Labor Advocate Online
Kansas City's Cyber Labor Newsletter

Why I'm Going to the Labor Party Convention
by Bill Onasch

[Readers not familiar with the Labor Party can learn more by visiting these web sites: national Labor Party; Convention site; Kansas City Labor Party.]

The Labor Party's third national gathering will take place in Washington, DC July 25-28. I think it is important to go. I'm taking some unpaid time off work, and paying my own expenses, in order to attend. If you think the working class should have a party of our own you should try to be there as well. I say this even though I expect this convention will be considerably smaller than the previous two; even though the party faces many challenges.

What the Labor Party Has Accomplished So Far
If we adopt a long range view of the process of building a working class party in our country I think we have to say we have made some progress—even if not as much as we had hoped for. The Labor Party is the most impressive working class political formation in at least the last fifty years.

We are unabashed advocates of the working class. We don't help the bosses by blurring the real relationship of forces in our society with meaningless terms such as the "people" or "middle class." We champion our class whose brain and muscle is responsible for creation of all wealth.

The Labor Party has the most advanced political program of any group with direct ties to the union movement in the history of the United States.

The party has utilized respected academic and professional allies to develop the program further around such crucial issues as health care, Social Security, trade, labor law, free education, and a guaranteed right to a job.

Labor Party Press is an excellent workers newspaper.

While not yet a true mass party LP has several thousand dues paying members—far more than any other worker oriented political group in this country.

Still We Must Acknowledge Serious Problems
Despite these achievements the Labor Party is at a crucial juncture, no doubt about it.

Contrary to the expectations, or at least hopes of many, the Labor Party did not instantly become a mass membership party. Hundreds of activists who attended the Founding and First Constitutional Conventions looking for quick action have grown disheartened, are impatiently looking for other projects, and will not be in DC.

Two of the most important international unions that provided indispensable support to the launching of the party—the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers (OCAW) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE)—have merged, or are looking for merger, with other bigger unions. These unions—PACE (in the case of the OCAW) and the Boilermakers or some other, larger union (in the case of the BMWE)—have leaderships that are not inclined to continue the same level of assistance to the Labor Party. There will not be nearly so many delegates from these unions at this convention.

The lost material support from these past stalwart unions has set back the development of the party's organizational structure. There's not much money available for full-time staff to implement party decisions. Much basic work must be done by volunteers or staff on temporary "loan" from unions. Only heroic efforts by national organizer Tony Mazzocchi have kept the party not only surviving but actually continuing to recruit new union support. But if the party is to be viable a basic, stable infrastructure must be secured.

While Some ‘Leftists’ Abandon Party Others Will Scold Us
Reacting to these challenges many one time supporters of Labor Party community chapters—largely "leftists"—have started referring to the party as a "failed noble experiment." Those that were inclined to electoral activity have mainly gravitated toward the Greens. Others have immersed themselves in various issue movements—globalization, environmental, etc. As this convention rolls around their attitude is "been there, done that."

Some from the remnants of community chapters will be at the convention to explain in detail where we went wrong—mainly, in their view, failing to listen to their calls to run vigorous election campaigns.

No Quick Fix
The fact of the matter is that there are no get rich quick schemes that can transform a fledgling formation such as the Labor Party into a major party within the attention span of the average "left" activist. There is no shortcut around the need to patiently recruit, educate and train a nucleus leadership and cadre capable of rooting the party in both the unions and the community. Until we have reached critical mass in these areas it is unrealistic to talk about election campaigns, initiating mass demonstrations, or any of the other worthy ideas that have been projected by some for the party from day one.

Some teach that the only unforgivable sin is despair. Certainly we don't have the luxury of moping because our fight for justice is moving more slowly than we had hoped. All the gains of our unions and issue movements we may be working in will be temporary and tentative as long as the bosses retain monopoly control of politics.

We have made a modest but valuable start in breaking their haughty political power with our Labor Party. We need to come together in DC to work out the next tactical steps along the still sound strategic line of march laid out by previous conventions.

We can be sure that there will be a future resurgence of struggle by the U.S. working class. When big class battles begin there can be rapid and drastic changes in our society.

We can't summon these struggles just by ourselves. Events beyond our control will be what motivates the next working class upsurge in this country.

But we can't afford to just sit back and wait for those events to unfold. Nobody is going to call us up and ask us to take the lead. We have to prepare for the future now by getting our ideas out, recruiting a substantial membership base, and supporting and participating in more modest actions today. That's how we will earn the right to contest for political leadership of our class.

If our project fails the future will indeed be bleak If we don't get it together watch out for the Buchanans, the David Dukes, the le Pens—and worse—who will take advantage of worker discontent.

To those of you who were involved in the Labor Party earlier but have dropped away I urge you to return. If you are just now hearing about the Labor Party project I encourage to check us out.