It’s been stated and repeated countless times: the American labor movement needs its own political party. (For anyone who still believes the Democrat Party is the party of the American labor movement, I can only say, I’m sorry, but you haven’t been paying attention).
Those of us who are involved in US politics look with envy toward the Canadian labour movement, which has the New Democratic Party (NDP) as its steadfast ally. At the same time, US unions are forced to deal with two parties; one that wants to end our existence, and the other that ignores us.
Meanwhile, our Canadian sisters and brothers find the NPD stands unflinchingly with unions on virtually every important workplace issue. Certainly, there remain a few areas of disagreement – we are talking about politics after all. Still, Canadian unions remain confident that the Party-that-Jack-built (that’s Jack Layton for you Americans who don’t know) will stand strongly with them in the tough fights.
On the other hand – and with notable exceptions that I’ll get to later – far too many Democrats seem to exist on a motto of “I may not have done much for you in the past, but I’m still better than the alternative.” They come to labor unions seeking endorsements, volunteer workers, and financial support. Then, after winning, they forget about the people who supported them. When the next election rolls around, those same lawmakers come back to the unions looking for support again. If the unions balk, the Dems simply recite the previously cited motto. Except that now, the “alternative” is even more anti-labor than the last one. Faced with such a threat, the unions support the Democrat, who then regains his/her selective amnesia after winning. And the circle continues.
So, the cry goes out from American union leaders, “Let’s get our own party like the Canadians’ NDP.”
The problem with that idea is that by running a Labor Party candidate against a Democrat, the unions’ forces and resources will be divided. This could ensure a win by the opposition. And when the opposition is a Right-to-Work union-hating corporate wonk, dividing our resources to teach some weak-kneed Dem a lesson is not a very good idea.
There are other problems with creating a Labor Party. Old-time hard-line Dems will oppose the concept. Many local union members as well as national union leaders will view the notion as too uncertain. It could risk turning fair-weather friends into devoted enemies. Finally, there is the issue of money – which we don’t have much of.
Nevertheless, I still believe creating an American Labor Party is a worthy goal. But realistically, I don’t envision it happening any time in the foreseeable future.
I have an alternate idea. It’s something that’s both realistic and very doable
Simply put, there needs to be a Progressive Caucus within the Democratic Party. (I’d call it a Labor Caucus, but that’s too limiting, and our current numbers are too low.)
Go back to those notable exceptions I mentioned earlier. I’m referring to the Democrats who stand strongly with us on nearly every issue. On a national level, these would include people such as George Miller, Elijah Cummings, Gwen Moore, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, and Mazie Hirona; to name only a few. Admittance to the Progressive Caucus by a new and unproven legislator could be done via a given set of litmus tests on worker/labor and social issues. Veteran lawmakers would have to earn their way into the Caucus through their proven track records. It’s sort of like pay-for-performance, but without the favoritism.
Sound far-fetched? This really isn’t a great deal different than the concept that led to the creation of the Democratic Leadership Caucus (DLC) in the early 90’s. That group of corporate-friendly Dems was led by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and boasted such members as Virginia Governor Doug Wilder and Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas. When they and their centrist colleagues convened in 1991, Democratic Party leaders who weren’t pro-business enough to be allowed in the DLC (Sens. Ted Kennedy and Paul Wellstone among others) weren’t invited. They were all still colleagues within the same party, but there was a clear distinction between their core principles.
In creating a Progressive Caucus, we’d still have the Democratic Party we’ve all come to know and gripe about. We’d still be able to tabulate voting records prior to elections. But when a Progressive Caucus candidate would run against a “I vote your interests once in every blue moon” Democrat, our members and leaders – along the media and the voting populace will know which Dems have sold their souls to their corporate donors and which ones have earned the Progressive Caucus “Seal of Approval.”