Editorial from The Organizer newspaper, special election report, November 2016
Following the victory of Donald Trump on November 8, a number of prominent left-leaning liberals with a strong following in the labor movement – most notably Michael Moore, Robert Reich, and Arun Gupta – wrote articles about the Hillary Clinton debacle that contain valuable insights. But the authors go on to conclude that what is needed now is to “take back the Democratic Party from the rightwing Democratic National Committee (DNC) leadership who lost us the election.” Good assessment, wrong conclusion.
First, let’s look at some of the points in their balance sheets of the election with which one can only agree:
- “Clinton won the popular vote by more than 650,000 votes – the second time in 16 years that a candidate who wins the popular vote loses the election; the Electoral College, a relic of 18th century ruling class fear of ‘mob rule,’ has got to go!”
- Clinton lost because she had close to 9 million fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2008, and roughly 5 million fewer votes than he did in 2012. “There’s no getting around the fact that much of the Democratic base repudiated Clinton.”
- “Clinton ignored Sanders’ working class base, which demanded single-payer health care, but instead she equivocated on free trade and only offered more militarism.”
- “Those who today say they are ‘stunned’ and ‘shocked’ by the results were not paying attention to [their] fellow Americans and their despair. After years of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew.”
- “Obama failed to help workers despite his resounding mandate. He spent his political capital to save Wall Street and design a healthcare system more beneficial to the for-profit industry than its patients. Meanwhile, millions lost their homes, sank into joblessness, and descended into poverty.”
- “Trump stoked the right’s racism and misogyny. He took workers’ social and economic ills produced as much by Democrats as by Republicans, and he fed them through a racial grinder to make his alt-white sausage.”
- “Democrats have occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years, and for four of those years had control of both houses of Congress. But in that time they failed to reverse the decline in working-class wages and economic security. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.”
- “Democrats stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class – failing to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violate them, or help workers form unions with simple up-or-down votes. The unions lost members, and the working class lost bargaining leverage to get a share of the economy’s gains.”
All this is true. But instead of concluding that it’s about time for those unions that are getting hammered by the corporations (under the Democrats’ watch) to break with the Democrats and build their own independent political party, these liberal writers – Moore and Reich, in particular – simply propose more of the same: continued reliance on the Democratic Party. This is a dead end!
Time to Say “No” to Lesser-Evilism!
Michael Moore calls for “taking over the Democratic Party and returning it to the people.” The first step in this effort, he says, is to demand “that the DNC apologize to Bernie Sanders for fixing the primaries against him.”
For his part, Robert Reich calls “for the members and leaders of the DNC to step down and be replaced by people who are determined to create a party that represents America – including all those who feel powerless and disenfranchised, and who have been left out of our politics and left behind in our economy.”
“The Democratic Party,” he writes, “once represented the working class. But over the last three decades the party has been taken over by Washington-based fundraisers who have focused instead on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executives and getting votes from upper middle-class households in ‘swing’ suburbs. Š We need a New Democratic Party that will fight against intolerance and widening inequality.”
Both writers insist that the main task during the next two years is to push the Elizabeth Warren-Bernie Sanders wing to take back the Democratic Party and elect “reformers” to political office in 2018 at all levels. “It’s about 2018 – not just 2020,” they insist.
Not surprisingly, both writers are silent about the key question facing working people today – which is the need for the labor movement to break its ties of subordination to the Democratic Party and build a working class party based on the unions and the communities of the oppressed.
No. The Democratic Party has never been the party of the working class majority. The party is funded and controlled – from top to bottom – by the corporations and the capitalist class. Always has been. Decades upon decades of attempts to “reform” the Democratic Party have all failed miserably. All such efforts, moreover, have ended up demobilizing and derailing the movements for social change. In the name of supporting the “lesser evil” candidates, the mass movements have been taken off the streets and taken back into the safe channels (for the ruling class) of the Democratic Party.
This issue is bound to surface in the coming weeks and months.
Independent, Mass Action in the Streets!
Activists are already beginning to call on the unions and the organizations of the Black and Latino movements to spearhead the resistance against the impending racist, anti-women and anti-worker attacks being prepared in Trump Tower.
United-front, mass-action coalitions will need to be organized soon, independent of the Democrats, around the following demands:
- stop the drive to privatize public services and smash the trade unions;
- stop the drive to privatize Social Security and undermine Medicare;
- stop the attacks on healthcare gains: Single Payer Now!;
- stop the police killings of Black youth (which are bound to increase at the hands of an emboldened right-wing, pro-Trump Police Officers Association);
- stop the accelerated attacks on Black voting rights;
- stop the deportations and attacks on undocumented immigrants;
- stop the announced attacks on a woman’s right to choose;
- stop the attempts, just announced by Mike Pence, to reverse the LGBTQ gains and rights; and
- stop the increased wars of intervention against working people around the world.
