By BOB MATTINGLY
Peter Camejo, the Green Party candidate for California’s governor, didn’t coin the expression, “I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than vote for what I don’t want and get it.” But at one time, that well-known declaration by the U.S. labor leader and socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was a principle for Camejo.
In his younger days Camejo (who served as the Socialist Workers Party’s presidential candidate in 1976) argued strenuously that Debs was right, and to vote for bosses’ candidates and their parties strengthened the bosses’ hand at workers’ expense.
These days Camejo is promoting a ballot scheme that simultaneously allows a vote based on conscience, and another based on the lesser-of-two-evils ballot snare-and-trap that Camejo rightly used to rail against.
As Camejo campaigns for state office, the would-be governor is also campaigning for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which means, says Camejo’s campaign material, that “instead of voting for one candidate on a ballot, you get to list the candidates you like in order of preference. If no candidate gets over 50 percent and your first choice is eliminated, your second choice is counted.”
In other words, to go back in time, a class-conscious worker using the IRV scheme could have cast a ballot for Eugene V. Debs, and then to make sure that the “lesser of two evils” candidate Republican Charles Evens Hughes wasn’t elected president, the worker could have also voted for Democrat Woodrow Wilson-notably remembered as the president who led the U.S. into the “war to save democracy,” actually an inter-imperialist war over the colonies, including the oil rich Middle East.
Wilson also is infamously remembered for imprisoning Debs, his one time socialist presidential opponent. Debs was arrested in 1918 on charges of interfering with the federal conscription laws following a speech in which he declared, “The master class has always declared wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose-especially their lives.”
“Gore would have won”
Camejo is telling the Democrats that with the IRV scheme in place, his campaign and generally the Green Party’s election campaigns need not spoil the Democrats’ chances of getting elected-in fact, the IRV proposal may help them get elected.
“If we had instant runoffs in the 2000 presidential election,” the Greens say, “Al Gore would have won uncontroversially, because Nader voters who listed Gore as their second choice would have carried the vote for Gore.”
The Greens are sensitive to the Democratic Party politicians who patronizingly say that the Greens may be well-meaning folks but they are “spoilers.” Camejo’s tact is to urge the Democrats to enact IRV laws, and tell them, “If you do not, it is you, and not any third party candidates, who have spoiled the elections.”
Perhaps that’s a slip of the tongue, or maybe it isn’t. If it isn’t, it means that the Greens believe that the Democrats are somehow better for America’s workers than the Republicans. Which is the same as believing that some corporations are better for American workers than others, since the Greens say the Democratic Party and the Republican Party both are beholden to corporate America.
Despite the Democratic Party’s fidelity to corporate America’s agenda, the Greens are trying to pressure the Democratic Party to reform. They’ve not even given thought to building a party that Debs could have proudly backed. Instead, they are attempting to build an outside pressure group that takes the form of a political party in order to get (without being “spoilers”) the influence they haven’t able to obtain inside the Democratic Party.
Coincidently or not, during the past two decades there have been many attempts by liberals, progressives, populists, and self-styled socialists to find ways to influence the Democratic Party honchos, even as more and more disappointed Americans have stopped voting, often not even registering to vote. Despite all the reformers’ efforts, workers’ living standards continue to decline, and wars, not always declared, continue to be waged.
The reformers claim some victories: some living wage measures adopted, and some municipal offices won; but the profound demobilization of the working-class majority is unaffected, as is corporate America.
An “inside-outside” maneuver
In New York and in Connecticut, some labor unions have organized what they call Working Families Parties (WFP). They are unambiguously attempting to implement an “inside-outside” maneuver to influence the Democrats, at least on the local level.
They openly say that they do not want to spoil the Democrats’ chances of wielding state power, although they might theoretically back a Republican politician from time to time. In New York, the sponsoring unions include state or local affiliates of the autoworkers, communication workers, teachers, building trades, and Teamsters.
To date, they seem satisfied with their results, which they get by trading their members’ votes in order to get concessions from Democrats.
“To achieve this leverage, the [WFP] has used sophisticated voter canvassing, populist appeals and lots of shoe leather to draw double-digit support in many races,” writes a sympathetic Michah L. Sirfy in a feature article for the Nation (Nov. 6, 2000).
Sirfy reports, “What’s given Working Families real muscle is the party’s demonstrated ability, in a series of lower-level elections over the past year, to mobilize blacks, Latinos and other minorities, along with white blue-collar workers and suburban independents, around an economic populist agenda as well as the concept of a new independent party.”
But of course, the WFP isn’t an independent party at all. It’s a pressure group trading the votes of Blacks, Latinos, and blue-collar workers (the WRP garnered 100,000 votes for Hillary Clinton’s senatorial election).
Says the WFP’s Connecticut director, “What really made the [New York WFP] a player was they used their ballot line in a strategic way. … It really comes from making strategic decisions about how to use their ballot line and from doing very good grassroots work. We’re capable of doing the same things here.”
The Working Families Party’s gimmick of getting workers to vote for Clinton and other corporate candidates brings to mind the union officials mostly in the New York garment industry that in the 1930s set up an outfit called the American Labor Party, in order to curb some workers’ lifelong tradition of refusing to back capitalist candidates, Democrats and Republicans.
Though seemingly a WFP sympathizer, the Nation’s Sirfy worries that the WFD, “especially in the top-of-the ballot-races,” might appear to be “a mere adjunct of the Democratic Party.”
Sirfy’s concerns however don’t disturb the populist jokester Jim Hightower, who most seriously endorsed the Clinton endorsement gambit: “If people are going to vote for Hillary over [Republican] Lazio, which certainly makes sense, what better way to put your vote to work for the long-term progressive agenda, which the WPF represents in New York than by voting [for Clinton] on the [WFP] party’s Line H.”
Of course, what would make better sense than backing corporate candidates, including Hillary Clinton, would be if union officials took their members’ declining living standards seriously and started strategizing on how to independently and politically mobilize their members, while they still have enough members to matter.
If it makes sense not to settle for company unions, certainly it makes as much sense not to settle for company political parties. Certainly that notion made sense to Debs and events since his death in 1924 only confirm the rightness of his political views about the Democratic and the Republican parties.