Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sawant and Ohio Victories:Opportunity Knocks

by Sean O’Torrain

We have recently had two significant events in labor politics in the US. One was the election of Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City council. Her main campaign demand was for a $15.00 minimum wage. She also spoke against the corporate control of the country.  Since her election the giant Boeing Corporation which is based in the Seattle area has threatened its workers saying if it does not get its way it would consider taking the jobs overseas. Sawant has responded by calling for the workers to occupy the plants and also for what she calls “democratic ownership. “The fact that Sawant got elected with these policies shows that there is an anger in the wider population against capitalism and its profit addicted system.

Across the country in Ohio there has also been an important development. The Lorain County Central Labor Council put up its own candidates for the local elections, running against both the Republicans and the Democrats, and all but two were elected. There are now two dozen trade unionists in office on an Independent Labor Ticket in the area. This development while important has to be watched closely as one spokesperson for one of the elected candidates spoke of the successes bringing the "Democratic leaders to their senses." This is a mistake and is different from the victory in Seattle where the campaign wants to build a movement independent of both capitalist parties not pressure the capitalist Democrats.   

These developments, especially the one in Seattle which has at its core the socialist group Socialist Alternative, raises important questions for working class activists, youth and the anti-capitalist movement as a whole. Specifically, where should these movements go from here? It is difficult to get a full picture of the thinking of the Seattle movement. It is even more difficult to get much information on the internal forces and politics of the Ohio development. I would like to concentrate for the moment on the Seattle development.

What should the Seattle movement around Kshama Sawant do now? There is talk of trying to run 100 candidates similar to Sawant in electoral areas across the country. This is an ambitious project and has to be considered. But this is not the crux of the matter. The crux of the matter is on what program should such candidates run?  And flowing from this, on what basis should the movement try to consolidate itself organizationally. Should it seek  to build a left party, should it seek  to build a socialist party, should it seek to build a Workers' Party with roots in the unions, or should it seek to build a united front of mass direct action on a series of demands which would challenge, and if they gained sufficient support, be capable of halting and throwing back the capitalist offensive?   

In relation to these various alternatives it is the building of a mass direct action united front that I think is most in tune with the consciousness and organization of the movement at present.   There are many, many anti-capitalist activists and groups throughout the country. There are tens of millions of workers and youth who are angry at the system and what it is doing to them but can see no way to do anything about this except in their own localized sector. For example, the actions around Walmart, and Fast Food, the actions for a higher minimum wage. These are important actions and show that things are stirring. The question is how can the success in Seattle, the high vote for the Socialist Alternative candidate in Minneapolis, the election of the trade unionists in Ohio have the best chance of being generalized into a mass movement which can bring these forces together and can halt and throw back the capitalist offensive?  If this offensive was halted and thrown back the consciousness and confidence of the working class would  be raised enormously, a new movement would be built, and this in turn would once again put on the agenda the big issues, specifically capitalism and its nature and what is the alternative. Socialism would once again become an issue for the masses and in the mass consciousness.

For this reason I think that the best way to build on the successes of Seattle and Minneapolis and Ohio, and to build on the strikes and demos at fast food and Walmart and elsewhere is to seek to build a united front on a series of demands which are capable of getting support amongst broad layers of the working class. This would of course include the $15.00 an hour minimum wage, a guaranteed job for all, a health care system free for all at the point of use, free education and affordable housing for all, an end to the mass incarceration of the youth and workers, an end to racism and sexism. Possibly develop a sort of peoples' charter for the mass united front. Part of this approach would also mean that at all times this united front movement would be independent of the capitalist parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. On these basic demands and this approach, it would be possible to build a united front of struggle and bring tens of millions of people into action.  As to where the money would come from for this peoples' charter or program? Make the rich pay, resurrect the 1%  99% idea.

