Report on the Cleveland“Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” Conference
Originally published on 11/25/2019
Cleveland, Ohio — December 7, 2019
By Labor Fightback Network
The people of the United States deserve better than what two-party politics has delivered on the important issues — jobs, healthcare, equal justice, peace and the environment. In fact, large numbers of people are ready to move toward independent politics. According to a recent Gallup poll, 57% of the people see the need for a third major political party. Virtually three-quarters of independents (72%) “support a third major political party.”
We may not get too many more chances to give an organized expression to this quest for independent, working class politics. The U.S. could be one cracked head away from Hong Kong, Gaza, Bolivia, or Baghdad. Civil and labor rights are already being strangled by the powerful corporate front group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is pushing anti-protest and anti-labor laws, and by the far-right turn of politics promoted by SCOTUS and by any U.S president who chooses to emulate his or her favorite oppressor of the week.
People of color and low-income people are still fighting for equal opportunity and justice. Mass incarceration rates in the U.S. exceed all other nations at 724 per 100,000 people. Workers struggle to survive on low wages, waiting for their piece of the “American Dream.” In 2016, people in this country spent twice as much on health care than other high-income nations, with 27.4 million people still without health insurance in that period. The U.S. “war on terror” — a bipartisan war on working people at home and abroad — has claimed millions of lives and is expected to cost taxpayers $6 trillion! It’s time to reclaim governance, equal rights, fair pay and dignity for all.
The Labor Fightback Network encourages community and labor activists to venture out and explore the options to build a Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP). We’ll be in Middleburg Heights, Ohio on December 7, 2019 for the “Break the Grip on the Two-Party System” conference https://www.facebook.com/events/486321765290865/ hosted by the Labor Education and Arts Project (LEAP). We’ll be unpacking the main question of an independent political party. The topics for deliberation will include: (1) Medicare for All; (2) endless regime change wars and deadly sanctions vs. international working class solidarity; and (3) forced migration and deportation.
The twin parties of Big Business fatten at the trough of health care, which is nearly 18% of the U.S. economy. Spending twice as much on health care per capita as the other industrialized countries, we in the U.S. have by far the worst outcomes in terms of infant mortality and longevity. We already spend enough to provide a high standard of care to everyone, but the Republican and Democratic parties maintain the unjust, unequal and inefficient status quo in order to preserve the cash flowing from the profiteers. They are bought and owned by the commercial health insurance corporations, hospital chains, the Wall Street drug cartel and so many vendors.
Dominated by the marketplace and finance capital, our health-care system is a story of haves and have-nots, with services and facilities shut down in working-class communities, particularly in communities of color, while gargantuan health-care empires grow through mergers and takeovers. A single-payer financing mechanism, such as expanded and improved Medicare for All, will value each one’s health and life equally, undercutting this drive toward inequality and weakening the grip of Big Capital on our lives. But the old parties of the bosses block us at every turn, terrified that we are finding the path to victory over their crushing oppression.
The Republican Party is known for its anti-labor positions, so union workers have tended to support the Democrats to fight for U.S. workers and low-income people. Democrats have failed to push for meaningful labor law reform leaving loopholes and free rides for corporations. For example, employers must recognize unions once workers ratify an agreement in an election, but employers can delay elections for months or even years. Once a union shop is established, they face no obligation to reach a contract with their newly unionized workers. Employers are prohibited from firing workers or threatening to closing shop if workers organize to unionize, but the penalties for such violations are insufficient. Democrats also could have repealed the part of the Taft-Hartley Act, which allows states to pass “right to work” laws that penalize organized labor by allowing workers in unionized workplaces to enjoy the benefits without paying dues to the union that made that well-paying job possible.
Between 1978 and 2017, labor union membership in the United States dropped by more than half — from 26% of the workforce to 10.7%. The U.S. economy is breaking records in economic disparity, according to Census Bureau data. CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978, while typical worker compensation has risen only 12% during that time.  From 1979 to 2016, the wages of the top 1% grew nearly 150%, whereas the wages of the other 90% grew just 21.3%, about one-seventh as fast. Today’s low unemployment rate is not enough to spark any meaningful wage growth for most workers.
With a declining middle-class, workers want change. About half of all nonunion workers say they would vote for a union if given the opportunity. This is up by 50% when a similar survey was taken in 1995. Nationally, 64% of people are favorable toward unions, according to a 2019 Gallup survey.  Despite this reality, the National Labor Relations Board under Trump has stymied workers’ ability to form unions and engage in collective bargaining by curtailing worker protections and failing in its obligation to administer and enforce the National Labor Relations Act.