Hundreds of thousands of people need to be mobilized in all corners of the country in support of all these and other struggles – either in the form of single-issue coalitions, or multi-issue coalitions. The time is now for mass action in the streets!
But these actions will necessarily be blunted today, and they will be derailed tomorrow, by those Democratic Party reformers who support mass protest actions but insist that these must be framed and organized in such a way as to promote their legislative efforts to defeat Republicans in 2018 and 2020.
No. The mass actions, to be successful, must remain broad-based and independent of the Democrats and their legislative agenda. The demands must be precise and uncompromising. Coalitions building these actions must be based on mass, democratic assemblies. Everyone who supports these demands is needed and welcome. But subordination to the Democratic Party, whichever its wing, is a recipe for disaster.
The trade unions will need to take the lead in building these mass actions, putting their immense resources and membership to this task.
It will also be important to reach out to white, working-class Trump supporters, who are in for a rude awakening when Trump – implementing the corporate agenda, as he will – begins slashing their healthcare programs, shutting down more factories and jobs, sending their sons and daughters to fight and die in wars in far-off lands, and leaving tens of thousands of them without homes and communities.
But something else, something even more vital, is needed in the coming period if the working class and its allies in the communities of the oppressed are to reverse these attacks and prevail in winning their fundamental demands for peace, jobs and justice: The trade unions must break their ties of subordination to the Democratic Party and build an independent voice, an independent political party, of their own – in alliance with their Black and Latino allies.
It’s Time for Labor to Relaunch a Labor Party Advocates-Type Organization!
The trade union movement, though severely weakened by decades of reliance on the Democratic Party, still remains a formidable force. And its potential power, if unleashed from its subordination to the Democrats, is exponentially greater.
Just in this election, the unions spent $400 million to support Clinton; SEIU alone put up $70 million. The unions mobilized tens of thousands of canvassers and knocked on 9.5 million doors, according to the AFL-CIO. They spent $40 million alone in registering new voters.
The unions, of course, mobilized to support for THE candidate of Wall Street, someone who was rejected by a huge number of union members; Clinton just narrowly beat Trump among union households. This is why their effort failed. But the fact is that these resources still exist and could be placed at the service of independent working class political action.
As we have stated time and again in the editorial pages of The Organizer newspaper, the number one obstacle facing working people in this country is the subordination of the leadership of the trade unions – the only organizations that represent and organize the workers on a class basis – to the Democratic Party. Helping to break the unions away from that vise-grip is therefore one of the central tasks facing independent labor activists.
Working people are looking for alternatives.
Nnamdi Scott ran as an independent Black working-class candidate for City Council in Baltimore and garnered close to 10% of the vote, with only a small and poorly funded campaign. What is needed are dozens of Nnamdi Scott-type campaigns around the country in 2018.
What’s needed now is a national organizing committee, with labor, Black and Latino leaders at the helm that promotes a new political strategy for labor. Such a committee – modeled after Labor Party Advocates – would, of course, promote independent mass actions of resistance in the streets, but its focus would be to get the ball rolling to run genuinely independent labor-community candidates for local and state office in 2018.
Follow the Example of the Cleveland 19 Trade Unionists
Two years ago, in the aftermath of the crushing Democratic Party debacle in the 2014 mid-term elections, 19 rank-and-file trade unionists in Ohio, at the initiative of the now deceased secretary of the Labor Fightback Network, Jerry Gordon, sent an Open Letter to the Cleveland Central Labor Council urging it to run independent labor-community candidates for public office. Their message is of great relevance today. They wrote, in part:
“In assessing the crushing defeat suffered by labor in the November 4 elections, the need to re-evaluate our election strategy is imperative. In our view, labor – together with our community partners – needs to run its own independent candidates for public office and not rely on any political party to do for us what we must do for ourselves. Š
“In 2008, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, along with Democratic Party majorities in both houses of Congress, gave rise to hope for many people. However, no legislation was passed providing for a major jobs program, infrastructure spending, labor law reform, Employee Free Choice Act (card check), a labor-backed single payer universal health care system (eliminating the for-profit, parasitic insurance companies), increase in the minimum wage, or action to ensure a clean and healthy environment. And the list goes on.
