Nov 21, 2016
The Working Class Party was on the ballot this year in Michigan – a party that asserted, by its name, that it based itself on the working class.
Given that it is a new party, its results might have surprised some people. One of its candidates drew significantly more votes than any of the candidates of the other four minor parties that had been on the ballot at least since 2000, and some earlier than that. (Those other parties are the Libertarian, Green, U.S. Taxpayers, and Natural Law parties, some of whose candidates were from the Socialist Party).
The Working Class Party ran only three candidates: two of them in congressional districts in the larger Detroit area; and one, state-wide, for the State Board of Education. For most people in the state, Mary Anne Hering, candidate for the State Board, was the only candidate of the Working Class Party they could vote for. On election day, 224,122 people gave her their vote. Because of the way School Board elections are organized, she had a lower percentage than the Libertarian candidate running for president (2.67% versus 3.61%). But over 51,000 more people voted for her.
With Mary Anne’s total, the new Working Class Party gained more than enough votes to ensure it keeps ballot status for coming elections. (Those votes were almost fourteen times the number needed, 16,491.)
The other two candidates also attracted a noticeable vote. Gary Walkowicz, running for Congress in Michigan’s 12th district, had 9,183 votes, that is 2.80% of the total vote. But there were large differences in his vote between the part of his district which is in working class Wayne County, where he got 3.81% of the vote, and the part that is in Washtenaw county, including the well-off university town of Ann Arbor, were he got only 1.21%, far behind the Libertarian and Green candidates. Nonetheless, overall in the district, he came in ahead of the candidates of the other minor parties.
Sam Johnson, running for Congress in Michigan’s 13th district, had 8,778 votes, or 3.43% of the total. He came in slightly behind the Libertarian candidate. Sam’s district includes part of Detroit, where he got 2.28% of the vote. The district also includes another part of Wayne County, mostly smaller working class cities and towns, where he rolled up 4.55% of the vote.
The largest number of votes for the Working Class Party came from the three big counties that include and surround Detroit: Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. Those counties were the center of the campaign, and accounted for more than a third of all votes. The second large part of the vote came from the smaller counties further out in southeast Michigan running up to Flint, Lansing and the small cities in the “Thumb” of Michigan, and downriver to the Ohio border. The third important part were the counties in southwest Michigan, including Kent County, where Grand Rapids is located, as well as Berrien, Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. All of this taken together accounted for about three-quarters of the vote, coming from just 20 of the state’s 83 counties.
Generally, the more the population of a county is working class, the higher the vote for Working Class Party candidates. The more the voters came from the more privileged layers of the population, the lower the vote. That was true in the immediate Detroit/tri-county area of the campaign.
But it was also true in the part of the state that provided almost one-quarter of the vote – the 63 counties where the new Working Class Party wasn’t able to campaign. In fact, some of the best percentage results came in a dozen or so of these counties, even if the numbers were small. People were voting for the name, because the name said what they wanted. Working Class Party had good votes in those relatively impoverished counties that were either semi-rural or counties with small working class towns as their center – counties where jobs have disappeared, and prospects are dim. These semi-rural counties are the ones from which many of the young people came who volunteered for the military, facing the prospect of few jobs and poverty-level wages.
In most of the counties where working people – fed up with the situation – shifted from Barack Obama last time to Donald Trump this time, the candidate of the Working Class Party did well. To vote for the Working Class Party candidate was a way to express the anger ordinary people felt. But it was more than that. It was a way to express agreement with the basic idea of the campaign: that is, that the working class needs its own party. The name of the new party said it. And that distinguished the Working Class Party sharply from what both Trump and Clinton were saying.
The “straight party ticket votes” were also an indication of people’s views. The “straight party ticket” allows people to vote for all the candidates of one party, just by marking the name of the party. (It is possible to vote straight party, yet override it to vote for a candidate of another party, but for most people that’s not obvious.)
