Les Leopold Response

Response from Les Leopold
Les Leopold, Director, Labor Institute

“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?

First, it opens up a new line of attack – an attack on the ever growing power of finance capital. Occupy Wall Street proved that such an attack is extremely popular. It’s popular because it’s true. Wall Street took down the economy after years of profiteering and reckless gambling. Then it used its economic stranglehold and political clout over both parties to extract more than $15 trillion in bailouts – overt and covert. The too-big-to-fail banks are even bigger now and the Wall Street casinos are at it again — and the American people know it.

Next, it generates a clear cut demand – Wall Street should pay for the damage it created. It polluted the financial system with toxic assets and should pay to clean up its waste just like any other polluter. (The pay mechanism is the financial transaction tax.) This kind of demand helps to reframe the debates that tear apart working people in Wisconsin and other states. Unless we shift to the anti-Wall Street frame, we will be stuck fighting inside a framework that argues: “We all need to sacrifice because these are hard times. Therefore public sector workers must give up some of their bountiful wages and benefits. Why should I pay taxes for benefits that I don’t have?…etc.”. The anti-Wall Street framework shifts the debate to “We all are being asked to sacrifice to pay for the mess that Wall Street created. Meanwhile Wall Street gets bailed out and pays next to nothing. If they paid for the damage they created there would be no budget crunch, no proposed cuts to education, public safety, social security, Medicare etc”

Finally, this framework opens up a broader constituency for a new movement and politics. Many more allies can be found if we’re willing to take on Wall Street and make that attack the center of our organizing efforts. The labor movement is much smaller and weaker than when we first formulated the Labor Party, and it is even more deeply entwined with the Democratic Party. If something new comes into being, very few unions are likely to be involved. That means from the git-go we will need to envision a broader formation made possible by the anti-Wall Street frame. Of course, progressive labor activists always will need to be at the core of any serious effort at building a new party and movement. But calling it a “labor” party, won’t work.

Just think about this for a moment. A tiny group of anarchists and others created Occupy Wall Street and in a matter of weeks it received more attention and mass support than the Labor Party achieved in a decade. It wouldn’t have gone anywhere at all if it was called Occupy Walmart or Occupy Corporate America. It was the Wall Street framework that gave it power. OWS doesn’t own that frame – we all do. We should use it to build a broader, deeper, (and more structured) anti-Wall Street movement and party.

2 thoughts on “Les Leopold Response

  1. A Labor Party is not the only model of a mass based workers party. There was the Socialist Party of Debs, which had thousands of members, elected hundreds of public officials and ran a number of impactful Presidential campaigns with Debs as the standard bearer.

    Making Wall Street the issue is really making capitalism the issue. If so, we are talking about a different kind of party than a reform minded Labor Party. And maybe we should.

  2. Indeed making wall street and the big banks pay for all the damage they have wrought must be the first theme of renewed organizing. This means reaching out to what remains of the Occupy movement and its young core.

    From what I have read so far in the history and these exchanges, most of us who participated in the Labor Party are getting pretty long in the tooth. We not only have to pass on what we learned to the next generation, we need to listen to them just as we listened to the rank and file union members first time around..