The Democrats also have failed the labor movement. Barack Obama won the election in 2008 by promising workers that once in office he would enact the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have removed the main obstacles to organizing unions in the workplaces across the country. During Obama’s first two years in office, the Democrats held a majority in both Houses of Congress. Passing EFCA was do-able. But the Democrats buckled to Big Business, which funds both the Democrats and the Republicans.
Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million, with African Americans incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. This was fueled by both major parties competing in “tough on crime” agendas.
Bill Clinton handed a huge gift to the private prison industry with the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill. This legislation gave federal approval for states to pass even more punitive laws and harsher practices by prosecutors and police, incarcerating more people and with longer sentences. The 1994 law shaped Democratic Party politics for years to come.
Under the leadership of Bill Clinton, Democrats sought to wrest control of crime issues from Republicans, so the two parties began a bidding war to increase penalties for crime, trying to outdo one another. Republicans continued their fear-mongering and pushed for more punitive policies in the states. Trump has ratcheted up white supremacy with his racist language and his directives aimed at rolling back federal oversight over police brutality and killings targeting African Americans.
The George W. Bush administration fostered a climate of fear and loathing for immigrants, particularly Muslim-Americans, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Unconstitutional policies — a regime of disappearances and torture, special registration of men from Muslim-majority nations, and expanded use of Guantanamo Bay Prison — were implemented under Bush. Fear in our nation allowed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Barack Obama continued all these policies and earned the name “Deporter-in-Chief.” Guantanamo is still holding 40 men indefinitely. Now under Trump, asylum seekers, immigrants and Jewish and Muslim-Americans are more predominately facing discrimination and the wrath and violence of hate groups.
Our bloated military budget has averaged around $700 billion annually since 2008, and, rather than secure peace, it just fuels more wars, deaths and devastation. It’s true that the military supplies some union jobs, but that money could supply plenty more union jobs in the civilian sector. After World War II, the economic conversion movement played an important role in joining union leadership with the peace movement to figure out the nuts and bolts of converting from war time industry to peace time. A Just Transition to a peace economy is possible and necessary. Candidates from both parties are heavily funded by top weapons contractors at the rate of $26.5 million in 2008 and well over $30 million in 2016. There will be no peace as long as war parties are in charge.
With 80% of us now living paycheck to paycheck with little to no savings, a precarious nation is at its limits. Ominous economic data and politics as usual suggest that working people will be subjected to another economic downturn and another rigged Democratic primary. By taking steps now, we can be prepared to offer a genuine alternative in the face of those crises. Without it, Trump and the far right will continue to fill the growing void in political representation.
Join us for this two-fold conference to be held on Saturday, December 7. The first session, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. with luncheon, will take place at the Middleburg Heights Branch of the Cuyahoga County Library, located at 16699 Bagley Road’ in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. It will be followed by a dinner session with speakers from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Brew Garden,18590 Bagley Road also in Middleburg Heights.
• Margaret Flowers, MD, Co-chair Green Party US; • Dan Kovalik, labor and human rights lawyer, author, and radio and TV commentator; • Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC, AFL-CIO); • Nnamdi Lumumba, Representative, Ujima People’s Progress Party; • Kevin Zeese, public interest attorney who co-directs PopularResistance; • Robert Fitrakis, political science professor and investigative journalist; • Alan Benjamin, Editorial Board member, The Organizer newspaper; • Chrissy Stonebraker-Martinez, co-director, InterReligious Task Force on Central America; and • Don Bryant, Board member, Cleveland Peace Action, among others.
This conference is being held in cooperation with the Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), a nationwide network that traces its continuity back to Tony Mazzocchi’s Labor Party Advocates and to the 1996 Labor Party Convention in Cleveland. Our organization, the Labor Education & Arts Project (LEAP), is indebted for their support. The 1996 Labor Party Convention in Cleveland was attended by 1,400 delegates from 9 international unions, over 300 union locals, state and regional bodies and 40 chapters nationwide with union and non-union workers as members. Though there was contention regarding running candidates immediately following the founding convention, it did accomplish adopting a constitution and program. Reconnecting with that effort today should be a top priority of the U.S. labor movement.
The conference is sponsored by the Labor Education & Arts Project (LEAP) and Labor Fightback Network (LFN) in cooperation with Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), a nationwide network of labor and community activists. On the web at: https://lcipcampaign.org/
Donations, gratefully received, may be sent to: LEAP, P.O. Box 5334, Cleveland, OH 44101 and made payable to same. Alternatively, a donate button appears on our Labor Education & Arts Project social media page: https://www.facebook.com/LaborEducation/.
Contributions are tax deductible in accordance with Section 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Code. For donations of $25 and above, we will gladly send you, postage prepaid, copies of our LaborFest booklets: “Eugene Debs Centennial” and “A Tribute to the IWW a.k.a. The Wobblies.” If you choose to donate via the donate button on our Facebook page, please send your name and return address to firstname.lastname@example.org.