Monday, November 01, 2010

Where Is Labor's Voice in the 2010 Elections?

Written by CMPL
Friday, 29 October 2010 16:00

CMPL Statement on the Midterm Elections

(If you agree with the perspective outlined below, we urge you to join the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor and help us raise these ideas in our unions, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.)

The 2010 midterm elections are now less than a week away, and the media is ramping up its coverage of the candidates and the “issues.” There is plenty of coverage about the need to make “hard choices” when it comes to budget cuts and the deficit, the latest declarations of the Tea Party, or the debate over raising or lowering taxes on small businesses in order to create a handful of jobs. But little attention is paid to the real root of the problem facing American workers: an economy unable to generate the millions of jobs needed to replace those lost during the last few years and to keep up with the growing population. Nor do the media pundits state the obvious: the budget shortfalls which now require such drastic sacrifices on our part are the result of billions being spent on foreign wars, and even greater amounts handed out with few or no strings attached to bail out the banks, insurance, and mortgage giants.

And yet it is not these massive Wall Street corporations, responsible as they are for the crisis, that are being made to pay. It is the workers, who bear no responsibility for this mess, who are being made to shoulder the load, directly and indirectly. And yet, with so much at stake for the working majority of the country, in terms of who decides budget priorities at the federal, state, and local level, the voices of labor are few and far between. Where is labor's voice in the midterm elections?

The limits of third party campaigns

Although there are a handful of candidates across the country standing against the Democrats and Republicans and their well-oiled electoral machinery, the fact is that few if any of these candidates stand any chance at being elected, even to local offices. On top of the millions spent by the major party candidates and their campaigns, there has been a 367% increase in outside spending this electoral cycle, as compared to the 2006 midterms. It is a big money race, and only those with deep pockets or well-heeled friends in high places need apply. Without resources and a mass backing, third party candidates will almost always end up in third place, no matter how good their platform is. In most races, therefore, we are once again left with more of the same: a race between corporate-backed candidate #1 and corporate-backed candidate #2.

In light of this, some have compared the U.S. electoral process to a “work” in professional wrestling. In public, the wrestlers from opposing camps are mortal enemies, say the most outrageous things about each other, and even smash chairs on their opponents' heads in order to build up a rivalry that will attract interest from the fans. But backstage things are very different. They are all friends and part of the same show business production, partners in the business of filling seats and selling pay-per-views. The parallels with big business politics would almost be funny if it weren't so tragic for the working class. But it isn't at all funny when millions are losing their homes, their jobs, and their hope.

Hope for real change is a powerful motivator. Just two years ago, the deep-seated desire for change in this country was heavy in the air. Literally millions of Americans flocked to catch a glimpse of Obama on the campaign trail, many with tears of joy in their eyes. People saw in him what they wanted to see: jobs, health care, education, and an end to the wars. For a few months, they were willing to “wait and see” what he would do to make things better. Then a year passed. Then another. Now millions Americans are starting to realize what seemed unthinkable to them just two years ago: the real Obama is much like every other big business politician.

Obama continues in Bush's footsteps

The proof is in his policies, many of which echo Bush's down to the letter. There has been no significant help for families whose homes have been foreclosed; No Employee Free Choice Act (card check); No repeal of Taft-Hartley or other anti-union laws; No universal health care; No universal education; No massive program of useful public works to create millions of jobs and rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure.

On the contrary, it has been “business as usual” as corporate CEO pay has skyrocketed to even more absurd levels while the rest of us wonder whether we'll have a job or even a roof over or heads next month. No wonder the majority of American workers are unimpressed with the options before them in the midterms. No wonder the Democrats have to deal with an “enthusiasm gap.” No wonder it is seen by many as a referendum on Obama. And yet, after two years of near total inaction on issues of importance to labor, Obama is now desperately appealing to the unions to help keep the Democrats in power. And unfortunately, instead of calling him out as a defender of big business and proposing a concrete alternative, most union leaders are bending over backwards to oblige him.

