Op-Ed By Vermont AFL-CIO President David Van Deusen – November 4, 2022
November 4, 2022, Montpelier, Vermont, U.S.A. – With the looming electoral failure of the Democrats all but certain, the U.S. is slated to inch ever closer to a fascist breakdown of democracy on November 8th. And it is the failed policies of the national Democratic Party that have brought us there.
The PRO Act? Livable wages? Universal healthcare? Build Back Better? Green New Deal? Voting rights? These were the issues and vision much of the Democratic Party ran on during the 2020 election. It was this vision which propelled them to victory and had them win the Presidency, Senate, and House two years ago.
But once in power, much like under Barack Obama (or Bill Clinton before him), they unsurprisingly failed to deliver on the pro-working class platform they ran on. And thus the massive wealth inequality suffered under Trump, remains unchanged under Biden. Only now, while the billionaires and corporations are making record profit, workers are struggling with record inflation. And the Democrats, as the national party in power, has done nothing of meaning to mitigate this or address the real economic concerns of the working class; instead they have offered little more than virtue signaling around identity politics and demonstrated a prioritization of sending billions of dollars in weapons to the Ukraine (even at the risk of a nuclear conflict with Russia). This is not progress. This is not change.
Of course their apologists will tell you it was the Republicans in the Senate who repeatedly blocked movement in the right direction; for although the GOP are (for now) the minority, one needs 60 votes in that chamber to move legislation beyond the filibuster. What these neo-liberal apologists will not tell you is that it only takes a simple majority to abolish the filibuster. And here it was Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema who were all too happy to play the role of party spoiler in their refusal to empower the majority in a common effort to pass progressive legislation like the PRO Act.
Fools, liars, and hucksters will profess that the answer to the problem that is Manchin and Sinema is to double down, vote blue, and give the Democrats larger majorities to overcome such internal regression. But here is the thing: The Democrats are funded by the same corporations and super rich that also hedge their bets with money to the Republicans. As things stand, no matter how many Democrats are in Washington, there will always be just enough Manchins to serve as villain and to act as a foil to any real change. In this way, Democrats can campaign on progressive values, but their wealthy backers can rest easy knowing that change will never come (at least not through them). At the end of the day (after the votes are counted), the Democrats, as a national political party, could give two shits about Unions, working people, or the poor. Their Senators and Congress-people are, more often than not, millionaires themselves. They are not of us. They answer only to their true masters – the rich and powerful who reward their core loyalty to the corporate status quo with handsome campaign contributions.
So is it surprising that in a nation where two capitalist parties have a near monopoly on the political system, and where an all-pervasive corporate media constantly reinforces a false reality wherein only a two-party duality is possible, that voters would go to the polls to reject the broken promises realized over the last two years? Is it so unfathomable that Americans, who are led to believe that another world beyond Democrat and Republican is not thinkable, would reject the party in power with the vague hope that something can change, and that that change may benefit them?
Given the context of current American politics, this rejection at the polls is understandable (or at least predictable). But truth is that the other side of the coin which is the national Republican Party is very different from the party of Eisenhower. No my friends, this is the Republican Party of Donald Trump and it is a political force increasingly hostile even to representational democracy, one that eagerly embraces racist divisions, and schemes of radical claw backs of social programs and workers’ rights. Further, the MAGA wing of the Republican Party (which is now in control of its party apparatus) is one that despises Labor Union’s and is ready to do whatever it takes to break us (and democracy as such). Their new found radicalism is opportunistic insofar as it seeks to demarcate themselves as a departure from the historic boundaries of the acceptable status quo. And here they get to position themselves as a poll to the right of that which has failed working people, and place blame on the other for the social and economic pain suffered by the people. And with that, within the vacuum caused by a center-right leaning Democratic Party and no perceived working class left alternative, the Republicans are able to become both the outsider (MAGA) and insider (institutional GOP) agent of change in the minds of voters who correctly feel left behind (and who are fooled into thinking the far right is their only chance of escape).
The Republicans, since the rise of Trumpism, have become a dangerous party even by the yard stick of generations of broken American promises. Across the country they are running candidates who embrace the Big Lie, support the neo-fascist January 6th insurrection, and some are even unafraid to lend their overt support to White Nationalism. Aspects of their base do not hesitate in talking about a looming armed conflict against those that would oppose them. Given the power, the current Republican Party would control women’s bodies, pass national right-to-work legislation, and nullify elections when their preferred reactionary candidate does not win. Not only should they never receive the support of Union workers, but they must be named for what they are; far-right domestic enemies that threaten the vary notion of The Republic in which we struggle.
But as long as Organized Labor refuses to also call out the failures of the Democratic Party, as long as we continue to bury our head in the sand and pretend that the Democrats are our friends, we will collectively fail to build a movement capable not only of defending the vestiges of the democracy we have, but also of one strong enough to truly advance the interests of working people.
Working families in this country are right to see that the current system, and the party in power, has failed them. As a Labor Movement we cannot and must not continue to play the role of snake-oil-salesman bent on selling a hostile & hypocritical Democratic Party to working people that know better. Each time we tell them to vote blue, and each time the Democrats fail to deliver, Labor’s proclamations will fall on more deaf ears. As long as the only alternative to the Democrats is perceived to be an increasingly fascist Republican Party, the far right will continue to gain more and more support among a population desperate for change (any change).
Ever more we find ourselves at an existential crossroads which necessitates that Labor turn left, away from passive or active support for a neo-liberalism that at best is less destructive than the totalitarianism imagined by a rising rightwing. Here we must give workers a true alternative; one that embraces class solidarity, economic justice, and envisions a more direct democracy. And we do this, in part, by calling a spade a spade; by rejecting the failure that is the Democratic Party, calling out their generations of working class betrayals, while also being unafraid to engage in combat against the neo-fascist Republicans who would deliver us to a new dark age given the opportunity.
On the national level Organized Labor, should it find the resolve, has the resources at its disposal to constitute itself as this working class left poll, independent of the Democratic Party, within the political spectrum that is America. If we stop funneling tens-of-millions of our dollars into elections supporting Democrats that don’t support us (they don’t need our money to lose), and redirect resources away from lobbying efforts that bear no fruit, we have the means to deploy hundreds if not thousands of organizers to every state in the union to assist workers in their efforts to organize new shops and to internally organize those that we already have towards social and political ends. And if we were to be bold in our collective articulation of a new social vision, one that places the needs of workers above that of the entrenched ruling classes, we can become that alternative that workers turn towards as the status quo fails them. And here, as we build a new kind of power, history shows us that the politicians will take heed and be more apt to facilitate change in relation to the growing fear they take from us and the alternatives that can be projected as the price to be paid for a static state.
But this Tuesday, on Election Day, do not be shocked when the far right again takes power. This is the fate the Democratic Party chose when it once again ignored the plight of working people. This is also a failure enabled by out-of-touch national Labor leaders who, for too long, have plastered over the chasm of divergent interests between the capitalist class that is served by the Democratic Party, and that of the working classes (instead of building true leftwing alternatives). But while a rightwing disaster awaits us on Tuesday, take heart in knowing that this doom does not need to be a harbinger of our common future. We are the many, and in the end, we will win.