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Written by CMPL   
Friday, 03 September 2010 08:41

There are many workers who voted for the Democrats because they hoped they would bring about reforms such as universal health care, job creation, stronger unions and an end to the wars in the Middle East. Many are already disappointed as the Democrats are basically continuing Bush’s policies, with a few cosmetic changes.  Many workers would like for there to be an alternative to the political parties of big business.  But they doubt that building such a party is possible. Below we address a few questions that often come up in discussions regarding the CMPL's call for the unions to break with the Democrats and build a mass labor party. If you have a question you would like to see answered in the FAQ, please contact us.

Is the Democratic Party a workers’ party?

The Democratic Party was not created by the working class, nor is it under the democratic control of the working class. The Democratic Party has a long history that goes back to the days of slavery, when it represented the southern slave owners. Since the aftermath of the Civil War, the Democrats have been one of the two main parties of American big business. Whatever differences they might claim to have with the Republicans, their fundamental policy is based on maintaining capitalism and imperialism, which means the exploitation of American workers and the super-exploitation of workers in the “under-developed world.”  Even the labor leaders do not speak of the Democrats as a workers’ party, but call them “friends of labor.” However, with friends like these, who needs enemies!

How does the capitalist class control the Republicans and Democrats?

Due to the populist movements of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the capitalist class set up a system of state-controlled primary elections. This was supposedly done to take control over nominating party candidates away from party bosses and put it in the hands of the people. In primary elections, candidates must first win the nomination of the party before they proceed to the general election. This appears to be very democratic. But in practice, it takes lots of money and media coverage to win the primary campaign and then even more money to win the general election.

This is perfect for the capitalist class. They have the money and they own the newspapers, magazines, book publishers, radio and television stations. Even many billboards on highways are owned by the same companies that own the television networks and cable channels. They use these resources to promote ideas and candidates that reflect and defend their fundamental interests. This is one example of how they control the candidates of both major parties long before they are even elected.

Why not run candidates in the Democratic Party’s primary elections?  Couldn’t labor “take over” the Democratic Party?

Theoretically, the labor movement could run candidates in a party primary and try to secure the nomination, and then run in the general election. However, in order to accomplish this task, it would require the labor movement to come together in a political organization to determine policy and program, candidates and strategy. In other words, the labor movement would have to build a “party within a party.”

Such a strategy would be bad for a number of reasons. The labor movement would have to spend its precious resources in the primary election campaign and would then have less money left over for the general election. This is not a problem for the capitalists, who control the media and have tons of money available for politics. But if a genuine labor candidate fighting on a socialist or even moderately radical program won the Democratic primary, the party would quickly either dis-own the candidate or otherwise try to sabotage the campaign. They certainly wouldn't fund raise for it!

An example of this can be seen with former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who was basically driven out of the Democratic Party because she was perceived as being “too far to the left.” Also, more people turn out for the general elections than vote in the primaries. This is due to the fact that many people do not identify with the big business political parties.

It would therefore not be a step forward in raising workers' awareness of their collective interests to encourage them to join or support the Democrats, a non-workers’ party.  However, it would be an enormous step forward in this regard for the workers to come to the conclusion that we need a party to represent our class: a mass labor party! This is why the CMPL calls on workers to break with the Democrats and form such a party. This is why we think it is important to raise this idea in our unions, our work places, neighborhoods, and schools. However, until a mass party of labor is created, or at the very least least, until independent labor candidates run for office, many workers will either remain with the Democrats as a “lesser evil,” or simply abstain from voting.

Why is the CMPL Being Launched Now?

Those of us who depend on our ability to work and on the paycheck we receive from it in order to support our living standards are the working class. The working class is the overwhelming majority of the population of the USA. Our class has interests separate and diametrically opposed to interests of the richest 1%, who own and control big business and the two major parties. American workers have built unions to represent their interests in the workplace, but we have no political party of our own to represent our political interests at all levels of government.

After nearly two years of the Obama administration, the illusion of "hope and change" are fading fast for many workers. In fact, when it comes to jobs, housing, and access to health care and education, things are even worse now that under Bush. After spending millions of dollars in the 2008 elections and mobilizing millions of union workers to vote and campaign for the Democrats, we don't even have the Employee Free Choice Act to show for it, let alone the repeal of anti-labor laws like Taft-Hartley. This has led to several unions running, or at least seriously considering running, independent labor candidates in the 2010 midterm elections in states such as Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina. As disillusionment continues to grow in the years ahead, so too will interest in the idea of a mass labor party.

What would a mass Labor Party look like?

While the structure of such a party would have to be democratically determined by the membership, we do have some ideas to contribute to this discussion. For example, we think that the unions should  affiliate directly to this party and have voting rights based on their membership. The delegates from the unions should vote according to the democratic will of their membership. Also, we believe a mass labor party should have local branches, which anyone who believed in the cause of labor, whether or not they were a member of a union, could join. These branches should also be represented and have the right to vote in the party's conferences and congresses. Finally, we think such a party should also organize a youth wing, mobilizing young workers, students and unemployed. This youth wing should also be allowed voting rights in the party.

