No Choice for Workers?

Here we go again. Four more years have passed since the last presidential election cycle, and once again, organized labor finds itself with no real options. It is clear that if he were elected president, Mitt Romney would unleash an all-out “Scott Walker on steroids” assault on the working class. But does that mean workers have no option but to vote for the Democrats? Are “political and economic death by hanging” or “political and economic death by drowning” really the only options?

Some have compared President Obama to a Rorschach test. That’s the test where subjects are shown images of ink blots and are asked to interpret them. Every subject “sees” something different in them, as everyone’s perception is influenced by his or her own worldview, experiences, hopes, fears, and aspirations. In 2008, the antiwar movement saw Obama as antiwar, even though he wasn’t; the unions saw him as being on the side of labor, even though he isn’t; environmentalists saw him as pro-clean energy; educators and parents thought he was for strong public education; and on and on. In other words, people saw, and continue to see in Obama what they want to see in him.

All scientific theories must be rigorously put to the test in the real world. Why should it be any different when it comes to politics? We must judge individuals and parties not on what they say, but on what they do. More than three years into his first term, the facts speak for themselves. No Employee Free Choice Act; no universal health care or even a public option; tens of thousands of troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the war has expanded into Pakistan; Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo has not been closed; he has not walked a single picket line in solidarity with striking workers; he has not ended the tax breaks for companies that off-shore jobs. Not to mention, no moratorium on home foreclosures, no progressive tax on the ultra wealthy; no repeal of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, the minimum wage remains lower in real terms than in 1968, etc.

Here are a few things he has done: given massive bailouts to the banks and big insurance companies; approved free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia (the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists); reversed decades of environmental protections by ending the EPA’s clean-air regulation powers; authorized the use of armed Coast Guard ships against the Longview, WA longshoremen in their struggle against scab labor. To top it all off, the Democrats are holding their national convention in a non-union hotel in North Carolina, a “Right to Work” state with the lowest unionization rate in the country.

No wonder it is getting increasingly difficult for the labor leaders to get the rank-and-file to the polls! After calling the Colombia free trade agreement “deeply disappointing and troubling,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka hinted at the pressure he is under: “The more these things happen, where workers’ interests are subjugated to other interests, it has a cumulative effect, making it harder for us to energize our members and get them out in the numbers necessary in the fall.”

Trumka does a good job of highlighting the disparities between rich and poor, but he does not take his analysis to its logical conclusion: the need for a labor party. It seems that the union leaders’ only remaining excuse not to launch such a party is, “look at the other candidate!” This is not a serious argument for supporting candidates and parties whose interests are irreconcilably opposed to the interests of the working class. We therefore propose a simple solution: labor should provide its own “other” candidates!

We need candidates who will fight for universal jobs, health care, and education, and who is truly accountable to his or her constituents: the workers. Why not run thousands of independent labor candidates for office at all levels of government? Far from being a mere protest vote, such candidates and a labor party could actually win. After all, if workers are the majority, why do we put up with being governed by representatives of another, hostile class?

The AFL-CIO has already endorsed Obama, much to the dismay of many of its members. But it is not too late. The AFL-CIO has created a new super PAC, “Workers’ Voice.” By the end of 2011, it had already raised $3.7 million. Millions more are sure to follow. These resources should be poured into explaining the need for a labor party based on the unions, and running labor candidates. This would dramatically shift the national debate around the 2012 election. We must work to bring this message to our union locals, coworkers, communities, friends, family, the Occupy, antiwar, and immigrant rights movements, and other struggles.

As we explained back in 2008 on the day after he was elected: “Many are euphoric about Obama’s victory, and there will be a certain honeymoon… But sooner rather than later, the elation will wear off and the cold reality will set in: nothing fundamental has changed. We are still living under capitalism, with everything that entails: unemployment, home foreclosures, rising prices, racism, millions of second-class citizens and workers, low wages, deteriorating conditions, rotting infrastructure, and so on.”

The crisis of capitalism means cuts, austerity, and constant instability. There is no solution for the majority within the limits of this system. We cannot expect a pro-capitalist party to carry out anti-capitalist policies. Armed with a socialist program, a mass labor party would lay the basis not just for “hope,” but for real change.

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