2014 elections: Lessons, new landscape, new challenges

BY:John Bachtell| November 21, 2014
2014 elections: Lessons, new landscape, new challenges


 Remarks to the CPUSA National Committee, Nov. 15, 2014, Chicago, IL.
There’s no sugarcoating it. The November 2014 election results marked a serious setback for Democrats, the anti-ultra right alliance and the broad people’s coalition led by labor. The fight for jobs at living wages, workers and immigrant rights, racial and gender equality, for climate justice and peace proceeds under more unfavorable conditions.

The election resulted in a wave of victories for the Republicans and ultra right that may have surpassed 2010. However, while the GOP claims otherwise, it was not a mandate for right-wing policies.

Grassroots efforts by labor and its allies mobilized millions of voters. Tens of thousands of volunteers, including Party members, participated in voter registration, labor walks and canvases, phone banks and get-out-the-vote efforts. The People’s World did an outstanding job of analysis and covering the election mobilization. The CPUSA Political Action Committee kept on top of developments and we sent out weekly messages and provided action tools.

For sure there were some bright spots – progressives candidates, including communists, won on many levels, and referendum were passed for a higher minimum wage, sick pay, equal pay, for gun control, decriminalization of marijuana and against fracking. (For a more complete summation of results please read Joelle Fishman’s report to the CPUSA National Board.) After licking its wounds, the people’s movement is trying to draw the right lessons from the setback while making a concrete estimate of the new political landscape going forward.

Ultra right danger grows – the new political balance

The election results validate our anti-ultra right strategy. In fact the ultra right danger to democracy and democratic rights has grown and the importance of building, broadening and deepening the anti-ultra right alliance has grown.

The GOP, which suffered a shattering defeat in 2012, has found new life and momentum. In addition to capturing majorities in both Houses of Congress, they have a larger majority in the House and openly partisan right-wing operatives disguised as judges dominate the U.S. Supreme Court. The only thing missing is the presidency and they feel they are in a better position to win it in 2016.

Republicans generally will be more conservative and many are genuine troglodytes. Many vow continued obstruction of President Obama while others are threatening government shutdown and impeachment. They aim to shift the national discussion and politics to the right.

The ultra right is emboldened. Since the GOP now controls Congress, they will largely set the legislative agenda: repeal of Obamacare, pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline, corporate tax reform, charter school expansion and eliminating restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. There is also talk of a national right to work law and so called “personhood laws.” The Supreme Court’s announcement it would hear another challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), signals the right wing feels uninhibited to use the courts to further weaken Obamacare and block and undo progressive policy.

The new political landscape means gridlock and polarization will deepen and continue for years to come. With Republican gerrymandering, control of the House of Representatives has been institutionalized for the foreseeable future, until at least 2022, after the 2020 census and reapportionment. In addition, Republicans expanded domination of state legislatures and governorships. This means sharper battles against union busting, restricting the right to vote, reproductive rights, environmental protections and cuts to Medicaid and education. It will take a multi-year, multi-election fight to reverse and break the ultra right grip on the state level.

Congressional Democrats, President Obama, labor and its allies will operate from a severely weakened position.  Some Congressional Democrats will align with Republicans on some issues, weakening unity. President Obama will be under tremendous pressure to make concessions and if he employs the veto, the GOP will portray him as the one who is intransigent or going it alone. It will be harder to get nominations confirmed, including potential Supreme Court nominations, unless they are to the liking of Republicans. Legislative reforms – large and small – are off the table, including reversing Citizens United. We will be living with massive dark money in politics for a long time.

However, Republicans won’t have total control over the broader political discourse. President Obama can still shape the public debate by reaching international agreements like the one negotiated this week in China on climate change. And although limited, he can take action through executive order, like immigration.

We shouldn’t count out what happened post-2004 elections after Republicans won all three branches and a movement exploded to defend Social Security. The GOP suffered a defeat, which shifted the terms of the debate. Movements can encourage Obama and Democrats to fight. The sit-down strike in Wal-Mart shows people are ready to fight.