All too often, American workers are compelled to vote “against” this or that, as opposed to “for” something they actually want. Instead of presenting a positive plan to not only save, but expand Social Security and Medicare in the face of Republican plans to privatize the system, raise the retirement age, and cut benefits, the labor leaders try to scare us into voting for the Democrats, who in reality only offer variations on the same policy. Instead of offering an optimistic vision of what is possible in the richest and most productive country on earth, we are told by the labor leaders merely to vote “against” the Tea Party. This is the result of their policy of economic and political partnership with the bosses. But pressure is mounting for them to change tack.

Thousands of union members are saying “enough is enough!” They instinctively understand that it's high time the American working class had its own political party, a mass party of labor based on the unions.

Changing mood

Already, there are signs of this changing mood. Under pressure from the rank and file, union contributions to Democratic Party candidates are down this electoral cycle. In North Carolina, the NC Families First Party, a state-wide labor party organized by SEIU has laid the groundwork for future campaigns against the Democrats and Republicans. In South Carolina, the Labor Party has been revived and is running a candidate for the SC House of Representatives. In Pittsburgh, the Steelworkers at least flirted with the idea of running one of their own against the incumbent Democrat in the midterms, although in the end they didn't run a candidate.

In addition, the modestly successful October 2nd mobilization for jobs in Washington, DC was the first significant stirring of the American workers since the crisis began. It was an indication that workers are willing to fight against the cuts and for jobs. Although many speakers tried to turn it into a pep rally for the Democrats, it wasn't so easy to do, as many of the tens of thousands of workers present weren't having it. Just two years ago, the union tops had no problem calling openly for a vote for the Democrats. Now they have to call for a vote “against” the Republicans.

Also under pressure from below, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka has made increasingly militant statements in the run up to the elections. For example, he recently said that “Charting a new course for our economy requires that we understand the causes behind wage stagnation and growing inequality over the past 35 years. And prominent among those causes is the free market orthodoxy that has served the interests of our nation’s wealthiest families and most powerful institutions but left the vast majority of working families behind.”

Condemning “free market orthodoxy” for the crisis facing “the vast majority of working families” is a bold statement coming from the leader of millions of organized workers. Unfortunately, Trumka has also done his utmost to mobilize a disillusioned rank and file to get out the vote for the Democrats, who, like the Republicans, are defenders of that same “free market orthodoxy.” In a pre-election conference call with president Obama and thousands of union activists, Trumka outlined the support the unions have given the Democrats, which Obama has called the “backbone” of the electoral campaign: “For every dollar spent by corporate CEOs, you’ve knocked on one door, dialed one number, handed out one leaflet. One voter at a time, you’ve been erasing those millions of dollars to let our opponents know that democracy isn’t for sale. We’re not for sale.”

It's time for the labor leaders to draw the necessary conclusions from their statements. The solution to the problem facing workers is right there in Trumka's own words. The labor movement is strong enough to be the “backbone” of a national political campaign. But instead of mobilizing to elect candidates from the pro-corporate Democratic Party, it's time for our leadership to break with the parties of the corporations and build our own mass political party. It's time for them realize that there can be no meaningful “partnership” with parties that will never in a thousand years represent anyone but the rich. It's time to stop throwing good money and resources after bad. It's time to use the substantial resources of the labor movement to run independent labor candidates in 2012, and lay the foundation for a mass party of labor in the years ahead. Instead of making excuses for the Democrats' lack of action, it's time for labor to stand on its own two feet, both at the workplace and at the polls.

Even bigger attacks coming

Whichever corporate party gets control of Congress, the states, and local government, we can be sure of one thing: the working majority of this country will not have a real political voice to fight in our interests. A whole series of austerity measures and cuts are already in the pipeline, and without genuine political representation for the workers, the rank and file will pressure the labor leadership to fight back against these attacks. Trumka and the rest of the leadership should give a bold lead on this front as well, using the unions' structures and resources to mobile the organized as well as the unorganized in the workplace, in the schools and universities, and on the streets. The recent mass workers' and students' strikes and blockades against cuts in Social Security in France, where even fewer workers are unionized than in the U.S., shows that it is more than possible for unions in the U.S. to lead such struggles, provided the leadership does what they were elected to do: lead.

