Why We Will Be Attending the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” Conference — and Why You Should Too

Originally published on 9/9/2020

(titles listed for id. only)

Nancy Wohlforth, Secretary-Treasurer Emerita, OPEIU (AFL-CIO)

(Washington, DC)

The time is now to begin laying the groundwork of an independent, labor-based political party. Two resolutions adopted by the national convention of the AFL-CIO in October 2017 are our reference point. The first one states, “Whether the candidates are elected from the Republican or Democratic Party, the interests of Wall Street have been protected and advanced, while the interests of working people have generally been set back.” The second convention resolution talks about the need “to break with lesser of two evils” and to “create a Labor-based Political Party.” Breaking the grip of the two-party system can’t wait. It is our task. The method and conceptual framework adopted by LCIP to get the ball rolling is a good one; it’s a method that will open doors for this work within the trade union movement.

Ajamu Baraka, National organizer, Black Alliance for Peace

(Washington, DC)

Building an independent labor party is both timely and historically necessary. The “Break the Grip” national conference will move us in this direction by engaging in a serious discussion of why we need such a party and what are the obstacles before us. From our point of view as BAP, such an independent party cannot ignore or marginalize the issues of imperialism and militarism; these are working-class issues. We will also need to engage in the electoral process, starting at the local level, and develop a strong presence in the broader social movements — in the struggles involving labor, and the working class in general. We look forward to a strategic discussion about how we move forward in forging this new political formation.

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Millie Phillips, Steering Committee, Labor Fightback Network

(Berkeley, Calif.)

In this election season, the focus is on the presidential race; a choice between a sociopathic wannabe dictator and a “neoliberal” warmonger who won’t even support Medicare for All. This is not a choice anyone should have to make. If working-class people had our own political party and could elect our own representatives accountable to us and not to corporate lobbyists, we wouldn’t be in such a dire situation. We must start efforts now to build a new party — an independent working-class party rooted in the trade unions and communities of the oppressed — focusing at the local level and building upward, so that we have a choice to vote for what we want and need, rather than what little we can get. We need to start now. Join us September 19 and 20 for the online “Break the Grip” national conference.

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Nnamdi Lumumba, Co-convener, Ujima People’s Progress Party

(Baltimore, Md.)

The discussion around an independent labor party based on the unions and oppressed communities has been in the works for some time. This is because we have not seen any political party coming forward to represent our interests. We want to have a discussion at the “Break the Grip” conference about how best to build a national labor party, and in Maryland, how best to build a Black worker-led political party. It’s important for Black workers to define our relationship to the workers’ movement. We are struggling for Black liberation on our own terms. We want to be able to talk honestly about what it will take to move forward and build a working-class movement that doesn’t use Black and Brown peoples to advance itself but then leaves us in the lurch.

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Donna Dewitt, Steering Committee, Labor Fightback Network; Co-Chair, South Carolina Labor Party; President Emeritus, South Carolina AFL-CIO (Charleston, S.C.)

“The bosses have two parties. We need one of our own.” The continuing affronts on the country’s workers and their families has given voice to a diverse community reeling from the impacts of  pandemic, increasing police violence and police murders of minorities, environmental injustices, centuries of injustices, and other unprecedented challenges. An empowered movement is rising from the current struggles and pains of history, striving to bridge the gaps of cultural differences and forge a party of principles, a party of leaders, not politicians. From local community issues to national priorities, now is the time to build and give a cumulative voice to the concerns of working America. Join us for the “Break the Grip of the Two Party System” national conference on September 19th & 20th!     

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Chris Silvera, Secretary-Treasurer, Teamsters Local 808

(Long Island City, N.Y.)

COVID-19 has revealed once again the failure of either major political party to pass a stimulus bill that benefits working class-people, providing instead a massive bailout to the ruling class and corporations. Just two years ago, trillion-dollar tax cuts were given to the ruling class, and they are still in need of a bailout. Really? Capitalism is dying. Organized labor must recognize that it is time to separate from the parties of the bosses. Labor must begin to mobilize its masses and invest in organizing essential, non-union workers. These workers are exhibiting great degrees of bravery and militancy in the face of their experience with the wanton disregard for their health and safety.  We must re-allocate the millions of dollars wasted on political parties each year toward this vital organizing drive.

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E.J. Esperanza, immigrant rights attorney

(San Francisco, Calif.)

The problems facing working-class people have seldom been more dire, and seldom has the need for a truly independent working-class political party been more necessary. Nowhere is this question more pressing than in the immigrant community. There is no question in the immigrant community about the real threat presented by the Trump administration. We know – we’ve spent every waking hour fighting it. But there is also a growing awareness that the Democrats are no “lesser evil.” The Democrats created the deportation regime under which we are living today. Obama and Biden deported nearly 3 million immigrants in eight years. No effort to build an independent working-class party will be successful without tapping into the fight for immigrant rights and making this fight central to its formation, in deeds as well as words. I look forward to joining in this fight for an independent working-class party. Let’s seize this opportunity.