The executive order by President Obama that will temporarily legalize the status of some 5.5 million undocumented workers is already provoking a firestorm from the extreme right. Some Republicans are threatening a government shutdown, impeachment or a lawsuit that could go to the Supreme Court and force a constitutional crisis.

Either way, the struggle around the immigration executive order will most likely set the tone for the last two years of Obama’s presidency. If Democrats in Congress split, it could mean a victory for the right, Obama could be largely ineffectual in his remaining time and the danger to democracy would grow. On the other hand, if the people’s movement rises to the occasion and the American people respond, it could be an early turning point in the fight against the ultra right.

Our strategy to build a broad multi-class coalition against the ultra right is sound and widely shared by labor and other key social forces. The challenge is to elaborate broad, flexible tactics, to mobilize millions into the fight and deepen understanding of the danger.

Reasons for the loss

There are many reasons for the 2014 setbacks. For sure, the electoral battleground was unfavorable and history was against the president’s party in the midterm election of his second term. And certainly, the power of money was a huge factor. Hundreds of millions of dollars of “dark money” flowed into the elections to influence the outcome, $300 million from the Koch brothers alone. The GOP got smart on the ground game and copied the Democrats voter identification and GOTV methods and prioritized its resources.

But this doesn’t take the sting out of the defeat nor explain the main reasons for the setback.

The Republican strategy was multi-pronged. The first element was hatched following the 2008 elections. During the Inaugural celebrations Sen. Mitch McConnell told the Republican caucus the strategy would be one of legislative obstruction to deprive Obama of any policy achievements, allow the failures to pile up and then declare Obama a failed presidency.

The administration took office during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and was saddled with crises inherited from the Bush presidency that continue to reverberate to this day. A perfect storm of developments hit over the past year changing the political dynamic and sending President Obama’s popularity into a downward spiral. It looked like things were spinning out of control. Some were mistakes of the administration’s own making like the ACA website rollout, Veteran’s administration and NSA spying scandals and foreign policy blunders in Libya, Syria and Ukraine.

Other issues frightened and unsettled people like the Ebola crisis, the border crisis with child refugees, ISIS beheadings and disasters associated with the climate crisis. Some Republicans made hysterical claims about ISIS crossing the border and stoked people’s real fears. By their ugly demonizing of the Obama administration, Republicans ran on the negatives while hiding their own program. This narrative was tinged with racism, spread by the right-wing media and religious fundamentalist networks.

The second prong of their strategy was enabled by victories in the 2010 elections. State legislatures embarked on redistricting and passed a spate of cookie cutter voter suppression laws to block African Americans, Latinos and youth from voting. Hundreds of thousands of voters may have been denied the right to vote on Nov. 4.

In addition the Republicans smartly drew lessons from their disastrous defeat in 2012 when extremist candidates bombed. So they crushed insurgent Tea Party campaigns of unelectable candidates and nominated more racially and gender diverse and less polarizing candidates. Many underwent an “extreme makeover” by deliberately moderating their voices on reproductive rights and raising the minimum wage. Latino voters supported Democrats 64% overall, but Republican candidates were able to make inroads in some states by moderating their positions against immigration reform.

Neither party addressed economic fears

Despite the announcement of the creation of 200,000 new jobs in October, millions of Americans are still reeling from the 2009 Great Recession and longer-term slowdown in economic growth. This is the slowest economic recovery in 70 years. Nearly 7 million fewer Americans are working or searching for work than before 2009. Millions remain unemployed or involuntarily work part time. Workforce participation has been flat at 62.8%.

Neo-liberal restructuring has resulted in extreme wealth inequality. 100 percent of the gains in wealth have gone to the top 10 percent. Ninety-five percent have gone to the top 1%. The top 1% has wealth equal to the bottom 90%.

Democratic administrations have been a partner in efforts to impose neo-liberal policies whose features include a high degree of centralization of capital and monopolization and financialization. Economic growth is fueled by external stimulus, primarily household debt because wages and purchasing power have been stagnant.