However, even the most successful fight back against this or that cut or closure will have a limited effect in the long term unless it is linked with a broader political struggle. Unless and until such militant actions in the workplace and on the streets are backed up with legislation and enforcement to protect the gains we achieve in these struggles, they will always be in danger of being rolled back. This is just another reason we need a labor party, to fight on the political plane in concert with mobilizations on the streets.

Winners and losers

It would be impossible, and frankly, not very productive to try to predict the exact results of these elections. We'll know the results soon enough. But we can predict that frustration with the two party system will likely be expressed in high abstentionism. Many people can't see the point of voting when no matter what, things seem to keep getting worse.

So the Democrats may well squeak out a “victory” for their party by retaining control of Congress. With the memory of Bush and co. fresh in their minds, just enough voters may hold their noses and go to the polls anyway, to try to keep the so-called “lesser evil” out of power. But it is also possible that the millions of demoralized Obama 2008 supporters will simply stay home in disgust, giving Congress over to the so-called “greater evil”.

Either way, the “will of the people” will be determined by just a fraction of the population, and in most cases, the only ones with any real chance at winning will be those with enough personal riches or wealthy backers to spend hundreds of thousands and even millions on their campaigns. So in the end, no matter who “wins,” we can predict the loser: the American workers. Because it's six of one or half a dozen of the other. Or as the great rock band The Who sang in their classic Won't Get Fooled Again: “Meet the new boss… Same as the old boss...”

But we don't need to keep losing elections. We don't need to keep voting for “boss #1” or “boss #2.” We don't need to keep getting “fooled again.” We don't need to limit ourselves to “third” parties and third place. There is another way forward. Since workers are the majority in this country, we should strive to be the “first” party, in first place. It all starts with the unions breaking with the bosses' parties and building a party of, by and for the working majority.

If you agree with this perspective, we urge you to join the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor and help us raise these ideas in our unions, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.

Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor

Renegade Eye


Larry Gambone said...

Having a viable labour or social democratic party really does make a difference. Even though the CCF-NDP has always been a minority party federally, its existence has allowed us to speak of socialism and social change without being totally marginalized and demonized. It has also allowed opposition to war be voiced in parliament and generally had a moderating effect upon the other parties. Generally, it has had a civilizing effect upon Canadian society. Also thanks to social democracy, the 1960's student movement never broke with the working class as it did in the USA. If the old Socialist Party USA had not been terrorized out of existence during WW1 and had even remained a third party like the NDP it would have made the US a much saner and better place for working people.

Adi said...

From time to time labour voice has become minor in election. Hope this time will be better, we have to remember that labour is the foundation of the country.

Frank Partisan said...

Larry G: In Minnesota in the 1920-1930s, we had the strongest labor party in United States history. It was called the Farmer Labor Party. It was the number one party. The Democrats were a third party. In the 1920s-30s, the labor bureaucrats were Republicans. In the end the Stalinists ruined it with going to Roosevelt. They merged with the Democratic Party in the end.

Adi: Thank you for your comment.

Bob said...

Unions did more for the workers when they stayed out of politics. The billions of dollars in political donations from unions should be funneled into providing a strike wage that doesn't qualify for food stamps.

Frank Partisan said...

Bob: Thank you for your comment.

The unions outside the Democratic Party is a whole different animal. Unions would have state power behind them. They could get automatic checkoff, and they could abolish Taft-Hartley.

Nevin said...

I have been watching the results of the election all morning... The most comical one so far is Rand Paul, the Tea Party guy.... He argues that he will put an end to the governments spending and wall street camaraderie.... When he got most of his financial backing from corporations AND wall street.... It is unbelievable how the Tea Party seems to pretend they are against big money so and so forth, when they are very much part of the corporate web in all sorts of ways....

Frank Partisan said...

Nevin: Imagine the contrast of the Teabaggers with a real labor party, based on the unions.

