Labor Party
Source News for Social Justice Action
Date 05/05/11/01:54

The Labor Party: Past and Possible Future
Robert H. Mast

As the right-wing offensive continues its surge, those millions believing
in equality, justice, and freedom - the progressive left - face immense
challenges in ideology and organization. They must try to identify who
they are, understand what is happening in the world, and decide what role
and political priorities they can adopt in this newest version of an
ominous world. A lot of analysis and soul searching is required. Many
oppositional organizations have arisen in the last decade as a response to
the right-wing take-over of U. S. domestic and foreign policy. Among
these, the Labor Party (LP) ( founded in 1996,
bears scrutiny because of its anti-corporate and pro-working class nature,
its vision of grass-roots mobilization, and its experiments in party
building. I shall try here to review the party's organizational experience
and relationship with unions, communities, and the left. My information
comes from nine years of direct party work in Pittsburgh, Albuquerque, and
Detroit, along with monitoring of party activity around the
country. Finally, I'll speculate on a future LP that adopts a plan to
closely link progressive unions with progressive community groups around
the LP ideology and program.

The need is great today to review and learn from past political
experience. This is required as a first step in building effective
organization that can lead resistance to the right-wing onslaught and turn
the direction of this country more toward democracy and equality. A
broadly defined 'working class' is the constituency and building block, and
from that large sector must come future political initiatives. Modest
beginnings are seen in such organizations as U. S. Labor Against the War
and the Million Worker March Committee. Such groups extend the reach and
outlook of the peace and justice movement into deeper dimensions of class

Except in a general way, my purpose is not to dwell upon the dynamics and
nuances of capitalism. Many better minds than mine continue to inform us
of these patterns in persuasive detail. I accept that capitalism's
internal contradictions are endemic and not reformable from a working class
perspective. Serious systemic crises currently operate, with greater ones
coming. I expect intensified 'creative destruction' of capital and
workers, chronic militarism, and nonstop organizing of resistance by the
world's exploited and oppressed. I accept that this all is part of the
long-term historical process leading toward more humane solutions. The tiny
LP experiment in the late 20th Century in the U. S. is part of this process.

Summary of Labor Party Motion

"History in the Making" was emblazoned on delegates' badges at the founding
convention of the Labor Party, on June 6-9, 1996 in Cleveland, Ohio where
some 1400 mostly-union delegates formed a new independent working class
party. A constitution was created, an elementary national structure was
formed, and an unusually progressive platform was hammered out by this
first national union-based 'labor party' since the 19th Century. For about
three years the challenge of a labor party spread widely and enticed many
unions and individuals to it. At its peak in 1998-9 the party had some
15,000 members, 50 local chapters, and several hundred endorsing or
affiliated unions that represented two million workers (some 13 percent of
the unionized).

Like much of working class activism today, the LP is in a declining-hold
mode, though the party maintains a skeleton office in Washington, D. C.
headed by Mark Dudzik, formerly of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and
Energy Workers (PACE), with financial support from a small core of
unions. The bimonthly Labor Party Press did good investigative journalism,
but in April 2005 was replaced by the considerably abbreviated Labor Party
News. The LP Interim National Council (INC) meets irregularly and focuses
mostly on specific elements of the LP program (single-payer, free higher
education, and labor law reform). The impact of anti-working class
domestic and world trends fortunately are limbering up some INC members,
along with Dudzik, who are beginning a creative search for new
approaches. Local and state chapter organizing activity is minimal, though
Iraq and the 2004 elections have induced some new energy in those chapters
retaining LP identity and some continuity with local activism. Individual
LP membership may have reduced by more than two-thirds since peak (numbers
are not published). Reportedly, a number of endorsing or affiliated unions
have drawn back financial and organizing support. Some critics say the
party is dead or never really took life, others say it's slumbering. Still
others say it was a feel-good pipe dream, following the tradition of labor
party failures in U. S. history, and emulating conservative labor parties
in other parts of the world. However, a hardened minority of
left-dedicated activists who truly support working class power has not
given up the search for party renewal. Their work may bear fruit in time.

