Chicago-To the cheers of thousands of rank and file activists, AFL CIO head Richard Trumka accepted the nomination of the newly formed US Labor Party for the Presidency of the United States. Trumka will make his run as the standard bearer of a party fielding a full slate of candidates from the local and state to federal levels, running with the support of all major national and international unions, many peace and environmental organizations, and millions of economically and politically disenfranchised Americans.
Addressing a packed convention center a stone's throw from Chicago's haymarket, Trumka's remarks evoked labor's fallen heros and rekindled themes of radical trade unionism long thought vanquished after generations of hostility to organized labor fomented by right wing think tanks, mainstream media outlets and an army of pro-business lobbyists in Washington.
"For years the working people of this country have seen our hopes and dreams placed on the auction block and sold off to corporate criminals and Wall Street bankers," the Pennsylvania native said. "It is time to take back this country from the organized money controlling both parties which, as President Roosevelt reminded us during the last depression, is no better than an organized mob."
While the party's founding seems to have blind-sided Democratic Party insiders, it had been a frequent topic of conversation behind the scenes for some years, according to union officials.
Discouraged by the administration's failure to move on the Employees Free Choice Act, an inadequate economic stimulus package and its consistent embrace of a corporate friendly agenda, the last straw, according union leaders, came with open expressions of hostility from White House officials in the wake of union support for primary challengers in June primaries.
In a remark now seen as prophetic, AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale responded that "Labor is not an arm of the Democratic Party". Vale's words were quickly followed by the formation of an exploratory committee whose favorable report would lead to the first steps in the official establishment of the USLP.
The Trumka candidacy is expected to pose serious and possibly insurmountable challenges for the Democratic Party in the general election.
Despite a billion dollar war chest provided by finance, insurance, pharmaceutical, nuclear, coal, oil and natural gas industries, experts have expressed doubts whether the Democrats will be able to compensate for the absence of on the ground muscle and electoral experience historically provided by union locals.
In an inversion of the normal campaign dynamic, the Democratic incumbent Barack Obama, saddled with historically low approval ratings, is now perceived as a sure loser in most states. Those looking to head off the far-right candidacy of a likely Romney-Palin ticket are increasingly viewing Trumka's candidacy the most viable, pragmatic option.
The Labor Party is likely to attract substantial and enthusiastic support in areas hard hit by the deep and continuing recession, double digit rates of unemployment, and declining wages. The recently negotiated cut backs in Social Security benefits have enraged seniors and have been widely condemned by economists as Hooveresque and sure to lead to further economic contraction and job cutbacks. Trumka's call for a Green New Deal was praised by environmentalists as offering reasonable grounds for hope to head off the near certainty of environmental collapse induced by a decades-long failure to take steps to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gasses.
Weakened by years of declining membership and a history of corruption within organized labor, the initial formation of the Labor Party was initially ridiculed by media pundits and party strategists. It is now apparent that, regardless of the outcome of the campaign, a third labor party will be a permanent fixture in the political establishment, balancing the rightward drift of what some union leaders refer to, with some derision, as the "legacy" parties.
A good indication of the party's rapid and unexpected growth was apparent from the remark of one union official: "For years we couldn't get the Democrats on the phone. Now they're sending us their resumés."