Sheinkopf Speaks: Montage of a new Labor Party

FILE PHOTO: Amazon JFK8 distribution center union organizers Chris Smalls and Jason Anthony greet one another as they arrive to observe the vote count to unionize workers at the NLRB office in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., March 31, 2022.
Hank Sheinkopf

Some years back a well-known labor leader at a time when labor leaders were powerful and more importantly feared, looked up and gave those who were listening one of those moments you remember. Politicians, said the labor leader–who had the guts to take his people out on strike and paralyze the city until the workers won–can’t help you. They can’t do anything for you. Meaning: labor has to do its own work. There are no shortcuts.

The lesson hasn’t changed. For those who know New York City history, think 1975 fiscal crisis. The unions caved, the banks and the politicians won. It took years for the unions who loaned the city their members’ pensions to get even. Worse, union  leaders became friends with bankers. Simple truth: when you have dinner with the boss, the boss eats you. 

Relevance? The head of the NYS Democratic Party threatened to start a new political party so that Democrats might get a lift this Fall. But then he changed his mind. Says he has a deal with the left progressive mostly non-union Working Families Party. They won’t hurt the Governor if she wins the primary.

How nice of that fellow and those who run with him–not likely ever a callous on any of their palms–to tell democracy how to work. 

Solution? Create a real worker’s political party in New York State. Call it the Labor Party. Have it run by unions. Every provision in its charter ought to talk about what labor needs, not what politicians think labor needs to get. And just because you’re a Democrat by registration doesn’t mean you’re pro-labor. There is nothing wrong with bi-partisanship.

The Labor Party could open local storefronts, have professional organizers–not political consultants–doing the work unions are supposed to be doing. And for the first time in a long time, labor unions might become something other than check writing machines for politicians and their organizations. Unions are supposed to tell the politicians what they need for their members. What we have now is  politicians telling unions what the permanent political class needs.

The Labor Party could educate our young people and even those not so young. It could make labor unions relevant to a new generation by claiming credit for the 40 hour work week, the week-end, and supporting no longer just by check but by bodies worker’s rights wherever the trail leads.

You say people would be afraid and how can we allow working people to be in charge? 

Would it really be so bad to have a political party that can’t be bought by politicians because its only owners are the people who gave Americans the 40 hour work week, better working conditions, and a social contract that didn’t include hedge funds? How bad would it be for more Americans to know the pride one can have in carrying a dues paid union book, as part of a national movement beginning right here, in New York. The way to save the labor movement is to energize it. The Labor Party might be the tonic it needs. And it’s worth a try.