The Rise of the LP

The officially-created LP of 1996 that crested about 1999 was really begun
in the early 1990s as Labor Party Advocates (LPA). This was a creature of
now-deceased Tony Mazzocchi of the old Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers
(OCAW), with the help of a sizeable handful of left leaders from such
unions as the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) and the
west coast sector of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's
Union (ILWU). Scores of labor academics, independent intellectuals,
detached socialists, and class-conscious progressives further facilitated
the LP planning and organizing thrust. Mazzocchi made hundreds of visits
to unions and progressive gatherings to beat the LP drum and encourage
unionists to help move the LP project forward. His message of hope, class
politics, and independence from the two main parties resonated among
many. Among those attracted were radical liberals with a socialist stripe
(progressives?), some students and their left professors, labor scholars,
left union functionaries and their followings, union retirees with some
memory of past labor struggles, cadre from the variously-sectarian Marxist
grouplets, and some activists from grass roots community groups. LPA
community chapters became established in some 26 states, usually in urban
centers with higher union densities and left traditions. LPA units also
were created in several hundred union bodies with some kind of left presence.

The Cleveland founding convention in 1996 - one of my more inspiring
political moments - brought it all tentatively together. Despite growing
national conservatism, labor's weakness, a new world capitalist order, and
the international decline of socialism, many of us became totally dedicated
to building an independent left party grounded in the unions and embracing
the community. Later, we resonated to the LP's electoral resolution,
passed at the 1998 First Constitutional Convention, which began with, "The
Labor Party is unlike any other party in the United States. We stand
independent of the corporations and their political representatives in the
Democratic and Republican parties. Our overall strategy is for the
majority of American people - working class people - to take political
power." This was to be the new thrust of the 21st century, drawing on the
rich experience of labor parties throughout the world and the earlier days
of the U. S. labor movement, and building on the left-liberal penchant
among a substantial sector in the U. S.

In the early 90s, few progressives saw labor as any kind of political
vanguard. Many were prejudiced toward organized labor because of
industrial partnerships, internal corruption, and marriage to the
Democratic Party. Many were turned off by electoral politics and preferred
'street heat,' or other forms of resistance adopted in the 60s, as we wait
for capitalism's implosion and an impoverished working class spontaneously
rising up in self interest. The efforts of Mazzocchi and fellow Labor
Party builders were not broadly known. However, as the word spread slowly,
some left-progressives (inside and outside the union structures) became
party activists. Since this was a period of third party formation, some
joined the other left-like parties being formed - New Party, Green Party,
Working Families Party - that, unlike the LP, quickly experimented with
electoral politics. The mainstream media chose to ignore the LP phenomenon
while much of the left-wing press gave it cautious and mixed reviews.

The LP Program

The LP Program ("A Call for Economic Justice") is a remarkable package (for
the period) of anti-corporate/capital, pro-people/worker
demands. Researched and drafted by LPA activists and consultants, the
Program was approved by the 1996 convention and slightly revised by the
1998 convention. It consists of 16 points that can be broken into three
separate, but overlapping, agendas. The first agenda is to rein in the
power of capital by ending corporate abuse of trade, ending corporate
welfare, ending corporate dominated elections, and making the wealthy pay
their fair share of taxes. The second agenda is to greatly enhance the
power and security of workers by guaranteeing a living wage job to all;
protecting the right to organize, bargain, and strike (repeal Taft-Hartley,
etc.); involving workers more in workplace quality and technology;
improving their hours, benefits, and compensation. The third agenda deals
with the broad public responsibilities of government: single-payer
universal health system, free public education at all levels, an ending of
discrimination and bigotry, and a public obligation to provide for the
security and well being of all in such areas as infrastructure,
transportation, environment, housing, and social security.

This package of demands may seem very radical in the present period. It is
not unlike some socialist-leaning agendas of earlier European social
democracy. It emulates some of the ambitions of Roosevelt's New Deal and
the progressive inclinations of the 60s. The LP program, done in some
haste by a rag-tag of union and academic radicals, tried to accommodate to
built-in union conservatism. Thus, the original program did not adequately
cover such areas as racial/gender justice, housing, environment, and
foreign policy. Following the lead of U. S. Labor Against the War,
however, foreign policy finally was brought into focus with the February,
2003 statement "Labor Party Interim National Committee Statement Against
War in Iraq." ( Whatever its
omissions, the LP program is deeply class based. Without equivocation, it
calls the working class to struggle for its legal and moral rights and to
mobilize political opposition to corporate capitalism. The program sets
minimum quality-of-life rights and standards for all. It challenges the
working class to take more control of the process of income production and
workplace life. The program was written in the early Clinton years when
the lot of the working class was steadily being eroded by 'bipartisan'
congresses that generally represented the interests of capital. Reaganism,
neo-liberalism, right-wing think tanks, and the Project for the New
American Century had surely kicked in. The LP program called for a major
restructuring of class, income, and the rights of workers. This was a
direct ideological challenge to the maturing right-wing offensive.

