The Chicago Elections: The responsibility and mistakes of the Left.
What responsibility do the left have for the re-election of Richard Daley and what lessons should we learn from it?
Daley has been re-elected. The man who has been exposed as utterly corrupt is back in city hall. He hired city workers on the basis of their loyalty to him and then made them work for him in elections. He has a case pending against him for covering up for torturers in the police department. The Wall Street Journal put it this way: "Richard M. Daley after a term in office, marked by heavy, nearly relentless scandal, now enters his sixth term..."
As well as this corruption Daley has played a leading role in nearly every attack that has been carried out on workers in the city. The garbage haulers, the firefighters, city college teachers, and the CTA workers have all suffered at the hands of Daley's union busting and contract stripping. Along with this he is pushing severe cuts in the city's health care system and refusing to properly fund affordable housing. And his brother Bill is one of the main architects of the North American Free Trade Association which has gutted so many of Chicago's plants.
Then there is his divide and rule racist policies. In order to stay in power he has increased the divisions between the different racial and ethnic groups in the city. He sets up different racially and ethnically based coalitions and develops leaders in these groups who will repress and keep down the working class in their own neighborhoods in return for some small reward for themselves.
It is a scandal and a blow to the Chicago working class that this man and his crew in City hall have been returned to office. All the left in the city has to ask itself how it is that Daley has been elected for another term and what its role and responsibility has been in this process.
There was an increased mood of opposition to Daley in this election. He received the smallest number of votes he has ever received in any of his six previous successful elections. In a city of nearly three million there were only 1.4 million registered, of these only 32% turned out to vote and of these Daley only got slightly over 70%. This is a sign of opposition to Daley and his supporters in the city council.
More incumbents, and these were in the main associated with Daley, have lost their seats in this election than in any election in the last 20 years. There are more runoffs coming up than at any time since 1991. This is in spite of the $6 million Daley raised for his campaign. Daley and his Democratic Party apparatus which represents the major capitalist organizations and the capitalist class in this city, is facing increasing opposition.
In those wards where there were referenda on the ballot dealing with class issues these also showed the mood for change and against the right wing ideas that Daley represents. Ward 12 voted on a referendum seeking a living wage ordinance. This passed 3,153 to 642. Ward 49 voted on a similar ordinance. It also passed, 5,071 to 1,487. Ward 43 had a referendum seeking full federal funding for stem cell research and this passed 9,612 to 1,753.
Part of the reason for the increased opposition to Daley and his policies reflected in these elections was the increased involvement of the trade unions that spent over $1 million and put thousands of their members on the streets on
election day. Wal-Mart and other global corporations spent $200,000. But the unions outspent them and also the unions' support for the increased wages and benefits package in the so-called "big box" legislation touched a chord in broader sections of the working class population. The unions put their resources into action to oppose those candidates who had backed Daley in opposing this so called "big box" legislation. This was legislation that would have made the major corporations such as Wal-Mart setting up in the city pay at least $13 per hour in wages and benefits.
The union leaders' decision to put increased resources into the elections on this class issue of wages and benefits was a step forward. But the manner in which they did it was a step back. Instead of selecting particular Democrats they should have brought together locally elected rank and file representatives of the union movement in the city to discuss a program and policies on which to stand, then called meetings of all the locals and regional councils and then from there called meetings in all the workplaces. In this way a democratic decision could have been taken in relation to the program and policies on which to run and a democratically structured and rank and file controlled organization
could have been built.
As well as a program and policies on which to stand there are the issues of candidates and a party. Under no conditions should the union movement or the resources of the union movement be used to support either of the bosses' parties, the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. These parties are instruments through which the capitalist class exploits, represses and divides the working class. Chicago is run by the Democratic Party apparatus on behalf of the major banks, the futures exchange, the stock market and the corporations. The Chicago cops are the armed wing of these forces and this apparatus. The cities legal system and jails are part of this apparatus also.
The major feature in this election as in all elections in the US was that workers had no mass party or no alternative program of their own to vote for. The union leaders' action was not to build a Worker's Party but to support different individuals in the Democratic Party whom they thought would be more sympathetic. There was no Worker's Party and there were no workers' party candidates sufficient to provide an alternative. Workers were left feeling that there was no point in voting. This is why the turnout was so low. There was no workers party alternative putting forward a program for higher wages, a $15 an hour minimum wage; universal free health care for all, free education for all, affordable housing for all and for collective ownership of the wealth of the city rather than what is the case at present where a handful of billionaires are in ownership and control.
This is where the role of the left in the city has to be examined. There are hundreds if not thousands of left activists; former left activists and union activists in this city. The question has to be asked. How is it that these forces cannot come together and begin to provide an alternative to Daley and the capitalist party, the Democrats that rule this city for the big corporations and the employers? How is it that the left cannot begin to construct a workers' alternative?
