Week In Review Election Extra
October 21 2012
by Bill Onasch
My recommendations for the coming national election promised last week take as much space as a typical WIR. Another WIR in customary format covering additional topics will follow within the next few days.
I do want to pass on the news I received from Mark Dudzic that our friend and mentor Jerry Tucker passed away Friday after a long illness. This great working class fighter first made a “name” for himself when, as a UAW staffer in his hometown of St Louis, he coordinated a model state-wide mobilization of the Missouri labor movement to defeat a Chamber of Commerce sponsored Right-to-Work Law ballot measure in 1978.
His Solidarity House bosses were grateful for his efforts to protect the dues base but his career path soon ran in to trouble when he wanted to mobilize against concessions to the Big Three as well. Jerry committed the unforgivable sin of successfully challenging the one party internal regime of the UAW and was actually elected to one term on the International Executive Board. The pro-concession bureaucrats later got him off their Board and declared him persona non grata.
But Jerry continued to give guidance to the once influential UAW New Directions Movement as well as advising other unions on workplace organizing and bargaining strategies–among the most notable, the Staley workers in Decatur. He could be counted on for support of every strike solidarity action.
I got to know Jerry personally in his later years through his participation in the launching of the Labor Party, US Labor Against the War, and the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer. I will miss him greatly and will provide fuller appreciations of him by me and others soon.
Correction: In the October 14 Week In Review I inadvertently compared current voting age population estimates to vote totals of the 2004 election--instead of 2008 as stated. The 2008 presidential vote was 132.6 million. While this doesn’t really affect the substance of the point I was making, I do apologize for this disenfranchisement of ten million voters.
My Electoral Advice
In the last (October 14) Week In Review after reviewing the lose-lose boss party choices I promised to offer some advice this week. If you are one of our valued readers outside the USA you may find American electoral politics to be puzzling and disturbing. I’ll try to help with the puzzling part but we are a long way from replacing disturbing with inspiring.
Voting–It’s Not For Everyone
We should remind ourselves of the limits of universal suffrage. For nearly a century after the establishment of the USA voting was largely limited to white, male property owners. It’s been a sometimes bloody struggle to expand at least nominal voting rights to freed slaves and their descendants, women, and renters. It’s still far from complete.
A good chunk of the working class could face criminal charges if they attempt to vote. Tens of millions of non-citizen immigrants–both legal and undocumented–along with six million or so convicted of felonies, are barred from attempting to participate in the “democratic process” this November. They face deportation, or return to prison, if they try.
Migratory workers, along with those who are homeless, or those failing to update their voter registration after moving, can have their right to vote successfully challenged and they too may be vulnerable to charges of “voter fraud.” Republican controlled legislatures have also been busy trashing identification formerly acceptable for registration and voting, requiring new forms of photo ID difficult for many of the poor and elderly to obtain.
It is also useful to keep in mind that U.S. voters still do not directly elect the President. The peculiar institution of the Electoral College actually decides the winner. In 2000, real vote fraud by the Republican Establishment in Florida, blessed by the U.S. Supreme Court, gave Bush II sufficient Electoral Votes to overcome Al Gore--who undisputedly received the most popular votes.
Two Choices Deemed Plenty
Candidate access to the ballot is determined by the states. The two Establishment parties are virtually automatically on everywhere. Any other party or independent must petition to be listed. Requirements vary from token amounts of signatures to nearly impossible.
Especially since Ralph Nader won nearly three million votes running on the Green Party ticket in 2000, requirements have tightened and both major parties have aggressively challenged signatures and often sue to block those they perceive as interlopers.
Recently, these attacks have been extended to even write-in campaigns–essentially banned under California’s “Top Two” election law. When several small parties challenged this undemocratic exclusion, a judge not only dismissed their suit but ordered them to pay attorney fees to a Republican law firm who had “intervened” in defense of Top Two. My old friend Jeff Mackler of Socialist Action is among six directed to pay nearly a quarter-million dollars to the shysters of Nielsen Merksamer. You can read more about the initial response to this travesty here.
