Assembling a new Labor Party

hank sheinkopf

A few years ago, a well-known union leader at a time when union leaders were powerful and, more importantly, feared, looked up and gave listeners one of those moments you remember. Politicians, said the union leader, who had the guts to take his people out on strike and shut down the city until the workers won, cannot help him. They can’t do anything for you. Meaning: work has to do its own work. There are no short cuts.

The lesson has not changed. For those who know the history of New York City, think of the fiscal crisis of 1975. The unions gave in, the banks and the politicians won. The unions that lent the city their members’ pensions took years to get even. Worse yet, the union leaders befriended the bankers. Simple truth: when you have dinner with the boss, the boss eats you.

Relevance? The head of the New York State Democratic Party has threatened to start a new political party so Democrats can get a boost this fall. But then he changed his mind. He says he has a deal with the mostly non-union, left-wing progressive Working Families Party. They won’t hurt the governor if she wins the primary.

How nice of that guy and those who run with him, probably never a callous on any of his palms, to tell democracy how it works.

Solution? Create a true political party of workers in the state of New York. Call it the Labor Party. Let the unions manage it. Every provision in your statute should talk about what the workforce needs, not what politicians think the workforce needs to get. And just because he’s a registered Democrat doesn’t mean he’s pro-worker. There is nothing wrong with bipartisanship.

The Labor Party could open local shop windows, have professional organisers, not political consultants, do the work unions are supposed to do. And for the first time in a long time, unions could become more than just check-writing machines for politicians and their organizations. Unions are supposed to tell politicians what they need for their members. What we have now is the politicians telling the unions what the permanent political class needs.

The Labor Party could educate our young and even the not so young. It could make unions relevant to a new generation by claiming credit for the 40-hour work week, the weekend, and supporting workers’ rights not just with paychecks, but with agencies wherever the road takes them.

You say that people would be afraid and how can we allow the workers to be in charge?

Would it really be that bad to have a political party that politicians can’t buy because its sole owners are the people who gave Americans the 40-hour work week, better working conditions, and a social contract that didn’t include hedge funds? ? How bad it would be if more Americans knew the pride one can take in keeping a dues-paid union book, as part of a national movement that starts right here in New York. The way to save the labor movement is to revitalize it. The Labor Party could be the tonic you need. And it’s worth a try.

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