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AFL-CIO Convention Opens Discussion on Need to Break with ‘Lesser Evilism’

On October 24, the AFL-CIO national convention, held in St. Louis, adopted a political resolution titled “An Independent Political Voice” that calls for a break with “lesser of two evil politics.”

“For decades, the political system has failed working people,” reads the resolution submitted by Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. The resolution continues:

“Acting on behalf of corporations and the rich and powerful, the political system has been taking away, one after another, the pillars that support working people’s right to good jobs and secure benefits. … Against this, we have one choice. We must give working people greater political power by speaking with an unquestionably independent political voice, backed by a unified labor movement. The time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils.”

Convention delegates also adopted a second resolution on the subject titled, “Exploring New Directions for Labor in Electoral Politics.” This resolution points out that, “in the national elections, whether the candidates elected are from the Republican or Democratic Party, the interests of Wall Street have been protected and advanced, while the interests of labor and working people have generally been set back.”

It goes on to resolve that, “in addition to the traditional support for electoral candidates who are friends and allies of workers, the AFL-CIO also pursues a strategy of advancing our core issues through referenda and ballot initiatives and propositions at the statewide and local level; studies the viability of independent and third-party politics; and explores other reasonable means of advancing the interests of labor in electoral politics.”

“Is It Time for a Labor-Based Political Party?”

The adoption of these two resolutions followed an open forum the night before – attended by 50 convention delegates — titled, “Is It Time for a Labor-Based Political Party?” The forum was hosted by the American Postal Workers Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union. Forum speakers were Mark Dimondstein, president of APWU; Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee; Donna Dewitt, past president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO; and Mark Dudzic, national organizer of the Labor Committee for Single Payer.

In his remarks, Brother Dimondstein noted that he has been calling for a Labor Party since the passage of NAFTA in 1994, which he said showed that both Democrats and Republicans are in the pockets of the corporate class. Brother Velasquez affirmed that the Democrats “are not doing us any favors, never have and never will.”

All agreed that, yes, we need to form a new labor-based political party.

But when it came to answering the question, “Is it time to begin building such a labor-based political party?” many different points of view were expressed.

“We have to crawl before we walk, we have to walk before we run, and we have to run before we sprint,” said forum attendee Greg Junemann, president of the Professional and Technical Engineers.

“You have to have the labor movement at the table from the beginning” of the effort, “or you’re building sand castles,” Brother Dudzic explained. “We cannot build a party of labor when the working class is in retreat,” he added.

Constructing a Labor Party, Dimondstein said, will be a “long-range project and needs both community and labor support.”

Brother Velasquez and Sister Dewitt responded to these arguments by proposing that pro-Labor Party union members could get the ball rolling today by participating in electoral politics with independent labor-community slates, but starting at the local and state levels.

Need to Extend this Discussion Throughout the Labor Movement

It was clear from the speeches and discussion at the AFL-CIO convention that the labor movement is not about to bolt tomorrow from the Democratic Party. The adopted resolutions were meant more as a warning to the Democrats that they should not take labor for granted. Brother Saunders and Sister Weingarten are both members of the Democratic National Committee.

But it was also clear that the profound disaffection by the union ranks with the Democratic Party had made its way all the way to the floor of the national convention of the AFL-CIO.

When he was speaking in favor of the “Exploring New Directions” resolution, for example, Brother Dimondstein received loud applause when he pointed out that even when the Democrats gained total control of the presidency and Congress in the 2008 election, they not only didn’t follow through on labor law reform and other top worker priorities, but instead produced the Trans-Pacific Partnership “free trade” pact and similar measures. “The Democratic Party was not delivering anything,” he said, “even when it had control of the White House, the Congress and the Senate.”

Working people do not easily forget when promise after promise is betrayed.

The discussion that unfolded at the AFL-CIO convention needs to continue and be expanded throughout the labor movement. It’s a discussion that cannot be divorced from, but should be an integral part of, the fightback movements developing in labor and among labor’s community allies.

There is now a convention mandate to “stud[y] the viability of independent and third-party politics, and explore other reasonable means of advancing the interests of labor in electoral politics.”

Labor Party supporters within the trade union movement need to seize on this opening and run with it.

At a time when 61% of voters are calling for the formation of a new political party, according to a recent Gallup poll, it is time to engage the officials and ranks of the labor movement in a free-flowing discussion about what it will take to get the Labor Party off the ground. Let all voices be heard.

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