The LP Structure and Process

Early LP activists saw a new working class party emerging from a small base
of progressive unions (e.g. OCAW and UE). As that base grew and became
viable, as the LP matured, other unions would give greater priority to the
LP and dedicate more resources to it. Then increasingly more community
groups and single-issue movements would be drawn into an enlarging system
moving collectively toward fundamental political and social
change. "Social movement unionism" is the term some use to summarize the
process. Though U. S. labor history shows the great success of this
strategy, the union movement basically abandoned it after World War Two in
favor of 'value added unionism' (facilitating the work process) and the
politics of accommodation. From 1987 to the present, Jobs with Justice - a
union-community progressive formation - has experimented with social
movement unionism, sometimes quite successfully. An adumbrated, and
failed, version of this strategy was tried in the 1990s by the AFL-CIO's
Union Cities project that would function through the thousands of central
labor councils throughout the country. In contrast, the LP envisioned
building a large social movement of unions and the progressive community
under the banner of the LP program and a future electoral capability.

The Mazzocchi people wanted a party with eventual divisions that
corresponded to legal voting boundaries (national, state, county, city,
precinct, etc.), reflecting the model of a traditional political
party. Though the founders of the LP (mostly union functionaries) were not
inclined toward a slam-dunk electoral capability, they still hoped that an
electoral-type geographical structure would be formed at the founding
convention. The LPA bodies that preceded the founding convention, however,
were something akin to left affinity groups, some at the workplace, others
in the community. Their purpose was to agitate and organize for a new
working class party. Most of these groups had created loose geographically
based structures with recognized leaders. Their delegates came to the
convention with an identity more local than national. Though representing
a jerry-built system of near-phantom LP groups, they successfully lobbied
to be grandfathered into the new party as community-based chapters ranging
in scope from the region or state to the small city levels. Convention
delegates returned home in June, 1996 fired up to expand or create LP units
in their unions and geographic spaces. Many drew up constitutions and
by-laws that approximated union models.

The party's Interim National Council at its peak consisted of delegates
from the 10 international/national affiliated unions, along with delegates
from other labor bodies, worker-supportive organizations, and the
chapters. The party tried to achieve a national leadership balance
reflecting the nation's workplaces and population, so the INC's composition
continued to expand and diversify in the early years. Some participants at
the founding convention (e.g. National Welfare Rights Union, Kensington
Welfare Rights Union) insisted, with some force and success, that the LP
leadership include representatives from groups that struggle for the poorer
non-unionized sections of the working class. Then in 1999, under pressure
from the community chapters, five regional chapter representatives were
seated on the INC, each being given 1/5 of one vote. Previously, the
community chapters were hardly acknowledged formally and not listed in the
Labor Party Press. Notwithstanding limited resources, the National did
make an effort to manage and facilitate the growing complex of LP
organizations. Three regional organizers (Mid-Atlantic, New England, and
Pacific) were put in place. The national office did its best to respond to
requests from the grassroots.

From the beginning, the founding unions controlled LP decision making and
policy, and provided necessary finance. I believe the better side of union
democracy and philosophy was expressed in the development of the LP. Some
disagreeing elements, both inside and outside the union loops, complained
that key unions like OCAW and UE had unfair influence in general and
excessive voting power at the three national conventions (1996, 1998, and
2002). On the other side, these unions provided necessary party building
resources and motivation as they risked further alienation in a period of
reaction and union decline. They showed flexibility in absorbing the old
LPA bodies and embracing worker-supportive organizations in 1996. In 1998
the leading unions gave their blessing to an electoral policy and a
national organizing structure that promised to go deeply into the grass
roots. But the unions' internal LP dynamics and structural configurations
always were murky areas to many of us. Hundreds of union bodies officially
endorsed or affiliated with the LP, but it never was clear how the internal
process worked, what the structures looked like, and if or how unions would
coalesce with the community. It was essentially a top-down
operation. With notable exceptions like OCAW and UE, it appeared that most
national affiliated unions failed to filter their LP policies and plans
down to lower bodies. Since unionists commonly constituted over 70 percent
of a community LP membership, it was natural for them to be the chapter's
officers or role models. Meetings frequently were held in union halls, but
seldom seemed to be sponsored or organized by a union.

