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Polls Show No Confidence in U.S. Political Establishment

What Does This Mean For Workers?

by Bill Onasch

Amid the government shutdown, 60 percent of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. That is the highest Gallup has measured in the 10-year history of [Gallup asking] this question. A new low of 26 percent believe the two major parties adequately represent Americans. — October 11, 2013 Gallup Poll summary.


This is the latest spike in a trend confirmed by other pollsters since the run-up to the 2010 midterm Congressional elections. The working class majority in the USA is questioning the “divine right” of the two capitalist parties to rule. Some liken them to selfish, tantrum-prone children, but more recognize that it is mainly the rich who seem to gain even when bipartisan spirit prevails. Many are outraged, eager to protest, while others are turning off and dropping out. This is a remarkable turnaround from a resurgence of hope and expectation in the system just five years ago.

Si Se Puede

In 2008, at the onset of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, America elected the first African-American President. Barrack Obama not only exuded a rock-star like persona that appealed to youth but also an air of integrity that reassured older voters. The early enthusiastic endorsement by Ted Kennedy legitimized his campaign and opened many doors of the party faithful—and ruling class financial backers.

A mild critic of the Iraq war, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize even before being sworn in to office.

His relatively brief political career, first in the Illinois legislature, and then as a U.S. Senator, showed convincing liberal credentials. The “left” that dabbles in Democrat politics became giddy as they started comparing Obama to their patron saint Franklin Delano Roosevelt and speculated about what their new hero might accomplish in his First Hundred Days.

Comparisons to the FDR myth are something most of those “leftists” would prefer to forget today. The war in Afghanistan was greatly escalated. The one-time champion of single-payer turned his health care “reform” over to the insurance company robber barons. His watch has seen the greatest number of deportations of immigrant workers in history. In a cameo appearance after picking up his Nobel Prize he wrecked the best chance for meaningful international cooperation on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009. Along with his Chicago neighbor and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan, the President has mounted the most serious attack on public education and teacher unions ever—while student loan debt has surpassed credit card and even car loan debt. Obama imposed a devastating bankruptcy on workers at General Motors and Chrysler as well as approving the decimation of the U.S. Postal Service. And he persists in working for a Grand Bargain with the Republicans to gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In Obama’s fifth year income has been redistributed from workers to the top One Percent and 22 million are still looking in vain for full-time jobs.

His evolution is as shocking as Disney’s wholesome Hannah Montana into MTV’s soft porn star Miley Cyrus. The liberal first Black President is leading the most reactionary administration in living memory.

Whiners and Saboteurs

The leaders of our unions, civil rights groups, antiwar coalitions, feminist forces, immigrant rights activists, pale green environmentalists—and even his “leftist” supporters—have at times bitterly complained about particular betrayals. But nearly all supported Obama’s reelection and still defend him to this day. So did and do the mainstream of America’s One Percent ruling class.

The official opposition Republican Party has been the traditional favorite of Big Business. But most of the ruling elite correctly understand that the Democrats can more safely take on big transformational projects that could possibly provoke big struggles if pursued by the GOP. It took Bill Clinton to clear the path for Globalization with NAFTA as well as “ending Welfare as we know it.” The ruling elite has now become much more ambitious about using Obama and his Democratic Party wing of the bipartisan consensus to achieve their ends.

This has left the Republicans nowhere to go but to the right of saccharin-coated Reaction. With generous donations from a handful of deep pocket ruling class mavericks the loony-right Tea Party faction has effectively taken control of the Grand Old Party of Lincoln. Their basic strategy is obstruction and sabotage of the Democrats’ ability to govern.

The claim of the cracked teapots that they represent grass roots sentiment in America is bogus. In both the 2010 and 2012 elections the Democrat congressional candidates collectively won far more votes than the Republicans. The Right won their House majority because of skillful gerrymandering of districts by state legislatures. And all opinion polls show strong support for the Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Food Stamp programs the cracked teapots want to privatize and/or destroy—rather than slowly strangle, as Obama proposes to do.

What Kind Of New Party?

The sentiment expressed in the Gallup Poll can be used to open an urgently needed discussion about fundamental political realignment in the USA. A third party that aims to be a new improved version of the present two, more honest, more competent, more “transparent,” more “accountable,” would only be a new detour in efforts for a just resolution of the crises we face today.

