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When the fledgling Labor Party met for its second annual convention in Pittsburgh last weekend, speaker after speaker deplored America's "so-called two-party system."
Filmmaker Michael Moore, a native of Flint, declared: "One percent of the population, the richest 1 percent, has two parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. And 99 percent have no political party. Yet we call this a democracy."
The Labor Party, launched two years ago, is out to change those numbers. Founded by a number of small and medium-sized unions, the party's goal is to persuade other unions to end their love affair with the Democrats. (Case in point: Michigan, where union officials backed corporate lawyer Larry Owen in the Democratic primary for governor.) The Labor Party, they say, would represent not just union members but everyone who works for a living, or wants to.
Mainstream experts pooh-pooh third parties' chances, and the current system makes it difficult for third parties to even get on the ballot. But Labor Party supporters say the time has passed for progressives to seek reform within the two-party structure. At the convention, some pointed to Jessie Ventura's win for the Reform Party in the Minnesota gubernatorial race as evidence that voters today aren't afraid to pull the lever for a third-party candidate.
The 1,400 delegates and observers took a big step toward becoming an electoral player when they voted to run candidates for office. The Labor Party rejected that tactic two years ago, opting to first win members with its message. The party hasn't grown much since then, and many delegates said it would take candidates and campaigns to attract supporters.
Running candidates is still a way down the road in most locations, however. The unions that back the Labor Party --Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers; United Electrical Workers; United Mine Workers; Farm Labor Organizing Committee; California Nurses Association; American Federation of Government Employees; and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees -- are usually not big enough in any one area to lead the rest of the union movement into the Labor Party.
In Michigan labor politics, for example, top UAW officials are sticking with the Dems. There's some evidence, though, that union rank-and-filers are growing more independent; many voted for renegade Democrat Geoffrey Fieger in the primary because he came across as the anti-establishment candidate.
Where and when to run was not discussed on the convention floor, but several top officials said privately they thought the Labor Party's first races would be in small towns.
The Labor Party's growth tool for now will be a campaign called "Just Healthcare": agitating for what's often called a "single-payer" or "Canadian-model" plan. The goal is to eliminate insurance companies from the health care business, and use the billions of dollars saved to provide equal care for everyone.
The Labor Party will circulate petitions to form a "Committee of One Million" for Just Healthcare and set a national visibility day with public events and newspaper ads.
To contact the Labor Party locally, call 248-788-6528. The national party is on the Web at www.igc. apc.org/lpa/