Median family income has been flat since 1986, declining by 4.4% since 2009. Most new jobs created are part time at less pay; two-thirds of people live paycheck to paycheck. Millions are experiencing foreclosures or underwater home values. 40% are unable to save for retirement and have no assets. Student debt has surpassed $1 trillion. Cities and states are compounding huge debts and some are entering bankruptcy; state pensions and budgets are being slashed.

All this has resulted in widespread economic pain, anger, fear and insecurity. There are powerful economic forces at work and massive changes occurring rapidly that are frightening and incomprehensible. It’s no wonder that monthly reports of job creation and an improving economy ring hollow. It’s difficult to convince the American people things are getting better.

Neither party adequately addressed the economic pain working people are facing. While President Obama’s poll numbers are low, attitudes toward GOP leadership are also dismal. According to a Hart Research poll of 2014 voters, the most important election issue was the economy and 80% of voters agreed with the statement that “politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties do too much to support Wall Street financial interests and not enough to help average Americans;” only 13% disagreed. According to the AFL-CIO, while many Democratic candidates advocated increasing the minimum wage, most didn’t present a good vision for jobs creation and improving people’s lives.

Voters desperately wanted change but saw only Congressional gridlock and heard no convincing message from either party. Millions of voters, including white working-class voters took out their pessimism, frustrations and anger on President Obama and Democrats. Polls showed large percentages think the country is off track and the economy is bad. Most of those who agreed voted Republican. Meanwhile the Republicans escaped their responsibility for their obstruction and austerity policies.

Monopolization, slow growth, financialization, debt driven bubbles, massive inequality and wage stagnation are features of late stage capitalism and comprise the new normal. Without a bigger intervention by the labor led people’s coalition, we can expect more political volatility too.

Democratic Party strategy

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is being widely criticized for running a lackluster campaign – with good reason. Democrats had neither a national narrative nor compelling solutions for the economic concerns of working people. But the problems run deeper.

After the 2008 elections the DNC made the calculated decision to abandon the 50 state strategy championed by the Organizing for Obama (OFA). They sought to absorb OFA and revert back to the strategy of focusing on “blue states” and swing states. Consequently, the DNC has done nothing to build party infrastructure in so-called “red states”, “red districts”, suburbs and exurbs, ceding the political and ideological battlefield to Republicans. They reverted to old style approaches.

The Democratic Party recruited a cast of largely ineffective candidates, including those selected solely on name recognition. Candidates in “red” and “swing” states deliberately distanced themselves from President Obama and his policies, both failures and achievements. Unable to project a national message they conceded to the Republican narrative of administrative incompetence and underlying strain of racism. Instead of a national campaign they ran a mishmash of state campaigns. By prevailing on President Obama to delay executive action on immigration, they again conceded to racism and right-wing ideology. This eroded enthusiasm among many voters including Latino voters, 45% who felt this was the most important issue, and Asian voters.

Voter disengagement – another threat to democracy

Despite the tremendous work and mobilization at the grassroots, only 36% of eligible voters went to the polls. It was better in some of the contested states, but not by much. This was the lowest voter turnout in 72 years.

Voter suppression laws impacted turnout, but we should be careful not to make this the main reason.

What are these non-voters saying? They are disillusioned with politics. They lack confidence in government’s ability to get things done. They feel their voice doesn’t count and is being drowned out by big money.

They perceive politicians as out of touch, corrupt and interested only in the next election. They feel neither party offers real solutions nor whoever gets elected makes a difference in their lives. They don’t see a meaningful alternative. It also reflects social disengagement, alienation, fragmentation of communities and politics. Many people tend to try solving problems on their own.

This is a huge challenge only a larger movement can deal with: political engagement at the grassroots and on the job, addressing issues of concern, education and giving people confidence change is possible.

Racism and right-wing ideology

Defeating the ultra right in the electoral arena is interconnected with defeating the ultra right ideologically. Right-wing ideology with racism at its core also includes hatred of the working class and labor, women, LGBTQ people and immigrants. It is anti-science, anti-environment and attacks the role of government.

