ve heard time and time again of the 43 million uninsured and growing every day, while the insured are paying more and more. And you just saw the recent Norton Report that over one-third of all bankruptcies are due to medical reasons. Many Americans are only one medical step away from bankruptcy. Those are the hard facts. I just read a study from Berkeley of all places, that 7% of the homeless are homeless because of uncompensated worker compensation injuries. So you have a vast population out there who are destitute and dying early. You saw the World Health Organization report on the quality of medical care in the U.S. The U.S. is now 35th in the quality of health care.

How do we pay for it? Well, the employers in this country — we’re going to relieve them. I’m as anti-corporate as anyone, but we’re going to provide them with a great benefit. We propose that the employers be charged a tax of 3.3% of payroll to go into a fund. Only 3.3%. Most employers are paying substantially more than that. In many instances over 10%. And we’re saying the tax will be 3.3% for every employer, so any small business person cannot hang their hat on the excuse that this is unaffordable. The 3.3% is also tax deductible like existing premiums paid by employers today. So we’ve addressed that problem. (Applause.)

Then we’re asking that we recapture the difference between 3.3% and whatever employers are paying now, and for the next three to four years that difference goes into a fund that compensates and educates those who’ll be replaced as a result of the administrative savings we will realize as a result of single payer. That’s 1,250,000 people, and we cannot ignore the fact that our single-payer proposal will replace that many people, because that’s the huge savings that we need in order to institute this plan. And there’s a transition. We intend that they should be paid a full salary and paid college tuition: we call that a “just transition.” (Applause.)

A Just Transition for Workers Whose Jobs Are Lost for Environmental Reasons

It’s the same program that we talked about in regard to a transition for workers who are replaced for environmental reasons. And sisters and brothers — and you are our sisters and brothers (applause) — we are aware of the many tensions between the environmental movement and the labor movement. And they are real, and we cannot ignore them; we have to address them. In order to advance our common interests, we have to recognize that working people aren’t going to commit economic suicide in order to advance the enhancement of the environment. It’s not the type of choice one should be given.

We need to hammer out — we think we’ve got the formula to hammer out  — a transition where people are not sacrificed, where people will be able to be compensated fully in any transition period if their jobs are lost for environmental reasons. (Applause.) We can’t just give lip service. If there’s to be a real alliance around our shared concerns, the cornerstone has to be a just transition, a transformation, moving from the type of society that does harm to a great many people to a society that does harm to no one and a society that’s free of want. But it cannot be rhetorical, it’s got to be practical, it’s got to be tangible and understandable and coherent, and we’ve got to hammer out that program together. (Applause.)

I’m aware of the time constraints and that there are many other speakers to come, but I just want to say I’m very delighted to be here for another reason. My union was headquartered in Denver for almost 50 years, up until a year ago, when we merged with the Paper Workers union. (We’re now in Nashville.) There’s a lot of sentiment that we hold for this area of the country. We played, I think, a major role in the life of working people in this area.

But also I want to mention that my union’s association with Ralph Nader goes back to 1966. That’s when I first met Ralph in Washington, D.C., and began to work with him on any number of concerns. Ralph Nader was one of the keynote speakers at our union’s convention in New York City in 1967, and after Ralph spoke a resolution was submitted that committed our union to raise the notion that every worker in this nation should be protected by a federal law, an occupational health and safety law, and we mandated every official, myself included, to organize and agitate and educate and to align with a then emerging environmental movement to bring into the consciousness of the American people an awareness about the mayhem that was happening in the working places of America. And Ralph, of course, played a fundamental and critical role in that effort, so I pay tribute to Ralph and I pay tribute on behalf of my union for those many, many years of working together on numerous causes. (Applause.)

Create Our Destiny

In closing I would just like to repeat something that Jim Hightower talked about last night. He quoted William Jennings Bryan, who said, “We have to create our destiny.” And that’s what we’re about here today and in other meeting places around the country. The answer is, “Yes, we have to create our destiny.” And our destiny is to transform this nation. And transform it so it’s free of injustice, and it’s free of want. That new tomorrow is a vision we all share, and this is the first step, and we’re prepared to take the many steps along the way to fight at every barricade to bring that about. Thank you. (Applause.)