Peter Olney response

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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


One thought on “Peter Olney response

  1. Thank you for this valuable discussion. Hopefully it will continue.

    It seems that the structural challenges of the current system present the biggest barriers to building a new and viable political party. Perhaps we should start there, as I believe Peter Olney points out in his response. The transition from a two party to a multi-party system presents enormous problems…how do we get this thing off the ground and strong enough to stand on its own? If we can do that, even if its in infant form, we have something to build on. My experience tells me that the strength of our ideas and our organizing skills at least give us a fighting chance.

    In Oregon we’re building the Oregon Working Families Party. First we succeeded in changing the way we vote. We now have a form of fusion voting that we refer to as “fusion lite”. We don’t yet have a seperate ballot line, but we do have the ability to cross nominate and cross endorse. We’ve been through a couple of election cycles and a growing number of candidates seek our endorsement or nomination. We organize around issues, primarily working class economic issues like education, health care and a State Bank. We do get money and support from mostly local unions but we all realize that we have to be broader than organized labor. The party has a goal of ten thousand registered members this year and with our current registration drive that appears to be an achievable target.

    Of course the jury is still out on how far this can go, but I have to tell you it feels pretty good to be a member of a political party developing a reputation for always fighting on the side of working people. While we have run a few candidates, early on, to maintain our party status, we intend to do more as we grow. Currently our focus is on issues and voter registration.

    Again, thanks for the discussion.