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Labor Party's First
Constitutional
Convention


Day One
Friday, November 13

Convention Opens!

Labor Party's First Constitutional Convention  

The Labor Party’s First Constitutional Convention was called to order on November 13, 1998 by Robert Wages, president of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union. The Pittsburgh Solidarity Chorus led the convention in singing the National Anthem and performed "We Are the People: We Have the Right," a lively, danceable version of the Labor Party’s program.

OCAW member Burley Hanna offered an invocation.

Chairman Wages recognized a number of international union officers present, including leaders of AFGE, BMWE, CNA, FLOC, GCIU, UE, UMWA, UPIU and USWA. Wages then introduced Robert L. Clark, general secretary-treasurer of the host union, UE, and a co-chair of the Interim National Council.

Clark cited Pittsburgh’s working-class history and suggested that this convention moves that working-class legacy of struggle "decisively to the political arena." A clear message must be sent to politicians that working people can no longer be taken for granted, he said.

Leadership’s task, Clark suggested, is to help members see basic union work in a political context.

The UE leader invoked the memory of union president Albert Fitzgerald; as chairperson of the Progressive Party founding convention in 1948, he asked, "Why haven’t we done this before?" Clark concluded with the Labor Party preamble, which he said speaks eloquently as to the goals and commitment of the convention.

GREETINGS FROM USWA PRESIDENT

United Steelworkers of America President George Becker gave a forceful attack on the failures of U.S. trade policy and said the Labor Party’s issues were his union’s. "I want to applaud you for your efforts to advance the agenda of working people on all levels in society, and I want you to know that the Steelworkers’ union will not endorse a candidate based on political label."

"NAFTA is a failed trade agreement," Becker said. Instead of the 200,000 new jobs a year its backers promised, the United States has lost a total of 600,000 family-supporting jobs. Only industrialists have benefited from what Becker described as "the greatest betrayal of workers’ interests" in his lifetime.

The Steelworkers’ union has challenged the constitutionality of NAFTA in court and vigorously opposed attempts in Congress to grant the President fast-track authority, Becker said. The USWA president also urged opposition to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, "one of the most insidious treaties that could ever, ever be adopted," which would give corporations and banks the power to challenge labor laws and environmental regulations globally. As it is, Becker said, Clinton Administration officials say they are unable to respond to the influx of cheap steel because their "hands are tied" by international trade agreements.

Trade, stressed Becker, should benefit everyone. This is not protectionism, but saving and protecting our jobs, lifestyles, communities and the American dream.

CONVENTION RULES ADOPTED

The chair of the Rules Committee, Mark Dudzic of OCAW, presented the proposed convention rules. Delegates discussed and rejected a proposed amendment to Rule 22 which would have allowed a resolution to be introduced from the floor without approval by two-thirds of the Convention. A requirement that speakers indicate what state they are from was accepted as a friendly amendment to Rule 5. The rules were then adopted.

CANADIAN GREETINGS

Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers and vice president of the Canadian Labour Congress, expressed his delight in addressing a convention of a U.S. labor party. "Working people need a party that represents the interests of working people," declared Hargrove.

Like USWA President Becker, Hargrove cited the collapse of the Asian economies and suggested that the one-time "Asian tigers" represented a "model" of no restrictions on capital and no rights for workers. When the "casino capitalists" pulled out of the Asian markets, workers paid the price. "Any political party that doesn’t recognize this incredible abuse of power, and does not have a platform to deal with it, doesn’t deserve the support of working people," Hargrove declared.

The Canadian labor leader said he attended the founding convention of the New Democratic Party, and compared his party’s debates to those at this convention. The challenge of building the party was well worth the effort, he said, although he finds himself at odds with many NDP policies today. If the NDP fails to represent working people, then a genuine labor party will have to be created. One problem, Hargrove said, is a tendency to place power ahead of principle and values; this does working people a disservice.

