FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Twilight of Liberalism: Decline of the Working Families Party

The Working Families Party – darling of The Nation-reading liberals in New York State – is in trouble. The NY Daily News reported this week that major unions (SEIU 1199, United Federation of Teachers, and the Hotel Trades Council) had quietly dropped financial support of the organization in late 2014.

Those of us who have long fought for an independent, radical left will not mourn what is likely to be the slow decline of the WFP, though if we are lucky it may take the form of a quick implosion.

The party’s stated goal is to use New York’s fusion voting system, which confusingly allows for a candidate to run on multiple party lines, in order to help elect Democrats (and occasionally Republicans) to office. This has always been like a pale echo of the 1930s Popular Fronts where liberal parties used electoral support from reformist Socialist and Communist parties to bind voters that might otherwise radicalize to a more conservative path, because a supposedly left-wing party had vouched for the moderate, pro-capitalist parties. Bind the WFP has, enticing people to vote for Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Barack Obama, and a host of state-figures tied, in the end, to the political establishment. Typically they have unashamedly endorsed candidates running against independent leftists such as the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins (who happens to be a socialist, citizen-organizer, working-class Teamster and twice candidate for governor).

The party has run up against what all third-way parties have faced in this era of deepening contradictions within capitalism – there is no longer capacity in the system for the “third way” of moderate neoliberalism and austerity-with-a-human-face to address massive inequality, the climate crisis, endless war, etc. Polarization has meant a rebirth of class struggle at the polls, with voters openly supporting parties that popularize a move beyond the moderate reforms, identity politics and pro-business policies of Democrats and Social Democrats that have been de rigueur since the 1980s. The mirror-image on the right has been the rise of a populism that openly celebrates the anti-immigrant postures and safety-net gutting that had been tacitly coded in the rhetoric of mainstream conservative parties.

Within the Working Families Party the contradictions of the old-model of liberalism have been laid bare: the party’s steering committee has long been dominated by major union donors, who literally purchased a seat at the table alongside party members hailing from Democratic-linked activist groups. Peddling the party line to Democrats and some influential Republicans meant WFP could claim a seat at the table for state budget and contract negotiations, and the activist wing would occasionally get a sop thrown their way especially since they favored a typical liberal half a loaf” strategy. The pro-business Democrat would be able to claim they acted progressively, union leaders that they delivered to their members, and activists that they were fighting the good fight while supporting politicians that somehow also supported free trade agreements, military buildups and foreign wars.

This is a microcosm of modern liberalism since the 1930s, though it has become more visible in the post-Vietnam era as business has increasingly rejected any form of social welfare spending. Pressures from capitalism itself have made this arrangement untenable, and the WFP faced a revolt two years ago as the union leadership wanted to endorse austerity-championing Andrew Cuomo in his re-election campaign and the activist wing pushed the moderate reformist Zephyr Teachout. The unions won, but the rift was clear: in the face of even limited pressure the establishment bureaucrats would tack right and support an establishment candidate. WFP has supported Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016, but now it is clear that they have done so bereft of the funds and voting pushback from most of their major union members; the party will still back Democrats down the line in the fall using the Sanders nod to screen their unswerving loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Perhaps the WFP will be saved by a Democratic party that needs a progressive face to shield it from increasingly dissatisfied and potentially radical voters willing to break with a thoroughly ossified political system. I think it much more likely that the party will fade into a pale half-life before disappearing entirely, leaving the sharpening contradictions to be fought between a resurgent independent left and the Democratic/Republican establishment. I doubt it, or the bankrupt model of transactional liberalism it peddled, will be missed much.

More articles by:

Peter LaVenia received a PhD in Political Theory from the University at Albany, SUNY. He has been an activist and organizer for over 15 years and has worked for Ralph Nader in that capacity. He is currently the co-chair of the Green Party of New York, and can be reached on Twitter: @votelavenia.

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail