As we celebrate the holiday season and say goodbye to the year 2002, it is also a time when we look back on the preceding year and make our resolutions for the next. 2002 has been a tumultuous and crisis-ridden year, marked on the one hand by continuing economic stagnation and on the other by the looming war with Iraq. It has also been a very turbulent year politically. The Bush Administration has successfully pushed through the creation of the new Homeland Security Department, and also assured that its employees will be denied union rights. The government has assumed numerous new powers of repression and surveillance, including the continued secret detention of citizens and widened powers of wiretapping. Last but not least was Bush’s use of the Taft-Hartley Act against the west coast longshoremen of the ILWU in October.
However one of the year’s most revealing events was the November mid-term elections. The Republican Party swept both houses of Congress and took many state legislatures as well, handing the Democrats a giant defeat. What should have been a victory turned into its opposite. Instead of addressing the real problems of the working class - the failing economy, unemployment, and an expensive and unjustified war - the Democratic Party mimicked the Republican platform. Voter turnout was barely 39%. The results were not very surprising. If there are two parties with the exact same program, the electorate will choose the incumbent party. Why vote for the "opposition" when it is the mirror image of the party in power? The Democrats made the same mistake in 2002 as they did in 2000 - they proved totally incapable of putting out a campaign and platform substantially different from their Republican "foes." But this shouldn’t be surprising, because the Democratic Party’s elected representatives and leaders come from the same social background as the Republicans - namely the corporate world! Despite having the political and financial backing of the AFL-CIO with its millions of members, the Democrat’s real constituency reside in the corporate boardrooms of the USA.
Unlike during the post-WWII period of relative prosperity and economic stability, the Democratic Party is no longer able or willing to fulfill its liberal promises to protect social welfare, job security or Social Security. There are no more "Great Society" or "New Deal" programs on the horizon. But why does the leadership of the US’s trade unions still insist on doggedly standing by a party that for the past 20 years has stabbed our nation’s workers in the back at every opportunity? Part of the answer is obvious - they are getting along very well in life by balancing between the workers they are supposed to represent, and the bosses whose real interests they often serve.
In the mid-term election cycle the AFL-CIO contributed over $35 million towards Democratic candidates, not counting the money donated by individual unions. The AFSCME (State and Federal employees) alone gave $16 million. In addition to financial backing, the AFL-CIO as well as union locals provided thousands of volunteers for canvassing and in phone banks, TV commercials and mass mailings to members. Yet not only did the Democrats suffer a defeat, they did not even campaign on ‘liberal’ issues! Once again, for the millionth time, the trade unions (the leadership at least) gave their wholehearted support to the Democratic Party only to have these rats swindle them - again.
Gerald McEntee, the President of AFSCME and also director of the AFL-CIO’s political efforts since 1995, said in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (10-10-02) that "I think the Democrats sell themselves short on those issues [economic issues], and they should be consistently and almost constantly trying to force the administration to discuss those issues. They stayed back too long." Well, either Mr. McEntee is extremely naive or he has a reward in store for him from the Democratic National Committee upon his retirement! The problem is not that the Democrats "sell themselves short" on the issues dear to the working people - they simply don’t share the same class interests! Just because the Democratic coffers are filled with the COPE contributions of the working class doesn’t change the fact that the people who run the Democratic Party are pro-business ex-corporate lawyers and big business people. These are people who will always serve their corporate sponsors before they will even consider the pleas of the AFL-CIO’s political committee, let alone the rank and file!
The backing of the Democratic Party by the leading bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO is not only counter-productive, more it importantly it is a complete betrayal of the rank and file. The energy and finances of the only mass working class organization in the United States are being sold out to the so-called ‘liberal’ representatives of the capitalist class. This is a situation which is completely in contradiction with the class interests of the American workers. The rank and file members of the trade unions are expected to not only hand over most of their lifetime in work to the bosses, but through the actions of their own leadership must give up their political independence as well. The Democrats have already proven in hundreds of incidents that they cannot be trusted to look out for the workers. They refuse to even fulfill one tenth of the meager promises they make! This leaves the Labor Movement only one alternative – a complete declaration of political independence. And what better opportunity exists for such a move as now? The Democratic Party has proved its utter worthlessness as far as the working class is concerned. It cannot oppose Bush, on the contrary it backs the Republicans in every issue of major importance; i.e. "War on Terror," the invasion of Iraq, Homeland Security etc. The electorate has shown that it cannot see much of a real difference between the two parties, with over 60% not bothering to vote at all. The Democrats themselves are in disarray after their defeat, and even AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, nominally their best supporter, has been forced to come out in mild criticism of them.
The only political alternative for the US working class and its trade unions is class independence. Signing over our fate to the representatives of the capitalists is a sure recipe for disaster. Only a mass party of Labor, based on the trade unions and armed with a program of socialist demands can fight back in the interests of the hundreds of millions of workers in the USA. Only with such a party can the process of falling wages, dropping living standards and shrinking rights be halted. The Democrats will never be capable or willing to do such things – even in Mr. Sweeney’s wildest dreams. The working class has to become aware of not only its economic power, but its political power as well. It has to be a class by itself and for itself. Once this process has begun, endless frontiers will open up on the horizon.
So, as we celebrate the birth of 2003, let the Labor Movement and all those who wish it well propose some new year’s resolutions :
Labor – Break with the Democrats!
For a Mass Party of Labor Armed with a
Towards the Socialist Future of Mankind!
Happy Red New Year! Best Wishes!