PERSPECTIVE ON LABOR : Take Politics Into Your Own Hands : Democrats have stopped listening, so labor must form its own party to fight for prosperity for working people.
Unless the trade union movement in the United States seizes the political initiative and organizes a Labor Party, it will never again be the force it once was. This Labor Day, more than ever, it is clear that such a step is absolutely necessary if we are to address the pressing needs of working Americans.
Trade unionists like myself have spent millions of dollars and devoted countless hours as volunteers to put sympathetic Democrats (and even an occasional Republican) in office. But what do we have to show for our efforts? Politicians love us on Labor Day. If we are on strike, they may issue a statement of support, or join us on the picket line--though that is increasingly rare. But when the parades stop, these same politicians are nowhere to be found. At least not until the next election.
According to recent surveys by the Labor Institute, more than half of all trade union members now believe that neither party any longer represents the best interests of working people, and two-thirds think that both parties care more about big business than they do about working Americans. Even more astonishing, more than half of those polled agree that it is time for the labor movement to organize its own party.
There are some in the trade union movement who think that to advocate a Labor Party is a formula for wandering in the political wilderness. In fact, we already are in the political wilderness. Long ago, when the established parties depended on precinct captains rather than media consultants to get out the vote, grass-roots organizations like the trade unions--the largest single bloc of organized voters in the country--were a real power and union officials were actually listened to. Now, however, the most important precondition for getting elected is pleasing big-money campaign contributors, not voters. As a result, labor’s agenda falls on deaf ears in Congress and the White House.
Many trade unionists continue to hope that the Democratic Party will once again become a party of the people. And there are still enough New Deal Democrats to make this hope seem faintly plausible. One of them may even become the party’s presidential candidate in 1992. But if the political history of the last 20 years teaches us anything, it is that this hope is without any foundation in reality.
It is time to face facts. The Democratic Party has been irrevocably changed. Once it was a real grass-roots organization, sustained by an active membership and able to deliver votes to candidates who stuck up for its platform. Today it is little more than a fund-raising umbrella for a self-perpetuating club of politicians who feel a greater obligation to their campaign contributors and other incumbents, regardless of party, than they do to the voters who elected them.
The only way we can change this equation is to create a party of our own. What would a Labor Party in the United States stand for?
-- A return to a more progressive tax system.
-- Comprehensive public services, fully funded and staffed.
-- Laws that make it easier to organize unions.
-- Equal and guaranteed health, pension and education benefits for all citizens, regardless of their employment status.
-- Job security.
-- A family policy that seeks to adapt our jobs to the needs of our families rather than vice versa.
-- A guarantee of alternative employment at a comparable wage when we lose our jobs.
An economic policy for the country built on these principles would do more to restore us to our previous prosperity than all the public subsidies ever devised for corporations by advocates of supply-side, trickle-down economics. There are many workable proposals to accomplish these goals without, so to speak, killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Workers in Western Europe and Canada already enjoy more rights and protections than do American workers, even though they work for the same international corporations. And they reap the benefits of more worker-oriented economic policies.
The reason they enjoy these benefits is that they have their own political party, which directly represents their interests in the councils of power. Now, more than ever, we need a party that will help restore the American system to proper working order by restraining the power of the corporations and enabling the trade unions and other groups of organized citizens to negotiate with them on an equal footing; a party that will be accountable to the people who vote for it and not just to the people who bankroll its advertising budget; a party that will stand up for working people not only in defeat and out of desperation, the way the Democrats have done lately, but also after winning and when in power. In short, we need a Labor Party.