Ordinarily, the two big parties call for a straight party vote to make sure that all their candidates down the line get votes, and people often vote straight party to avoid having to work their way down the whole ballot. But the Working Class Party had only one candidate that most people could vote for, so to mark for the party was not a practical question. It expressed agreement with the idea conveyed by the name itself. With only 45 of the state’s 83 counties reporting this result so far, Working Class Party has rolled up 15,257 “straight party ticket” votes. The 38 counties yet to report are smaller counties, but they include a number of counties where Mary Anne had votes running from 3.5% up to more than 4%. So the number will go up.
The people who started the 2016 campaign had been active two years before to put five candidates on the ballot without a party designation, the requirements for which are less difficult than those to establish a party. Those five candidates were listed on the ballot as “no party affiliation.” But they ran together as a slate, calling for a working class fight, based on a working class policy. They discussed what the working class would have to fight for in order to address the problems we face. And they insisted that the working class would have to solve its problems, not through elections, but by making a fight for what everyone needs. It was a shoestring campaign, with not a lot of money, but quite a bit of enthusiasm, and the people working on it discovered they got a good response when they said that working people have no party to represent them. Several of the candidates for local school board positions did better than they expected. One even won – because his opponent was disqualified from the race. The four candidates who didn’t win rolled up a total of 17,000 votes.
The willingness, even desire to discuss, which the 2014 campaigners found when talking to people, including people they just met on the streets, suggested it might be possible to put a party on the ballot. Not only would it build on what had been done, but it could directly speak to the most important issue facing us today, which is, that the working class is not organized politically.
People who want to put a party on the ballot in Michigan have to meet a number of requirements: the most important of which is to get signatures from people on a “petition to form a new political party.” In 2016, the number required was 31,566, which the state checks to determine if they are registered voters. At least 100 valid signatures have to come from half the state’s 14 congressional districts. The signatures have to be gathered and filed within 180 days, not quite 26 weeks.
A dozen or so people were at the origin of the 2016 campaign, among which were people who worked with the Spark newspaper and workplace leaflets. But there were others. Some came from the 2014 campaign, some were met in the petitioning, or later on in the campaign, some people came from workplaces where the candidates worked, some were family or friends, or from someone’s neighborhood, some wrote into the website that posted information about the campaign. (https://workingclassfight.com) after they heard an interview of one of the candidates on the radio or got a leaflet in a marketplace.
People were drawn in around the basic issue that the working class needs its own party. But those who petitioned used the program from the 2014 campaign to give an idea of what this new party would stand for. That program was the basis for the one written in 2016, once the official campaign began. (See the “Annex” in this issue about the campaign, which included a leaflet with a brief summary of the program, as well as other material from the campaign. The website carries more information on the campaign, as well as its program.)
The petitioning started in January 2016. By the time it was finished, 69 people had engaged themselves to ask other people for their signatures. Most of those working came from Michigan, but some, agreeing with the goal, came for brief periods from other states to lend a hand. (Michigan law allows for that.)
In the search for signatures, we went everywhere – or so it seemed – in every possible kind of weather! We went to Secretary of State offices, from Jackson to Port Huron, from Trenton to Flint, and right in the center of Detroit on Grand Boulevard, where lines were almost always long. We went to City-County buildings in Detroit, Pontiac and Mt. Clemens. We got signatures at farmers markets in Detroit, Ypsilanti, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Monroe and Royal Oak. When it was bitter cold, we often went inside community colleges, as well as universities that attract students from working class backgrounds, like Wayne State in Detroit, Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti, and Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. Festivals were fun – not only did we get signatures, we got to eat strawberries or kielbasa, and drink beer, among other things! Fireworks festivals and July 4th parades were good – people had nothing much to do other than talk while they were waiting for night to fall, or the parade to start. And they talked – and brought their friends over to sign. We got hundreds of signatures from workplaces where someone is known. We went to grocery stores – the ones that have public access, anyway. We went to museums, and to neighborhood barbecues. We went to people’s houses. We canvassed door-to-door in some neighborhoods in Berrien County and Kalamazoo County. And what was really important for the election to come, many of the people who participated in the campaign took the petitions to get signatures from their families, their co-workers, their neighbors.
