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November 07, 2002

NY: Working Families Party Wins

"The biggest winner on Tuesday night was the Working Families Party, a coalition of pro-labor activists and liberal Democrats which gave its line to Carl McCall this year."- NY Post
Okay, my small comfort amidst debacle is that on election day, I was doing poll work for what the Post has declared the "biggest winner" of the night, at least in the relative sense of having a chance to change the status quo in the state. Knowing that Lautenberg was a safe bet for election, I spent Tuesday morning handing out flyers urging voters to support McCall not on the Democratic line but on the Working Families Party row.

Backed by major progressive unions and other community groups, the Working Families Party (WFP) goal is to give progressives an electoral vehicle that can force Democrats to the left without playing a spoiler role in major elections.

For those foreign to New York's relatively unique party system, third parties have the option of running their own candidates or endorsing a major candidate. The option to do the latter gives smaller parties leverage over major parties, since multiple listings on the ballot can significantly boost vote totals.

For the WFP, cross-endorsements are a way to let progressive voters know which Democrats are true progressives and worth devoting their votes but more importantly their time during elections. A WFP endorsement is sought not just for the votes it may deliver, but as a union-supported group, it can deliver get-out-the-vote muscle before and on election day. Notably, while I saw Greens and some Independence Party folks hustling on Tuesday morning, I saw no Democratic Party regulars. The unions supporting Pataki were sitting on their hands and the rest were out hustling for the top Dems on the WFP's line.

Okay, this can sound like seriously inside baseball, but part of the WFP's success was killing off the so-called Liberal Party, which failed to gain the 50,000 votes needed to remain on the ballot. But that once proud supporter of liberal causes had degenerated into a patronage machine that, by endorsing Guiliani in New York, gave "small l" liberals the ability to vote for him without having to pull the Republican lever. Backed by progressives around the WFP, McCall refused the Liberal endorsement for governor and with only failed Dem candidate Andrew Cuomo (who dropped out) on their ballot line, they are out of the patronage game.

This leaves the Working Families Party as the key endorsement by Democrats and the occasional liberal Republican to identify themselves as progressives.

Most importantly, the Working Families Party is not just an electoral vehicle but an organization of activists working on issues ranging from the minimum wage to affordable housing. This makes sure that the electoral work is a servant to the issues that matter-- rather than the other way around with most parties.

For more info see the party site and these older Nation and Village Voice articles.

Update: I missed a couple of more recent pieces on the WFP. At the Nation see here and here and a New York Magazine piece by Michael Tomasky. (Thanks JW)

Posted by Nathan at November 7, 2002 09:12 AM

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Thank God the Liberal Party, which as the joke goes is neither liberal nor a party, is dead!

But why didn't the WFP endorse Arnowitz, who is far more progressive than McCall, who was a dismal choice?

Lautenberg's decisive win was one of the few bright spots.

Posted by: Paleo at November 7, 2002 10:29 AM

I note that the Working Family Party's web site offers two ways to sign up for free email newsletters--and both methods yield a 404 Not Found error.

It's probably making too much of a small thing, but I find this discourages me from seeing them as remarkably competent.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at November 7, 2002 03:05 PM

As the WFP's policy guy, I appreciate this. (You're still wrong on "fiscal responsibility," Nathan, tho.)

As for why we didn't endorse Aronowitz -- this could be a long conversation. Suffice it to say that the WFP is primarily issues-oriented rather than electorally oriented. Our main goal in our electoral work is to build power for pushing our agenda -- higher wages, universal health carem, taxing the rich and all that good stuff. Endorsing the most progressive candidate is not necessarily the best way to do this.

I hate what's-wrong-with-the-left talk and try never to engage in it, but I do think there is a problem in some quarters of seeing elections as a form of symbolic protest rather than a concrete organizing opportunity.

I would add that in my view the main reason most working people are not more politically engaged is not that they don't know the system is rotten, but that they don't think they can do anything to change it. So within reasonable limits, it's more important to build a left party of demonstrated effectiveness than to have the strongest positions.

I do wish we'd been able to take a stand against the war.


Posted by: JW Mason at November 7, 2002 06:44 PM

By the way there are more recent Nation pieces on us at http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021111&s=sifry and http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021118&s=editors3 and a nice New York Magazine piece by Michael Tomasky at http://www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/politics/columns/citypolitic/5734/

Posted by: JW Mason at November 7, 2002 06:54 PM

9% or 90% unionized: make a huge difference in rich countries growing richer? In only 4 years, the American economy should turn out another $1 trillion worth of goods and services - every year (if it maintains modest 2 1/2% annual growth). Per capita economic output doubles over 2 generations, on average. The genuine "future shock" should turn out to be what to do with all that geometrically expanding income - 9% or 90% organized labor -- most Americans would think. Think again.

Following 35 years of slower than average growth, the American economy, today, produces $5 worth of goods and services for every $3 it did in 1968. [All growth figures will be per capita and all dollars adjusted.] After which economic giant step, the value of the minimum wage has shrunk to its 3+ generations ago level, when we were producing $1 for every $5 today: $4/hr take home (with no taxes in 1939).