These ideas are interconnected. One or all of them can influence a person. Twisted right-wing ideology turns some whites against Medicaid by inferring those living in poverty and people of color are freeloading. Here anti-government attitudes are connected to racism.

The GOP, ultra right and right-wing media have been relentless in demonizing President Obama. The vilest of racist expressions are acceptable.

Many Democratic candidates made accommodations to influences of racism by distancing themselves from Obama, refusing to take on the demonization and prevailing on him not to issue executive orders on immigration. They wanted the president to mobilize African American voters, but stay out of their states.

When white voters are subject to racist appeals without challenge, there is bound to be an effect:  especially amid deep fear and frustrations over a world seemingly turning upside down – economic restructuring and demographic changes. This is sharply illustrated by the fact that outside the South, whites voted for Republicans by an average of 8 percentage points. But in 10 Southern states with an election for Senate on the ballot, Republicans won white voters by an average of 42 points. Where candidates made an all-inclusive appeal to voters, like Gary Peters in Michigan who campaigned actively among white working-class voters, they won or did far better.

Struggle against racism and right-wing ideology

Important challenges to racism and right wing ideology are stirring the country. There is a lot to build on. Even though only one-third of midterm voters said their vote was “to express opposition to Barack Obama,” while a plurality-45 percent-said President Obama was not a factor and around one-fifth-19 percent-said they voted to support him.

In the past few months, the American people have engaged in important national discussions. The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO exposed the brutality, inhumanity and deeply entrenched institutionalized racism of that town’s police department and political structure. This tragedy laid bare the new Jim Crow of racial profiling, police crimes and militarization for millions to see, including millions of white Americans.

The ability of the social media to instantly share photos and videos of racist police crimes has helped millions understand this is a national crisis. The ongoing protests in Ferguson are helping foster a nationwide movement against police crimes. What is new is the involvement by the labor movement, including low wage workers in alliance with the established Civil Rights organizations, the religious community and youth.

We must continue to deepen our involvement and initiative in this movement, especially at the grassroots level.

There are also new movements growing in opposition to mass incarceration and prison privatization. The passage of Proposition 47 in California to change sentencing guidelines is a major victory. Again, the involvement of the AFL-CIO is new and exciting.

In addition, the campaign to drop the racist name and logo of the Washington NFL team is the largest movement against anti-Native racism in years. Millions are discussing this issue, including from the angle of sports. There are shifts in attitudes toward undocumented immigrants. Over 57% now believe undocumented immigrants should be granted legal status and a path to citizenship.

A national discussion also took place on domestic violence and violence against women also from the angle of sports after revelations of assaults committed by NFL players.

And over the past few years a revolution in people’s thinking has taken place toward marriage equality and LGBTQ rights.

These discussions are exposing people to new ideas and challenging their beliefs, prejudices and sensibilities.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka addressed the issue of racism at the Missouri AFL-CIO convention and illustrated how it dehumanizes, divides and hurts all workers and the common interests our multi-racial class has in uniting against it. He displayed confidence in white worker’s ability to change.

Along with stressing the utter immorality of racism, Rev. William Barber II, leader of the Forward Together Moral Movement points out the same extremists who passed voter suppression laws also “denied 500,000 North Carolinians access to Medicaid, cut unemployment and denied the earned-income tax credit.”

Or to paraphrase Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Where you find a labor hater, you will find a race baiter” and to that I would add a climate denier.

The emergence of a new movement in the deep South based on the multi-racial unity of labor, the Forward Together Moral Movement,  the immigrant rights and women’s rights organizations offers enormous potential to reconfigure politics of the South and the nation.

It would have been far better had Democratic Party candidates had the courage to directly confront racism. For example, Alison Grimes who absurdly refused to say she voted for President Obama when everyone knew otherwise, should have told McConnell, “stop trying to divide the people of Kentucky with your racism and using it to hide your own anti-people agenda. We don’t want either.”