In the 1920-30s in Minnesota, the Democrats were a third party. We had a real labor party here, with chapters by union local, community or farm group.

sonia said...

Labor unions are over. Stick a fork in them.

We no longer live in the Industrial Age.

Information Age has no use for labor unions.


Larry Gambone said...

Sonia, since industrialization has been spreading to Asia, so too have trade unions. This is where their big growth is right now. Countries that have been smart enough to keep a reasonable economic base, such as Germany, Sweden and Italy still have strong unions. (We still have a 30% unionization rate here in Canada.) As a labour historian, I can tell you that unions have been counted out several times in the past when capitalist development has eliminated the industries that were organized. There is no reason that things will be any different in the future – the so-called information age requires millions of low paid, poor working condition jobs. As I write, people are organizing them. As long as society consists of a tiny sociopathic minority that owns and controls the means of production and a vast majority that are forced by need to work for them, we will have unions. If you want to see unions eventually disappear, institute economic democracy!

The only dinosaurs are the capitalist dominator class - in spite of their economic base, ultimately rooted in Bronze Age tyranny. Enough of this pathological nonsense! What we need is a democratic partnership society not bullying barbarians in Armani suits.

Larry Gambone said...

One other thought on labour parties. I have lived most of my life in three different low income neighborhoods in three different Canadian cities. Many of the people living in these neighborhoods look like the poor whites that you see with their illitrate placards denouncing Obama's "socialism" at Tea Bagger gatherings.. However, these same neighborhoods vote overwhelmingly for the left – our local right-wing nut bars don't stand a chance of getting any real support. More than 100 years of constant socialist and social democratic political presence has created a much more politically educated and aware poor working class population, than in the US, where this is largely absent due to the lack of a nation-wide viable labour party.

Larry Gambone said...

Ha Ha! Made a typo with "illiterate"

SecondComingOfBast said...


You underestimate the power of unions in the US at your own power. Especially unions like the SEIU, which should be outlawed, and the National Education Association, and a host of others too numerous to mention.

The unions are precisely the reason why Harry Reid pulled a victory out of a hat in Nevada. Or more precisely, out of a few SEIU serviced voting machines. They probably helped insure the victory of Raul Grijalva in Arizona's 7th district as well, and probably a lot of other races where dems managed to survive close races.

The unions are making a comeback here. Or they think they are.

Frank Partisan said...

I'll reply late tonight.

roman said...


these same neighborhoods vote overwhelmingly for the left

They vote left because the left has, over time, made them dependent on the state for their very survival. Because of the left's introduction, via the uber-liberal media and utopian star-struck journalists, the fake concept of "social justice" with its resulting mandates. They have stealthily alienated these people from the mainstream political mindset which made this country the economic powerhouse of the world and the magnet for immigration both legal and illegal.
Instead of focusing their energy on the potential of the poor being productive members of society, the left has continually fostered a mindset of victimization. The sole purpose of this societal engineering "tactic" is to secure the permanent enslavement of same to state dependency and thus ensuring the survival of leftist anti-capitalist idealogy.
Some might even call this tactic a slow covert brainwashing into a permanent state of dependency.

Ducky's here said...

Apparently labor sat this one out.

I wouldn't say Obama is following in Bush's footsteps, Clinton's are more like it and more dangerous. A stealth blue dog.

The only upside of this horror is that blue dog Dems were purged an in two years we get rid of the worst of them all.

Ducky's here said...

... although in the great state of Massachusetts not a single Republican was elected to national office.

Except for the one guy who was probably insane the R's didn't have a bad slate.

Ducky's here said...

Well Larry there are a few who hold that democracy is the more important issue as we watch it destroyed.

All but the oligarchy are in the same boat.

Frank Partisan said...

Sonia: Unions declined in the 1920s, and declined more during the depression. In the middle 1930s, the CIO was formed, and unionism and militant strikes like Minneapolis and Seattle happened.

The march on Washington October 02, was led by unions. Unions are revitalizing.

They still can shut down the economy.