We need a party that understands and explains the class divisions in society, which are the real driving forces behind politics—a party that champions the interests of the working class against those of the bosses and bankers who presently rule. The kind of party we require would not only pursue electoral politics but would also be involved in day to day struggles of working people in workplaces, communities, and campuses.

The USA is the only industrialized “democracy” that does not have at least one mass working class party. While those parties for the most part no longer—in some cases never did—promote the Marxist goal of a classless socialist society, with socialized production to serve human needs, not profit, they have kept class consciousness alive as well as winning substantial reforms for workers that have never been achieved in the richest country in the world. Even a reformist mass working class party would be a giant step forward for American workers.

A Potential Base Is At Hand

While we lack a mass workers party we still have mass class-based organizations—our unions. Though organized labor has been declining, our unions still represent sixteen million workers and have billions of dollars in assets. They are recognized as a political force—unfortunately presently misdirected in support of boss party candidates.

The historical lessons of the formation of the British Labour Party a century ago remain instructive for us. The unions were the foundation of the party that quickly supplanted the Liberal Party as the main contender against ruling class Conservatives. But the party also accepted affiliation of allied organizations and built branches open to all who agreed with the party perspective in the communities.

The recent AFL-CIO convention reached out to allies with mass memberships such as the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, and the Sierra Club. That could be a good thing. These are constituencies that belong alongside organized workers in the battles that need to be fought. But these organizations, like most of our unions, are dominated by a top-down bureaucracy also still loyal to the Democrats. They too are long overdue for a soul-searching debate about their failed strategy.

A Recent Example

There has been interest in a labor party as long as there have been unions in this country. A hybrid Farmer-Labor Party dominated Minnesota state politics for two decades before it was liquidated into the Democrats. Another skewed variation was the American Labor Party in the state of New York that elected some candidates of its own while also endorsing Democrats and even Republicans during the 1930s-40s.

The most significant national organization of labor party sentiment arose about twenty years ago. A remarkable union leader, Tony Mazzocchi, convinced the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers to sponsor a probe of union interest in a labor party, in the early 1990s. It was called Labor Party Advocates (LPA), and soon drew substantial support—especially after Clinton drove through NAFTA.

LPA issued a call for a Labor Party Founding Convention in Cleveland in June 1996. More than 1,400 delegates representing unions and LPA community chapters showed up. A basic program, as well as a constitution, was enthusiastically adopted. A second convention held in Pittsburgh drew about the same number of delegates. For a few years the new party grew in size and influence and seemed on track to establishing a new political alternative.

But events outside the control of the fledgling party brought a series of ultimately fatal setbacks. The merger mania among unions absorbed some key supporting unions into ones dominated by officials hostile to the Labor Party project. Many union officials irrationally blamed Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for Bush’s theft of the 2000 presidential election. Even though the Labor Party never ran or endorsed any candidates, it too was dismissed as a “spoiler,” and union bureaucrats poured more support than ever into campaigns of perfidious Democrat “friends.” Union material support for the Labor Party—essential to its success—steadily dried up. Eventually it had to be acknowledged that the party had little claim to speak for labor and it quietly gave up the ghost.

But the 1996 Labor Party project left a valuable legacy. Though it could use some updating here and there after seventeen years, the basic program remains as timely as ever, taking up most of the major questions facing the working class today. The electoral policy, putting it in context of a range of other forms of struggle to take political power, is still spot on. The organizational principles are a guarantee of worker democracy.

Some of us who went through the Labor Party experience, from the early 1990s up through 2012, have argued we should keep this heritage alive by regrouping once more as Labor Party Advocates. We’re admittedly a long way from having sufficient support in the unions or allied organizations to relaunch a labor party. But the almost failed-state collapse of government in Washington, with the resulting rejection of the political Establishment by the majority, should offer us a much wider receptive audience for the labor party perspective.

If this makes sense to you, Kansas City Labor Party Advocates would like to hear from you. Drop us a line at kcalpa@kclabor.org

Bill Onasch, a retired ATU bus driver, was an early member of the original Labor Party Advocates. He served on the Labor Party Electoral Policy Commission and at the party’s last convention was elected to represent Midwest chapters on the Interim National Council—the equivalent of a National Committee.