Hargrove thrilled delegates with his account of plant occupations and one-day strikes that have shut down 12 cities in Ontario in response to the right-wing policies of the provincial government. "Capital yields nothing without a struggle," he said; "the time for action is now."

DEMAND FOR JUST HEALTH CARE

Accompanied by a 12-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty (with an IV needle stuck in her arm), sign-carrying, chanting delegates marched to the Federal Building and back for a rally launching the Labor Party’s Just Health Care campaign. (Miss Liberty was designed and operated by artist Tavia LaFollette.) The U.S. has been stricken by a disease called corporate greed, said UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley, who chaired the rally. The remedy is Just Health Care, a prescription also endorsed by Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the Health Research Group, California Nurses Association President Kit Costello and Kathleen Conners, president of Canada’s National Federation of Nursing Unions. Speakers stressed the necessity of replacing the current inefficient, costly profit-driven health care system with a Canadian-style single-payer system that guarantees Americans universal access to quality care. Delegates enthusiastically agreed.

Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velasquez opened the afternoon session and called on Kathleen O’Nan to report from the Credentials Committee. She gave a preliminary report: a total of 1207 delegates from 315 delegations pre-registered for the convention. The final numbers will appear in tomorrow’s Convention Report.

CAMPAIGN FOR WORKERS’ RIGHTS

Labor Party New England organizer Ed Bruno then reported on a resolution proposed by the LP’s joint organizing and resolutions committee for a Workers’ Rights Campaign. Joe Uehlein, former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department, read the resolution, which lays out a national Labor Party campaign to popularize and build support for a Bill of Rights in the workplace.

Velasquez then introduced United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts to speak on the workers’ rights proposal. Roberts recalled some of the militant battles the members of his union have been through to defend their rights as workers. "We know the answer to workers’ problems in the U.S. is a stronger labor movement in this country where people have a legal right to speak out, to defend themselves, to health and safety."

The committee moved acceptance of its proposal, and Velasquez opened the floor for debate. Delegates accepted two amendments to the resolution from the floor; the first holds that workfare workers should be granted the right to organize, the second supports the formation of committees of fired workers. The Convention then voted overwhelmingly to adopt the resolution.

DELEGATES DEBATE ELECTORAL PROPOSAL

The Labor Party electoral committee then assembled on the podium and chair Dave Campbell read the commission’s "Report on the Labor Party’s Future Electoral Strategy." Delegates discussed a motion to amend Section 5 of the proposal to allow two of the three levels of the Labor Party organization (local, state and national) to approve electoral activity and to strike the provision in the proposal that gives the National Council the right to veto applications for electoral campaigns. Supporters of the amendment argued that the proposal as presented gave too much power to the national organization and might discourage local initiative. Opponents argued that running candidates is a serious proposition and that the party needs to be sure that electoral campaigns are accountable and have sufficient resources to succeed. That amendment and a related proposal to amend Sections 5 and 6 were defeated.

Delegates then discussed a proposal to delete Section 2 of the proposal, which requires candidates to run solely on the Labor Party slate. That motion was defeated.

A second motion called for amending Section 2 to allow endorsement of candidates who support the Labor Party program, eliminating the requirement that they be solely Labor Party candidates. Supporters of the amendment argued that the Labor Party shouldn’t put itself in the position of competing with candidates of parties with complementary programs. Opponents argued that such cross-endorsements would dilute the Labor Party’s power and identity.

Electoral committee member Bill Shortell explained the committee’s reasoning on this point: "Fusion can be an important tool, and sectarianism is a big danger for a small party like ours. But we are just now embarking on electoral politics. For us to immediately go into fusion politics before we establish who we are would be a mistake."

The amendment was defeated in a voice vote.

The delegates then overwhelmingly adopted the full electoral committee proposal. The convention adjourned for the day.

 

Chapter Convention Summary
Day Two Summary | Day Three Summary
Summary Index

More Information About the Labor Party

Summaries Produced by Peter Gilmore, Michael Kaufman, and Laura McClure.

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