Ghavri: An American Labor Party

The United States needs a democratic socialist movement.

by Anmol Ghavri | 4/4/17 12:35am

Last year’s Presidential election brought out the fundamental flaws in America’s two-party system. Establishment Democrats and Republicans alike were seen as being status-quo and in bed with big business, Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. The success and popularity of populist insurgent presidential candidates, including now-President Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), was largely an effect of their loud antagonism toward the Washington establishment, corruption and big money.

A draining of new wealth by American high-finance and the effects of globalization and outsourcing have led to economic decline and stagnancy in suburban and rural locales and former manufacturing centers. This, coupled with perpetual military involvement overseas, makes last year’s anger directed toward candidates seen as establishment, inauthentic, elitist, status-quo and corporatist sensible in hindsight. Moving forward, the United States needs a labor movement — whether from within or without the current two-party system — to lead the country. Trump voters, the ailing middle class, labor unions, marginalized ethnic, racial and religious minorities, believers in tradition and those who fight for social change should all unite behind a unifying bottom-up message of economic and social justice rather than only engaging politically every four years during presidential elections.

To be clear, I am not advocating running candidates for office on third party tickets — at least not for a very long time. I am calling for a labor-oriented social democratic movement to contest primary elections at the local, state and national levels and change the American political conversation. Any organization, party or caucus that would emerge out of this movement must guarantee that its candidates will not accept corporate money and be member-controlled without “super delegates” and party insiders. This could appeal to conservatives in the vein of President Dwight D. Eisenhower while capturing the new social democrats inspired by Sanders. These candidates should at first focus on local, state and congressional primaries and elections in midterms rather than solely presidential elections.

Americans cannot have atrocious voter turnout levels in midterm elections and then be outraged at the results. We saw the success of Sanders’ campaign, and enough conservatives were angry with the status quo as well to vote for a chauvinistic reality television star. If change-seeking, pro-labor candidates can be united with fed-up Trump voters in a productive way to defeat establishment candidates, it could be a victory for the “every-voter.” While Trump may not be genuinely anti-establishment, much of his rhetoric is, and a labor movement would serve his voters effectively.

Trump’s proposed budget would do much to hurt Americans, but that may not be what his voters wanted. The Trump administration proposes to slash about 31 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, 21 percent from the Labor Department, 21 percent from the Agriculture Department, 16 percent from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and 14 and 13 from the departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development, respectively. Moreover, Trump’s budget eliminates or vastly reduces funding for research, education, development and infrastructure programs, which heavily benefit struggling communities. Programs that will be completely federally defunded or cut by the elitist-packed Trump administration include the Corporation for National Community Service, NeighborWorks America, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund shows such as NPR.

While all of these cuts are being planned — many of them are relatively small when compared to the budget as a whole, the White House is planning to increase military spending by $54 billion — a 10 percent rise. The United States is still the only industrialized country in the world not to guarantee universal healthcare to every citizen, yet it spends more on its military and forward deployed neocolonial military bases than the next seven countries combined. This comes at a time where we plan to build a symbolic $22 billion border wall with Mexico while the vast majority of our immigration problems do not arise from the Mexican border. This comes at a time when our roads and bridges are in disrepair while we spend millions of dollars on security for Mar-a-Lago retreats. Trump campaigned on putting “America First,” but his budget proposal priorities clearly show he has other priorities. “America First” does not have to be a fascist-esque slogan for the alt-right or white nationalists. Trump’s populist insurgency can be co-opted by an inclusive, social democratic message and bottom-up labor movement, but it is not in his hands.

Eisenhower, in his Chance for Peace speech in 1953, declared that, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” He added, “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.” He went on, listing innumerable examples.

Eisenhower’s message rings true to this day, and his premonitions about the military-industrial complex proved to be correct. It is laughable that any party that seeks to continue to deny universal health care for all citizens and wishes to spend more on the country’s military than the next seven countries combined can claim to be for the “little man,” working people, immigrants or minority groups. It is laughable that any party that redraws congressional districts to ensure their own victories or supports the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling can claim to have any moral high ground or be pro-American. Progressivism and liberalism are not the property of the Democratic Party, just as conservatism and tradition are not owned by the Republican Party. Successful social movements come from the bottom-up. I would wager that the majority of Trump voters and the majority of Democratic voters share similar concerns about the financialization and oligarchization of our economy, gerrymandering and career politicians.

As a first-generation American and a person of color, I feel incredibly let down by both parties at all levels. Real change is not benevolently granted by those in power, it is always the result of agitation and bottom-up movements consisting of coalitions of labor unions and working people, women, immigrants, racial, ethnic and religious minorities. In one form or another, the U.S. needs a corporate-free political movement organized by the masses working from both within and without the two-party system. It is time for the U.S. to have a real, inclusive democratic socialist and labor movement devoid of the fear of spoiling elections.