Would a mass labor party lead to a Republican victory?

Some will argue that a mass labor party would “split the Democratic Party vote” and lead to victory for the Republican Party. One consequence of “lesser evil” politics is that eventually, you always get the “greater” evil. Right now, with the Democrats in control of Congress and the Presidency, how much has really changed for the better? If a mass labor party is not built, as anger over the status quo builds up, what will happen? If there is no alternative, the Republican Party will eventually take back power and this party could move even further to the right. Without a labor party, the "lesser evil" politics that the present labor leadership practices has provided no resistance to the capitalists as they have pushed politics to the right in the last few decades as a way to deal with their crisis-ridden system.  At present, there is no political party that answers the lies and propaganda of big business.

The founding of a mass labor party would begin to educate the mass of workers and youth in this country as to how we can fight collectively for the interests of the working class majority and combat the lies of the bosses and their political parties. Deep down, many workers and youth sense that the two parties don’t represent them, but they feel that there is no realistic alternative. A labor party would work to win these people over by offering a program that would actually address the problems facing workers and young people.

By doing this, it could gain votes from those who now choose not to vote at all. It is true, however, that it would also take votes from the two major political parties, with more probably coming from the Democrats. The Democrats have long taken the votes of the labor movement, youth, women, and minorities for granted. But we believe that people should have the right to vote for who and what they actually want, and not have to settle for a "lesser evil."  If the political platform of a mass labor party is more appealing to voters, then too bad for the Democrats.

Eventually, a mass labor party could become the largest party as disgust with the two major parties increases. We don't want to build a "third" party -- we want to build a "first" party -- let the Democrats and Republicans fight for third place! It should be noted that in Canada, their labor party, known as the New Democratic Party (NDP), is still just third in size compared with the big business parties, yet its existence has forced the Canadian Capitalists to give more reforms. That is why, for example, Canadian workers have free universal health care and American workers do not.

Since organized labor is so small today, how could such a party be built today?

Even though only 12% of the labor force is in unions, that is still more than 12 million workers. These members and their families, combined with the collective resources of the labor movement as a whole, would have a huge political impact. We should also include the millions of retired union members. A mass labor party should also reach out to the millions of workers who would like to be members of a union, but who fear employer retaliation such as being fired or the workplace being closed. This would include the most oppressed and exploited workers, including the undocumented. We believe a labor party should fight to attain voting and trade union rights for all those who live here on the basis of "equal rights for equal work." Many people concerned about ending the wars abroad, getting free universal health care, and fighting for more funding for education would also look to a labor party. A labor party could win over those concerned about pollution and the environment and in favor of "green jobs."  It can be seen how quickly a large majority could be built up.

What happened to the Labor Party established in the 1990s?

In the 1990s, there was the beginning of a labor party in the US, but the vast majority of the unions in this country refused to break with the Democrats and Republicans and join this party. Even a few of the unions who supported the Labor Party also continued their support of some Democrats. The Labor Party could have played an educational role in developing a future mass labor party. It would have needed to organize rallies, mass meetings and run at least some candidates in some elections to build up its national and local profile. The fact that it did not do this led many people to drop out as they could not see it developing further. The Labor Party continues to exist, at least on paper, and in South Carolina has considered running a candidate in the 2010 midterm elections. We welcome this development and will work with the Labor Party and others, such as the North Carolina Families First Party, launched by SEIU, to build a truly mass party of labor on a national scale.

What changes will need to happen in the labor movement, prior to the establishment of a mass labor party?

We understand that after decades of voting for the Democrats and sometimes even the Republicans, many union leaders and rank and file members will be resistant to the idea of breaking with them and forming their own party. But we believe that the economic crisis facing us today will at a certain stage develop into a deepening social and political crisis. This will eventually and inevitably be reflected in the labor movement. Any labor leaders who take a step toward a labor party, independent of the two big business parties, should be supported. If leaders representing a noticeable section of the labor movement did so, this could open the flood gates and create a powerful movement and challenge to the domination of the Democrats and Republicans.

Americans are fond of the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And even when things aren't working right, Americans workers can be very patient while they "wait and see." But things are broken, and workers and young people are losing patience. We believe it is only a matter of time before Americans, in another of their great traditions, boldly "take things into their own hands" and build a mass political party that is truly of, by, and for the working majority.

Will the CMPL endorse candidates?

The CMPL is not a political party. However, we do want to get involved as a campaign in workers' economic and political struggles as a way of raising the need for a mass party of labor. In the absence of such a party, the CMPL may support independent labor candidates when and where they run. We may also consider supporting candidates from other parties that are truly independent of the Democrats and Republicans, if they are putting forward a pro-worker program and the need for a mass party of labor. If on a particular ballot there were several candidates that meet the above basic criteria, we would not necessarily be forced to pick and choose between candidates. While the members of the CMPL may decide to endorse a particular candidate, we may also simply inform voters of these various alternatives, and recommend a vote for any of them as a vote against the Democrats and Republicans, while pointing towards the need for a mass labor party as the only truly effective alternative to challenging the big business parties.