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The railroading begins

With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama facing a crucial day in their campaign to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, organised labour is having its day in the limelight. With no viable or independent alternative on the horizon, US union leaders still hitch their wagon to the Democratic Party in the hope that they will have some influence when and if their nominee occupies the White House.

In Ohio, one of the industrial heartlands of the country now hit by the impact of globalisation, just 14% of workers are organised in trade unions. The division is between the older, skilled and white collar unions like the American Federation of Teachers and the machinists’ union who support Clinton on the one side, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which draws considerable support from African Americans on the other.

Unions like the SEIU, the powerful Teamsters Union, Unite Here (hotel workers) and the United Food and Commercial Workers broke away from the AFL-CIO [TUC] in 2005 to form the Change to Win coalition. With a few exceptions most of the Change to Win unions support Obama, with some key industrial unions like the United Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers remaining neutral. Most of the Change to Win unions see Obama’s ability to rise from obscurity and mobilise large numbers as an inspiration to breathe life into union recruitment, which, as in the UK, has been in general decline.

Surprisingly large numbers of Americans have become involved in political debate through the Clinton-Obama battle. Obama’s rhetoric, however empty most of the time, has given some expression to the underdog in American politics. Obama has cleverly crafted his politics to tap in to the disenchantment with the politics of the old establishment. In many states, Obama’s campaign seems to have come from nowhere to challenge Clinton’s veterans. Young first-timers as well as older volunteers are staffing offices in obscure towns, using laptops and the Internet to co-ordinate the campaign and mobilise support.

But we’d better not get carried away by the image-makers. Despite his claim to being a new broom that will sweep clean, there is no way Obama will truly challenge the real power behind the presidency in the United States. He has no intention of overturning the military-industrial complex behind Bush and his global wars.

Yet we can already feel the railroading into supporting the Democrats coming on. It’s sobering to observe how an anti-corporate campaigner like author Naomi Klein takes it for granted that Guardian readers will back Obama, making bleating pleas that he should use his campaign to stand up against “islamophobia” and take seriously his mission to “repair the world”.

The one candidate who has consistently challenged the corporations, Ralph Nader, is already under fire from liberals like Joshua Holland of the AlterNet Independent Media Institute. After demonstrating that – counter to Democratic Party propaganda - Nader was not responsible for handing over victory to Bush in Florida or elsewhere in 2000, and that he has the right to run, Holland then goes on to say that he won’t be voting for him, on the grounds that as an “independent liberal”, he needs to “beat down the reactionary right”. Another supposedly independent thinker, Timothy Noah of Slate takes a similar stance, saying that he disagrees with Nader that the Democrats and Republicans are too similar.

To say that we know the Democrats are grim but the Republicans are even grimmer is a truly hopeless political perspective. It seeks to force voters to remain within the two-party cycle, where Tweedledum and Tweedledee take turns in running the country on behalf of corporate power. After all, it was the Clinton presidency that opened the door for Bush and it is the Democrats who in Congress, despite their majority in both houses, sit on their hands and allow Bush free rein. As Nader once said, if the Democrats are indeed the lesser of two evils, they are still evil!

Corinna Lotz
Secretary, A World to Win
4 March 2008

Dulwich Daisy says:

This discussion is very important both in the US and for us in Britain. Joshua quite rightly says that a single election can't bring about the changes we want to see. And millions of people know this - that's why they don't vote. This collective withdrawal from the electoral process demonstrates the growing belief that the existing political institutions cannot improve our lives - rather the opposite. But nevertheless elections are political watersheds - they increase the opportunity to discuss and debate the future. And they are an excellent opportunity to show that there is life outside of the status quo. But not if those of us who oppose the status quo continually tell people that, when it comes down to it, the status quo is all there is.

Joshua says:

I certainly understand your line of thinking here, but I have a different view.

The question still remains, is the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans enough to make the changes we all want to see.

I think that question, pertaining to the Democratic Party as it is currently constituted, is not a tough one. Of course not.

I also don't see it as an especially relevant point as it relates to this election. The idea that casting a vote for anybody in a single presidential race will bring about the "changes we wants to see" is wishful thinking. The change we want to see will come about as a result of movement-building. It will come about through the creation of progressive institutions and communication infrastructure, grass-roots organizing and fighting both the Right and the Democrats who make the Democratic Party too similar to the GOP at multiple levels. The New Right needed about 20 years to influence the discourse once they got organized and serious, and there's no reason to believe it will be any quicker for us.

So let's not pretend that a vote for any of these candidates -- Nader included -- is going to have much impact in terms of the change we want to see, and let's focus on what's at stake, now, in 2008. While Daisy pointed out my argument about appointments to agencies, I think the Supreme Court is the big enchilada in this election. There are 9 justices, four are reactionary jurists who were carefully selected not just for their overall conservative philosophy, but specifically because they favor increased executive power and have a special dedication to the concept of corporate rights. Among the five others -- the slim majority -- there is only one liberal, and she's 75 and has had cancer. Stevens is going on 88. One more appointee, and you have a far Right majority on the court serving for as long as they are able, and that would be a disaster that is almost indescribable in its breadth and depth.

