|/* Written 9:47 PM Aug 16, 1998 by firstname.lastname@example.org in igc:labr.all */
/* ---------- "Labor Notes on the LP" ---------- */
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Date: Sun, 16 Aug 1998 18:11:50 -0600 (MDT)
From: ANDERSON DAVID
LABOR PARTY TO HOLD FIRST CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
by Kim Moody and Jane Slaughter
Not so many years ago, the idea of a labor party was little more
than a slogan. In 1996, a handful of unions along with 1,350 convention
delegates took the plunge and founded the Labor Party. Today five
international unions, several regional labor bodies, scores of local
unions, and thousands of individual members belong to the Labor Party. This
fledgling political organization will take its second step at its First
Constitutional Convention November 13-15 in Pittsburgh.
No one would say that the Labor Party is a real political party,
much less a contender in U.S. politics, yet. But Tony Mazzocchi, long the
leading advocate of such a party, says, "We've established an on-going
entity and a certain institutionalization with the affiliated unions."
Chris Townsend, political director of the United Electrical Workers
(UE), expressed a similar thought: "Our success is that the period of
establishment is over. Support from the unions was critical."
Each affiliated union pays $10,000 a year. In the last several
months both the SEIU and the IUE have contributed amounts equivalent to the
affiliation fee though they have declined to become formal endorsers. The
SEIU even sent out Labor Party convention calls to all its local unions.
Sean Sweeney of the New York Metro chapter cites a local union that
contributed $20,000 for local organizing efforts there.
Townsend notes that earlier labor party efforts in the 1920s and
1940s put all their hopes in high-profile national elections, only to
disappear. The 1990s Labor Party, at its first convention, specifically
rejected running candidates. At November's convention, however, an
approach to elections will be proposed by the party's Electoral
Commission. It is likely to be one of the more contentious debates, as it was in
Ed Bruno, New England organizer for the party, points out that this
time the major discussion won't be whether to run candidates, but "how
strict the organizational requirements will be on electoral
The proposal includes:
*Candidates are to be held accountable to the Party both before and after
election. Elected officials who do not abide by the LP platform will not
be endorsed for re-election.
*The Labor Party will not endorse candidates of other parties, nor will
Labor Party candidates run simultaneously on the ballot line of another
party. In other words, the Labor Party rejects the "fusion" tactic used
by the New Party, in which that party's candidates also run as Democrats.
*Local Labor Party campaigns must have the approval of the National
*Campaigns are to be "credible" rather than purely educational: A
chartered Labor Party should exist at the state level. Endorsing unions
should represent a significant portion of union membership in the area,
"sufficient to ensure that Labor Party candidate will be seen as the
labor candidate." The campaign should have endorsements from community
organizations, and money. The district should include a significant
number of Labor Party members. Local party structures should notify the national
party at least a year in advance, when planning a campaign.
However, the proposal includes much language that is open to
interpretation--"significant," "sufficient"--and gives national leaders
some flexibility. A proposed local campaign might not meet all the written
requirements but still get the green light.
Many chapter activists believe that the requirements preclude any
campaigns in the near term. The sad fact is that there is probably not a
single city in the country where the labor movement is both strong enough
and willing to mount a credible Labor Party campaign. Framers of the
proposal are said to want to rule out campaigns that have little chance
of making a strong showing.
Others are concerned that the proposal allows the national
leadership to have the final say-so on whether a local campaign may be run. Again,
this requirement is seen by others as a safeguard against some local
chapters running candidates before they can do so effectively.
Some delegates will likely raise amendments to make it more
possible to run candidates soon by, for example, lowering the number of members
required to charter a state party (currently 1,000).
Many Labor Party activists have expressed frustration with the
relatively slow growth of the organization. Yet the party has experienced
growth in a number of ways.
As Sweeney of the New York chapter points out, there are now 43
chapters, some of which have grown significantly. The New York chapter
has 630 members, although, as in most chapters, the number of activists
Ten locals of the United Mine Workers have affiliated. Three of the
affiliated international unions, UE, OCAW, and the Brotherhood of
Maintenance of Way Employees, have conducted internal organizing drives.
They have started going local-by-local to set up committees, or, in the
case of the UE, "Shop Clubs," and recruit individual members. The UE boasts
45 locals that have affiliated with the Labor Party, and 500 individual
The Labor Party faces the dilemma that it is not yet strong enough
to do what political parties usually do--and what establishes a party in the
public view--that is, run candidates. It needs to become much bigger and
more established in the unions--but, without electoral campaigns, has not
yet found a way to grow qualitatively. The major problem facing the Labor
Party is not internal, but rather an inhospitable outside world in which
the majority of labor leaders are hostile to the project.
"We have to recruit face-to-face," says Ed Bruno. But he also
argues that the party needs, "two or three good campaigns" around
specific issues. Many members were unenthusiastic about the party's only
official campaign up till now--a constitutional amendment guaranteeing
jobs for all at a living wage. Many chapters took petitions door to door but
found that the rather abstract call was not an aid to recruitment.
The convention will discuss proposals for other possible campaigns.
National health care is the most prominent; other proposals are to save
Social Security, to agitate against "trade" agreements such as MAI, and
to promote labor law reform.
Townsend of the UE agrees on the bottom-up approach. "How do you
build a Labor Party in a labor movement where so many unions are
dominated by business unionism?" he asks. "We're starting with the
accessible activists at the shop and local level: the stewards,
delegates, local officials."
The 1996 founding convention was a lively and contentious affair.
Few expect the First Constitutional Convention to be dull. Sweeney argues
that, "The party's internal atmosphere has improved greatly in the past
two years." With at least three unions (the UE, OCAW, and BMWE)
supporting the Electoral Commission's proposal, the division between
chapter and unions so apparent in 1996 will be less pronounced this time.
At the 1996 convention, union delegates sat at the front of the hall and
chapter delegates at the back. This time, delegate seating will be mixed
throughout the hall.
Beyond the caucusing over issues and brisk floor debate, what may
well be most important is the vision of working people charting their own
[For more information call the Labor Party at 202-234-5194.]