Larry G: I agree with you.

The CMPL is planning to bring to Minnesota, a Canadian NDP MP.

Roman: You've been listening too much to Glen Beck. What's wrong with social justice?

With the economic crisis, capitalism has less room to maneuver. Liberalism and conservatism is becoming indistinguishable. People jump between parties irrationally. Even in Canada, it is harder to meet people's needs.

Welfare went to the AIGs.

Ducky: The upside is that the labor party is on the table. In isolated cases labor ran its own candidates.

The CMPL is the future.

Pagan: Correct.

sonia said...


We still have a 30% unionization rate here in Canada

three different Canadian cities (...) vote overwhelmingly for the left

Well, the last time I checked, Canada had a Conservative Prime Minister who makes Margaret Thatcher look generous, an effete uppity country-club liberal Opposition leader who makes Prince Charles look like a redneck, a timid socialist NDP leader who makes Obama look like a rubble-rouser, and an obtuse separatist Quebecois leader for whom all English-speaking people are scum.

Larry Gambone said...

Roman, what do you know about Canada?

Sonia, actually, Harper is not worse than Thatcher. Objectively, he is more like Obummer. A fanatic right-winger like Thatcher, much less the US crack pot right, could not be elected in Canada - they have to tone it down to the centre right to get anywhere. And Layton, by opposing the war in Afghanistan as well as supporting the NDP Platform which is miles left of the US Democrats, is far more radical than Obummer. Of course, in Canadian left terms, Layton is mild

Larry Gambone said...

Roman, one could say the same thing about right-wing parties. Their clientele is the rich, since they funnel privileges and corporate welfare to them when in power. (If there is any group state dependent it is them.) The rich in turn support them. Is it wrong for workers to support parties that aid them? This is being politically rational. The problem with the poor Tea Baggers is they are not rational, supporting the very people that harm them.

All that aside, how do you explain the support poor Canadians gave to the left in the 40-50 years prior to the enactment of reforms?

You exaggerate the amount of clientelism. The vast majority of people in these neighborhoods work for a living. Welfare recipients tend not to vote or be involved. Any party that had them for a client base wouldn't get very far.

No group or party on the Canadian left has any desire to make people state-dependent. Claiming this is the root of it is just more straw man fallacies. Rather than seeing the world through narrow ideological spectacles maybe you should see what these parties actually stand for. You can Google them easily enough. See: New Democratic Party, Green Party of Canada, Quebec Solidaire.

roman said...


I confess I don't know much about the Canadian political system other than it is Parliamentary and is modeled after that of the UK. My personal observation, however, can speak to some of these issues. During the last five years, I had occasion to visit Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City at different times and it just happened that in each place there was some kind of massive strike going on. Government workers, teachers, transportation workers were all a bit less than happy campers. It is not the worker's Utopia and bears similarity to the US in this respect.
One observation I am able to make is that a large portion of the urban poor in the US do work so I will grant you that it must be the same in Canada. These poor workers, however, are subsidized just the same way as non-workers are which is OK if there are concerted efforts to train and educate same for more lucrative occupations. My issue is that the left has, in the US, a tendency to just dole out money without any serious effort to improve the job skills of these people so that they become self-sustainable and independent. In other words, FREE!
This culture of dependency is malicious and unfortunately the left, granted sometimes unconsciously with good intentions, is the most guilty of maintaining this status quo.
Which side tends to use these subsidies (aka mandates) as vote bait the most?
Can you really compare the quantity of votes between the vast number of subsidized folks and the miniscule segment gaining from corporate welfare (if there is, in fact, is such a thing)?

Frank Partisan said...

Roman: When it came down to it, the capitalists became the welfare recipients. Look at the bailouts. That is the source, of the frustration with the economy.

Sonia: In Minnesota when we had a labor party, the Republican Party included labor leaders.

The NDP brought universal healthcare. The conservatives delivered it there, to counter NDP. When I was in Canada, people I met everywhere were strongly pro-NDP.

Larry G: I agree.

We're bringing NDP speakers to the US.