The petitioning was a time-consuming activity, and sometimes could be very annoying given the rules the state places on petitioning, but finally it was probably the most important part of the campaign. Those of us who were petitioning talked to people, many people – almost certainly more than 100,000. Many people didn’t sign, worried about their names being turned in to a state office – but some of them wanted to discuss also. Undoubtedly, some of those who did sign did so for the simple democratic principle that every viewpoint should be heard. But most signed because they agreed that the working class needs its own party. Sometimes it was enough to say only that, and a person would say, “Yes, where do I sign?” That’s what we were discussing all through the petitioning: the working class needs its own party. We didn’t have our candidates yet. We didn’t even know if we would get enough to get on the ballot. But we did know it was important to raise that idea, and we discovered quickly just how many people agreed with it, how many workers feel they have no voice in the political arena.
Through all of this, just as in the “official campaign,” we tried to make it clear that just putting a party on the ballot was not going to attack the problems, that for working people to begin to defend themselves, much less move forward, it is necessary to fight. But we also said to people that if we succeed in getting on the ballot, if we make a credible score in the election, it will show that there is a current in the working class that wants its own party – and some of those may be the people who lead the fights tomorrow. We raised the idea that a real party of the working class, not just an electoral party on the ballot, would be built by workers in their struggles – just like the unions were built in the 1930s by workers fighting for jobs or wages and all the other problems they confronted.
Eventually, we collected just over 50,000 signatures. We turned them in mid-July – then had to wait more than a month to be sure we would be on the ballot. We ended up with just under 40,000 that were considered “valid” by the state.
We made the conscious choice to put up only three candidates. We had only nine weeks left, we knew we couldn’t go everywhere, and we wanted to focus attention on one statewide candidate whose results would let us qualify to keep ballot status for the future. Our reasoning was this: if we do well today, say as clearly as possible what we want, make a credible showing, this could open a door for us to bring more people to run tomorrow, touching more areas of the state, but with the same message.
The three candidates we chose were candidates in 2014, people who were relatively well known, at least in certain milieus. Gary Walkowicz is a union committeeman at Ford, well known among activists in the auto workers union for his activity to organize opposition to concession contracts. Sam Johnson is a Chrysler retiree, still known in Chrysler plants and known in certain neighborhoods of Detroit, an activist whose life is recounted in the book, A Fighter All My Life. Mary Anne Hering is a teacher well-known in the Dearborn area and wider region by students who have come through her classes over the last 40 years.
The campaign started on Labor Day week-end, when we tried to hit everything: the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival and Parade, where we spoke twice; the Detroit Jazz Festival, the Labor Day Parade in Detroit, several festivals in Macomb County.
We tried to go back to as many places where we had petitioned as possible. And we went to new places: a cabaret organized by an aunt of one of the candidates; a garage sale organized by someone we met. Sam was invited to a birthday party of someone’s co-worker and a family gathering of a friend from work, where he talked to people. We went to festivals in Dearborn, Ferndale, and Campus Martius in downtown Detroit, and up to Flint where a friend agreed to petition with us. We went to events at the Charles H. Wright Museum, and we went to Detroit Lions’ Tailgate parties at Eastern Market, as well as to a jazz club, also in Eastern Market. And we were at the Market every week-end, talking to whomever we could interest in talking to us. Some of us went door-to-door in workers neighborhoods in Kalamazoo or in Benton Harbor township. We were invited in to a large senior housing building in Detroit, where Sam met people and talked to them. A friend introduced us to her mother who invited Mary Anne and Sam to speak at her church. The League of Women Voters in Ann Arbor organized a forum for candidates in the 12th district; Gary spoke, and the forum was televised.
Right after it was official that we had gained ballot status, Mary Anne was interviewed on Michigan Public Radio – and that interview opened a number of other doors: some people who heard it, wrote in offering to help, including from Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. Eventually, we ended up with Mary Anne speaking at a candidates forum in Battle Creek, which was televised on a Battle Creek station.
