SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 184 Dec/Jan 2014/15

US mid-terms:

Republican gains and progressive ballots

The significant gains made by Republicans in the mid-term elections, in particular taking control of the US Senate, alarmed working-class and progressive people across the country. The Republicans also solidified their control of the House of Representatives. Most shocking, however, was the re-election of a number of right-wing governors, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Snyder in Michigan, who had presided over relentless attacks on the working class.

But Republican gains cannot obscure the fact that the whole political establishment is discredited. Before the election, one poll showed 70% supporting the idea of throwing out all incumbents. The gap between the frustration of working-class people and what’s on offer from reactionary Republicans and pro-corporate Democrats will inevitably force working people to find other ways to express their needs. We can expect struggles on a range of fronts.

The election result stands in sharp contrast to the shift to the left in US society in recent years, reflected in broad support for increasing the minimum wage, for marriage equality, addressing climate change, and against military adventures abroad. Ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage passed in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, the latter two reliably ‘red’ (Republican) states. In San Francisco voters passed a referendum for a $15 minimum wage by a 77% margin. In Oregon, Alaska and Washington DC, voters approved measures to legalise possession of marijuana. Two of the three anti-abortion measures proposed at the state level failed. So, voters in many cases supported positions rejected by the right wing while not voting for Democrats. Huge parts of the electorate sat this one out.

In contrast to the low turnout, these were the most expensive mid-term elections in history with $4 billion being spent. Unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporations and reactionary billionaires tried to buy the vote. This is a serious obstacle for any candidate rejecting the corporate agenda. In addition, gerrymandering has helped the Republicans, particularly in House races. There has also been widespread voter suppression by Republicans in some states aimed at reducing the African American vote.

Republican leaders, particularly Mitch McConnell, the new Senate majority leader, are keen to demonstrate that they have learned from the government shutdown in 2013, which they triggered, and that they will keep the Tea Party ‘in its place’. Barack Obama and McConnell have made conciliatory ‘non-partisan’ noises. This is not good news for working people. When the politicians in Washington talk about the need to ‘get things done’ they are partly reflecting the popular anger at the government’s dysfunction, but also expressing the ruling class’s frustration that its agenda is not being addressed. However, provocations by the right wing are likely to lead to new struggles, as after the 2010 elections where the Republicans made major gains and thought they had a mandate to run amok. That was followed by the uprising in Wisconsin and Occupy in 2011.

The Democrats say they should be receiving more credit for economic growth. But the bulk of jobs being created are low wage and the benefits of the ‘recovery’ have gone overwhelmingly to the richest 1%. Millions of homeowners are still underwater. Latinos who turned towards the Democrats during the Bush years are incensed that Obama has sharply increased deportations. Young black people see no end to harassment from the police. Women’s rights have been under systematic attack, especially in the south.

Despite rhetoric about climate change, Obama has approved the massive expansion of oil and gas production in the US. His administration has expanded surveillance and continued endless war in the Middle East. Many Democrats, especially at the state level, have also supported vicious attacks on public education and social services, so it’s no wonder that disillusionment is so strong.

The problem is the lack of a credible left alternative on a national level which can mobilise to defend the rights of working people, women, people of colour and the poor. Conservative leaders of most unions, women’s, civil rights and environmental organisations covered up for the failures of the Democrats and continued to present them as the only barrier against the Republicans. If the money, effort, and political power of labour was used to help candidates who reject corporate money and run left independent campaigns, what huge steps towards a real fight-back for workers’ rights would be possible!

Where there were credible left candidates, they often did very well. In the Washington State House race, Socialist Alternative candidate Jess Spear received 17% of the vote against Frank Chopp, one of the state’s most powerful corporate politicians. Spear ran on a programme to make Seattle affordable for ordinary people by ending corporate bailouts, taxing the rich, and rent control. The campaign demonstrated the roots that Socialist Alternative is developing in Seattle, where council member Kshama Sawant won a citywide race a year ago, and then led the first successful fight for $15 in a major city.

In New York State, Howie Hawkins, a UPS worker standing on the Green Party ticket, calling for a $15 minimum wage, a ban on fracking, and a ‘Green New Deal’, received 175,000 votes, or 5%. This is the highest vote for a genuine left-wing candidate in New York since 1920. It reflects in large part the anger of the base of the Democratic Party at Andrew Cuomo who has ruled the state as governor for four years in the interests of Wall Street.

In Milwaukee, an African American socialist, Angela Walker, received 21% (61,000 votes), running for county sheriff. For a campaign with very few resources, this is a very impressive result. Walker explicitly opposed mass incarceration and police brutality and called for an end to the austerity agenda. In Richmond, California, all the candidates of the independent Progressive Alliance won their races for city council.

These results show what is possible when there is a real alternative representing the 99%. The interest in a potential run of Senator Bernie Sanders as an independent in the 2016 presidential elections could be used to discuss a broader strategy on the left to build towards such a new mass alternative. However, as many working people may see no way to change politics through elections for the moment, they may be more focused on what can be done through the struggles for workers’ rights, living wages, to defend women’s rights and fight racism. These battles will help lay the basis for a new mass party of the 99%, armed with a socialist programme.

Tom Crean

Socialist Alternative (CWI in the USA)

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