The 50 or so geographic LP bodies (urban, regional, and state) were
relatively autonomous and marginally democratic. Spread throughout the
country, they hypothetically embodied and crisscrossed the unions in their
space. They were burdened by the lack of a national plan for their
organization and development. Clearly, the National lacked funds to
dedicate to the complex task of building at the community level. The
National was sometimes condemned as having a lackluster attitude, while
others at the local level were pleased at not being micromanaged from
Washington. The National focused more on union mobilization and
recruitment on the assumption that resource growth from the union base
(finance and personnel) eventually could be funneled to the LP bodies
outside the union structure. As the national convention of 1998
approached, many party activists, experiencing the dissonance that
accompanies ambiguous structure, were ready for a formal restructuring of
the LP. The two years since the founding convention showed growth in party
numbers, party organizations, and slowly increasing public
acceptance. This growing complex had to be somehow managed more
efficiently, guidelines for the community bodies had to be developed, and
the electoral question had to be resolved. Though less dramatic than the
1966 convention, the 1988 convention produced some clever and rational
resolutions that were hoped would begin a successful restructuring process.

Resolution Two ("Change the Party Structure to Organize Faster and Meet New
Responsibilities") spoke directly to the issues of structure and
organizing, and was strategically creative. Resolution Two said, "Party
organization must go to where our constituency live and work. Very few
people will seek out the Party if it is distant and inconvenient to
them. Consequently, the base unit of the Party, its recruiting and
organizing edge is the local organizing committee. A Labor Party
organizing committee should be easy to form and administer, accessible and
convenient to our constituency, and able to directly talk, recruit and
mobilize people face-to-face. This Party places organizing above all else."

Union affiliates were encouraged to have "a Labor Party steward on every
job, a Labor Party committee in every workplace and local union." The
chapters had to decide if they would try to meet the new requirement of 250
members to continue chapter status, of if they would opt into the new
structural identity called the local organizing committee (LOC). A solid
number of chapters decided to go through the difficult process of designing
a medium term strategic plan to meet requirements of the National. Some
chapters just opted for LOC status. Meanwhile, a special INC committee
headed by Ed Bruno (New England organizer) reviewed chapter plans for
approval and made recommendations for change. Since the 1998 convention
had approved electoral capability, the Bruno committee pushed strongly for
chapters' geographical identity being based on congressional districts (or
associated zip codes). The party finally had come back full circle to the
early LPA days when Mazzocchi's preference was for a party based on
electoral districts.

Whether in unions or the community, the local organizing committee concept
was brilliant. It continued the solid theory-practice legacy of union and
community organizing that has stood the test of time. By the end of 1999
four LOC bodies were granted charters by the National and over 20 LOCs were
in formation. However, organizing an LOC was a mighty task that required
more guidance and resources than were available from a party fumbling for
survival in an increasingly reactionary national milieu. Another 1998
convention resolution complemented the one that set up the LOC
structure. Called the "LP Style of Work," this resolution in part said,
"Whereas, the only method open to us is to move beyond "politics as usual,"
bringing millions of ordinary people into the fight for a new political
agenda and that organizing - disciplined, nitty-gritty, face-to-face
organizing - is the Labor Party style of work." Each LP member was
challenged to recruit another person (workmate, friend, family, neighbor),
allowing the party to increase geometrically. If the local organizing
committee (both in unions and communities) had become joined with the "each
one recruit one" mandate, the party might have grown considerably. But
other factors obviously were operating that prevented this from happening.

The Left

For present purposes, the 'left' is defined as those persons who believe
that some form of socialist or cooperative society is necessary to regulate
(or abolish) capitalism, to redistribute wealth, and to protect and nourish
the working class (the term 'progressive' may or may not include this
definition). Tens of hundreds of the left around the country became LP
activists, however short the time. They brought to the party extensive
skills and knowledge that generally belong to those with a left
background. They were a remarkable mix of independents and representatives
from nearly every left tendency (revolutionary, socialist, anarchist,
communist, social democratic, etc.) Nearly all had some exposure to
Marxist or socialist thought and strongly endorsed the LP's class-based,
control-the-corporations approach. Though LP literature never mentioned
capitalism, socialism, or imperialism (illustrating today's left language
laundering), these concepts nevertheless flooded the consciousness of LP

