Only a few weeks ago, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced their endorsement and co-founding of a new political party in North Carolina entitled the “North Carolina First” Party (NC First). Currently NC First is petitioning to gain the 85,000 signatures necessary to become a state-recognized political party, an extremely difficult but accomplishable task. On the surface, this looks (and is promoted) to be a bold move by the largest public sector union in the United States to give a stronger voice to working people. Unfortunately, this initiative falls into familiar political trappings.
NC First was formed out of dissatisfaction with the three House Democrats from North Carolina that voted against the recent health care bill. Confused and angered, leaders of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, an SEIU affiliate which represents 55,000 workers across the state, decided to launch their own party in North Carolina.
Though the health care bill was the breaking point for this move, the labor movement has long-standing issues with the Democratic Party. A party dominated by corporate interests, the Democrats have long attacked the living standards of the US working class. These attacks range throughout the history of both the Democratic Party and the US Labor movement including Truman vetoing Taft-Hartley and then invoking it twelve times during his presidency, the passing of anti-worker “free trade” legislation like NAFTA under the Clinton administration, and the recent bailout of corporations and executives (not workers) under Obama.
Though NC First has not explicitly come out in favor of cross-endorsing “labor-friendly” Democrats, their website ambiguously states their party’s purpose:
“…to give working families the ability to choose a candidate that will fight for their interests – or to identify Congressional candidates who will stay accountable to the needs of working families not Washington’s special interests.”
Given the close ties of some national labor leaders and the Democratic Party (e.g. the appointment of exiting SEIU President Andy Stern to President Obama’s Deficit Committee) one can only read the placement of “to identify Congressional candidates….” as a well-worded disguise for the intended endorsement of Democrats in future elections. This can also be illustrated by the fact that they only seek the launch of a third party in one state rather than nationally.
A strategy of remaining inside big business parties while staying true to pro-worker principles is a failed approach. For example, Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich has long been the ‘progressive’ voice within the Democratic Party and yet despite his railing against for-profit health care and advocacy of a single-payer system, he was not able to even fight to keep the ‘public option’ within the health care bill. This was due to the insurmountable weight of the corporate interests within the Democratic Party. Despite his convictions, his refusal to leave the Democratic Party will always have him on the losing end.
If the impetus behind the formation of the NC First Party was a need to back the pro-corporate health reform, then the initiative should be viewed with suspicion. Still, this is one indication of the labor anger that is growing with a powerful Democratic Party that has failed to deliver for workers and their families.
If working people wish to win victories, they have to bet on another horse, not ‘labor-friendly’ Democrats, because the corporations are always holding the reigns in the end. In order to change things in favor of workers, we must support independent parties and candidates that seek to break from the two parties of big business entirely and fight for things that matter to working class people, candidates who support job creation, public services and expanded education.
Although many at the top of the labor unions refuse to mobilize the potential power of working people to fight against big business, the grassroots nature of unions and community organizations could enable working people to make a strong leap forward in their own interests, rather than the interests of the fat cats. Going into the 2010 elections, organizations in struggle should start linking up and campaigning for those kinds of candidates. Only these steps can pave the way for future victories for working people in the United States by the formation of a party of the working class, for us, by us.