Friday, February 12, 2010

The Task For American Social Democrats


Thanks to Comrades King and Holland for the inspiration for this piece.

Social Democracy began as the a political extension of Labour Movement in rest of the world. Trade union federations such as the Canadian Labour Congress associated with the Canada's social democratic New Democratic Party yo form Labour/ Labor parties. Despite numerous attempts, labor and farmer-labor parties have never gained much traction in the United States. Even with the lack of an actual labor party in USA, there remained what socialist author and activist, Michael Harrington called "a hidden social democracy". This was, as Harrington described it, the action of trade unions and their allies politically. Until, the 1980's the American welfare sate was not far behind that in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and well beyond that in most of Latin America.

In the Reagan-Thatcher era there was a very serious effort across the globe to dismantle all social democratic gains. In the U.S. the effort to undo the gains of the New Deal and Great Society was incredibly successful. Much of the safety net in America was done away with. The conservative movement worldwide was brutally successful in its war on workers and the poor. The assault on the working class did not cease with end of Reagan-Thatcher era. After the conservatives were finally dislodged from office, they were followed by the Neo-liberals, who continued to gut the welfare state.

Labor is in a new era. Unions are trying to rally their members at the grassroots level on things like health care, the Employee Free choice Act, and renegotiating trade treaties to treat workers fairly. At one time Labor joined mass coalitions which were run by people that were not directly on the union payroll. Groups like the Citizen Labor Energy Coalition, Project Vote, Progressive Agenda, The Citizen Action Network, various state Public Interest Coalitions and Democratic Agenda all received hefty sums of Labor money. With the decline in membership, the money simply is not there to fund outside groups and unions learned to do the community organizing work in-house.

The problem is actually motivating unionists at the grass roots. It used to be fairly easy. The unions just paid their "volunteers". Whether it was voter registration, or political campaign work, or picketing, Labor volunteers were paid well. I made 30 dollars in one night distributing leaflets for the Pennsylvania Association of Fire Fighters when I was twelve. Thirty bucks was a great deal of money in 1968. My parents were always paid to work the polls by the Central Labor Council and when I got older, so was I. This created a culture where the idea of doing anything, even in one's own interest, without being paid, is foreign to many union members.

The former Social Democrats, USA leadership lost interest in the SD when no one would pay them to be social democrats, and shell out for those pleasant jaunts to the meetings of the Socialist International. Neither Labor, nor US intelligence was paying the bills, so our former leaders bugged out with all our records, bank accounts, etc, including the membership list. .

Unions have started enlisting activists regardless of their union affiliation. The AFL-CIO began Working America, an effort to begin actual chapters in cities of Labor issue activists. See: Many state and local Labor federations have there own similar efforts. Labor also helps support Americans for Democratic Action' Working Families Win program. See:,

Some unions like the United Steelworkers of America have created an associate membership category. See: This will get you lots of email on workers' issues, as will the United Automobile Workers email list. See: .

At one time the political task of social democrats was to organize the unorganized. Now most unfortunately, it is to organize the organized. Here is a fairly easy way to become a member of your Central; Labor Council. You can join the National Writers Union for as little as $120 a year. You can then ask to affiliate as a one person shop. Pay the per capita and your now a labor council member. For more information on the writer union see: and As a branch of my former employer. the United Automobile Workers Union, I am proud to be a member. For those of you who play music its worth checking out Local 1000 of the American Federation of Musicians, which is a great group for the folk, punk rock, and alternative musician. See:

For nostalgia and just pure hell raising fun, I am also a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. See:

So, after you become a union member it is time to form your very own Labor Party. First you invite every one you think might be interested to a meeting of the local Hubert Humphrey Democratic Club. You have already gathered the resource material and depending on the turn out, you pick some issues to work on. You scan this years election returns for your county and see if there were any uncontested races that one of your members could contest as Labor candidate. Try either by running for committee person, or just asking the chairperson for a seat, to become a member of the Democratic Committee. of either the county or the locality were you live Then form a Labor caucus. Congratulations! You are not Karl Kautsky yet, but you are now a real social democrat. You are a labor organizing, politician that can talk to real people about social democracy/ democratic socialism.

I realize this was fairly brief overview. So feel free to call 814 410 2542, email or write to Social Democrats, USA; PO Box 5307; Johnstown. PA. for more details. As we will be launching the first Humphrey Democratic Club this weekend, more details will follow.

Below are links to two books available from Amazon that deal with Social Democracy and Unionism.

Every social democrat should be reading Social Europe:

The blog is currently off do to being hacked, but Harry's Place is seminal place for a " decent left" read. Here is the Wikipedia entry:

Also the Euston Manifesto blog is essential, the article on What Next For A Decent Left. is well worth reading:

Here is my favorite American blog:

And of course the SD's own blog:

There you have lots of information and we will gladly send you more. Social Democracy is not a spectator sport. Get busy.


Gabriel McCloskey-Ros

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