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Clarence Thomas, Retired member, ILWU Local 10

(Oakland, Calif.)

The Bay Area International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) locals have spearheaded the formation of a broad coalition to prevent the privatization of the Port of Oakland, Calif., which would destroy thousands of longshore and other union jobs, and drive thousands of Black families out of West Oakland in a massive gentrification onslaught.  One of our major obstacles in this effort is the Democratic Party, not to mention the unions that remain tied at the hip to the Democrats. They have joined forces with the real-estate moguls and developers to push through this corporate, racist, neo-liberal scheme. We in the ILWU have embraced the slogan of the Million Worker March: “Mobilizing In Our Own Name.” There is a strong need for independent politics. We will not be fully effective if we don’t run our own candidates to champion this struggle. We have to strike while the iron is hot.

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Connie White, Labor Party advocate

(Los Angeles, Calif.)

One of the major problems that I saw with the Labor Party in the 1990s is that it did not break with the Democratic Party. The Labor Party that we seek to build today must position itself in opposition to the Democratic Party, and it must participate in the electoral process. This should be a minimum strategy. One of the reasons that I joined Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) is because I believe that the Labor Party should be built from the ground up, not from the top down. I don’t believe it should start out running a presidential candidate, but I definitely think that a strategy for power must include running candidates for the House of Representatives. This should be a goal as we help to promote and build the Labor Party in the United States. The “Break the Grip” conference should point us in this direction. Please join us.

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Baldemar Velasquez, President, FLOC (AFL-CIO)

(Toledo, Ohio)

I would like to extend my greetings, and that of all FLOC members, to all those who are organizing the “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” national conference. We appreciate the work you are doing to revitalize the Labor Party movement. We’re in solidarity with you. We as FLOC are taking action ourselves because we know that the federal government is not going to do anything for us, and nor will they enforce any standards, assuming they do set standards. Our independent electoral work is also important to us. We’re expanding our base and educating around why we need an independent voice in the electoral arena. We cannot continue to rely on people who don’t know the reality of workers and community members, especially those who are on the front lines.

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Berthony Dupont, Editor, Haiti Liberté 

(Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Today, in the face of this COVID-19 pandemic, Haitian workers need to build their own organization: a Workers Party. Only this tool is capable of enabling them not only to resist against the bosses but also to defend their own interests for the construction of another society — a society that will not defend the banks and the companies of the bosses but will be at the service of the workers, the youth, the peasants, the country and humanity in general. The same is true in the United States, the heartland of U.S. imperialism, where building a Labor-based party — a Workers Party— is an urgent need. I look forward to a productive “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” national conference and urge labor and community activists to attend.

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Sandy Eaton, Former Chair, Legislative Council, National Nurses United 

(Quincy, Mass.)

Democracy is too important to leave to the Democratic Party and its ways. The Democrats paved the way for the multi-layered crisis we are witnessing today. Bill Clinton was called upon to get NAFTA passed. He went on to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable. Together with Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich in the House, he managed to devastate the gains that the working class and its allies had been able to wrest over decades. Our public health infrastructure was devastated. It’s about class rule. We have well-heeled enemies. That is why we have to build an independent political force. Toward that end, we will be meeting online September 19 and 20 at the “Break the Grip” conference. Please join us.

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Bill Leumer, Former President, International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local 565

(San Francisco, Calif.)

The working class today in the U.S. is not organized as a class because being organized as a class requires an independent political party of the working class. The  “Break the Grip of the Two-Party System” conference is a step in the direction of winning working people from the stranglehold of the two parties of corporate America. The employers use these two parties as weapons against us. We working people need a party of our own so that we can fight back effectively and free ourselves from a system that only seeks to exploit us for profit.

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Alan Benjamin, OPEIU Delegate to SF Labor Council; Editorial Board, The Organizer Newspaper

(San Francisco, Calif.)

As the economic crisis deepens, with a major Depression in sight, we read in the financial press that mass layoffs and drastic cuts to social spending will be needed to pay back the trillions of dollars of debt incurred by the 2020 Wall Street “stimulus” bailouts. In fact, the corporate assault on working people has already begun. The labor movement should be demanding: No Layoffs, No Cuts!; Tax the Rich!; Fund a Marshall Plan-scale Public Works Program (to put the 36 million unemployed people to work in union jobs, at union scale)!; Medicare for All, Now!; Slash the War Budget to Fund Human Needs!; Defund the Police and End Systemic Racism! — among other such demands. Affirming labor’s independence in our workplaces must go hand in hand with affirming labor’s independence in the electoral arena, beginning at the local level in alliance with the communities of the oppressed. Promoting this dual effort must be a task of the “Break the Grip” conference.