Challenging racism and the entire system of right-wing ideas, showing how destructive this ideology and practice is to the lives of people – black, brown and white – is essential to building unity of the class and social forces necessary for victory. The Party has an essential role taking initiative both in practice and in the realm of ideas. It calls for retooling our communication apparatus and stepping up our ideological work to reach a larger audience.

Attack on government

In the words of economist Jared Bernstein, “The failure of government to enact and implement useful economic policies in recent years is by no means a sole function of administrative incompetence or feckless bureaucrats. It is a strategy.”

The ultra right is not against government. They are just against government that benefits people and protects them from capitalist exploitation. Their version enhances corporate profits, institutionalized racism and inequality, facilitates the transfer of wealth upward, and externalizes the costs of corporate environmental destruction and supports militarization to protect global interests.

But the relentless right-wing attacks, obstruction and gridlock have undermined people’s confidence in government. Combined with the mistakes of the Obama administration it is no wonder a significant section of the American people has a cynical view of government. According to Robert Reich, “Fifty years ago, just 29 percent of voters believed government is “run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.” Now, 79 percent think so.” Republicans exploited this widespread pessimism. We have to keep making the point that only a large role of government can address the economic and social crisis.

Contradictory thinking

Over 30 years of constant ideological warfare have created a mass right-wing base. But other ideological currents are influencing people too. People are often not of one mind and express contradictory thoughts. Their thinking is in motion.

Polls show broad majorities support of marriage equality, action to relieve student debt and immigration reform. AFL-CIO exit polls showed 75 percent support increased funding for public schools, 73 percent favor taxing American corporations on profits they make overseas, 62 percent support raising the federal minimum wage and 61 percent support increasing Social Security benefits. Meanwhile, only 27 percent support raising the Social Security retirement age and only 18 percent support raising the Medicare eligibility age.

However, Republicans won on an opposite program, although many candidates moderated or hid their views. If people experience the harsh realities of right-wing policies, why did Governors Scott, Walker, Kasich, Brownback and Snyder win? How can it be that with Republican opposition to equal pay for women and the Violence Against Women Act, 48% of women voted Republican? These are difficult questions we need to answer.

The fight for unity

Reversing the Nov. 4 setbacks can only occur through building a broad based united multi-class coalition with the core forces of the multi-racial working class, communities of color, women and youth at its center. Such a coalition can only be assembled on the basis of the broadest appeal to economic, racial, gender and environmental justice, democratic rights and peace. It’s a coalition that needs greater programmatic and organizational cohesion.

We have been a multi-racial, multi-national, multi-lingual and multi-cultural people since before the nation’s founding. This diversity is a source of tremendous strength, pride and love of country. Movements for equality have been integral to expanding democracy. Demographic shifts mean the U.S. will be a majority non-white country sometime this century. Some Democratic operatives and left activists are working under a strategy based on winning future presidential and congressional elections by relying almost exclusively on demographic shifts, the growth of non-white voters. This approach is based on frustration that Democratic candidates won white working-class voters approximately 30% and 33% among senior voters.

But this approach is flawed and leads to further disunity. First it puts the onus on African American and Latino communities who often bailout candidates while their support is taken for granted. Too often, little is done afterwards to address the issues of those very communities of color who were decisive to victory.

Second, it writes off a significant section of the electorate, mainly white-working class voters and by default entire regions including the Deep South. It says that white working-class voters are inherently reactionary and will never overcome racial influences.

Third, it ignores developing effective solutions that address the concerns of working people, people of color, women and youth and unites them.

Fourth, it is a concession to influences of racism. It’s a non-struggle approach.

It ignores the all-inclusive approach of the Obama campaigns to the entire working class – black, brown and white. Without it, the field is wide open for Republicans to make appeals based on racism, hate and prejudice.

And depending on the appeal other Democratic base voters can be “peeled” off the coalition, enough to win a close election. For example, support among Latinos, Asians and youth eroded from 2010. And depending on the candidate, Republicans made big inroads. For example, Nevada Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval won 47% of the Latino vote. In 2012 Asian voters supporters voted for Obama by a margin of 47%, but in 2014 a majority supported Republicans. Women voters were won by the GOP in 2012 but narrowly went Democratic this year. Youth 18 to 30 year old voted in smaller numbers, their vote was a smaller percentage of the electorate as compared to 2012, and they voted in smaller percentages for Democrats.