We went to a number of workplaces in Detroit, where people bought Working Class Party buttons and took literature to take into their co-workers, as well as their family. Chrysler plants, the main Post Office, Blue Cross, the State of Michigan main office building in Detroit.
Through all of this, the main thing we used was our desire to discuss. If people were interested, we gave them a card with the candidates names so they could remember – almost 25,000 cards went out in this fashion, hand-to-hand, after Labor Day. We had leaflets, if people wanted to follow up on our discussions or if they wanted something for other people. But, above all, we discussed with everyone we knew, everyone we met. In our dentist’s office, in the neighborhood bar, where we walk or run for exercise, on the street.
Sam’s nephew shot videos, posted them on his Facebook page. A student at Mary Anne’s college devoted a part of her page to the campaign.
Our candidates filled out all the questionnaires that different organizations or media sent us. The questions they asked often went to the side of the concerns of the working people we were talking to, so we tried, after explaining that the issues were somewhat different, to use our answers to get at what we were hearing as we campaigned.
Mary Anne had a couple more interviews, one on a site called Labor Express, the other on another public radio station. We posted the interviews as soon as we could on the Working Class Fight website – and these later interviews also prompted some people to contact us.
People active in the campaign took material to give to their co-workers, neighbors and families, to distribute at a VFW post, at their churches, at neighborhood block clubs, to pass around in their apartment complexes.
We went back to a couple of markets in Detroit where we had campaigned for Sam in 2014 – and discovered that people remembered us.
A union activist some of us knew in Grand Rapids offered to let us stay at his place, so we could campaign more easily on the week-end. He knew someone active in a student group in Grand Rapids, who knew someone active in a student group in Ann Arbor, where we were invited to speak – and so it went. Someone knew someone who knew someone...
On election day, we went to polling places where Mary Anne had done well in 2014. We wanted to make sure that everyone knew she was on the ballot this year.
It was not a campaign with much money – no big corporations, no banks offered to give us anything. Not even any little ones. But we had money from selling the buttons, we had money from people who gave $10 or $20. We had “donations in kind” from people who took our leaflets and ran them on their home printers – and a few contributions of $100 or even $200.
But our results showed that you can reach people – if you have something to say that touches their concerns, something that offers a different perspective. What we had to offer is the idea that working people make up a separate and unique class, with their own concerns, their own problems, their own way of addressing those problems. We said, and many people agreed, that we need our own party, separate and distinct from the two big parties that serve the capitalist class. We said we need a party that understands that the working class, when it mobilizes, has the capacity and the power to deal with the problems that confront not only ourselves, but other layers of the population: jobs and wages as well as education and the environment.
The night of the election, we had a party for people who had worked on the campaign. We talked, we had something to eat, we had something to drink... and we waited. The first results came in from Oakland County, which posted results faster than any place else. We very quickly discovered that we were going to get our 16,491 votes – and much more than that, as the night went on. It was a good conclusion to our campaign.
The new party, with just a few dozen volunteers, with little money, found a couple hundred thousand votes. That’s because working people are fed up, fed up with the rule of the banks and big corporations whose drive for profit has decimated parts of the working class. Working people are fed up with the existing political establishment, a whole apparatus that has done nothing but serve those same banks and corporations. Fed up with that outrageously wealthy class which lives off the profit wrenched from our daily labor.
Trump played to this anger, but it will only be to deceive workers who gave him their votes. Not only will he deceive them – he will try to pull them into the swamp of his racist and sexist ideas. And the biggest service Trump will try to do for the ruling class is to chop the working class up into separate and thus weaker parts.
The working class needs its own party. This is an old problem. But the election, even just the campaign of Trump demonstrates its absolute necessity in a stark way.
The task now is to build that party. The response to Working Class Party, which is only an electoral party, and a new one at that, shows that there is a part of the working class that understands that also. So now, we have to begin.