Sometimes when I was working in construction I’d be working right by an air compressor – one of those giant ones that makes a continual thunderous roar. The noise would be so loud and continuous that after awhile you wouldn’t even hear it, you wouldn’t be aware of it anymore…. until the compressor was turned off. Then — ahh, what a relief!
That is what the roar of the historical absence of a mass working class political party is like.
That thunderous roar is so loud and constant that most workers never really “hear” it; they aren’t aware of it. But this absence is what explains much of the confusion, including outright racist and reactionary thinking, among many US workers. It has a lot to do with the lack of the working class as a cohesive political force in the US.
Despite the importance of this, many of those fighting against Trump, those fighting against racism, police abuse, impoverishment, etc. are also more or less unaware of it. A recent article in the popular left online magazine “Counterpunch” for example talks about it being time stop just protesting. “The time for protests is over,” the writer writes; what we need is “action”, such as chaining ourselves to a fracking rig or camping out in a blast zone at a mountain top removal site. Never once does the author even consider breaking political monopoly that Corporate America – the capitalist class – exercises over US politics. The author is apparently simply unaware of that absence. And, yes, a working class political party must be tied to action – mass action – but it must link that to electing working class representatives.
Changing Situation in US
One of the main reasons we have never had a mass working class political party is the fact that for centuries US capitalism was able to offer at least the hope to white workers that they could have a comfortable life and that their children could rise up “above” the working class. That window is now closing and the result is that there never has been a greater objective situation for a working class political party to develop.
How might such a party develop?
Perspectives for Working Class Party: Protests Coming Together
For awhile, it seemed that the protests against Trump were going to continue to build, and they still might. If that happens, then it could be that a body will tend to come together nationally to coordinate and advance and learn from the protests. If workers started to more stamp their imprint on these protests, this could become the start of a working class political party.
Local Working Class Candidates
But there is another possibility, or one that could combine with this scenario: That leaders in the local communities could start to run for city office, but explicitly outside of and opposed to the capitalist parties, specifically as working class candidates. If this starts to become generalized, then at some point these local election campaigns could start to come together and a working class political party could emerge from that.
Already we have seen Kshama Sawant get elected in Seattle (even with all the mistakes and more that she is making). In nearby Tacoma, Sarah Morken is running for city council. Sarah has a long history as a union fighter. She played a key role in the campaign for a $15/hour minimum wage in Tacoma, for fifteen really now, not in three or five years from now. She has been involved in organizing campaigns against police-involved shootings and against a LNG storage facility that is being planned for Tacoma’s port. There are also other possible candidates elsewhere.
What should be the defining points for a working class political candidate at this time?
- The candidate must openly explain that they do not represent “all the people”, that anybody who says this is lying. They must openly say that their campaign is of, by and for the working class (including the unemployed). Period.
- The candidate must start from the position that they, personally, cannot solve the problems, but that if elected they will use their office to encourage and help working class people organize to fight for their interests and that their campaign is part of an effort to build a wider, working class movement.
- The candidate must have a proven record of organizing and fighting along exactly these lines.
- The candidate must openly say that their campaign is outside of and opposed to the capitalist political parties, that it is one step in the direction of building a working class political party.
- The candidate must openly say that they do not rely on private investment and the profit motive to provide jobs, housing or services. The solution, for example, to the housing crisis and gentrification is mass construction of democratically run public housing.
- The candidate must commit to restoring all previous cuts in services and opposing any further cuts. They must explain that the money is there – among the rich and the super rich and among the corporations – and it’s a matter of taking it from them.
- The candidate must be committed to refusing all donations from the corporations or from the capitalist class.
- The candidate should commit to taking a salary no greater than the average salary of a worker in the district they represent, with anything greater than that being donated to the working class movement.
This might sound like a lot, but think about it: There will be strong pressures for a candidate to succumb to the pressures of the Democratic liberals. This will come from the liberals themselves as well as from the non profiteers and the union leadership (especially its “progressive” wing). If a person builds a campaign around these commitments (and applies them to the specific issues in her or his district), then their supporters will know what to expect and what to look out for. That will make a counter pressure on the candidate.
Just a few credible such candidates in a few cities in the US might really start the ball rolling. We should think about it.
Added on May 15: The building of a mass working class party would also involve a huge struggle inside the unions, not only for them to break with the Democrats, but also for the leadership to really fight for the members. For those wanting to know more about the situation inside the unions, we recommend our pamphlet, “What Happened to Our Unions?” While this pamphlet focuses on the Carpenters Union, where the author was a member for 30 years until he was expelled for fighting for the members, it applies to the entire labor movement.