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Don Bryant, NALC Branch 40 Retired, LFN Steering Committee, LCIP Organizer

(Cleveland, Ohio)

We should be talking about expanding our democracy, not limiting it. We should be talking about what we can have, not what the plutocracy won’t give back. This nation has never been a beacon of freedom and democracy as has been pronounced since its inception. This lie is now festering as COVID 19 rages and our racist history plays out in modern-day lynchings by cops and vigilantes (still), bringing a new and sustained uprising that won’t go back. Accepting the lesser of two evils in our candidates has gotten us nowhere, and it has watered down our social contract to eviction notices and death certificates for far too many; it’s gotten pretty expensive too with Pentagon annual budgets now exceeding $700 billion annually, supported by the duopoly for decades. Talking about reforming the parties is fruitless when we really must reform the system by widening the political field and raising a party that truly represents the working class and the millions of people struggling under poverty and oppression.

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David Keil, Political activist

(Boston, Mass.)

I’m a union activist and socialist who belongs to the Mass. Teachers Association (delegate to the 2020 MTA and MSCA/state-university conventions) and to the Green Party of the US. We need desperately to build toward a mass labor party, a mass party of the working class. The conference sponsored by LCIP and other groups is an important step toward that goal. 

Working people in 2020 are facing loss of their income, their health, their kids’ education, and even the democratic right to elect their leaders. The reality and the threat of bipartisan imperialist war hang over us. The Republicans are falling into an authoritarian, racist abyss, but the Democrats offer no solution. It is clearer and clearer that the issues of 2020 will be decided in the streets. These issues are political, but we lack a party of the working class. The October 19 conference will offer ways to move in that direction.

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Daniel Reif, Youth activist 

(Los Angeles, Calif.)

The call for working class and impoverished people to break the grip of the two-party system is a tradition famous to the organized American left. As a young member of the Labor and Community for an Independent Party, I continue tradition, but my age affords new perspectives on that practice.

My generation of young voters are the least confident in corporate Democratic politics, championing a Post-Ferguson/Post-Bernie insurgency movement at the down-ballot level in a radically motivated effort to command that future elected officials be accountable to the people. Unfortunately, class-consciousness teaches us that this effort will inevitably lead the neoliberal bourgeoise and the oppressed lower classes to vote together, compromising their distinctly separate interests.

It’s time to capitalize on a pivotal moment for our famous practice and create a strong electoral future for the working class. This mission begins at the LCIP’s Break The Grip conference on September 19th and 20th, where I wish to see you.

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Michael Carano, Unionist and political activist

(Tallmadge, Ohio)

Crappy jobs. Low wages. Mass unemployment. Endless wars.  Regime change. Monumental student debt.  No health “care” but bankruptcy priced health “insurance.”  Black brothers and sisters gunned down on the street with impunity. Deportations. Splitting of families. These failures that impoverish and disempower the working class have a reason — that reason is the two parties that work in unison to prevent change.

Let’s quit doing the same thing and getting the same results. Forge a new path. It requires effort. We must build a party oriented to working people that aligns with our vision, where labor and community candidates sharing that vision actually do the bidding of their base, unlike the two-party corporate vultures that leave bone-dry scraps for the masses.

Join the Labor and Community for an Independent Party’s call to participate in the Break the Grip of the Two-Party System Conference, Sept 19-20.  Virtually gather with community organizers and Labor activists (virtually) to forge a path forward to create a party where the needs of workers and community are center to a path we build in good conscience.

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Desiree Rojas, President, Sacramento Chapter, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, LCLAA/AFL-CIO

(Sacramento, California)

I look forward to attending the Break the Grip conference. This is a moment in our history where there is a great need to discuss and reach an understanding on what it will take to re-invent our politics, and to re-think where labor fits in.

We need to figure out how we can best organize and mobilize for a future in which workers and their families can have a healthy life, a good job with a living wage and benefits, universal healthcare coverage from cradle to grave, and clean water and clean food. We cannot accept being enslaved by this capitalist system, which is destroying all living things on the planet.

So I am going to be present because I feel that it is important to engage and share ideas, and to create a platform that we can use as a blueprint to move forward in building our own independent voice and finding solutions to the existing problems of today.

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Kali Akuno, Executive Director, Cooperation Jackson

(Jackson, Mississippi)

I look forward to attending the LCIP conference on independent politics. What has been happening over the past six years inside the Democratic Party and to the efforts to reform the party prove that we need our own independent political voice.

We’ve seen the Bernie campaign make some good social and political gains in terms of educating lots of folks, but it ran into a concrete wall of neoliberal Democrats and the DNC. This underscores the historical limitations of this party and its role in killing social movements.

