'Party Time' for Labor

The Labor Party appears ready to take its training wheels off. Having spent the last two years organizing, it now plans to step into the electoral breech. At its first constitutional convention this month (November 13-15 in Pittsburgh), the party will lay the groundwork for placing candidates on the ballot.

The convention is expected to debate a proposal from its Electoral

Commission that the party run "credible" candidates who would have to be approved by the party's National Council and be accountable to the party and to its platform, "A Call for Economic Justice."

The platform, which Village Voice columnist Adolph Reed has called an "ambitiously progressive" document that goes far beyond what the major parties are willing to do for working people, calls for:

(ogonek) a constitutional guarantee of a job at a minimum $10 living wage;

(ogonek) mandatory severance pay for laid off workers and compensation to the community;

(ogonek) comprehensive, universal, single-payer health care that is "publicly administered and funded, delivered by a nonprofit system" and that a full range of "family planning and reproductive services for men and women" be provided;

(ogonek) restoration of workers' right to organize, bargain and strike;

(ogonek) a 32-hour, four-day work week; paid family leave;

(ogonek) four years of free post-secondary public education for all U.S. residents and nationally financed public schools;

(ogonek) a trade policy based on enforcement of strong international labor standards;

(ogonek) the elimination of corporate welfare;

(ogonek) a return to the progressive income tax;

(ogonek) and publicly financed elections.

The Labor Party's move into electoral politics should be seen as good news to progressives seeking a viable alternative to America's corporate culture and the politicians who have invested their lives in maintaining it. The Labor Party--like the Greens and the New Party--has the potential to shift debate, to place economic justice at the center of our American politics.

The Labor Party officially was born in June 1996, during a three-day convention at which almost 1,500 union members and other progressives set about to challenge the conventions of a corporate world that has placed short-term profits and stock prices above the well-being of working people and the communities in which they live.

During the last two years party members have been hard at work, knocking on doors, educating workers and pushing for its living wage amendment. During that time, they've attracted thousands of members and the support of international, regional and local labor groups.

And they've demonstrated a commitment to organizing. The July issue of the on-line Labor Party Press recounts the efforts of organizers across the country:

(ogonek) In Council Area One in Meriden, Conn., 850 people had so far signed a petition seeking to put the living wage amendment on the ballot and the organizers were confident they would get the remaining 150 signatures needed to reach the party's goal of 10 percent.

(ogonek) In Albuquerque, N.M., party activists have met their 10 percent goal and have since turned their attentions to strike support and other community activity. A statewide party convention had been scheduled for August.

(ogonek) In Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, the party is attracting up to 40 people to each membership meeting and it has staged successful protests against Nike and job loss.

(ogonek) In Chicago, the party has focused on building neighborhood organizations and is working with a local community group to protect residents against developers seeking to replace low-income housing with more expensive residences.

What the Labor Party is doing is getting back to the basics, taking a page from the great progressive struggles of the past by empowering people to make change happen

The approach is designed to take American politics into a more humanistic future, while borrowing from a rich history of grassroots activism and populist descent.

Unlike the Democratic and Republican parties, which have come to rely on money and influence and whose partisans spend their time in jousting matches designed to damage their opponents, the Labor Party is seeking to put people in motion, get them to work for themselves, to fight for themselves and their interests. It's about building a people's movement from the bottom up that can flex its muscles and force its pro-worker agenda into law.

For American workers, the party's timing could not be better.

Hank Kalet is news editor for two community newspapers in New Jersey. Contact the Labor Party, PO Box 53177, Washington, DC 20009, email or see the web site at

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