A number were past or present devotees of various left groups or
theoretical tendencies, a potentially divisive situation. They brought
some long-standing animosities and disagreements to supposedly-neutral LP
territory. In fact, it appeared that the LP served as an imperfect vehicle
for compromise or reconciliation among those who would be left
antagonists. The LP targeted a class enemy with an imperial foreign
policy, though not in so many words. This political declaration promoted
temporary unity (or lesser conflict) among those who otherwise may have
engaged in sectarian bickering. Many left LP activists were challenged
with the task of building a new radical party from the ground up, a new
party that embraced both unions and community organizations. Thus, they
dedicated their abundant energy and organizing skills (much coming from
seasoned union organizers) to this mighty task.

This is not to say that tension, distrust, caution, or jealousy did not
exist; indeed, most LP bodies likely experienced these quasi-paranoid
symptoms, which are so common in the U. S. left, and which are to be
expected in a predominately capitalist political culture which exerts
enormous conformity pressure on citizens. Contradictorily, the generalized
'left' also has a deep internal love and sense of extended family
membership that is based on a fairly similar world view and political
strategy. And this is what drew large numbers of the left to the LP and
allowed a reasonable degree of communication and tactical
cooperation. However, working together to build a new left political
project in a right-wing day and age, without adequate organization and
strategic plans, suggested a recipe for confusion, if not disaster. Some
left activists were charged with lurking on the edges to recruit LP members
into their 'parent' group. The charter of the reportedly 1000-member Metro
New York chapter was pulled sometime in 2000 because of alleged business
improprieties, but it was generally speculated that age-old sectarian
struggles were being played out. Party critics asserted that this was
another case of 'Trots' or 'Stalinists' or 'Anarchists' or agents of some
kind just performing their usual destructive behavior. However applicable
in one sense, that is too simplistic an explanation. Of greater importance
was the immense and difficult challenge of building a new class-based party
with inadequate resources, no practical experience, a relatively hostile
union 'establishment,' a cynical electorate - all affected by the
on-rushing right-wing behemoth.

The Unions

Of all U. S. institutions, the House of Labor has been the most vibrant and
viable agent of change on behalf of the working class. The centuries-old
struggle of workers to improve their lot and change society has affected
law, wealth distribution, and quality of life. The union movement, born in
the U.S., was radical, strong in numbers and dedication, proud of its
history, in possession of resources, and skilled in organizing. Though
union strengths and attributes were deteriorating by the time the LP was
conceptualized, a labor party political alternative made sense to many. It
would pursue the long tradition of labor parties in the U. S. which, in
certain times past, had made a considerable difference. Surely, it was
thought, there was a great need for a workers' party, so why not give it a

Early on, Mazzocchi and associates stirred some radical ripples at all
levels of organized labor, quite an extraordinary thing in the conservative
90s. With patience and persuasion they brought the LP vision and program
to the progressive wing of the House of Labor. They paved the LP way in
many union bodies, including those as diverse as the American Federation of
Government Employees (federal), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way
(railroad), United Mine Workers, and California Nurses Association. Since
a small left-progressive core exists in numerous unions, it is
understandable that several hundred union bodies officially affiliated
(provided money) with the LP or endorsed it (no money necessary). With
varying levels of steadfastness, these unions responded to the LP vision
and program, and provided most of the initial recruits for the LP
project. Many were experienced union builders or active in social/economic
justice struggles. One-half to three-quarters of chapter-based LP members
were rank and file unionists, but few upwardly mobile union functionaries
spent the $20 to join the party.

A strong feature of local LP work was street support for union
demonstrations, strikes, and organizing drives. The more hardy and
dedicated would integrate LP banners and flyers with the union ones, or set
up LP tables at union affairs for advertising and recruitment
purposes. This did not endear the LP to some union bureaucrats whose
instructions to 'leave the LP alone' came directly from their national. LP
unionists often were confused whether their main public identity should be
LP or union. Many LP unionists also were officers of union locals or
delegates to central labor councils, thus affording a communication flow
between the LP and union bodies. LP meetings and business practices
generally followed union traditions, and many chapter meetings were held in
union halls.

