Response from Peter Olney
Organizing Director, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)
Thank you both for the very thoughtful paper, “Labor Party Time? Not Yet.” I think it very eloquently sums-up the labor left challenge moving a pro labor agenda and party in the context of the national dominance both political and structurally of two capitalist parties. I hope that your paper can serve as the catalyst for thoughtful discussion of these important issues.
My input into such discussions would be the following:
- One of the problems of the Labor Party experience that you sum up is that it was always more of an ideological project than a political one. The slogan of “The bosses have two parties, labor needs its own” is something many can agree on including the leaders of the large labor unions who were never involved in he Labor Party project, but it is only an ideological statement not a way out of the structural “winner take all” dilemma that we face in the USA. You correctly point out that labor always comes back into the fold because of the lesser of two evils reality. Therefore the solution to this dilemma has to take on the structural challenges of the US electoral system both at a state and national level.
- There are many new initiatives now in the electoral structural arena. “Open primaries” have meant that a more progressive Democrat or Independent for that matter can challenge a sitting incumbent Democrat in the final election. “Ranked choice” voting has enabled a challenger or challengers to run against the establishment money candidates. A labor left and labor party needs to identify these openings for base and power building.
- You dismiss “fusion” with the following statement: “Fusion advocates have not been able to transform this power to advance a broad working class agenda” and you point to the Cuomo fiasco in New York. Those are not structural issues inherent to Fusion but leadership and poltical issues related to the NY Working Families Party. A Labor Party could fail to advance a broad working class agenda and elect rotten candidates also (as labor parties have done around the world! Just look at the Socialist Parties in Spain etc.) Fusion needs to be a big part of the discussion if we are ever going to be able to incubate the power of a labor party, which initially will look like the 1400 people, and the handful of national unions who formed Labor Party Advocates back in 1996.
- Unless we have a way to address the lesser of two evil dilemma we will see the pathologies that you so articulately detail repeated over and over.
- Therefore I think it would be important to sum up the New Party experience, the Supreme Court decision re Minnesota’s law in the 1990’s and state experiences like Brother Rand Wilson’s in Massachusetts. I am sure there is a ton of experience that I am not aware of.
It was very therapeutic for me to read this analysis about our failed efforts to build a Labor Party. The decision to discontinue our efforts to build a Labor Party, while a correct one and dictated to us by the circumstances, was still a very bitter pill to swallow. It was also very sad. We valiantly, and vainly, attempted to build a new, anti-corporate, anti-capitalist party to advance the material, spiritual and class interests of American workers. Our governing bodies authorized the use of substantial organizational resources in a strong show of support for this cause. The allocation of resources in any Union is always a political decision and for this effort the support, in our union, the Pennsylvania Federation BMWED – Teamsters, was unanimous. The need for an anti-capitalist Labor Party has in no way diminished, rather as Sister Isaac and Brother Dudzic have correctly pointed out, the collapse of this effort directly paralleled the crushing of the last gasp of labor movement militancy in the late 1990s and early part of this century. READ THE FULL RESPONSE
Labor Party Time? Not Yet is a very good analysis of where we are as a labor movement and a good account of how we arrived at the current state of our dilemma. I think it gives an overall historical foundation for the Labor Party and the decade in which it evolved. READ THE FULL RESPONSE
What makes the reopening of the Labor Party discussion so urgent today is that organized labor and working people face an even more dire economic and political situation than we confronted in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The continuing lack of any significant independence from the Democratic Party has delivered a situation where labor no longer commands even the minimal respect and recognition which was in evidence just twenty years ago — when substantial national and regional labor union forces moved to initiate the Labor Party. READ THE FULL RESPONSE
Revive LPA. That there can be no genuine Labor Party without substantial union support is an old truism we cannot ignore. The promising Labor Party project launched in 1996 once had support from unions representing a couple of million workers, thousands of individual dues-paying members, and community based chapters and organizing committees in every region of the country. READ THE FULL RESPONSE
“Wall Street has two parties: We need one of our own.” The political and economic landscape has dramatically shifted since the Labor Party came to a close. Without question the biggest change is the 2008 Wall Street crash and the economic depression that still leaves more that 20 million working people either unemployed or underemployed. How does this monumental event inform our quest to build a new movement and party? READ THE FULL RESPONSE
An analysis of the impact of the effort to create and build the Labor Party by Labor Party National Organizer Mark Dudzic, and Secretary-Treasurer Katherine Isaac, Labor Party Time? Not Yet gives a brief history of the Labor Party, the reasons for its decline, and some lessons for today. READ THE FULL ANALYSIS