The weeks following the Clinton election victory opened up discussions throughout the ranks of the new American Labor Party. In an election where less than 50% bothered to vote, the lowest percentage since 1924, it gave further proof of the disillusionment with the parties of big business. Even amongst those who voted, many did so reluctantly. Despite the fact that over the last four years Clinton had moved further towards the Republicans, the bulk of the US unions gave him support. In the next four years, the unions will be forced to look in a new direction. According to Republican Congressman, Frank Cremeans, "The President signed 60% of our legislation into law. I'm confident he will work with us in completing the Contract (with America) issues that we set out to accomplish."
In Detroit, the November meeting of the Labor Chapter (branch) was thrown open to a Roundtable discussion on the elections. The opinions expressed no doubt reflected more general feelings within organised labor in the United States. The first speaker, an older worker, recalled how his father, who was in the IWW, taught him to have a contempt for the two parties of big business. Labor needed a voice of its own and that is why he joined the Labor Party. A trade union official stated his union took a luke warm approach to supporting Clinton against Dole. To think that the unions' $35 million was sufficient to buy us influence when Clinton spent around $500 million in the campaign, he said, was naive. He stated, however, there was no alternative but to vote Democrat to keep the Republicans out. "I went to the polls with a heavy heart. I was nearly physically sick went I cast my vote. But we had to keep Dole out at all costs."
Another member agreed: "Four years under Dole and we would be finished as a Labor movement in this country."
It was simply a question, he said, of choosing "the lesser of two evils". He then gave some historical examples of Germany in the 1930s, which were not entirely accurate, to back up his argument. (In fact, this argument was used by the German Social Democratic leaders to back the arch-militarist Hindenburg as the "lesser evil" against Hitler, but within a year he had appointed Hitler as Chancellor!)
Another comrade argued that it was fine to support Clinton in order to "push him to the left". He saw theLabor Party as not a viable challenge to the Democrats, but as a form of pressure on them.Others had different views. They believed that neither of the two parties could serve the interests of the working class. "In reality, this is a one party system, with the Democrats and Republicans in the same bed."
Another sister believed that the new party should fight the other parties electorally, at a county, state and national level. "I think it would be really great if Trumka would stand for President in four years time, or maybe Sweeney or Tony Mazzocchi", she said.
Another trade unionist stated he was proud to stand with a majority of his fellow electorate: "I refused to vote."
This fact shows clearly how discredited the two party system is. We need to build up our own party to represent our people, the working class. There was nothing fundamental to choose between the Democrats and Republicans. This wasbacked up by another speaker who said they both wanted to cut welfare. The Republicans wanted to cut Medicare by $158 billion, while Clinton "only" wanted to slash $116 billion. They could easily come to an agreement to halve the $42 billion difference in the near future.
I spoke briefly about the situation in Britain, the coming general election and what we want from a future Labour government. I also mentioned that many of the views expressed here tonight were expressed over 100 years ago in the trade union movement before the British Labour Party was formed. At that time, the trade union leaders hung onto the coat-tails of the Liberals in opposing the Tory Party "as the lesser evil". Only through the bitter experience of the Taff Vale Dispute were the unions forced to back a Labour Party to represent the class interests of working people in Parliament. The founding of the American Labor Party was an historic occasion. The coming to power of such a party in the United States firmly committed to the principles and interests of the US workers, would shake the whole world to its foundations and become a beacon to workers everywhere. These points were warmly received and everybody agreed with the need to exchange experiences and learn the lessons of workers' struggles in Britain and America.