“Instead, relentless pressure is coming from the administration to pass anti-worker trade legislation, which a delegate from the Steelworkers Union at last month’s delegates meeting called “NAFTA on steroids.”
“The country also experienced growing income inequality over the past several years and the widespread cuts in pensions are driving more people into poverty.
“Polls show 60% of the U.S. population favors the formation of a new, independent political party. Only 36% of eligible voters voted in the midterm elections. People are fed up with the two major parties and soundly repudiated the Democratic Party on November 4, a party we continue to support each election cycle with funding and boots on the ground. It’s time for a change! It’s time to develop an effective alternative!
“The lack of a critical voice from labor and its allies in the electoral arena has resulted in a monopoly of power by the big corporations and their political bagmen, with Wall Street popping the champagne corks as a result of the November 4 elections.
“Tough times lie ahead for the labor movement. What is urgently needed now, we believe, is a debate throughout the movement regarding what must be done to gain real clout in the political and electoral arena. Let those who advocate sticking with the Democrats (or turning to the anti-labor Republican Party) have their say. But let advocates of independent labor/community political action be heard as well.
“Therefore, we urge and hope that the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor will schedule such a debate in the days ahead. Subjects that we believe should be discussed include:
- The need for labor to develop its own independent electoral strategy;
- Viewing elections as the culmination of year-round coalition building and mass activities on major issues, not as a separate activity;
- Forming a Labor Representation Committee to train union members (and community leaders) as possible labor/community candidates;
- Developing a strategic plan that lays the basis for running independent labor/community candidates, with the goal being to build a local and statewide political organization that could become an independent political/activist party;
- Deciding what platform and issues should be paramount for labor and its community allies to better motivate and create change for the betterment and empowerment of the working class.”
The time is now to take this Open Letter and transform it into resolutions to be submitted to unions and labor councils across the country. The time is now to hold a broad-based conference of labor and the oppressed to promote running independent-labor community candidates and moving the discussion around the need for a new political party of the working class majority – a party based on the unions and the communities of the oppressed.
The following articles were quoted in this Editorial:
- “A prophecy of Trumps ascension to power (prior to the election) and some to do lists from Michael Moore” – reprinted from Michael Moore’s blog (Nov. 10, 2016)
- “Unions investigate their poor showing for Clinton,” by Ted Hesson and Marianne Levine (Politico, Nov. 10, 2016)
- “Warren offers Democrats path forward in Trump era,” by Gabriel Debenedetti and Madeline Conway (Politico, Nov. 10, 2016)
- “Trump Won Because the Democratic Party Failed, Not Because the White Working Class Revolted,” by Arun Gupta (The Nation, Nov. 11, 2016)
- “It’s Time to Dismantle the Democratic Party and Start Anew,” by Robert Reich – reprinted from RobertReich.org (Nov. 10, 2016)
- “Progressives Should Remember It Is Darkest Just Before Dawn,” by Richard Kirsch (The Huffington Post, Nov. 10, 2016)
Some Key Facts About the Election
Clinton: 60.98 million – 47.79% of votes cast
Trump: 60.35 million – 47.38% of votes cast
Johnson: 4.13 million – 3.24% of votes cast
Stein: 1.24 million – 0.96% of votes cast
Others: 0.69 million – 0.53% of votes cast
Total Number of Votes Cast: 127.39 million
Total Number Eligible Voters: 231.56 million
Total Number of Abstentions: 104.17 million
Percentage of Abstentions: 44.98%
Percentage of Eligible Voters: 26.06%
Who Voted for Trump
- Clinton won the popular vote by more than 650,000 votes.
- There was no Republican voter surge for Trump; he got roughly the same number of votes (60 million) as did GOP candidate George Romney in 2012.
- Clinton received close to 9 million fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2008, and roughly 5 million fewer votes than he did in 2012.
- Obama won Indiana in 2008, a state that was about 84 percent white then, and performed better among nearly every subgroup of whites in his two victories than Clinton did in 2016. In fact, Clinton suffered her biggest losses in the places where Obama was strongest among white voters.
- Clinton lost despite the fact that she outspent Trump almost 2-to-1 and had the support of the politically active denizens of Wall Street and the top executives of the country’s largest corporations, and even former Republican President George HW Bush.
- This was second highest abstention rate in U.S. history; about 49% of eligible voters did not participate in the 1996 election, in which Democratic candidate Bill Clinton beat Republican candidate Bob Dole.