20% of American wages have slid below 1968's minimum of $8.50/hr. 40% do not earn $12/hr: or what L.B.J.'s minimum wage could-a -- should-a? -- evolved to had it kept painless 3/4 pace with GDP expansion (even one-jumping to $12/hr minimum wage, today, should add only 5% to the cost of living*); almost in range of Germany's 10 percentile wage.

In 1974, antedating today's 50% additional economic output, New York City taximeters charged $2.25 a mile (60 cents nominally). As of June 2003, (mainly) Manhattan cabbies get $1.50 a mile to drive over the only geographic patch on the planet where wealth is a plateau not a pinnacle, from East River to shining Hudson River (prelude to 2075, from sea to shining sea?)

For, 20 years, now, as GDP swelled 35%, the American median wage has stayed stuck in the $13 -- $14/hr range.

Even if the health cost share of GDP grows twice the rate of GDP overall, today's 14% will only climb to 21% of a doubled GDP, after the generations it took to reach that rich point (triple actual costs a factor of better therapies, too). This should-be reassuring equation does not correspond with the everyday American experience of a million and more each year losing their health coverage each year (a fixed core of "old-reliable" procedures could be hatched into a bridge policy, awaiting income reshuffling in a unionized America).

In June 22, 2003's, Newsweek Online, Jane Bryant Quinn reports: "More price barriers exist for the poor man [who wants to go to college] than 30 years ago."

GDP grows twice the rate of population, ergo: indexing the FICA income cap to both growth and inflation (as is done in Germany) would end all worries over retirement fund sufficiency (Germany's population may shrink as ours doubles). Yet, neither political party foresees any approach to achieving post-surplus (2017?) revenue enhancements beyond hiking rates on the poor side of the cap.

President Bush warns darkly of an $18 trillion shortfall in Social Security and Medicare revenue (spread) over the next 75 years - by which rich epoch, doubled population and quadrupled per capita output, should pump American GDP to $80 trillion - every year. Could the party of Scrooge truly be blind to the doubling and redoubling of GDP over the generations; or are Ebenezer's elves about consciously planting poor and middle class American feet into laissez faire quick sand?

Even as said sink, Ebenezer's leading congressional elf, Tom Delay, is flogging federal legislation to terminate the generations old federal mandate to pay time and a half for overtime by opening the way for employers to reclassify eight million plus hourly workers, who earn between $22,100 and $65,000 a year, as "professional" or "management". The same elves claim credit for adding a million-plus low income workers to the unrestricted overtime class by re-setting 1975's $170/wk line (roughly $550 in 2003's money) to $425 now - which is nothing but a partial inflation recoup.

Scrooge's (blind?) Republican helpers aside, no business cabal is cold bloodedly scheming to make American workers poorer. Rather, normally hard bargaining ownership just naturally gets the best of market-mindless, "self-reliant" Yanks who never acquired their European counterparts' comprehension of the total need to combine labor's hands to strike a decent bargain in the free labor market.

Under normal -- meaning ultra competitive -- market pressure, oodles of income oozes right on past "self reliant" types who accept whatever pay their favorite employer tenders - right through the hot hands of McDonalds (presently in the red) and Wal-Mart corporations who bring heavy pressure to the market place but who are under heavy competitive pressure themselves - all it's wasted way into the pockets of the few truly self reliant individuals, with irreplaceable talents, who press hard but who cannot be pressed very hard: hence who, via a kind of overpressure osmosis, reap an order of magnitude more reward than even their celebrity talents sow (examples: Judge Judy, CEO of McDonalds, pro ballplayer).

All of which is to say that, 90% unionization, mandated (German style) by 51% vote of Congress may be the only - not to mention, relatively easy - road back to America's harmonious post world war past of broadly shared, geometric expansion.

American voters should not shrink from the happy medium of balancing business and labor power for fear of swinging too far left - in the direction of Europe's business choking over regulation. Either extreme slows growth. There may be more to fear in the permanent de-industrialization brought about by "finacialization" (when a too bloated elite makes too much money with their money) than from intrusive regulations, which at least may be discarded at will. Finance has made more profit than manufacturing in the United States (not in Europe) since 1995. Funneling too much income to over-investing types can develop demand drag; scary deflationary signs of which may be cropping up in our economy for the first time since the Great Depression.

Only legally mandated, universal unionization can practicably re-empower American labor to hold it's own against honest but no holds barred pressure in the free market. Locking in labor's institutional landscape would also match labor's message volume to that of Ebenezer's true believers in the political marketplace.

*ON THE BACK OF THE ENVELOPE: 6 million minimum wage earners receiving a $14,000 a year raise + 55 million American workers receiving a $7,000 a year raise, both to $12 an hour = $469 billion.  Or about 5% increase in the cost of $10 trillion GDP output -- which loss of buying power for those who do not receive a raise will be returned in a couple of years of normal economic growth.

Denis Drew

Posted by: Denis Drew at August 20, 2003 10:35 AM

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