So, let's talk about "the interests of those who want a truly democratic society." You say they can't be served "by conforming to status quo political alternatives." But that misses the point that George W. Bush has not been the type of status quo center-right politician to which we're accustomed. So when the choice is between restoring the former center-right somewhat corporatist status quo, and something very much like fascism -- genuine fascism -- then I don't have much trouble advocating the former. This isn't the election for symbolic politics or protest votes -- the stakes are too high, and history has shown they have little or no impact anyway.

If Nader's candidacy can stimulate debate on this and people vote for that, it can only be a good thing.

The debate is a good thing, which is why I support his candidacy.

But for progressives/ liberals, 2008 should be about continuing movement-building, challenging corporatist Dems in primaries and keeping McCain out of the White House so poor Justice Stevens can finally retire in good conscience.

Background on the Federalist Society

Corinna says:

Thanks for your response, Joshua. For the record, A World to Win is based in the UK, where there is no election going on, so we can't vote anyway just now. But we really appreciate the chance to have this debate because at election time we get told that we MUST vote for New Labour to stop the Conservative Party winning. New Labour is in fact even more pro-business than their Conservative "rivals". Under such circumstances we suggest that people also have the right to "withdraw" their vote.

You are 99% right. You didn't "fire" on Nader (I'm happy to retract this part!) and praised his stand throughout your article. But the 1%, when you say you will not vote for him in defence of "self-interest", is what really counts. It's true he doesn't have a chance on the electoral level. But that doesn't mean that the interests of those who want a truly democratic society and who want an end to the Bush/Republican way of doing things can be served by conforming to status quo political alternatives. The question still remains, is the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans enough to make the changes we all want to see. Is it not time to be developing an alternative strategy to relying on parties who fundamentally hold up the status quo ? If Nader's candidacy can stimulate debate on this and people vote for that, it can only be a good thing.

Joshua says:

None of that changes the fact that referring to my column as "railroading" and suggesting that I'm among the many liberals who have, in fact, attacked Nader is dishonest. It wasn't an attack in any way, shape or form, and there wasn't a negative word in there. You can't avoid that, and if you were honest, you'd amend the post to reflect reality (AlterNet's running a ridiculous anti-Nader screed right now by Will Durst -- you could criticize that without having to force my argument to conform to the premise of your post).

And, Daisy, I wrote that I think it's in progressives' self-interests to beat McCain, and then I concluded that people should think hard about their interests and vote accordingly. You're as bad as the Dems -- you're telling me how to vote, and the only difference is that you're pimping for Nader rather than Obama/Hillary.

The question you should ask yourself is, if Nader is right, so right, on so many issues - why don't you vote for him? D

Obviously, because it's a protest vote -- Nader got 0.38% in 2004 -- and I'm not into symbolic politics right now.

Dulwich Daisy says:

Sorry Joshua but you can't get off that lightly - your article defends Ralph Nader's right to run but it falls into the same old trap of saying that the priority for liberals is to get a Democrat in the White House. At least, you argue, the country will be run by professionals rather than by the unqualified cronies of the Bush era. But the problem of the Bush era has not been cronyism, but the policies that have placed the future of Iraq, the future of the US and indeed with the market response to climate change, the future of the planet - in the hands of the global corporations. Will Clinton or Obama change that? No way. So the answer is not to vote for the lesser of two evils but to challenge the evils. The question you should ask yourself is, if Nader is right, so right, on so many issues - why don't you vote for him?

Corinna says:

I'm sorry, Joshua, that you are so upset. But in fairness, I did give you total credit for pointing out that Nader was not responsible for Bush winning the 2000 election and that he has every right to run. But if we are talking about elections and voting, support does actually mean who you cast your vote for! And as Nader points out, voting for the Democrats is just as much a vote for the corporates as voting for the Republicans. Unfortunately, the reactionary right will not be "beaten down" by voting Obama or Clinton. The right's base in the miltary-industrial complex will remain intact and unchallenged by either candidate and the dark forces of reaction will be back for more.

Joshua says:

This is a dishonest, lazy post. Lotz wanted to write about how Nader was "under fire" from liberals, so she used the Google. But instead of taking the time to find a liberal who was actually "railroading" Ralph Nader, she cited my article, which does nothing of the sort.

I not only wrote that I supported his candidacy, I also suggested people stop beating up on Nader -- hell, I suggested they send him money for his campaign. And I wrote that people should never follow the diktats of a party, but should vote their own self-interests as they perceive them. And, yes, I concluded that I perceive my own interests as best served with a vote that will count against McCain. If that's how you define "firing" on a candidate, then I can't help you. The characterization is ridiculous -- that article doesn't contain a single, solitary negative word about Nader.

If Lotz has integrity, she'll retract that statement, or, better yet, take two minutes to find one of the thousands of examples of liberals actually bashing Ralph Nader and use it instead.

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