Painters, Drywall Finishers say: Break with the Democrats! For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!

From Bridge City Militant No. 3. Available in Spanish here.

Painters, Drywall Finishers say:

Break with the Democrats!
For a Class-­Struggle Workers Party!

In a historic decision, the 17 August meeting of Painters and Drywall Finishers, IUPAT Local 10, voted unanimously to reject the Democratic and Republican parties or “any Party of the Bosses,” and to “call on the labor movement to break from the Democratic Party, and build a class-struggle workers party.” The resolution was introduced by CSWP members, the result of years of patient political education and struggle. Union members spoke passionately from the floor about the need to organize and rely on our own power as workers.

Momentum for the resolution grew as members came up against the same bleak reality that people across the country are confronting: as the resolution states, “the 2016 presidential election offers us the ‘choice’ between a raving, bigoted clown and a career representative of Wall Street” (we leave it to readers to decide which is which). The news has been buzzing from member to member, from local to local across the country. Workers are fed up that “the bosses have two parties to represent their class while the millions of working people have none.” Two days later, as if to emphasize our point, Democratic VP nominee Tim “right-to-work” Kaine jetted into Portland for an exclusive, $27,000-per-ticket country club fund-raiser hosted by prominent Republican businessmen.

So, Local 10 took a very bold and important stand for working class political independence. What now? Class-struggle militants hope to promote Local 10’s example to encourage initiatives, here and across the country, for labor to do what the resolution says: to build a class-struggle workers party.

Throughout the history of this country, the unions have been in political chains, tied to one or another party representing the interests of capital, limited to the hopeless task of pressuring these political representatives of the bosses and seeking the “lesser evil” among them. So when the workers begin to move to break those chains, as we in CSWP hope the decision of Local 10 portends, it opens a whole series of political questions that have never been widely discussed in the U.S. labor movement. What should a workers party look like? What would it do? What do we mean by “class struggle”?

No to the Greens and other Bern-outs

One of the factors contributing to the support for our resolution in Local 10, and its growing resonance nationally, is the disillusionment felt by many partisans of Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution.” Millions across the country are realizing that this “revolution” was phony from the start. Many so-called “radicals” and “socialists” showed their true colors by encouraging support for the Vermont senator who is a de facto Democrat. Not us. We told the truth, in issue No. 1 of Bridge City Militant, that “Sanders supporters are certainly chumps for Wall Street’s preferred party: ‘energizing’ the ‘base’ – the workers, poor people, oppressed racial minorities, and women – to vote for the ‘lesser evil’ party of their oppressors. It’s a con game.” Let’s not get conned again.

Now that the inevitable has happened, many Bernie supporters are deserting the Democrats for the Green Party ticket of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka. But the Green Party is a capitalist party just as much as the Democrats and Republicans. And the class line is fundamental. While some supposed “radicals” call to “break with the two-party system” or promote some vague “party of the 99%” (which would include most bosses and their hired thugs, the police!), it’s not the number of parties that matters, but which class they represent. Accept no alternatives: we need a party for the workers.

The Green Party platform is a mishmash of liberal wishful thinking, evidently developed under the influence of healing crystals and homeopathic vapors. Fundamentally, it enshrines the right of capitalist private property. When you start by accepting the basis of the capitalist system, all the various reform proposals in the Green platform, some of which are supportable in the abstract, are just empty talk.

But the Green platform isn’t just misguided good ideas, either. It proposes a future of imperialist war for the U.S., so long as these wars are sanctioned by the United Nations. The UN? The den of thieves that currently provides the fig-leaf for the imperialist occupation of Haiti, and was born in the genocidal U.S.-led war against Korea? The Green Party is for “peace,” of course. Cut the U.S. military budget in half, it says: that would be $350 billion per year! On those conditions, many a mass-murdering Pentagon general could find a comfortable home in the Green Party. Class-conscious workers, on the other hand, oppose “our own” government in its wars, by seeking to mobilize workers power here and across national boundaries.

Just because the bosses have no need for the Green Party doesn’t make it any less a capitalist party or an ally of the working people. It’s a home for homeless Democrats. But the working class, the vast majority of U.S. society and the class whose labor makes all the wealth of the world, doesn’t need a political homeless camp. We need our own political instrument, one that mobilizes and coordinates the power that we have as a class.

What Should a Workers Party Do?

A class struggle workers party would lead the fight on the picket lines and in the streets: to shut down the cities in protest against the epidemic of racist police murder. Build on examples like the Oakland, CA ILWU Local 10 May Day 2015 against racist police attacks.

