I thank brother Dudzic and sister Isaac for their very thoughtful perspective on the past effort to build the Labor Party and would like to offer a few thoughts to add to this discussion.
In order to win political power, a labor party must have as its base the entire labor movement or a least a very significant part of it. However, this does not exclude the fact that a “non-mass” labor party, provided it has some support from sections of the labor movement, could play an important educational role and help to build support for a mass party. This would mean the party would have to engage various political and social movements and would need to run candidates in some elections. We might not expect to win at first, but we could use the campaigns to build broader support as workers (both in and out of unions) could hear a different political perspective to the two big business parties. What might start as protest votes could be built into something larger in some areas. As the party grows, the dead-end of the present policy of the labor leaders would mean more debate opening up in the unions among the rank and file about what labor should do in elections.
The main reason the previous incarnation of the labor party did not succeed in taking off was that the leadership of the unions did not want to truly break with the Democrats, including some of the unions who supported the Labor Party. As is pointed out in the piece that opened this exchange of ideas, this was one of the reasons that the Labor Party did not run candidates and therefore forfeited one important tool to build the party.
When discussing the question of supporting Democrats, whether through fusion or openly, we should not reduce the question to this or that piece of legislation. What we should see is the entire picture. As an example, in spite of any legislation that has been passed to raise the minimum wage, the fact is that the minimum wage in real terms is lower than it was in the late 1960s and median wages of American workers have declined. In fact, had the minimum wage kept up with worker productivity, it should now stand at around $21.72 per hour. The labor movement would get more, not less, if it broke from both parties and ran candidates, even if they do not win at first. Canada and their labor party, the NDP shows a clear example of this. Due to gerrymandering, in many districts, one party or the other has dominance and a labor candidate would not be “a spoiler,” but it could start to change the dynamics. Gerrymandering only works for so long, especially in country where people are constantly moving and demographics are constantly shifting.
I believe that we should call on the labor leaders to break entirely from both big business parties and build a labor party, but I would agree that even if they would at least devote 10% of their political resources in the direction of independent labor politics, this would be a step in the right direction.
The imposition of so-called “Right to Work” in Indiana and especially Michigan are major events on the scale of PATCO. The “greater evil” Republicans passed so-called “RTW” legislation because they took control of the state government after the Democrats proved ineffectual in addressing the economic calamity facing workers and youth in Michigan. Labor Party “spoiler candidates” did not split the Democratic vote. Eventually, some workers, give up on voting altogether while others vote Republican in the hope that the situation will change. If only a labor party had been there to give a real alternative. So to those who claim the that a labor party will elect Republicans, take a look at Michigan: no labor party led to the election of Republicans. If you reduce your political activity to “lesser evilism,” eventually the “greater evil” will get back to power.
Despite decades of red-baiting, slander and distortions, socialism is now viewed positively by almost 40% of the public, including an estimated 25% of Republicans. This shows that people are looking for ideas and a way out of the crisis of capitalism. The labor leaders can not claim any credit for this. The Left is very small and the media only covers socialism from a negative angle. Yet people are looking for these ideas on their own. The formation of a labor party fighting for jobs, universal health care, education, housing and more would draw millions of workers into political activity.
We need to have this dialogue. We need to build this in the rank and file of every union. This effort needs to connect with youth and community activists. Our efforts can only grow in the future. There is no other alternative.