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Independent Rank-and-File Political Action

The period between UE’s 74th and 75th National Conventions, dominated by the 2016 election cycle and its aftermath, has been the most tumultuous two year period most of us can remember. We experienced the high of having Bernie Sanders as a serious contender for the presidency, a person who advocates much of what UE believes. That was followed by the low of facing two unpleasant options in the November election. Since then, we’ve known the even lower low of Donald Trump’s victory and wins by Republicans pretty much across the board, and the grim consequences of that outcome. However, we’re also seeing the positive impact of what the Sanders campaign brought together and inspired: the growth of a progressive, pro-working class political alternative. 

Working people and the labor movement continue to face daily assault.  Organized labor - barely one-tenth of the workforce today - is the last defensive bastion for working people.  Corporate executives and government leaders know that if they destroy the union movement they wll eliminate one of the last substantial obstacles to their greedy agenda.  

The election of Trump, while very disturbing, should not come as a complete shock. For the past several decades the political establishment in both parties has advanced a set of policies known as neoliberalism that has made life harder for working people. Neoliberalism includes free trade, deregulation, privatization, and dismantling the social safety net, and it has been pursued aggressively by Republican administrations since Reagan, and Democratic administrations starting with Bill Clinton. 2016 brought rebellion in both parties against what Sanders called “establishment politics and establishment economics.” That rebellion took the form, in the Democratic primaries, of the inclusive progressive populism of Sanders, and on the Republican side, the authoritarian, bigoted populism of Trump.

By rigging the process to block Sanders and nominate Hillary Clinton (the ultimate insider and establishment figure), the Democratic Party leadership, aided by the corporate media, sowed the seeds of Trump’s victory. Neither Clinton nor any other candidate from her wing of the Democratic Party could have credibly addressed the concerns that were central to working people of all backgrounds: the loss of economic security, in particular good-paying jobs, at the hands of globalization and runaway corporate power. 

Now working people and the labor movement are assaulted daily by the Trump administration. He has attempted to revoke every pro-labor executive order that Obama signed, has appointed anti-union executives to run the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board, as well as anti-labor federal judges, and has stacked his cabinet with a corporate elite intent on depriving the working class of what little they have left. Trump’s naming of corporate toady Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court virtually guarantees that “right-to-work” will soon be imposed on all public sector bargaining units nationwide. With union membership in the U.S. now down to just 10.7 percent of the workforce, some of our enemies are actively working to liquidate the labor movement entirely.

Trump’s scapegoating of Latino immigrants and Muslims and his open appeals to racism and sexism are deeply troubling. Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, made his name politically as an extreme homophobe. Trump’s lifelong disrespect and abuse of women is now well known, and he fully embraced his party’s anti-women agenda.

Early in his primary campaign Trump said he was against cutting Social Security and Medicare, but the 2016 Republican Platform calls for attacking both programs, and House Speaker Paul Ryan is again sharpening his knife to slash Medicare, which has long been one of his goals.  Similarly, Trump promised to protect and extend health insurance to all Americans but then he supported Ryan’s plan to throw 26 million people off of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The situation in many states is not much better. One of the worst effects of the November 2016 election was the Republican “trifecta” in Iowa — the GOP gained control of the state house of representatives, state senate, and governorship and, despite a tremendous fightback by members of UE and other unions and their allies, promptly passed an even worse union-busting law than Wisconsin’s. Additionally, a host of states have passed or are considering other attacks on labor unions, both public sector and private sector.

The good news is that both the American people and the members of UE have responded to these attacks like at no time in recent memory.  From the huge outpouring at the Women’s March and J20, to the rapid response at airports nationwide regarding the Muslim ban, to the mass rejection of Nazism and white supremacy, these mobilizations have demonstrated the true character of Americans and limited the ability of the right-wing to carry out their agenda.  Angry constituents flooding congressional offices, phone lines and town hall meetings nationwide stopped the attempt to destroy the ACA in its tracks.  UE members have not only turned out for these events, they have helped lead the fights at the state level, particularly in Iowa, North Carolina, and West Virginia.

Very importantly, it appears that a pro-worker political structure might finally be forming in this country.  Important parts of the Bernie Sanders campaign apparatus has been transformed into Our Revolution with the intent of both mobilizing around the issues at the core of Sanders’ campaign, as well as providing support for candidates at the state and local level who will fight for those issues.  Within that structure, the unions that supported the Sanders campaign have created Labor for Our Revolution (LfOR). All three UE regions and the GEB have voted to affiliate with LfOR, and we look forward to working through this organization with other unionists committed to building a new pro-working class politics, including backing candidates running on a pro-worker platform.

Until the working class organizes our own political party workers continue to struggle on an unlevel playing field.  We will need to follow the path of independent political action where we support or oppose candidates based upon their actions, not just words or party labels.  Some of these candidates may run as Democrats but we are also now seeing an increasing number of pro-worker candidates running outside the party.  UE locals in multiple states are already preparing to invest time and energy in key races in the 2018 state and congressional elections.

At the same time,  many other forms of mass fightback continue, and deserve continued active involvement of UE locals. These include: Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, the Moral Monday Movement, immigrant justice campaigns, protests in defense of civil rights and against extreme reactionary politics, and others.

We are at a critical juncture in U.S. history where the working class faces both tremendous challenges and tremendous possibilities.  This is not the time to sit back and watch our rights slip through our fingers, because they will unless we fight back. Being active and participating in both the union and the political process is a must, not a choice. 

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 75th UE CONVENTION:

  1. Calls on the union at all levels to:
    1. Educate and mobilize the membership to defeat the war against the working class;
    2. Support only lawmakers and candidates who take concrete actions to defend working people;
    3. Mobilize the membership and work with allies to elect pro-labor candidates in upcoming elections;
    4. Participate in coalitions, campaigns and events which promote working class issues, including Labor Day and May Day actions, rallies, and marches;
  2. Calls on locals and regions to take the rank-and-file message to lawmakers on key issues through petitions, letters, phone calls, emails, lobby visits, visits to state capitols, political action days, town hall meetings, rallies, marches, civil disobedience, and other means;
  3. Urges all locals to undertake workplace campaigns to register members and their families to vote;
  4. Encourages UE regions, locals, and members to become involved in Our Revolution, and Labor for Our Revolution, Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, the Moral Monday, and other working-class movements for defense and justice;
  5. Calls on the labor movement and our allies to begin the formation of a viable independent working-class party.