A large part of this is because working-class and oppressed people have not built our own institutions. And it’s not that we haven’t built them, it’s that they have been blocked, they’ve been destroyed. We have to build our own, so that we can speak in our own voice, so that we can represent and advance our own interests. The liberals don’t have our interests and perspectives in mind. They’re not going to represent our interests. We have to do this ourselves. And it starts with us building our own independent politics, our own independent political vehicles.

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Mya Shone, National Organizing Committee, Socialist Organizer

(Vallejo, California)

Many of us realized a couple of years ago, along with other labor and community activists, that the best way to forge a working-class party independent of the one big property party with two names was to join the specific struggles of oppressed communities with the struggles in the workplace most defined by organized labor — that is, root the party itself in labor and oppressed communities.

We also realized that the most effective way to create a working-class party would be to lay the foundation for the party in our local communities where our struggles take place most often. This way we can build local labor-community coalitions that would craft programs based upon local struggles and select candidates for office coming from the community and beholden to the platform and coalition. It is a building-block approach — organize the democratic structure from the base on up.

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Al Rojas, Vice President, Sacramento chapter, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, LCLAA / AFL-CIO; National Coordinator, Driscoll’s Boycott Campaign

(Sacramento, California)

We are living in a dangerous time. Workers’ rights are under heavy attack. Their welfare and that of their families are under attack. Just this past week, nine workers died from COVID-19, and 358 others tested positive, in a Foster Farms chicken-processing plant in California’s Central Valley. Infected workers were forced to come to work. “The company doesn’t care about workers; they only care about money,” stated one of the workers. Statements like this are being made by millions of workers in the fields, meat-packing plants, warehouses, and factories across the country.

California’s Democratic governor refused to meet with a LCLAA delegation to hear our life-and-death concerns as Latino workers. Our state’s politicians are basically protectors of the agricultural corporate industry.

The same corporate assault, relayed by both capitalist political parties, is being carried out with NAFTA 2.0 — a bipartisan corporate “free trade” agreement. Workers are being exploited; they, too, are dying on the job in U.S.-owned plants — from the maquilas along the border to GM in Silao, Guanajuato. There is no real and effective enforcement mechanism in this agreement to protect workers.

The Break the Grip conference is extremely important. We need to let it all out, especially regarding this trade agreement.

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Jerry Levinsky, Steering Committee, Labor Fightback Network, (Amherst, Mass.)

The development of the Labor and Community for an Independent Party initiative arrives as the inability of the two major parties to minimally meet the needs of millions of people throughout the United States has reached catastrophic proportions. Building a working-class political movement — starting at the local level, through organizing and education, in order to deepen the connection between labor and community — is the way forward.

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Linda Thompson, Retired unionist, Green Party member

(Framingham, Mass.)

I am an AFSCME Retiree who served in many leadership positions in my locals in Chicago and Baltimore and am a member of the MA Green Rainbow Party. A Gallup Poll in 2014 showed that a majority of U.S. adults, 58%, say a third U.S. political party is needed because the Republican and Democratic parties “do such a poor job” representing the American people. 71% of independents say a third party is needed. That compares with 47% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans who say the same. The two major parties just bailed out the major corporations and left the working class out of luck in their so-called stimulus bills. These bipartisan policies hurt people of color and women the hardest.

Most of the progressive movement and even many on the left have failed to devote sufficient energy to supporting and building our own party representing the working class or challenging the discriminatory election, ballot access laws or debate restrictions. This conference will give us the opportunity to unify people for independent political action and campaigns to the left of the Democratic Party. The majority want a viable alternative to the duopoly. Let’s unite to give them one!

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Ralph Schoenman, Editorial Board member, The Organizer newspaper

(Vallejo, Calif.)

Fifty-seven years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, DC for Jobs and Freedom, not only have living and working conditions failed to improve for the exploited working-class majority and the poor, conditions have worsened significantly. 

Why is this? It’s because we are living under a capitalist system in terminal decay — a system that only knows how to stem its growing crisis by fueling speculation and war spending, on the one hand, and by slashing workers’ wages and working/living conditions, on the other. To achieve this, divisions are created among workers and all the oppressed to prevent us from uniting and fighting back against this predatory system.

We’re in this dire situation because the capitalists have been able to count on their twin parties — the Democrats and Republicans — to do their bidding over these past 50-plus years. To beat back this racist and anti-worker offensive by the employers and the politicians in their pay, we need to build democratically run coalitions that bring together labor and oppressed communities, so that they have a decisive say in formulating their demands and mapping out a strategy. At the same time, we need to seek out every opportunity to run independent labor-community candidates at the local level, as a step in the effort to build a new independent mass labor-based political party.

The candidates and the coalitions themselves cannot be limited to electoral politics; they must be fighting for the issues contained in the platforms, projecting these struggles into the electoral arena. This will help cement the alliance between labor and oppressed communities.

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