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After The U.S. Elections: What's Wrong in America?: Valerie Lannon

Thu. November 25th 2004 7:30 @  uvic, student union building, room B110b (All Ages) 7:30
Presented by: International Socialists
Where will progressive social change come from? How you answer that question had real implications for strategy in the recent US election.

There was an overwhelming sense among, for instance, the leaders of the labour movement, that the election of John Kerry was a crucial next step.

The union movement threw its resources into the Kerry campaign, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in a futile attempt to get Kerry elected. The country’s largest union — Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — spent $70 million alone.

A quick look at the map of the United States shows clearly the flaw in this strategy. Bush’s strength is overwhelmingly in the South and the American plains — areas which are characterized by extremely low rates of unionization.

Where Bush does poorly is in the northeast and the Pacific coast — areas of the US with unionization rates approaching (and in some areas exceeding) levels in Canada.

The conclusion couldn’t be more obvious. Take those hundreds of millions of dollars, and spend them on organizing the new American sweatshops in Walmart, Future Shop, Home Depot etc. Without the politics of class solidarity, there will be an eternal seedbed of atomized despair that is perfect soil for the reactionary charm of people like Bush.

But class solidarity does not spring out of thin air — it has to be fought for and built.

And in that campaign, Kerry and the Democrats are obstacles, not allies. You cannot build a workers’ movement standing shoulder to shoulder with the bosses of Heinz Corporation any more than you can with the bosses of Halliburton.

Social change requires building the confidence of ordinary workers and students.

And the indispensable first step, as far as elections are concerned, is to break from any reliance on parties and candidates beholden to the corporations.

Peter Camejo, as an individual, understood this. He is a long time socialist who saw what was happening in 2000 as a crucial turning point in American politics. The nearly three million votes won by Nader that year inspired tens of millions more. At last, it seemed that there might be a chance to break the stranglehold of corporate America on official politics.

Camejo made himself central to the political ferment going on inside the Green Party, creating a left pole for those looking for an alternative to the parties of big business. It was on this basis that he earned the selection as Nader’s running mate.

But Camejo is just one individual. Most of the left either held the Nader campaign in disdain, or worse openly called for a vote for Kerry.

Another election was possible.

Think of a left in 2000 that stayed with the Green Party and with the Nader milieu, and fought for clear class politics every month between the 2000 and 2004 elections.

In that scenario — with hundreds of socialists campaigning to get Nader endorsed as the Green Party’s candidate — it is absolutely conceivable that the Greens would have endorsed Nader, instead of choosing to run their own candidate and split the vote.

With the backing of the Greens, he would have had a much stronger campaign, appeared on many more state ballots, and would have certainly put in a much stronger showing.

A united Green/Nader campaign would have created a much stronger pole on the left who decided to back Kerry. The many left-wing figures who fell for the "Anybody But Bush" arguments would have had to think twice in the face of a strong, vibrant Nader/Green campaign that had a much more visible left wing.

One million votes would not have been out of the question, and the anti-war, anti-corporate minority in the US would have had a much stronger presence on the arena of mass politics.

But the point of analyzing history is not to mourn, but to organize. Many are drawing that lesson. The call has gone out to make March 19, 20 and 21 days of action against the war in Iraq.

There will be many taking to the streets as these lines are being written to protest the slaughter going on in Fallujah.

We have been on a steep learning curve with the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements.

It is only five years since the Seattle protests shut down the meetings of the World Trade Organization, and announced to the world the presence of anti-capitalism in the heart of the beast.

It is only 18 months since the magnificent protests on February 15, 2003, when millions took to the streets in over 600 cities — hundreds of them in the United States — to protest the looming slaughter in Iraq.

That is the seed bed for a renewal of the left in the United States, and in the rest of the world.

Let Joe Hill, the great leader of the Industrial Workers of the World have the last word — don’t mourn, organize!
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