- The Black vote was lower than expected because of the distrust in Hillary Clinton but also because in some states, such as North Carolina, the Republican officials imposed new restrictive voting laws targeting African American voters specifically. These laws restricted access to early voting.
Also, there is “felony disenfranchisement” in countless states; the New Jim Crow laws ban prisoners and ex-felons from voting. The total is 3.9 million people who could otherwise vote.
- Trump has no mandate; he was supported by only 26.06% of the voting age population. Roughly one in four people over the age of 18 across the country voted for him.
Slamming the Abstentionists
Top Democratic Party officials have lashed out at the abstentionists and third party voters.
Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, gained great notoriety when – to protest the continued police killings of Black youth – he refused to stand during the pre-game national anthem. He took a knee instead.
Kaepernick’s protest went further. In an interview prior to the election, he explained that he had no plans to vote. Speaking about the debate between Clinton and Trump, he stated:
“I watched a little bit of it. To me it was embarrassing to watch that these two are our candidates. At this point, the election is a choice between the lesser of two evils. But in the end it’s still evil.”
Kaepernick was raked over the coals by the sports media, the Democratic Party, and the political establishment. They accused Kaepernick of poisoning the minds of Black youth against the political system. The Democrats, including Clinton, had earlier gone out of their way to discourage people from voting for third parties, arguing that a vote for a third party was a vote for Trump.
Healthcare 1: “Crashing the Democratic Party’s Country Club Party”
Speaking at a forum in San Francisco organized by Single Payer Now! shortly after the Democratic Party National Convention in mid-July 2016, Karen Bernal, who headed the Bernie Sanders California delegation to the convention, denounced the Democratic Party leadership, the DNC, and particularly the Democratic Party Platform Committee, for turning its back on the working-class majority in the United States, which supports Medicare For All – also known as single payer-healthcare.
Bernal reported on how Michael Lighty, political director of National Nurses United, addressed the party’s Platform Committee prior to the convention, to insist that they must adopt a plank in support of single-payer as this would play a big role in ensuring a Democratic Party victory in the November presidential election. She quoted Lighty as saying, “The only Democrats nationwide who oppose Single Payer are the Democrats in this room.”
But the Democrats, beholden to their corporate backers, particularly in the private healthcare insurance industry, refused to listen, Bernal said. They stabbed the workers in the back.
Bernal’s anger was not only directed at the DNC; it was also directed at Bernie Sanders, who told his delegation not to make an issue of this rejection of Single Payer on the floor of the Democratic Party convention, as it would only be “divisive” and could undermine support for the party’s nominee.
A California Nurses Association member told a gathering of activists that the nurses attending the Democratic Party convention were outraged that their issue was ignored by the Democratic Party leadership. “They made us feel like we were crashing their country club party,” she said.
Healthcare 2: “A Big Issue at the Dinner Table”
Interviewed by the PBS reporter at the Republican election-night gathering at the Hilton Hotel in New York City, Jack Kingston, a former Georgia member of Congress, explained the main reason, in his opinion, that Hillary Clinton lost the election. He said the following:
“One of the most neglected stories in the media is the widespread anger among working people in the Rust Belt and other regions over the rising costs of healthcare under Obamacare. It might not be a top media story, but it is certainly a discussion at the dinner tables in working-class and middle-class households across the country. Everyone is concerned that premiums and healthcare costs are going to soar in 2017 under Obamacare. Trump said that Obamacare has to go, and he got a real hearing.”
On the Auto Bailout and the So-Called “Recovery”
When General Motors filed for bankruptcy in the spring of 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, the U.S. government agreed to provide $65 billion to grease a deal that slashed 21,000 autoworkers’ jobs, closed 17 auto plants, and shut down 2,600 of GM’s 6,246 dealerships.
The UAW supported this “bailout” plan, which, additionally, froze wages, ended bonuses, eliminated noncompetitive work rules, and required binding arbitration in future contracts, thus eliminating the union’s right to strike. The UAW said that the cuts would save GM $1.3 billion a year over the five years of the new contract.
During the 2016 election campaign, Obama and Clinton spoke about the “amazing recovery” that the U.S. auto industry had made as a result of the Obama bailout. Yes, GM and Ford profits are up, but the workforce has been slashed and the laid-off workers have lost their homes or have moved into trailer camps in other states. And the new jobs that were created are all precarious jobs, with low wages, no benefits (no pensions or healthcare), no unions, no protections on the job, no stability.
Obama carried the majority of white, working class voters in 2008 – but the administration turned its back on these workers. Once their hopes were dashed, they were left prey to the demagogues like Trump, who scapegoated the immigrants as the ones largely responsible for the job losses.
