Third Parties of Recent History

The Third Party Project
by Martin Zehr


‘History in the Making’ was emblazoned on delegates’ badges at the founding convention of the Labor Party, on June 6-9, 1996 in Cleveland, Ohio where some 1400 mostly-union delegates formed a new independent working class party. A constitution was created, an elementary national structure was formed, and an unusually progressive platform was hammered out by this first national union-based ‘labor party’ since the 19th Century. For about three years the challenge of a labor party spread widely and enticed many unions and individuals to it. At its peak in 1998-9 the party had some 15,000 members, 50 local chapters, and several hundred endorsing or affiliated unions that represented two million workers (some 13 percent of the unionized).” The Labor Party:Past and
Possible Future, Robert H. Mast

The Labor Party was a profound and focused effort within the ranks of organized labor to build a political party that represented its interests. In spite of its optimistic
beginning, it was unable to fulfill its original mandate. Instead, it acquiesced to the larger and more powerful Democratic Party. It never ran candidates, but continued to
make noises as if it was going to at any time. When Ralph Nader ran in 2000, an internal momentum developed in which much of the Labor Party’s base supported his Green Party candidacy. This destroyed the prior rationale of not running until victory was assured. It also broke the ability of the union leadership to demonstrate any form of
political leadership or concrete victories through the Democratic Party. Questions remain as to the original intent of the Labor Party. Was it an effort to deny labor
support for the emerging Green Party? Or was it simply a party that went astray from its original mission? In spite of Tony Mazzocchi’s long relationship with Ralph Nader, he
clearly stopped short of endorsing Nader at the Green Party’s presidential nominating convention.

“The definition of a ‘party’ ranges widely, from being simply a pressure group, to directing the policies of a government. A political party struggles for power, and in a
democracy that struggle supposedly is expressed at the ballot box. Whether or not to be an active electoral party has been a burning issue throughout the short life of the
LP. This widely debated question has been the source of unease and rancor throughout the LP system. Being close to organized labor and desiring labor’s support, the founding
leadership strongly discouraged early electoral activity.  Shortly after the 1996 founding convention, the energized Buffalo, NY chapter went into an electoral mode, causing
the National to revoke the chapter’s charter. This had a decided impact on the electoral ambitions of other chapters. It still is unclear whether leaders like Tony Mazzocchi and Bob Wages ever envisioned the LP being anything but an agitation-propaganda vehicle. Critics say that the closeness of LP founders to the organized labor bureaucracy and its pro-Democratic Party policy tarnished their political judgment and induced inactivity on the independent electoral front. Adding further complexity, unionists have not been solid Democrat: nearly four in 10 voted Republican in the 2000 presidential election.” Mast,
Robert H. 

Read the rest of the articles in OpEd News

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