It’s not automatic that Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, will succeed in reassembling the Obama coalition although she will certainly energize women and other parts of the Democratic base. It is also possible Republicans will nominate someone with broader appeal. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or former Governor Jeb Bush could be formidable candidates.

All the more reason why white working-class voters cannot be ignored and why a message of economic justice must be combined with a discussion of how racism and prejudice divides and hurts the entire class. For the multi-racial working class to play its historic role, it must be united and class conscious. The broad multi-racial movement led by labor must be built in all 50 states if democratic advances are to be won. There is no way around it.

Going forward

Many upcoming legislative battles will be defensive in nature. However, early indications are President Obama plans on pushing a more progressive agenda, which will affect the broader political discourse. These include support for net neutrality, the executive order on immigration reform and the agreement negotiated with the Chinese government to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The latter is being called a game changer because it puts the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters on track for reductions and creates openings for a global treaty. The right-wing is howling.

Splits in the right?

The GOP ran a scorched earth campaign, which obscured their platform. They must now show they can govern to prove they are ready for prime time in 2016. No sooner had the Republicans declared victory than fissures began appearing in their ranks. A day after the election conservative groups demanded GOP leadership carry out an agenda to repeal Obamacare, block immigration reform, pass new restrictions on reproductive rights, restore military spending and pass the Keystone XL pipeline. As Dana Milbank wrote, “Republicans have set themselves up for chaos, if not outright fratricide,” between conservative and extremist elements.

Deeper fissures have appeared over how to respond to Obama’s executive order on immigration. How deep these fissures go and whether the GOP leadership can hold their caucus together is not clear.

Members of Congress will now take votes with an eye toward 2016 when 24 Republican senators are up for reelection, many in blue states. It may be possible to split some off on a few key votes. For example, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) tries to portray himself as a moderate. Will he risk a vote to weaken or defund the EPA, block immigration reform or reproductive rights? Movements around these issues can also put pressure and deepen fissures in GOP ranks. It can begin framing the debate for the 2016 elections just as struggles around raising the minimum wage helped frame the debate in 2014.

Unity among democratic forces

While there are potential fissures within the ranks of Republicans, the same potential exists for the broad anti-ultra right coalition on one or another issue. There are differences between liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats on a range of issues including the Keystone XL pipeline. Had Democrats maintained the majority, it would be far less likely President Obama would approve it. But now enormous pressure is being applied including from the AFL-CIO. While opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, we need to continue offering alternative job creation solutions like replacing gas pipelines in urban areas, retrofitting buildings with insulation and solar, building mass transit and calling for a guaranteed wage for workers displaced during an economic transition.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka laid out labor’s agenda going forward, an agenda that can unite broad sections of the people’s movement. It includes raising wages including the minimum wage, and Social Security benefits and opposes reducing Wall Street regulations, cutting Medicaid and raising Social Security retirement age.

Building the labor and people’s movement

Another conclusion from the 2014 elections is the people’s movement led by labor is just not big enough, broad enough, deep enough nor united enough to alone determine election outcomes. Our role is to help build this movement in all directions. In can only happen by being involved in the key struggles and emerging movements.

The AFL-CIO recognizes it cannot win this fight alone and must build broad alliances. Likewise with organizations in the Civil Rights, immigrants rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ, climate justice and student movements. A positive development is the emerging alliance between organized labor, the Forward Together Moral Movement and the immigrant rights movement. While it didn’t win in North Carolina, this movement is changing the terms of the debate that will result in victories down the road.

Organizing low wage workers

Our 30th National Convention agreed the strategic task before the entire movement, including the CPUSA, is assisting the building and revitalization process of the labor movement. Labor is not just any political actor on the stage. It is the key force in all political developments. There is no way to decisively defeat the ultra right, build political independence or advance to a new stage of struggle without a vastly bigger labor movement. We only need be reminded labor households voted 61% to 35% for Democratic candidates in 2014.