To rip up the anti-union laws like Taft-Hartley and roll the unions on into the unorganized industries, by building massive picket lines that scabs won’t dare to cross. To tear down the concentration camps holding thousands of our immigrant sisters and brothers, stop the ICE raids and demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

How many anti-war movements have we been through? Free our sisters and brothers around the world from the nightmare of imperialist war: strike against war, “hot cargo” shut down war shipments. This struggle cannot stop and won’t succeed until the working class is in its rightful place as the rulers of this country. That’s what we in CSWP mean by class-struggle.

Clearly, our perspective is currently a tiny minority in the labor movement. No doubt most workers today still hold illusions in the bosses’ “democracy,” and hope to reform it to make it fairer to the people on the bottom of society. The current leaders of the unions have built their careers on betraying the workers and serving us up as voter-victims for the bosses’ parties. The struggle for a real workers party will be a fight against the sellouts running the unions today.

Nowadays “politics” and “parties” are often thought of as meaning the cynical game of vote-getting and office-hunting, all within the bounds of what is acceptable to the bosses’ dollar democracy. Most countries in Europe and many other parts of the world, from Brazil to India, have long experiences with “workers,” “labor,” “socialist” or “communist” parties that are important partners in the administration of the bosses’ governments. In this country, there have been a series of half-baked attempts at a “labor party” built on a program designed to be harmless to the the Democrats and the bureaucrats. In Oregon and some other states, we have a “Working Families Party,” which is not a party at all, but a cynical fraud committed against the union membership by the labor tops. Its presidential candidate is … Hillary Clinton. What a joke!

But as Karl Marx remarked over a century and a half ago, “every class struggle is a political struggle.” In this epoch of decaying capitalism, every struggle to defend the most basic interests of the working people runs up against the limits of private property. What’s needed is a workers party that is ready and willing to take that struggle to its necessary conclusion.

The ice is starting to break. Many people can see the writing on the wall. We in the CSWP want to bring the message to working people across the country that we need to fight for political independence. And while the first steps may be partial, we won’t stop advocating for the only kind of workers party that can actually fight for the interests of the working class and oppressed all along the line: a party with a program of class struggle, fighting for a workers government. This fight will require a hard core of class struggle militants in the workers organizations dedicated to this program. The CSWP seeks to build that hard core. Join us! ■

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Bernie Sanders? No! We Need a Class-Struggle Workers Party

This article was first published in Bridge City Militant No. 1, Fall 2015.

The first votes won’t be cast for many months, but the presidential election season is already upon us, and pressure is building on the unions to choose their candidates. Among labor activists and the left, attention is focused on the figure of Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont. Sanders, who sometimes claims to be an “independent” and a “democratic socialist” is running to be nominated as the Democratic candidate for president in 2016. Labor Notes, the voice of “progressive” union bureaucrats who sometimes pose as “troublemakers,” hyped Sanders in a 17 July 2015 article by Dan DiMaggio:

“Sanders’ platform includes a $15-an-hour minimum wage, guaranteed vacations and sick leave, lifting the payroll tax cap on Social Security, and single-payer health care. He’s a vocal opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the latest corporate-friendly trade deal. He rails against income inequality and how the ‘billionaire class’ dominates politics.”

Cheap talk. Class-struggle militants are not “feeling the Bern.” We are anti-Bernie, anti-Hillary, anti-Democrat, anti-Republican, anti-Green. Yes, we’re pretty much against everything that passes for “politics” these days, because it’s all about who will be the CEO of bloody, racist U.S. capitalism, and Bernie is no exception. We will oppose any endorsements or other forms of support by our unions for Sanders or any of the current candidates.

Many critics have pointed out that Bernie Sanders, the nominal “independent” who votes with the Democratic Party caucus in the Senate, has already made it clear that he will support whoever gets the Democratic Party nomination: presumably, Hillary Clinton’s lavishly-financed establishment campiagn. Sanders supporters are certainly chumps for Wall Street’s preferred party: “energizing” the “base” – the workers, poor people, oppressed racial minorities, and women – to vote for the “lesser evil” party of their oppressors. It’s a con game.

But what if he wins the nomination? He is surging in the (mostly meaningless) early polls. Or what if Bernie, under the ardent “pressure” of his fans, does the opposite of what he has repeatedly promised to do, and goes “independent”?