Some party builders supported initiatives in unorganized workplaces where
disgruntled workers were ready to form or join a union (surveys in
unorganized workplaces have shown that up to one-half of the workers would
join a union if one were available). In some cases, LP activists linked
unorganized workers with seemingly appropriate union functionaries in hopes
of beginning an organizing process that might lead to NLRB recognition. It
is my impression that few of these cases were successful, partly due to
labor's lack of resources and partly because the LP was not sufficiently
trusted as the go-between. Greater success emerged from the early-'90s
inception of a non-majority unionization thrust in which NLRB certification
was not the absolute goal. For example, Southern-based Black Workers for
Justice (BWJ) provided workplace organizing models that sought community
alliances, a form of social movement unionism. BWJ also tendered its
wisdom to the LP in the party's early formative days.

Information on LP development in the unions did not filter down
meaningfully through party channels. It never was certain whether this
was because of underdeveloped administration, lack of
resources, privileged information, shortage of information, little to
report, or confusion on how and what to communicate. The typical
on-the-ground LP activist found the union element of the LP to be a
relatively unknown quality and quantity. All the while, the Labor Party
Press reported larger numbers of endorsing or affiliating labor bodies,
until finally the number of represented workers exceeded two million as we
entered the 21st Century.

Perhaps there was an element of grandiloquence in these figures, but there
is little doubt that many left-progressive union functionaries, applying
the LP style of work, were inching the party forward in diversified union
contexts. Thousands of active rank and file were being reminded that, to
quote labor scholar Nelson Lichtenstein, "---the fate of American labor is
linked to the power of the ideas and values that sustain it" (State of the
Union, Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 275). Labor scholars also were
promoting independent labor politics. Michael Yates wrote, "Labor's need
is to develop a politics of its own, an independent politics, one to which
it holds no matter what policies are promoted by the two parties of
capital" (Why Unions Matter, (Monthly Review Press, 1998, p. 103).

The more progressive union leaders privately acknowledged the importance of
the LP concept, but they were plagued by their own organizational problems
emerging from objective domestic and world conditions unfolding for the
last 50 years. The chief, and well known, conditions include globalized
ownership, finance, production, and services; development in technology;
anti-unionism and class inequality; the 'rush to the bottom' for cheap
labor; a labor-management 'team' approach to work organization; and a
generalized anti-worker, pro-corporate conservatism that permeates all
classes and institutions. Tony Mazzocchi's final written statement (July,
2002) just weeks before his death from pancreatic cancer noted, "Unions are
besieged. They are losing ground on every front. They are consumed with
day-to-day struggles. Except for a very few, they are in retreat. Several
prominent labor leaders have told me that while they agree with the Labor
Party ideologically, they have to be very pragmatic in this era. They fear
losing access to politicians needed to help them survive."

U. S. history shows that organized labor has experienced crises before and
overcame them, but globalization and other trends makes labor's struggles
much tougher today. The industrial pluralism model of the 1950s (labor and
management are equals) has little applicability as labor's clout declines
precipitously. Since corporate capitalism has been in a rate-of-profit
crisis since the 1960s, the main agenda of its think tanks and political
allies has been to slow or reverse the profit decline through policy and
legal changes that effectively attack the U. S. (and world's) working
classes. Capital's practices are well known: international agreements
like NAFTA, outsourcing, anti-unionism, technological change,
intensification of work, 'bilateral' relationships with government
agencies, and 'bipartisan' pacts with the two parties of capital. Unlike
most other countries, the U. S. working class has no political party to
protect its interests. The negative impact on the working class and its
organizations has been astounding.

It is well known that unions are fighting defensive rear guard actions
regardless of their changed organizing priorities in the last 10 years that
partly resulted from the 1995 change in AFL-CIO leadership. Union density
(percent of the total labor force that is unionized) peaked at about 35
percent in 1950, fell to 29 percent in 1973, reduced to about 16 percent in
1991, and hovers just above 11 percent today. With a continuously
enlarging 'official' workforce of now over 130 million (80 percent of
recent additions being in the lower paid service sector), there has been a
fairly constant total of 16 million unionists for several decades. Though
not an insubstantial number in terms of political action, workplace
militancy of the past has been replaced with accommodation and retreat. A
major indicator of this motion is the decreasing number of strikes over
time. In 1970 there were 381 major work stoppages (over 1,000 workers)
involving about two and one-half million workers and nearly 53 million days
idle. The year 1985 saw just 54 strikes with 324,000 workers and seven
million days idle. Today there are about 25 strikes annually involving
less than 100,000 workers, and no more than one million days idle. We are
in a state of relative workplace peace that benefits corporate capitalism
to the profound detriment of the workers.