It is now estimated that the Obama administration spent more than $7 trillion as part of his “economic recovery plan” – which was nothing more than a corporate bailout plan. This money was handed over to the very same banks and financial institutions that had created the financial crisis to begin with.
“Politics Abhors a Vacuum”
(Excerpts from Editorial in the November 2009 issue of The Organizer newspaper titled, “One Year in Office: Has Obama Delivered Change?”)
Obama and the Democrats’ refusal to heed the mandate for change from the American people on Nov. 4, 2008, has created a political void that the rightwing racists are aiming to fill. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.
Significant sectors of the ruling class are leaning on and fomenting white racism to block any progressive change and take back the levers of power. Anti-immigrant mobilizations are multiplying across the country. The threat posed by these racists should not be underestimated.
In today’s conditions of deepening economic and political crisis, people are looking for an alternative to politics-as-usual. It is up to the organizations of the workers and the oppressed to raise a political alternative, an independent fightback perspective in the interests of the working-class majority.
[Note: Seven years later, these words are as relevant as they were then – maybe even more relevant.]
- On the Occupation of the State Capitol in Wisconsin
(Excerpts from closing Comments by Jerry Gordon to the Labor Fightback Conference in Rutgers, N.J. on May 15-17, 2015. Jerry Gordon died this past October 27. See obituary page 7 of the printed version.)
When Wisconsin workers occupied the Capitol and took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands in February and March 2011 to defend their unions and living standards, the effect was electrifying. Workers throughout the U.S. were elated to see workers taking such militant actions, reminiscent of the 1930s. Messages of solidarity poured in. “WE ARE ALL WISCONSIN!” was heard around the globe. The fight against the bosses’ union-busting and austerity offensive was at last being joined by masses of U.S. workers.
Farmers came in their tractors to support the call by the Madison labor council to support the teachers and other public-sector workers against the cuts. White rural workers and private sector workers also responded to the call to action, as they saw a real working-class struggle develop that also addressed their needs and interests as workers.
But from the beginning of this struggle, labor leaders, with some significant dissenters, settled on a strategy of agreeing to Governor Scott Walker’s economic demands, which were that union workers in the public-sector pick up a significant part of the tab for their health care and pension benefits, while Walker’s budget called for $2.3 billion in tax cuts to the wealthy over the next decade. These concessions were announced publicly – without a vote taken of the affected workers – and amounted to over $100 million. But Walker rebuffed the idea that this was a sufficient basis to bring about a settlement of his dispute with the unions involved. Walker’s appetite having been whetted, he continued to demand that the public-sector unions also agree to having their members’ collective-bargaining rights stripped away, with police and firefighters excepted.
With the occupation of the Capitol and the gigantic demonstrations reaching a showdown stage, something had to give. The South Central Federation of Labor in Wisconsin adopted a resolution calling for exploration of the idea of a general strike as a possible next step.
If the labor movement had united on a national basis at that point and called a truly massive Solidarity Day 3 “March on Madison!” it could well have spurred more far-reaching actions by the Wisconsin labor movement, including a generalized work stoppage and mass civil disobedience. In the absence of such national support, Walker’s legislation was approved, and the struggle was then diverted to electoral channels by labor leaders and the Democratic Party.
Not surprisingly, the attempt to recall Walker and elect Democratic candidate Tom Barrett as governor was decisively defeated.
As Milwaukee mayor, Barrett sought union concessions that went beyond those mandated by Walker’s collective-barraging law. In a debate with Walker, he made clear he was not labor’s candidate. He also said that he would not increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
The Wisconsin labor movement was deeply divided in the recall campaign. According to the exit polls, 38% of union households voted for Walker, as did 67% of male blue-collar workers.
For the labor movement to shift its focus from independent mass action in the streets to supporting Democratic Party politicians was a sure recipe for defeat.
The Wisconsin experience also underscores again the need for the U.S. labor movement to establish independent labor/community coalitions and run candidates for public office, based on a program reflecting the needs and aspirations of the working class majority, and with candidates accountable to the base. Such an independent working class political movement could go a long way toward unifying the working class and cementing ties with the youth, students, communities of color, and other progressive sectors of the population.
[Note: The white farmers in the traditionally Republican areas of Wisconsin proudly took their tractors to the mass rallies in Madison, Wisconsin, in defense of public-sector workers. But when the union leadership pulled back from struggle to support Democrats, who were themselves anti-union and anti-worker, these farmers, too, were thrown back into the hands of the Republicans.]