Frustrated with the two major political parties who gave us the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and GATT and who are failing to address widening income disparity, job insecurity, lack of universal health care, corporate tax concessions and striker replacement legislation, 1346 delegates convened in Cleveland in June of 1996 to form a party to reclaim the political direction of this country.
The convention represented five years of organizing that was begun by its first sponsoring union, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW). Along the way OCAW was joined by other unions with a history of progressive social vision-among others, the United Electrical and Machinist Workers of America (UE), the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE), the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU), the California Nurses Association (CNA), and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Since the convention many other international unions, union locals and labor council bodies have endorsed.
The convention adopted a constitution for governance, debated whether to run candidates or first build a base, and agreed on a 16 point "Call for Economic Justice" that would guarantee basic rights for all working people and transfer power away from the corporations and the rich. Everyone, the delegates maintained, should have a constitutional right to a job at a decent wage-at least $10.00 an hour with future adjustments. Everyone should be guaranteed high quality health care (single payer administered), a free education, four weeks of paid vacation, paid family leave, and a 32 hour workweek. Workers should have the unfettered right to fight for justice on the job, to organize, to bargain, to strike. These are social guarantees which have existed for many years in European countries, established by political parties with strong ties to trade unions. The delegates rejected discrimination and denounced every effort to divide working people against themselves. They resoundingly called for a dramatic roll back of the ever-expanding power of corporations in our lives. Corporate power is the source of environmental pollution, labor exploitation and the flight of capital out of the USA into countries with lax labor and environmental protection.
To no one's surprise, one of the convention's hottest debates was over whether or when the Labor Party should run or endorse candidates.
To no one's surprise, one of the convention's hottest debates was over whether or when the Labor Party should run or endorse candidates. A proposal from the Program and Constitution Committee, called a "New Organizing Approach to Politics," was debated, modified and adopted by the delegates. The one-page statement calls on the Labor Party to develop a "strategy based on mass recruitment and political actions that go beyond the electoral process to shift the national debate towards our agenda" -for instance a "Constitutional amendment campaign to put the right to a decent job at a living wage directly into the Constitution." Some delegates maintained that running candidates was the best way to get the Labor Party program out to people. Others believed building a massive grassroots base and independent financial strength was critical before going electoral and confronting an electoral system dominated by corporations and the wealthy. Ultimately the vote was to adopt the non-electoral strategy with the proviso to convene in two years to assess the success of innovative organizing efforts, issues campaigns and our recruitment process. A committee to develop our future electoral strategy will report to the second Labor Party convention. Most of the endorsing unions, locals and labor councils will continue to participate in electoral politics by endorsing and financially supporting candidates. Most of these unions judge a candidate worthy of support by conducting interviews that reflect many of the principles in the Labor Party program. The Labor Party, however, will not endorse or financially support any candidate until that decision is made at a future convention.
Labor Party activities in the near future will focus on the Constitutional Amendment campaign, education and recruitment through one-day training programs taught by worker trainers using the Corporate Power and the American Dream curriculum workbook, and joint campaigns on issues identified by local and state structures that reflect our party's platform and social vision. Given recent actions by President Clinton and Congress, there will be no shortage of issues campaigns. Some examples: the "welfare reform" legislation will create conditions which reward municipal governments, corporations and private employers for exploiting welfare recipients while displacing working people out of living-wage jobs with benefits. Clinton has announced intentions to appoint a "bipartisan" commission to study Social Security with an agenda to privatize our historic social pension program. We can almost guarantee no political courage to craft public policy that guarantees all of us universal access to quality, comprehensive health care benefits.
The Labor Party's broad social vision invites alliances with others looking for political solutions to curbing corporate power and achieving economic justice.
The Labor Party's broad social vision invites alliances with others looking for political solutions to curbing corporate power and achieving economic justice. This includes the Green Party, health care activists, welfare rights organizations and organizations dedicated to confronting racial discrimination and inequity. Point 14 in the Labor Party program calls for the building of "A Just Transition Movement to Protect Jobs and the Environment." The program plank rejects the false choice of jobs or the environment. Labor and environmental alliances must be dedicated to a just transition movement that protects jobs and the environment. Displaced workers must be protected with full income and benefits as they make the difficult transition to alternative work. This program must be paid for by taxes on corporate polluters.
The Labor Party is an inclusive party with recruitment both inside and outside the trade union structures. Labor Party chapters include both community members and union members. Membership ranges from $20 to $100. Call 202-234-5190 for information on membership, one day workshops and support. Membership includes subscription to The Labor Party Press. The first issue details the 16 point program ("A Call for Economic Justice,") the Constitution, and the New Organizing Approach to Politics. The party is governed by an Interim National Council to be replaced by a permanent National Council. Council membership is outlined in the constitution and based on financial commitment and membership recruitment by endorsing union bodies and chapters.
Portions of this article were excerpted from the first two issues of The Labor Party Press.