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Born in the USA

By Mark Dudzic

Mark Dudzic is the Labor Party’s National Organizer. This summer he summed up progress made by the Party during the past decade. It’s a perfect time now to take stock as the Party has just concluded its successful effort to establish the first state Labor Party in South Carolina. (See Dudzic’s account of the campaign below.) Last month, the South Carolina Election Commission officially declared the Party has the right to run candidates on its own ballot line. The South Carolina Labor Party held its founding meeting in September. To find out more about the national Labor Party (and the South Carolina Campaign) go to http://www.thelaborparty.org. You can also contact the Party (and make a donation) at P.O. Box 53177, Washington DC 20009.

Ten years ago this month, 1,400 delegates came together in Cleveland, Ohio to found the Labor Party. Fed up with four years of the Clinton administration and inspired by significant changes in the labor movement, we made history by calling for a decisive break with the two parties of the corporations. When we left Cleveland, many of us felt that finally the tide had shifted and working people were poised to regain the offensive.

Of course we all know today that 1996 was not the start of labor's great revival. And no one can claim that the Labor Party has achieved its full promise. But we all understand that an expansive project such as ours could not and cannot thrive while the labor movement is in broad retreat.

While there are many reasons for this retreat, the labor movement as a whole has yet to confront the consequences of its lock-step relationship with the Democratic Party. After the debacle of the 2004 elections, for a brief moment, the labor movement began to debate its future. The sheer volume as well as the passionate nature of the proposals and counter-proposals was encouraging. In this spirit, the Labor Party challenged the movement to embrace a new vision of politics. We do not have an effective labor party today, we asserted, because the labor movement has yet to take up the task of building one.

Unfortunately those debates only paid lip service to the issue of political independence. We now have two major labor federations whose most radical "new" political ideas range from endorsing the occasional Republican to cross-endorsing the same old party hacks on some minor party label. And still the fact remains: without a real party of our own, working people continue to be at the mercy of the two corporate parties.

As we reflect on the events of the past ten years, we have much to be proud of. We've understood that you can't just wish a party such as ours into existence; it must develop within a web of working class institutions and an expansive movement. We've stood by the position that electoral politics must be conducted from a position of strength and not out of desperation. And we've been a firm voice against the never-ending schemes to repackage the Democratic Party and its corporate agenda with some fake progressive window dressing.

We can also be proud of the depth of commitment and support of our core members and affiliate unions. Our activists and organizers have little interest in preserving the Labor Party as a nostalgic museum piece. Rather, we are all committed to building the kind of power that will allow working people to confront the corporations that rule our world.

With those principles in mind, and with the support of key labor and community leaders (including the state AFL-CIO and the Charleston local of the International Longshore Association) last December the Labor Party embarked on an exciting new project in South Carolina. Today, we are well on our way to certifying the first state Labor Party with the right to run candidates on our own ballot line.

We took up this challenge convinced that the Labor Party's message would resonate with the people of South Carolina. And now, six months later, after thousands of one-on-one conversations in union halls, public gatherings, people's homes and at the numerous flea markets where working people gather to buy life's necessities, we are proud to report that 15,000 South Carolinians have affirmed that it's time for another choice at the ballot box...

We are confident that South Carolina will be the first state where we will field serious candidates who can promote a new vision of working class politics. That we can do so in a state like South Carolina shows what can happen when the labor movement and other activists make a serious commitment to political independence. This effort could well be the first concrete step out of the political wilderness.

It is that potential that spurred the Labor Party's Interim National Council to commit to our supporters in the state that we would raise the funds necessary to firmly establish a viable South Carolina Labor Party. This is not an insurmountable task. If we could raise as much as the labor movement will waste on re-electing just one of the many pro-CAFTA, pro-war Democratic senators in "safe" seats, we could transform the politics of South Carolina.

To that end, hundreds of individuals and numerous affiliate unions generously answered our call for funds. Committed Labor Party activists have opened their homes and union halls for fundraisers in Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, New Haven, San Francisco, Edison, Amherst, New York and Washington – with others scheduled for this Summer and Fall. In May, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) endorsed and pledged financial support to our South Carolina campaign. For more information on how you can help go to laborparty.org.

When our founding brother Tony Mazzocchi traveled the country in the early 1990s to promote the idea of a labor party, he called it an investment in our future. It still is. If anything, the events of the past ten years reinforce a hundred-fold the need for a labor party.

Tony also had an abiding faith in the unpredictability of powerful social movements. No one, he told us, could have predicted the rise of the CIO out of the depths of the Great Depression. One year ago, no one was predicting that millions of immigrant workers would take to the streets this spring. And ten years ago no one would have predicted that the first statewide Labor Party electoral effort would be in South Carolina. Social progress might be unpredictable. But, as long as we live in a world which ignores the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of people who work for a living, it is inevitable.

From October, 2006


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