Yes we must point the finger at the union leaders. There are up to one million workers affiliated to the Chicago Federation of Labor. The leaders of this body should mobilize these forces for a workers party and to build an alternative to the Democrats. This is what should be done and if it was it would transform the politics and life in the city not to mention the country.
However while never missing the opportunity to point out the cowardly role of these leaders in refusing to lead we have to recognize that these present leaders under the present circumstances are not going to lead. They are totally loyal to the present system and cowed by the ruling class of that system.
So we are back again to the role of the forces of the left. Where was the united left in these elections? Where was the united candidate of the left taking on Daley and raising the economic issues and the issue of the war in Iraq? Where were the candidates of the united left taking on candidates in the wards and raising these and the more detailed local issues? The hard unpleasant truth is we did not exist.
Like the union leaders we did not carry out our responsibility. We left the working class in the city leaderless in these elections. While society cannot be changed by elections, elections are a very important dialogue with the various forces in society. When the only voices in this dialogue are those singing capitalist tunes then this is a major set back for the working class and its consciousness. The left in Chicago let down the working class by not coming together as a united force to make sure that there was an anti capitalist voice in these elections and that there were specifically workers' candidates and Workers' Party candidates in these elections.
Why did the left make this mistake? There are numerous reasons. One is ultra-leftism. This can be described as not starting where working class consciousness actually exists. In spite of the low turn outs in elections most working class people in the US still believe that society will be changed through the process of elections and the bourgeois democratic process. The left has to deal with reality. The left has to conduct struggles for left ideas in the election process, it has to participate in the dialogue that takes place in elections and not leave the field totally open to the capitalist politicians and organizations.
The consciousness of the working class is an objective factor as far as the left is concerned at this time. This does not mean the left cannot affect sections of the working class as its considers action and as it acts. This can change and change very quickly but the left has to deal with the here and now. This means it has to participate in the electoral process. This means here in Chicago the left has to come together as a united front and put forward an alternative program and an alternative set of candidates and build a workers' party.
Another reason the left in Chicago abdicated its responsibility in these elections and left the field open to the capitalist parties and candidates is because of the scourge of left sectarianism that exists in so much of the left.
By left sectarianism is meant organizations putting their own narrow selfish interests above the interests of the working class as a whole. To oppose the mistakes of these elections and learn lessons for the future means openly identifying, and openly opposing left sectarianism. It means refusing to continue to go along quietly with left sectarianism.
Refusal to openly identify and openly oppose left sectarianism happens mainly because so many left organizations practice left sectarianism themselves and as a result they do not want it to be raised and openly discussed as this
would expose this failing. Just like ultra-leftism, left sectarianism damages the interests of the working class. It weakens the working class.
Many of us have been in organizations in the past or are still in organizations which have practiced and continue to practice left sectarianism. Some of us have learnt from it and conducted and now conduct a struggle against it. Others have not. To see how damaging it can be you only have to look at the last presidential elections in France where two Marxist organizations refused to come together with a united candidate. Running as two candidates they got a very high vote. But if they had run as one united candidate they would have got a higher combined vote and it is very possible they could have come second to and had a run off with Chirac. This would have meant a great debate in front of the
French and European working class between revolutionary socialism and French imperialism.
But what happened instead? Refusing to come together with a united candidate they got less votes than they would have won with a united candidate. This helped the semi fascist Le Pen win second place and go on through to a debate with Chirac in the next round, a debate between semi fascist racist ideas and French Imperialism's ideas. This was seriously damaging to the consciousness of the French and European working class. This serious damage was a result of the left sectarianism of the Marxist parties.
Ultra leftism damages the interests of the working class. It cuts the working class off from the ideas of a workers' and socialist alternative. It stands in the way of building a mass Workers Party.
Left sectarianism continues this process as it divides the forces of the left further, alienating them from workers as individual groups put their own narrow self-interest above that of the working class as a whole. Left sectarianism
demoralizes many left activists, driving them from the movement. In short, both these practices alienate the left from the very forces that can end the present system and build an alternative that offers a future to millions of workers and youth around the world.
These are some suggested lessons from the recent Chicago elections. Labor's Militant Voice is interested in discussing with others about these issues, about the struggle against ultra leftism and left sectarianism. Labor's Militant Voice
is interested in coming together with others for a one day or half day discussion on the lessons of the recent elections. Perhaps this would help towards seeing that in future elections, in the future mass dialogues that take place around elections, the working class can have a voice and a party. Even if these would only be small it this would be a beginning.
Labor's Militant Voice, Chicago
Contact: Contact Labors Militant Voice at: LMVchicago@yahoo.com
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