Response from Chris Townsend
Washington Representative for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). He was a Labor Party trustee and the Capitol Hill Shop Steward columnist for the Labor Party News.
The work by Mark Dudzic and Katherine Isaac to sum up the Labor Party effort is a fine historical sketch and a good start. The literature to date on this topic is thin-to-nonexistent, and what does exist is largely devoid of first-hand knowledge. They are both well qualified
to initiate the current review, as both plowed years of their lives into the Labor Party experiment.
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.
The current Democratic Administration and party bureaucracy ignore labor with impunity, knowing full well that we are stuck with no other immediate or practical electoral options. They increasingly feel free to attack organized labor in a selective way as well. For so long as Republican Party forces tow the corporate line and push for the outright extermination of unions, Democrats have almost no political need to provide support or assistance to the millions of working people now subject to the employer attacks. But regardless of their broken promises and disgraceful inaction in the face of the ongoing crises facing labor, a large majority of unions once again rush to shower Democrats with money and support without conditions. Those few elected Democrats who do perform above this low average are largely silent, providing but scant support to the few and scattered forces who still push for a reinvigoration of the impossible-to-capture Democratic “Party.”
The worn-out deal between organized labor, working people, and the Democratic Party has run its course so far as its ability to deliver positive outcomes. The era of political and economic progress through this arrangement is clearly at its end, and the only force on the
scene which seems to be unaware of this are the political decision-makers within many of the unions.
So compelling is the case for the exercise of political independence by the labor movement today that — in my opinion — the burden has now shifted onto the defenders of the old set-up to come forward with some workable strategy to address the current political fiasco. Where are those within labor who denounced, blocked, or deflected the
construction of the Labor Party? Where are the leaders who promised a more responsive Democratic Party if labor would merely offer just a few more votes and dollars? Ask for a show of hands. You may not see any even if you do. Brave is the labor leader today who will defend the indefensible failure of most Democrats. The bankruptcy of the assertion that the Democratic Party is still some sort of vehicle for labor to once again regain forward momentum is tragically laughable on its face. And as tempting as it is to want to breath new life into that proposition, it is not going to happen. For every ounce of energy expended by labor to construct an independent political party of its own, ten thousand times as much has been squandered over the decades on fruitless schemes to “influence” or “capture” the Democratic Party.
As an active union member and staff member in our labor movement since the late 1970’s, — and having been part of the Labor Party experiment from its beginning to its end — I commend the current article to all in labor who are searching for the roots of our current political crisis. This conversation is necessary for a number of reasons, and particularly as a means to help the new generation of labor leaders and activists realize that this situation is not new — and it is not a permanent condition, either. It won’t do any harm to remind the veteran union leaders and workhorses that this unavoidable question of labor’s political independence is still yet to be answered as well.
As the bombardment falls all around us today in the labor trench it is difficult to tell exactly which way is forward. We are all taking casualties, and supplies are running low. Few Democrats are coming to our rescue, and Republicans and their big business shock troops are moving to encircle and annihilate our movement. Only one outcome is
certain; for organized labor to remain glued to the profoundly rigged and corrupt two-party trap is to condemn our movement to total destruction. We must find a way forward, out of this trap. The political order of the day must be “breakout.” As we were reminded in
Ohio and Wisconsin and elsewhere, vast numbers of working people far beyond the immediate ranks of the unions are with us. Proof that a “breakout” may readily be converted into a “breakthrough.”