But nothing stands still for long. As corporate capital continues to
consolidate, globalize, and gain power, organized labor searches for
innovative strategies to challenge the corporate colossus; strategies that
might arrest, if not reverse, the race to the bottom. The restructuring
calls by SEIU and its affiliates in the now-defunct New Unity Partnership,
along with similar calls from other unions, should guarantee a spirited
gathering at the July, 2005 AFL-CIO convention. As corporations inevitably
merge and consolidate across the world, so have the unions in individual
countries. The continuing wave of union mergers in the past decade is
intended to gain strategic leverage through streamlining operations,
devoting more resources to organizing, and changing the density
patterns. LP-founding OCAW (oil and chemical) merged several years ago
with the paper workers to form PACE, which now has merged with the
LP-friendly United Steelworkers to form the largest U. S. industrial
union: United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy,
Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union. Since each new
merger tends to alter elements of the former unions, OCAW's earlier
priority to the LP has been watered down (not abandoned) in the absorption
process. The results of labor's current discontents and restructuring
efforts remain to be seen. Mega unions with more muscle may emerge. There
is an "upsurge" potential if unions ally with the community (see Dan
Clawson, The Next Upsurge, Cornell University Press, 2003). Will the
restructuring struggles and debates induce more unions (or more rank and
file) to turn to the LP as an alternative to business as usual? A key
question for present purposes, the answer may depend on the organizing
perspective of the future LP.

The LP and the Community

One of the most challenging aspects of LP activism at its peak was outreach
to non-union workers (some 88 percent of the labor force). The LP was
based in the unions, and the great majority of members came from that
source. But unions are a finite recruiting ground, especially if the
leadership is hostile or neutral due to two-party loyalty. Many chapters
tried to recruit broadly in their communities so as to achieve the critical
mass needed for promotion of the LP vision and program, and successfully
engage in any future electoral campaigns. What little public image the LP
generated came from 'newsworthy' participation in local labor actions and
community events.

When the idea of the LP began to percolate among left-progressive and
radical groups in the early 90s, many were cautious about unions leading a
new class-based movement. Social movement unionism, if thought of at all,
was considered an artifact predating World War Two and mostly irrelevant in
the modern period. People leading progressive and radical groups at the
time were likely to have been at the early end of the boomer
generation. 'Red diaper babies' (those counseled by a left-oriented
family) seemed more open to the possibility of radical union action. Most
radical community leaders, however, were skeptical. They were the products
of specific race, gender, anti-war, environment, and class-based movements
of the 60s and 70s in which unions participated weakly, if at
all. Furthermore, certain errors and omissions of the earlier movements
(e.g. weak class analysis, while male supremacy, inattention to the grass
roots, inefficient organization) were carried forth into the 90s by many
who had lost their revolutionary zeal, were tired or burnt out, or had made
their peace with the establishment. Meanwhile, the right-wing onslaught
continued to ravage the union movement and stifle progressive dissent.

Though the above scenario did not portend well for the formation of a new
working class-based independent party, progressive things existed that
encouraged optimism among early LP organizers. Critically important was
the presence of thousands of 60s-70s activists who still tried to express
their progressive instincts in social action or survival projects emerging
from secular or faith contexts. They had experience, skills, and talent
that might be directed towards a more class-based action. Along with a
growing number of politicized youth, they focused on issues such as race,
gender, poverty, urban decay, U. S. foreign policy, sweatshop labor,
globalization, deindustrialization, and immigration. They constituted (and
continue to constitute) the broader left-activist community with a
deepening tactical appreciation for the principles of "think globally, act
locally" or "all politics is local." Many were attracted to the LP
concept. As noted earlier, some groups (e.g. National Welfare Rights
Union) insisted they be included in national LP policy making because they
represented the poorest and underserved of the working class. At least
nominally, several of these groups were accepted into the LP as
worker-supportive organizations. This new category advanced the perception
that the LP's constituency was broadly working class, and not only based in
the unions. A potentially important leap, the LP now could include diverse
community groups that advocated for the rights of all workers (whether
fully employed, partly employed, or unemployed) or fought for selected
constituencies (racial, gender, etc.) that may have been historically
underserved by the progressive movements.

[View the list]

InternetBoard v1.0
Copyright (c) 1998, Joongpil Cho