The Labor Movement Needs Its Own Political Party

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In 2022, Americans’ approval of labor unions reached 71%. For those keeping score at home, that’s higher than Joe Biden’s and Trump’s highest approval ratings in office (57% and 47%, respectively), higher than the percentage of students that go to college (61%), and about the same as the amount of Americans that consider themselves football fans (72%).

This support is not abstract, either. A recent poll found that the ongoing Writers’ Guild of America strike enjoys clear majority support among Americans, even among a majority of Trump supporters. 

And why wouldn’t working people be supporting unions in record numbers? The chaotic last several years have laid bare how little concern our bosses have for our lives and well-being. Side hustles in the gig economy, scrimping and saving, shacking up with roommates – none of it can pave over the fact that our jobs don’t pay us enough, everything is getting more expensive, and the big bosses somehow continue to make record profits.

Despite this popularity among working-class people, unions consistently get the shaft from Congress and the White House. Labor unions spent $1.3 million on Joe Biden’s campaign in 2020, only for the Democratic Party to abandon the PRO Act, which would have drastically increased protections for workers unionizing and on strike. This was act two for Biden who had helped Obama send the Employee Free Choice Act to an identical death in 2009. At a campaign event with the AFL-CIO in June, Biden boasted, “I’m the most pro-union President in American history” – which probably came as a surprise to the more than 100,000 rail workers who Biden and Congress barred from striking last winter.

Workers and our unions have the most leverage in the workplace where we have the power to shut down the flow of profits. But that doesn’t mean that organized labor can abstain from the political fight for working-class reforms – like a higher federal minimum wage, Medicare for All, and taxes on the rich to fund housing and social programs. To win those things, the labor movement can’t remain shackled to corporate political parties which eagerly take union members’ dues money while in reality doing everything they can to protect the bosses. The labor movement, and working-class people more broadly, needs its own party. 

Labor Should Stop Wasting Time On Corporate Parties

In June, the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the country, representing over 12 million workers, endorsed Joe Biden in the 2024 Presidential election, without consulting its membership. This is a grave and dangerous mistake. Biden is a strike breaker and has already shown that when workers and bosses go head-to-head, he’ll choose the bosses every time. 

There is an alternative – a genuine left-wing, independent option that the unions are willfully ignoring: Cornel West. His campaign, while in its very early stages, represents a direct challenge to the bosses’ two-party system and is based around a set of working-class reforms like Medicare for All, an increased minimum wage, and expanded social security. For unions to endorse Biden in this context, without a democratic process among their members, amounts to a betrayal of their own members.

Neither party in our corporate two-party system represents the interests of working-class people. Some union locals endorsed Donald Trump in 2020, and may again in the likely event that Trump is the Republican nominee for 2024. 

Trump’s overtures to working-class people, though, are just as phony as Biden’s. As a billionaire, he’s made his fortune off of underpaying or downright cheating those who work for him, and will always support the efforts of the rest of his class to do the same. The Republican Party at large is responsible for anti-union legislation like Right to Work and other legal hurdles to organizing.

An independent labor party, though, has the potential to unify working-class people from all walks of life, whether they’re union members or not, under a program that speaks to our common interests as a class. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Presidential campaigns did exactly that: by running on a platform of Medicare for All, free public college and canceling student debt, and a $15 minimum wage, all paid for by taxing the wealthiest people in society who have made their millions off of our work, Sanders built a huge coalition of voters – not just from the traditional Democratic and Republican bases, but from people who normally never vote at all. By working from the Sanders playbook, the labor movement could transform American politics and win victories on a much larger scale.

A Different Kind Of Party

Being a “Republican” or “Democrat,” unless you’re party staff, actually doesn’t mean very much – it’s only a measure of who you tend to vote for. Neither party has any kind of internal democracy for regular working-class people who vote in elections. 

Labor can, and should, form a different kind of party. A truly democratic union has regular membership meetings where votes are taken on key questions, it has elected leaders that are accountable to the membership, and it advocates for a set of workplace policies that workers themselves decide on. Unions represent the largest democratic organizations through which working people can fight back. An independent workers’ party should run itself on the same principle. 

Those who run for elected office in such a party should be held accountable to the party’s platform, decided on by its membership. They should also make only the average wage of the worker, to make them truly accountable to the working-class people they represent. (Socialist Alternative members who hold elected public or union positions do this, and donate the remainder of their salary to a solidarity fund used to build movements and win victories.)

By organizing on these principles, labor could mobilize literally millions of people who don’t vote because they’re completely disenfranchised by the false choice presented every election year. These millions could be brought not just to vote, but to join unions, build the labor movement, and into struggle for the interests of all working-class people. 

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