The Labor Partys 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 Partys 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
then introduced Robert L. Clark, general secretary-treasurer of the host union, UE, and a
co-chair of the Interim National Council.
Clark cited Pittsburghs 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.
Leaderships 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
havent 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 Partys issues were
his unions. "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
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.
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 doesnt recognize this incredible abuse of power, and
does not have a platform to deal with it, doesnt 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 partys 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
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 Partys 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 Canadas 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
Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velasquez opened the
afternoon session and called on Kathleen ONan 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 tomorrows
CAMPAIGN FOR WORKERS RIGHTS
Labor Party New England organizer Ed Bruno then reported on a resolution
proposed by the LPs 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 commissions "Report on the Labor Partys 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
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
shouldnt put itself in the position of competing with candidates of parties with
complementary programs. Opponents argued that such cross-endorsements would dilute the
Labor Partys power and identity.
Electoral committee member Bill Shortell explained the committees
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
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
More Information About the Labor Party
Summaries Produced by Peter Gilmore, Michael Kaufman,
and Laura McClure.
Top of Page
-> UE News -> 1998
Archives -> Article
-> Political Action
-> Labor Party ->
Home • About UE • Organize! • Independent Unions
• Search • Site Guide • What's New • Contact UE
UE News • Political Action • Info for Workers • Resources
• Education • Health & Safety • International • Links