One of the reasons Republicans won governorships in Midwest states like OH, WI, IN, IA, MI and now Illinois is because the labor movement has been weakened by plant closings, outsourcing and union busting. Building the labor movement will take place under more unfavorable conditions especially in states dominated by right-wing governments.

The most dynamic organizing taking place is around low wage workers – the fight for $15 and a union. It offers opportunities for many intersecting points of unity based on class, race, gender, labor, community and people of faith. It has and will continue to change the terms of the debate in the country. We must continue to deepen our involvement in this historic campaign. This includes involvement in Black Friday actions and strikes and direct organizing among workers in Wal-Marts and other retail stores. It means helping build workers centers in neighborhoods, including sharing our resources for that project.

Climate justice movement

The People’s Climate March marked the emergence on the national stage of a mass movement to address the climate crisis. It reflects important shifts taking place in public opinion. This is a multi-class movement. A section of the ruling class has rung the alarm bells and is pushing for a low carbon economy in direct conflict with the fossil fuel industry, the support base of the extreme right. This expands the climate justice movement. Our goal must be to help bring labor to the forefront and put the labor-led people’s coalition stamp on the climate justice movement, while overcoming divisions and finding ways to bring unity especially between labor and environmentalists.

This movement will grow in influence and be a bigger factor against right-wing extremism and the coalition of forces that dislodges them from power. It can change the political dynamics and debate in the country. It has potential to be a revolutionary movement that challenges the capitalist system itself and lead to a growth in socialist consciousness.

Republican climate deniers will try to obstruct action for years to come. After all, this is the best Congress the Koch brothers could buy. We don’t have years, so the movement must find ways to break the logjam. President Obama’s actions including the agreement with China and projecting new emission reduction targets can help frame the debate.

There may be other means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The federal government is the nation’s largest holder of public buildings, vehicle fleets and other assets, which together emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. Christian Parenti calls for the government to “go green” by reorienting “government procurement away from fossil fuel energy and toward clean energy and technology-to use the government’s vast spending power to create a market for green energy.” It takes a presidential directive to do this and Obama is already moving in this direction. However, if the next president is a climate denier, it’s a dead end. The same can probably be done on a state and city level.

Our cities are taking on greater importance in the battle against the climate crisis since they produce 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. New York City advanced a plan to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 80% by 2050, in line with goals set by climate scientists. PlaNYC will retrofit buildings and create thousands of jobs. If more cities and states adopted similar plans, inroads can be made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This direction can build broad unity among labor, community and environmentalists and city governments.

In addition to building the broadest unity around immediate struggles, e.g. defeating the Keystone XL pipeline and winning a carbon tax, we should advance our thinking on the radical economic and social transition of society including the need for a guaranteed social wage for all displaced workers and placing natural resources and the energy complex under public authority.

Building political independence

The class struggle continues, including within the broad anti-ultra right coalition and within the Democratic Party. A major reason for disillusionment with the Democratic Party is its leadership’s connection to Wall Street and neo-liberal policies. A sharper internal fight is taking place between what are loosely the Wall Street and the Progressive or pro-labor wings. This includes against mayors like Rahm Emanuel and governors like Andrew Cuomo, champions of the neo-liberal agenda. The disillusionment is reflected in the latest Pew Research poll – 38% of voters describe themselves as independent, 32% as Democrats and 25% as Republicans. In 1991 the three were approximately equal.

However, despite the growing dissatisfaction, labor and other key social forces are not about to leave the Democratic Party any time soon. They still see the Democratic Party as the most realistic vehicle to advance their agenda, especially in the battle against the extreme right. The main battle being waged now is to change policies and approaches.

Our tactics for political independence rest on several interrelated elements, within the constraints of the two-party system and utilizing a wide variety of forms. It’s a process we envision resulting in a 3rd party based in labor and people’s movements and communities.