Does It All Really Matter?
This election takes place at a time of the worst long term economic crisis since the Great Depression, with an eleven year-long war still raging, and palpable climate change threatening our very biosphere. It’s a crucial time in history, to be sure, but the outcome of the November 6 election will hardly matter.
Contrary to myths we are taught in school, U.S. history has clearly demonstrated that initiative for the kind of needed far-reaching solutions for such problems, at least in a way that benefits the working class majority, never comes as a result of elections.
What about Abraham Lincoln’s election that triggered the Civil War? The path that led to the new Republican Party coming to power within its first decade of existence was cleared by slave rebellions, border wars in my neck of the woods, and a mass Abolitionist movement. Lincoln was a somewhat moderating force within this turmoil that sealed the doom of peaceful coexistence between two rival ruling classes based on incompatible social systems. The 1860 election registered this momentous turning point--but did not initiate it.
And what of the election of the New Deal President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression? When FDR took office in 1933 the working class was largely unorganized and demoralized and the new administration advanced a program of fiscal reform. It was only after the dramatic 1934 strike victories in Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco that the workers movement got some attention from the politicians. The few enduring reforms, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, and Social Security, weren’t enacted until FDR’s second term–in the midst of the great CIO upsurge.
Many militant workers today have absorbed such lessons and understand that the workplace and the streets are the natural venues for engaging the ruling class. That’s a good thing.
But most have also concluded that electoral politics is a best ignored diversion from the real struggle That is a short-sighted half-truth that has the effect of conceding the continuing domination of all things political by the ruling class.
Even when the pressure from mass strikes and demonstrations moves the politicians to grant reforms these often are whittled away over time. Take the two New Deal examples I cited.
The Fair Labor Standards Act established the legal norm of a forty-hour work week. At the time that was a progressive step, not yet won by even all unionized workers. Since then, however, the productivity of American workers has increased exponentially. Logically, the standard work week should have been adjusted downward with this revolution in technology to somewhere around thirty hours today. This would have cushioned the loss of good jobs due to technology and given us all more family and leisure time. Instead, full-time workers often work much more than forty while part-timers can’t get enough hours to live on.
Many workers lost their life savings during the Great Depression and few in those days had meaningful employer pension benefits. New Deal Social Security offered the promise of a decent living for those too old to keep working.. It’s a promise that has been eroded and is now in mortal danger.
Even today, the majority of retired old folks rely on Social Security as our principal income. I’m here to tell you it’s not enough to live with dignity and security. Were it not for my younger, hard-working Mary toiling away I’d probably be singing hymns for the Salvation Army at the soup kitchen every night.
Just as in collective bargaining, we are on the defensive trying to hold on to what little social benefits won in past battles–and mostly, with a few honorable exceptions such as the Chicago Teachers, losing on both fronts.
What needs to be recognized is that while there is no harm in counterposing mass action to voting for one of the bosses’ evil twins on election day there is great harm in failing to organize the working class to fight independently for political power as well as workplace power. Even the CTU’s impressive win was incomplete because of laws imposing concessions enacted by a bipartisan boss government.
To achieve the objective of a good education for every kid, to guarantee health care and secure retirements for all, to develop a program for providing good jobs for the millions who need them–not to mention ending war and tackling climate change–our class needs political power.
Now there may be a reason for you to vote this year. In many places the bosses have reactionary propositions on the ballot that should be defeated. That is what will get me to my polling place. In some states–not mine--it is possible to cast a working class protest vote for one of the socialist groups fielding a ticket. Otherwise, while not predicting which twin will win, our class will certainly lose on election day. Too late to turn that around.
Hopefully, it is not too late to resume serious organizing to break the cycle of servility and futility that sucks us in to cooperating in our own exploitation.
In Kansas City, there will be a meeting soon after the election to revive Labor Party forces once again as Labor Party Advocates. (Time and place will be announced in this column soon.) I urge readers elsewhere, whether or not you were part of the now dormant Labor Party project, to do the same. I would like to hear comments from you all.
That’s all for this election cycle–back to normal soon.