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Coalition Politics: Insurgent Union Political Action Builds Ties Between Labor and the Community
David Reynolds

Discussions for revitalizing the labor movement include a frequent call for building labor-community coalitions as well as reactivating a more activist brand of electoral politics. This paper illustrates how unions have used aggressive political action to establish lasting coalitions with the community. Our examples draw from the work of the fledgling New Party, Connecticut's Legislative and Electoral Action Program, and the mushrooming living wage movement. Through these new forms of political action unions have begun to redefine their agenda, build bridges to the community, mobilize their membership, and lay the foundation of a broadbased movement for economic democracy. Index Terms: Community mobilization/Political activity.

As the labor movement rethitiks its strategies, two goals top the list. Unions need to build coalitions with their communities and other progressive organizations (Brecher and Costello 1990, Fisher and Kling 1993, Simmons 1994, 1997, 1998). And, labor must reactivate aggressive political activity (Labor Research Review 1994). Across the country unions have found ways to combine these two dimension. In doing so they have not only shaken up politics as usual, but also built broad progressive political movements that mobilize working people and offer positive agendas for the future. Unions in Connecticut and Wisconsin have developed model electoral projects that have not simply placed progressives into office, but produced laborcommunity coalitions that extend well beyond the ballot box. In addition, across the country a growing movement of Living Wage campaigns has brought together similarly broad coalitions to fight for basic economic justice. As responses to the political and economic changes of the past three decades, these examples reveal growing opportunities for using political action to rebuild progressive activism generally.
David Reynolds is Labor Program Specialist at the Labor Studies Center, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.



Connecticut's Legislative Electoral Action Program By the early 1980s, many progressive activists in Connecticut were fed-up with "politics as usual". More and more of the candidates they were asked to endorse were often not strong enough to win, or even worse, if elected did not act much different than their conservative opponents. This problem was especially true in the halls of the state legislature. "Progressive groups were sick of being ignored by legislators," remembers LEAP Director Lynne Ide. "The attitude of those in power was like: If you don't support me, what else are you going to do?" With the key support of the UAW's region 9 and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, organizers decided to build an altemative. They went to the major progressive groups with state-level political action committees and asked them to pool their resources. By forming the Legislative Electoral Action Program (LEAP) in 1980 these organizations created a formal coalition that actively recruits progressive candidates from among the ranks of member organizations to run in Democratic Party primaries for state, and some local, offices. For those willing to become candidates, the LEAP provides campaign training while the member organizations pool their fimdraising and volunteer power. The end result has been the most successful state-level labor-community in the country. Its member organizations include the United Auto Workers, Health Care Workers District 1199, several city labor councils, several state employees unions, Lesbian and Gay Right Coalition, the Women's Issues Network, Bridgeport Acorn, Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges, Cormecticut Citizen Action Group, Environmentalists to Elect Legislators in Connecticut, National Organization for Women, and National Abortion Rights Action League. During the 1990s, roughly a third of all the Democrats in the Connecticut legislature are LEAP candidates. Winning over three-quarters of the races it backs, LEAP'S success stories include people such as State Senator Tom Colapietro, a former autoworker and UAW member. Before getting involved in LEAP Colapietro had considered running for office as "a quick way to leave you high and dry and broke." Union organizer Chris Donavan has gone to the State House. Through LEAP door-to-door style grassroots campaigns Donavan developed a personal rapport with his constituency. "While the political establishment might consider my politics way out, I know that I am not considered that way in my district," explains Donavan. "People really welcomed and appreciated my efforts. I can take a strong principled policy position in the state house knowing that I am doing what people really want."