First, we are part of building the broadest anti-ultra right alliance possible, uniting the widest array of class, including a section of monopoly, social and democratic forces. This necessarily means working with the Democratic Party. This differentiates us from other left sectarian groups who underestimate the right danger and overestimate the readiness of key class and social forces to bolt the Democratic Party.

Second, our objective is not to build the Democratic Party. We are about building the broad people’s movement led by labor that utilizes the vehicle of the Democratic Party to advance its agenda.

Third, we are part of building labor’s independent structures, including its electoral and political apparatus. This includes building independent labor-community grassroots based organizations or networks where labor and community activists can work together on campaigns, issues, legislative lobbying, labor organizing and strike solidarity.

Labor’s allies are also building independent formations inside and outside the Democratic Party. These include independent grassroots political organizations like the 22nd Ward IPO in Chicago and other reform Democratic Party clubs.

Fourth, we participate in 3rd party formations like Working Families Party in New York, which won 120,000 votes Nov. 4, and Connecticut that allow for independence but don’t split the anti-ultra right coalition.

In Lorain, Ohio the Central Labor Council organized a sweep of city council with a slate of union members that ran on an Independent Labor Party line.

Fifth, we participate in coalition campaigns that challenge the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party and galvanize forces around a progressive agenda, mainly in Democratic primary elections. A presidential campaign by socialist Bernie Sanders would help to do just this.

These also include labor activists, progressives, socialists and communists who emerge from movements and are backed by broad coalitions. There seems to be an increase of those eager to run.

Most of the recent victories of pro-labor, progressive, reform candidates take place within the Democratic Party primaries. This includes elections in New York, Newark, New Haven, Boston and Richmond, California.

California law allows for open elections where more than one candidate from the same party can appear on the ballot. So increasingly pro-labor and pro-corporate Democrats are going head to head.

We support independent campaigns where they don’t split the anti-ultra right vote.

More of our members should run for public office and more are. But these campaigns should grow out of movements. Communist candidates need to be coalition candidates and we like everyone else, must win our leadership. Running party candidates for its own sake is not a strategy for building a movement.

If we are to be a mass political party we must be a mass electoral party – and by that I mean immersed in every aspect of electoral politics and the process toward political independence.

2015 municipal elections

The local elections will be a key arena of battle in 2015. Many areas will hold municipal and county elections. We will be immersed in the political and legislative battles on a national level. But with political gridlock, what happens on the state and local government grows in importance.

One of those major battles is unfolding in Chicago where progressive Cook County Commissioner and 22nd Ward IPO leader Jesus Garcia is challenging corporate Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. A wave of activists, including public school teachers and trade unionists, are running for city council seats against Democratic Machine hacks. This has the potential to be a history making campaign in one of America’s biggest cities.

The experiences in New York City, Newark, New Haven, Lorain, Ohio, Seattle, Richmond, CA and other cities where progressive reform coalitions were elected to power is worth studying. In many places progress is being made raising the minimum wage, building affordable housing, advancing climate action plans, expanding public transit, protecting immigrants rights, public education and public workers, fighting corruption, etc.

Fresh from their success in state legislative takeovers, the far right group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has begun targeting county, city and village governments. In fact they have set up a new entity called the American City County Exchange. The Guardian reports, “There are almost 500,000 local elected officials, many with considerable powers over schools and local services that could be attractive to big business.”

The right wing has for many years targeted local school boards and planning bodies. In many places we are part of efforts to block their schemes.

Municipal government is not only an important arena of struggle against the extreme right policies, but also against corporate Democrat policies of privatization, pension cuts and give-a-ways to the rich and corporations.

At this time it is easier to elect labor, environmental, civil rights, community activists, progressives, socialists and communists to local government positions. If we are to be a mass party appealing to millions, we must immerse ourselves in local government elections.


It’s clear there’s no time to mope. The next round of battles is upon us. The labor movement and other democratic forces are getting up, dusting themselves off and getting back in action. With broad, flexible tactics, bold initiative, a never say quit attitude, and some hard work, defeats can be reversed and a people’s agenda won.



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