Written by David May for Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor Tuesday, 14 January 2014 11:00
Revealing another crack in the fragile foundation of the two-party system, voters in Lorain County, Ohio elected 24 Independent Labor Party candidates in local elections in December, out of 26 who ran. The election result was completely ignored by the major media outlets. Why? Because it shows that when offered an alternative fighting for the working class majority, with the numbers and resources of the unions behind to make it a viable option, working people will respond.
The union electoral campaign was sparked off after the Democratic-controlled council carried out a series of attacks on organized labor in this industrial county, home to a large steel mill and a Ford assembly plant. The city council first overturned a local Project Labor Agreement won by the unions that had ensured public construction projects would be unionized and employ local workers and minorities. The “pro-labor” Democratic council then actively worked to break a strike by Teamster sanitation workers, with some of the Democratic leaders literally scabbing by driving garbage trucks themselves—the trucks having been loaned by the Democratic city council of neighboring Elyria, OH!
The Lorain County Central Labor Council (CLC) finally said enough was enough and ran candidates as the Independent Labor Party (ILP). The CLC was able to utilize its links with the unorganized, students, and immigrant workers in the campaign. By making a broad class appeal, even without running on any “specific issues,” the ILP candidates were able to win the support of many who usually vote for Republicans or consider themselves unaffiliated to either party, as well as those who traditionally vote Democrat.
After their defeat, the local Democratic leadership furiously called for the dissident union leaders to resign from posts in the party. The Central Labor Council has not said yet whether it will run more independent labor candidates in future local elections, or whether its members will leave positions they still hold in the Democratic Party. The thinking of some of those backing the campaign can be gleaned from machinist Art Thomas, quoted in Labor Notes:
“Running independent wasn’t our first choice, but hopefully this can help bring the Democratic leaders to their senses… If not, we’ve shown them that we can work with our friends and elect our own!”
The Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor has consistently called for the unions to break with the Democrats and form a mass party of labor. We believe that only by breaking with the Democrats can the unions turn the tide against big business and begin fighting for real gains for the working class on a national level—from free, quality health care for all, to eradicating student debt, to fighting for employment in quality, unionized jobs at a living wage for all.
A mass labor party will not be built overnight and there will likely be various temporary electoral formations that precede it. But one thing is clear: in order to be effective and to really fight back against the bosses, independent labor candidates, or even a state or national party, cannot be merely a “scare tactic” to pressure the Democrats. This was the experience of the US Labor Party, founded in 1996 with the support of many key unions, but after failing to run any candidates, the party withered on the vine and the Democrats and Republicans continued with “business as usual.”
If you do not fight for political power, you inevitably leave power in the hands of those who already have it. In addition, for a labor party to have long-term staying power, it must break at least the major unions from the Democrats’ coattails. This will require a fighting strategy that can inspire the union membership and the broader working class with the idea that such a party can fight and win. This must be combined with an across-the-board revival of the class struggle roots of the labor movement.
The running of independent labor candidates by the Lorain County Central Labor Council shows what can be accomplished when the labor leaders give a bold lead and actively mobilize the rank and file and the broader working class. This was a remarkable and inspiring result. If something like this can be done at the local level, it can be done at the state and national levels as well.
The union rank and file and working people generally are looking for a real alternative to the bosses’ parties, the capitalist economic crisis, and the constant cuts, concessions, and austerity of capitalism. Ultimately, a labor party will have to go beyond the narrow bounds of capitalism and fight for workers’ democracy and democratic workers’ control over industry and the economy. Otherwise, the party will flounder as it attempts to manage the capitalist crisis within the limits of that system—just like the Democrats and Republicans.
We predict that there will be many more “Lorains” in the future. Out of this process, a truly mass party of labor will emerge and turn politics in this country upside down. We will be doing our part by continuing to raise the idea of a mass labor party in the unions, in the workplaces, and on the campuses.