We would still not support him. In the Senate, he sometimes opposes U.S. military policy in words – but votes for war budgets. He voted for the genocidal sanctions against Iraq, that killed millions of innocent civilians and paved the way for the war he “opposed.” He opposed the Orwellian PATRIOT Act – in words – and voted for the USA Freedom Act, which continued massive government spying. His “radical” economic proposals amount to tinkering with the tax code and the anti-labor laws. Even if the millionaires’ Congress goes along with his talk of a $15/hour minimum wage (keep dreaming!) this would be a poverty wage. The rest is standard Democratic Party primary populist bluster about the “middle class.”

American workers should take note: not so long ago, last winter, a very radical-talking capitalist party – SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left – won the national elections in Greece. They were full of tough talk against the bloodthirsty banks that were condemning Greek workers to double-digit unemployment and starvation wages. The mouthpieces of high finance shrieked with terror. And then, SYRIZA imposed worse “austerity” measures on the Greek workers and poor than preceding right-wing governments had ever dared to.

A President Bernie Sanders – a milquetoast moderate compared to the Greek “radicals” – would likewise do what Wall Street will need of him. Wall Street can live with higher taxes: Warren Bufffet and Bill Gates agree. But it can’t live without endless war abroad and racist police-state repression “at home” to guarantee its property and its exploitation of labor. Bernie is not Wall Street’s candidate, but the decisive issue for us is that he seeks to rule on behalf of Wall Street, as a “socialist” who supports private property and demonstrably is willing to make whatever compromise this support requires.

This fundamental problem – the problem of class, as in which class should rule – is obvious when we seriously consider the most burning issue in American politics, the “color line.” And it should be clear that supporting Bernie Sanders, critically or not, will do nothing to end the oppression of black people in this country.

Black Lives Matter activists grabbed the spotlight by crashing Sanders appearances at the Democratic Party “Net Roots Nation” conference in Phoenix, Arizona, and again at a rally in Seattle to celebrate the anniversary of Social Security. The response from Sanders fans ranged from incredulous shock to ugly racist heckling. Oh how dare they! Don’t they realize that Sanders is the lesser-lesser evil? Is the fact that black women and men are being hunted and killed like animals on the streets by the police really a reason to interrupt the circus of Democratic politics-as-usual?

So Sanders appointed a new campaign spokesperson, the black activist Symone Sanders (no relation to the senator), and published a platform for “racial justice” on berniesanders.com. On MSNBC’s August 11 Chris Hayes show, BLM founder Alicia Garza claimed “that interruption really forced Bernie Sanders to have a strong platform on race and racial justice.”

So what is his platform? A laundry list of police training and policy reforms that are already in place in many major cities like New York, Oakland and Baltimore, and do absolutely nothing to stop the legal lynching of black people! Systematic state violence against black people is not just a policy, it is a fundamental feature of American capitalism. More training, different arming, or more black and latino cops and police chiefs, among other pseudo-reforms, have done nothing and will do nothing. Demilitarize the police? Eric Garner was strangled by hand on a busy New York City street in broad daylight, and the “justice system” let his killers walk without charges. On the mass incarceration of blacks, Sanders the “socialist” isn’t against prisons, just private prisons, and isn’t against drug laws, just mandatory minimum sentences. A lot of hot air and precious little substance: that’s a “victory” for the dead-end politics of pressuring the Democratic Party.

Sanders supporters and labor “radicals” in general tend to look back sentimentally to the era of president Franklin Roosevelt, and the segregationist imperialist war chief’s “New Deal.” But the massive labor upsurge that created the modern American labor movement was not created by any legislation, and the key victories of 1934 – Longshore on the West Coast, Teamsters in Minneapolis, and auto workers in Toledo – were victorious because they were willing to struggle independently from and against the labor laws and the Democratic and Republican governments that administered them. The decades-long decline of the labor movement that class-struggle militants seek to reverse is fundamentally the result of the labor leadership’s support for and loyalty to the bosses’ parties and their government.

To revive the labor movement we must break with all the capitalist parties, including the slightly-lesser-evil ones. The greater evil by far is the continued subordination of the unions to their class enemy through the instrument of the Democratic Party.

CSWP stands for class struggle, not illusions in capitalist election games. The unions can only rely on our own forces, the irresistible power of millions of workers, to fight poverty wages, to smash racist oppression, to champion the rights of women, sexual/gender minorities and immigrants. To coordinate this fight we propose a different kind of party, a workers party with a program of class struggle. ■

Bridge City Militant No. 1

Bridge City Militant No. 1, Fall 2015Bridge City Militant No. 1 is out! To get your union-printed copy, contact CSWP.

In this issue: