Recently, at political events I attended, I came in contact with supporters of Ralph Nader and Green candidates. They held forth on how those candidates were “much better than Obama” because they took “much better positions.” What folks tried to explain to them was that it isn’t what you say but what you do that counts, that the huge people’s movement behind Obama could actually defeat the ultra-right and create conditions for real, progressive changes! Nader, Greens and others are just not in that position.
What came to mind, for me, was the tough strike of United Steelworkers of America shipyard workers at the Newport News Shipyard in Virginia, a decade and a half ago. At this huge struggle of over 9,000, mainly African American, shipyard workers, there was a particular white skilled worker, who described himself as a “progressive leftist,” who broke the picket line and scabbed throughout the strike. The union wasn’t “democratic,” wasn’t conducting a “militant enough” fight, or so he said. Therefore, he stated, he “had to go to work, and work to organize a more progressive union.” He actually drove to work, through our picket lines, in a vehicle with “Think Globally, Act Locally” and “Peace, Now” bumper stickers. He wore a peace symbol button and he talked about his support for a “progressive union movement.”
In a vacuum, his verbiage sounded pretty good. However, it was what he did that counted. And what hedid was scab on his union! What he did was weaken the all-important unity of the workers and give aid to the corporate enemy.
Working folks, the organized labor movement, learned long ago, through tough and bloody struggles, that the only way they could prevail over a powerful, entrenched corporate enemy was through building unbreakable unity. Even though there were bitter fights, even among different unions, in the Democratic primary this year, once the battle was joined against their main enemy, all have locked arms and are marching in lockstep together. The African American people’s struggle for civil rights had, at its core, the same lesson, that United We Stand and Divided We Fall!
A century and a half ago, the fight to end the scourge of slavery in our nation taught that same lesson. Confronted with deeply entrenched slave power, which had selected every president before then, abolitionists were unable to dislodge them working by themselves. They built the Liberty Party as a political party based on the goal of immediate abolition of slavery. While morally “pure,” they were politically weak. They were unable to unite a wide enough coalition to defeat the slavocracy. Only when a wider new Republican Party, which united workers as well as northern capitalists, farmers and others interested in stopping the spread of slavery with abolitionists, was formed were they able to build a broad enough coalition to change the balance of forces and, ultimately, defeat slavery.
The people supporting Nader or Greens have never learned these lessons. They have no understanding of the strength of the entrenched corporate power around Bush/McCain. Unfortunately, they, likewise, have no understanding of or strategic approach toward winning real changes. Speaking in support of national health care is not the same as changing the balance of forces that can make it possible for the organized people’s movement to actually win that change.
What the balance of forces is at any particular time is what makes it possible to raise, and subsequently win, any specific issue. It is here, as well, that the forces around Nader, Greens and the ultra-left are wildly off base at this time. While the window of opportunity has opened, and the creation of a huge people’s front has been created around the Obama candidacy, making it possible to defeat the ultra-right and create the needed new balance of forces, these groups raise issues such as the right to run for office, inclusion in debates, etc. Again, while these are, in a political vacuum, good political issues, at this time with the balance of forces against the people, they are only a distraction — and unfortunately, one that could derail the people’s train!
It is true that there are many good, honest folks within those camps, people who are with the people’s movement on a number of other issues. Regrettably, today, they stand against the people. Hopefully, they will come around to supporting the needed changes when we are able to change the balance of forces.
Our job now is to unite and put every shoulder to the wheel, every resource available to the task of electing Obama and defeating the ultra-right. Only then can we go on the offense and actually build the struggles that can win health care for all, end the wars, win back labor’s right to organize, get a new green jobs program and win back pension rights!
Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and union activist in Columbus, Ohio.