“I am running for U.S. president on the Socialist Workers Party ticket because the other parties don’t represent workers. They are the bosses parties,” Alyson Kennedy explained to members of the United Auto Workers at the morning shift change at Electro-Motive Diesel in La Grange, Illinois, where railroad locomotives are built. Workers there have been through several rounds of layoffs, as the deepening capitalist contraction of production and trade has hit hard at workers in oil, steel, coal, transportation and other manufacturing.
Many workers stopped, glad to discuss a key point of the SWP campaign — that our class is capable of organizing independently of the bosses and their parties, both to confront immediate problems we face and to advance toward taking political power into our own hands.
“Falling profit rates have pushed the bosses to assault workers’ conditions of work and life worldwide,” Kennedy said. This is what underlies the broad discontent among workers and others reflected in the turmoil of the 2016 presidential elections, and especially the response to “outsider” candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Trump remains well ahead in the Republican primary, playing on the anxiety, fear and anger generated by the smoldering depression conditions workers and middle layers face when he attacks the lies and hypocrisy of the “establishment” candidates.
Trump’s insistence that as a strong and wily businessman he can “make America great again,” combined with promises not to start any new ground wars, is popular among many workers, including veterans who Trump often points out have been “treated so horribly” by Washington.
Attacks on Trump from his rivals on grounds that he’s not a “real conservative” miss the point. The fact is he’s a New York liberal, a former Democrat. When Ted Cruz accused him of defending Planned Parenthood, Trump responded that it does “wonderful things” for women’s health, though he now says he opposes abortion.
He says while he would have made a better deal, Obama’s moves to restore diplomatic relations and open the door to more trade with Cuba are a good thing.
Following his victory in the New Hampshire primary, Trump said the real unemployment figures are many times the official 5 percent, “I even heard recently 42 percent.” This comes closer to the truth than what most bourgeois candidates will admit. Less than 60 percent of those over 16 are employed today, a big drop from before the 2008 recession.
“If we had 5 percent unemployment, do you really think we’d have these gatherings?” he asked.
“I was laid off in 2009 for two years, and called back in 2011,” Dwayne Johnson, a union member and team leader on the receiving docks, told Kennedy outside the EMD plant in Chicago. “There have been steady layoffs, one after another, in the past few years. The union is weak.”
Example of Cuban Revolution
“We point to Cuba as an example for working people here,” the Socialist Workers Party candidate responded, “because they made a revolution, took political power, changed themselves as they fought and learned, and set up a government that has ruled in the interests of working people, not the bosses, for 57 years.”
“They got rid of the casinos,” Johnson said.
“Yes,” said Kennedy, “and prostitution,” one of the only “jobs” for women before the revolution. Through participation in transforming their society, millions of women, youth, farmworkers who had been only seasonally employed, and others were drawn into productive work, the opposite of the squandering of human potential under the capitalist profit system.
They discussed the importance of supporting every effort by working people to stand up to the bosses’ attacks. “I joined the picket lines in Kohler, Wisconsin, where the United Auto Workers went on strike in November to get rid of the two-tier wage system,” Kennedy said. “The contract they approved still has two tiers, but unionists there felt that by fighting they came together, and they’re stronger for fights to come. We need to do that more.”
“Yes, we need to stick together,” agreed Johnson. “You guys are doing a good thing.” He took a card to subscribe to the Militant.
“Sanders says he wants a political revolution,” a reporter said to Kennedy while she was campaigning on the street outside Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem Feb. 10, where people had gathered while Sanders was meeting with Rev. Al Sharpton to seek his endorsement.
“He’s talking about reforms that won’t change anything fundamental,” Kennedy said. “We need to overthrow the rule of capital, to change which class rules.”
The central theme of Sanders’ campaign has been the call for a “political revolution” to “take big money out of politics” that he says is ruining “our democracy.” At the top of his agenda is overturning the 2010 Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United, which lifted restrictions on corporations paying for political advertising.
Sanders’ emergence as a serious competitor for the Democratic Party nomination comes from a similar source as support for Trump — the widespread discontent among workers and others fueled by the depression conditions. His answer is the same liberal program he’s been advocating for decades. When asked, Sanders says he’s a democratic socialist, but his program is not socialist, as the Militant’s coverage last week wrongly stated.
Both Sanders and Trump also benefit from an ongoing shift in politics toward the bourgeois left. Trump has shoved the old Tea Party out of the picture. All the political pundits said Sanders had no chance against Clinton, but now they’re neck and neck.
The centerpiece of Sanders’ Johnny-one-note campaign is the proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy and on “Wall Street speculators,” to finance social programs, including a national health system and free tuition at public universities, and to provide some jobs. His campaign has generated enthusiasm, especially among a layer of youth, and he continues to draw large crowds rivaled only by those Trump attracts.
With the race tightening, and heading toward primaries in states in the north, south and west, many with large Black populations, Hillary Clinton received the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee Feb. 11. Clinton resonates with Black elected officials and meritocratic minded professors, NGO staffers and like-minded “brights.” She and husband William Clinton have done the most to elect Black Democrats, help them become chairs of subcommittees, and “has been on the stump with us” throughout the years, said Rep. Gregory Meeks, chair of the CBC PAC.
The Socialist Workers Party puts forward the only working-class alternative to all these capitalist politicians. Campaigning in New York, Kennedy invited all those she spoke with to join in the struggles that advance workers interests today.
“I’ve marched in the street against the Chicago cop killings of Laquan McDonald, Quintonio LeGrier, Bettie Jones and others,” Kennedy said. “We’ve succeeded in making the propertied rulers rein in their cops. When we organize together and fight, we can change things.”
“I will be going to Oregon to support the campaign to free the Hammonds,” ranchers jailed on frame-up charges of arson, she said. “We’ll be walking the picket lines with ATI workers who have been locked out since July, participating in the March 2 protest in Chicago against police brutality, and joining actions in support of a women’s right to choose abortion.”
Ilona Gersh in Chicago and Dean Hazlewood in New York contributed to this article.