Three years ago, Green Party candidate Rich Whitney won 10.5% of the vote for governor of Illinois. He was running on a political program very similar to those of most major unions, but with the addition of outright opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and support for single-payer healthcare.
Although Whitney benefited from the incompetence and venality of the Democrats, led by Rod Blagojevich, and the Republicans, whose former Governor Ryan has since gone to jail, the size of the Green vote shows that there is a political vacuum on the left. Several entire precincts went Green, not only in the college towns of Carbondale and Champaign but also in the declining industrial city of Rockford.
At a recent meeting for U.S. Representative candidate Matt Reichel, the emphasis was on building for the long term by petitioning door to door in his vast, overwhelmingly working-class district. Matt won 7% of the vote earlier this year running on an antiwar platform in a special election for U.S. Representative after Rahm Emanuel, the patron saint of the Blue Dog Democrats, became Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
In the absence of a clear alternative by the unions, Green Party candidates are running on an anti-corporate program: against layoffs, against cuts in public spending, for progressive taxation, and in the case of Rich Whitney, for a state-owned bank – a move towards increased public ownership.
AFSCME and other unions have so far rejected having anything to do with the Green Party, although Whitney’s 2004 program might have been lifted straight off the pages of the union’s own newspaper, as noted by a number of union activists.
The reason for this is that the union leaders are afraid of offending the Democrats who control the state House and Senate. But these are the same politicians who this year have already refused to pass a progressive income tax or eliminate corporate tax loopholes and who are at this very moment ordering the new governor to slash our jobs and cut public services.
The workers’ movement must build its own mass party to fight big business. The Greens nationally are a motley coalition, and their program varies from one locality to another. In countries like Germany, the Greens joined capitalist governments, carried out neo-liberal cuts, and even voted for wars.
However, what’s happening in Illinois is a rejection of “business as usual” by a local Green Party with many young and energetic supporters and which, at least for now, does not take corporate donations. As long as the union leaders remain tethered to the Democrats, socialists and rank-and-file union activists should work with those local Green candidates that stand on an antiwar, anti-cuts, and anti-corporate program as part of the effort to build a broad left movement.
As socialists, we understand that standing up to the pressure of events in a capitalist-dominated world will take more than good intentions; it means building a party solidly based on the working class and its organizations, that fights for workers issues – pay, pensions, healthcare, housing, education, the rights of all minorities, defending the environment, and the need for a clear democratic socialist program.