The authors of this blog have been campaigning for this approach for years. We have highlighted the importance of fighting to increase the minimum wage. We think that $15.00 an hour is not enough. We have campaigned for a $20,00 an hour minimum wage. We have also campaigned for a $15.00 an hour minimum wage or a $5,00 an hour increase whichever is the greater. However in order to try and build on the momentum that is now developing around the $15.00 an hour minimum wage demand we agree with going with the fight for this demand at this stage. The authors of this blog have also campaigned for years for the setting up of minimum wage clubs like there were the 8 hour day clubs in the decades of the battle for the 8 hour days in the 1800's. These $15.00 an hour clubs would have a structure, would have a membership and would not only take up the minimum wage but all the basic issues facing workers.

Another alternative to this united front approach that is being discussed  is to seek to build on the recent events in Seattle, Minneapolis and Ohio by seeking to build a socialist party or a mass workers' or labor party party. I am not convinced that this would be the best way forward at this stage for a number of reasons. In spite of the millions of people who think the present capitalist system is rotten there is a caution and lack of clarity about there being an alternative, especially about there being a socialist alternative. So asking these millions to take as a first step to join a socialist party could act as an obstacle to the movement going forward rather than as a stepping stone to taking it forward. It is undoubtedly the case that there would be many people from a left background and many left groups that would join such a party. However these groups have a history of sectarianism and infighting and also ultra-leftism and then at other times capitulating to the idea that the system can be reformed and to the trade union leaders who also believe the system can be reformed. Such groups would most likely join a new socialist party in significant numbers. This could destroy such a party.  If the party was mainly made up of such forces this would most likely put off the fresher workers from joining such a party, and also put off the more experienced workers who have seen the activities of these groups before from joining the party. And it is these fresher workers along with the more experienced workers who are essential if a healthy movement is to built.  

 Success for a new movement either a united front or an independent workers or socialist party will depend on the involvement of large numbers of workers fresh to struggle as well as experienced workers. These are the workers who will demand clear answers, who will insist on the various opinions and groups in either a united front or socialist party or workers party clarifying their ideas and coming up with a practical strategy and tactics for taking the movement forward. The input of fresh and combative layers of the working class is essential to taking this potential movement forward.  It seems to me therefore  that the united front tactic is best suited to organizing these workers at this time, to realizing the  potential and meeting the needs of the situation in the present stage of consciousness and struggle in which it now finds itself. .

However a united front of mass direct action while capable of challenging, halting and throwing back the capitalist offensive would not be capable of actually solving the problems working people face. This would be the case whether a socialist party, a labor party, a workers party or a united front was built. The problem is capitalism and until it is overthrown the problems will not be resolved.  Therefore it is necessary to build a revolutionary socialist current within any new mass formation. This current would have to openly explain the need to end capitalism and establish democratic socialism and build a force on this basis. However it would have to do so within the mass movement without trying to force the mass movement to adopt this position. In the case of a mass direct action united front this should be a united front of mass direct action to halt and throw back the capitalist offensive. This is the best way to mobilize the greatest number of workers and youth at this point in time. To try and commit such a united front to socialist policies would be to overreach what would be possible at this stage. The same is likely true only more so, of any attempt to build a socialist or workers' or Labor party.  To try  and build such parties would most likely be to overreach the possibility of the movement in its present state of consciousness and organization.

The mobilization of millions of workers in a mass direct action united front would  create the opportunity for a revolutionary current within this movement to also become become a mass force. . This force, this current, which would work within and be an organic part of the united front would have to work in a non-sectarian way . It would have to be part of the new movement, learn within and as part of this new movement,  learn along with the working class the lessons of the struggles while at the same time helping the working class gain knowledge of the struggles of its own past and what was done right and what was done wrong.

Myself and the authors of this blog are for a united front of mass direction struggle on a program of basic demands capable of halting and throwing back the capitalist offensive and opening up a working class offensive. We are simultaneously for  building within this movement a non-sectarian revolutionary socialist current which can fight as part of the working class and help the working class and ourselves learn the lessons of the past, the lessons of the working class movement and its struggles.

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