When Labor Party members ask me where I get my "inside"
information, I tell them to read the newspaper. That's it. I'm sorry that my answer isn't
more exciting. Perhaps you expected more. And I'm serious: If you want new and improved
reasons why we need to build our Labor Party, just pick up the newspaper. The Republicans
left working people high and dry long ago, and the Democrats are right behind them. But
don't take my word for it, buy a newspaper.
Take the article that I came across just last week in the Washington,
D.C., political weekly The Hill. It was the headline that caught my eye:
"Chamber of Commerce Endorsements Anger Dems." I had to check this one
out ASAP. It seems that "New Democrat" Representative Calvin Dooley from
California took offense when he learned that he was not among the ten Democrats on the
Chamber's list of early congressional endorsements.
IT'S IN THE NEWS
Rep. Dooley was really stung by this big business snub, although it was
noted that he and some other Dems might make the cut when the list is expanded later this
year. In an interview with The Hill, Dooley blew off steam by saying, "The
fact that the Chamber of Commerce has only chosen to endorse two Democrats who have been
in office for more than one term and in excess of 200 Republicans begs the obvious
question of whether or not the Chamber is really committed to building a true bipartisan
base of support in the House."
Dooley went on to explain how his New Democrats have had meetings with
Chamber of Commerce leaders, and they thought they heard the Chamber telling them
that it was interested in working in a more bipartisan spirit. This growing love for the
Chamber of Commerce was echoed in the same article by Texas Democratic Representative
Ralph Hall, who said that he hopes that big business thinking will become
"contagious" in Democratic Party ranks. The last time I checked, Chamber of
Commerce thinking included goodies like passage of "fast track" legislation,
legalization of company unions, repeal of overtime pay, attacks on OSHA, and on and on.
Presumably, this is the contagion he's hoping to spread.
I wasn't totally surprised by this article, actually, since Rep. Dooley
earned the distinction this year of being the first Democrat ever rated by my union's
legislative scorecard to end up with a complete zero rating. He went 0 for 6 in 1997.
Dooley voted for the repeal of overtime pay, NAFTA expansion, tax cuts for the rich. In
1996 he pulled a 33 percent pro-worker rating, but this year he entered the zilch club.
SPOTTING WHAT YOU NEED
My favorite newspaper article from last year had to be the one from the
competing Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call entitled "Pressure pays off:
Corporations hear GOP plea to give less to Democrats." It seems that Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Martin Frost of Texas was complaining out loud
that Republicans were using "heavy-handed intimidation" tactics to force bosses
and corporations to give less money to Democrats.
The article went on to reveal that this problem of corporate giving to
Democrats was so out of hand that at a January 9 meeting with 25 CEOs, Republican House
Speaker Newt Gingrich and company "complained that corporate America was giving far
too much money to Democrats, and that Republicans should receive at least two-thirds of
all contributions from business leaders." As the meeting ended, Republican staff
passed out a list of 20 U.S. companies that they were going to monitor to see if they
continued to give too much money to Democrats.
Another recent newspaper favorite was a February 12 article from the
right-wing Washington Times that detailed the big Democratic meeting at the Wintergreen
resort in western Virginia, where Democrats tried to figure out what it was they were
going to talk about during the upcoming November elections. Once the discussion of the
Monica Lewinsky business was over, they got down to business.
They managed to come up with a short list of talking points that are sure
to inspire no one. Nothing on jobs - too controversial. Besides, the White House is saying
that everybody has one. Should they talk about how they oppose "fast track"
schemes to expand the job-killing NAFTA? Nope, too many Democrats either support it or
would like to. Anything else of substance? Forget it. Democrats are just too busy trying
to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from whoever will give it to pay for their
overpriced campaign consultants and endless TV ads.
Then there's the recent article in the Economist magazine about the
internal collapse of the Democratic Party in Texas. In this one-time Democratic
stronghold, it seems that the party cannot even find enough candidates for all the
upcoming races. In Florida, meanwhile, the Washington Post reports, the Democratic Party
removed an African-American state representative from his post as speaker designate, some
say out of fear that his promotion to full speaker might further alienate white voters.
What's left of the party in Florida is now in an uproar, as Democratic registration
continues to fall and the November elections inch closer.
All this adds to the mounting pile of evidence that whole sections of the
Democratic Party are moving steadily into the big business camp, are disintegrating, or
both. What does it say when a leading Democrat is offended because he thinks that more
Democrats deserve praise from the pathologically anti-worker Chamber of Commerce? Or when
Republicans have to complain to big business to stop bankrolling so many Democrats? Or
when the Democrats are afraid to talk about the real economic issues?
You know what it says. It says it's time to get serious about building the
Labor Party. So get your morning paper, find the Labor Party ammo, and get to work signing
up your coworkers. And then ask your local to affiliate. Need help? It's in the newspaper.
Chris Townsend is Political Action Director of the United Electrical,
Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).