The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Union leaders question the Democrats
– slightly

Nov 8, 2004

Two days after the election, several top union officials, who didn't want to be identified, gave reporters a surprising evaluation. They criticized the Democratic Party, saying that the unions had done their part and turned out voters for Kerry – but the Democratic Party had not.

It's certainly true that the unions under the AFL-CIO banner devoted an extraordinary amount of time, money and human energy to the Democratic Party campaign. Unions sent five thousand full-time paid staff to battleground states. According to an AFL-CIO report, 200,000 union volunteers aided in those 16 states, running 257 phone banks with 2,322 lines, knocking on doors, registering new voters, and handing out over 32 million pieces of pro-Kerry literature at work and in neighborhoods.

The unions contributed 90 million dollars to the 2000 campaign to elect Al Gore. For 2004 they doubled that amount, providing close to half of Kerry's funds!

Even though union membership nation-wide has sunk to only 12.9% of the work force, 24% of voters came from union households, and polls say that two-thirds of these voters went for Kerry. No wonder some leaders feel somewhat betrayed.

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney told reporters, "We certainly will be assessing the role of the Democratic Party ... we will be advising the Democratic Party as to where we think they can be strengthened as well."

Assessing the role of the Democratic Party would be wise. The Democratic Party has long trapped workers, tying up their energy, hopes and resources in support for a party that represents capital no less than does the Republican Party. Workers are maneuvered into supporting a party of their enemy, and this fact should be assessed.

But what would be the point for workers' representatives to try to advise a bosses' party of anything? Leaders like Sweeney could point to the fact that more than half of all voters from union households said the job situation was worse this year. Six of ten rated the nation's economy as "not so good" or "poor." One-fourth said it was the most important issue. How would a political party be advised to address these voters?

Jobs would be first priority. A platform proposing laws to prevent employers from laying off workers while the enterprise was profitable. Laws to take over unprofitable enterprises, to keep workers working, and to put workers without jobs to work on socially necessary projects, provided by the government.

More good advice for a party seeking workers' votes would be to advocate laws for guaranteed health care for all workers, laws limiting the hours of work so that all could work who wanted, and laws ordering the payment of a livable minimum wage to every worker.

The war would be a priority – any party truly representing the interests of the working class would stop the war immediately.

But it would be futile to give advice like that to a party that can't take it. The Democratic Party, beholden to the wealthy class, could not do those things. In fact, in this past election, the Democratic Party tried its utmost to appear as much like Bush as possible, on the war, on the economy, even on "cultural values" like a woman's right to choose abortion if need be.

Moving as close to Bush as possible was not a case of temporary insanity. It was a case of defending the interests of capital, against the working class, in the same fashion that the Democratic Party has done since its birth as the party of Southern slave owners. No advice from any union leader can change that.

If we are to have a party representing workers' interests, it will have to be built up separately, standing on its own feet. And all those union dollars and union activists that were wasted this time around? They could be put to good use in building up such a party. Beginning now.