In 1994, the year of the so-called Republican Revolution, LEAP defied the pundits. Twenty-five out of thirty-five of their candidates for state office won. These victories included Miles Rappenport, former Connecticut Citizen Action Group director who became the Secretary of State running on a platform of fundamental campaign finance reform. Although LEAP activist William Curry lost in the general election, the coalition nevertheless scored a major upset earlier that year when he defeated the party establishment's candidate in the Democrat primary for Governor. With the aid of the Northeast Action Resources Center, an umbrella office for state citizen action groups in the northeast, LEAP'S model has now spread throughout New England and to other parts of the country. In 1996, LEAP and its spin off coalitions helped elect New Hampshire's first woman Governor, oust five incumbent Republican hiembers of Congress, and swing four state legislatures to Democratic control. Progressive candidates with activist support have proven that they are more effective than the Democratic Leadership Council's "centrist" Democrats. Most important, LEAP'S purpose and operation has extended well beyond its original task to recruit and run specific candidates. Today, LEAP is as much a lobbying arm as an electoral tool. Within the halls of the state legislature, the lawmaking process can seem like loose collections of fi-agmented individuals and dominant political figures rather than clear party agendas. In order to push progressive change, LEAP found that it had to build coherence among the candidates it helped to elect. Until objections from the mainstream of the Democratic Party forced LEAP to redefme its efforts, this work took the form of an official progressive caucus. Today, LEAP sponsors routine meetings among its endorsed state officeholders as well as meetings between these people and representatives of progressive organizations. Over time, LEAP extended its coalition campaigns into the actual law-making process. Before LEAP, progressive lobbying meant groups individually went to the state house and advocated their specific concems. Now, thanks to LEAP, they often go as a coalition. Thus, for example, when the legislature debated a global warming bill the assigned subcommittee found itself sitting across from not only the "usual suspects" among environmental organizations, but also groups like the UAW as well. This coalition lobbying has included "street heat" as well when, for example, the UAW marched in a demonstration for gay and lesbian civil rights. Coalition pohcy work has delivered results. In 1991, for example, LEAP helped form a broader coalition called Taxpayers Alliance to Serve Connecticut,



which proved instrumental in winning a state income tax. The new system replaced a series of more regressive taxes. LEAP has also helped pass several landmark pieces of legislation that began to establish greater community influence over corporate decisions. One such act required companies seeking public money to make a specific commitment on the number ofjobs they will create as a result. Companies that had misused the fiind had to repay the assistance. The LEAP spin-off in Maine, the Dirigo Alliance, won a pioneering victory through coalition work in 1996 when voters approved a referendum establishing public financing of the state's elections. Under the Clean Elections system candidates for state office can opt to forego private campaign contributions. In its place, they have their election supported out of state funds at the levels established by past elections. Two years later Massachusetts and Arizona voters passed similar laws. The greatest benefits to LEAP'S activities, however, are often the most intangible. Eighteen years of electoral and legislative coalition building has transformed the progressive community in Connecticut. Groups used to operating in their own separate sphere have come into contact and worked with other progressive groups quite unlike themselves. Union leaders have interacted with environmentalists who met welfare rights groups who joined with women's organizations who worked with members of the Puerto Rican community. They have leamed to appreciate each other's issues as well as their common goals. At times such coalition building has not been easy as LEAP balances organizations with quite different resources and ways of doing things. Key to its success, LEAP has had to develop a decision-making process and intemal culture in which the coalition pursues an agenda based on common ground while individual member groups agree to disagree on specific issues. The informal benefits of ongoing interaction have shown themselves quite concretely at critical times. When 1,000 members of UAW Local 376 struck Colt Firearms, they faced an uphill battle against a hostile, concession-demanding employer. However, through the coalition experiences of LEAP and related efforts the union was able to pull together effective community support that proved critical to winning the strike. Because of its success LEAP has reached a turning point. To continue to grow it must evolve beyond its current activities. Three aspects stand out in particular. Until now LEAP has been a coalition of organizations, not a membership body in its own right. LEAP'S track record shows how much can be achieved through such a stmcture in a relatively quick period of time. However, LEAP'S coalition of organizations also presents limitations. Since it does not have a direct



grassroots base, LEAP must rely upon its coalition groups to mobilize their own membership behind progressive campaigtis. Within such campaigns the experiences of many volunteers can retnain within their own group. And LEAP has no direct mechanism of its own to involve the vast ranks of people not connected to any progressive organization. Facing these considerations, some of LEAP'S spinoffs groups have considered developing a grassroots structure of their own. In Maine, for example, the Dirigo Alliance used the clean elections referendtim campaign to build a grassroots leadership network through out the state. LEAP'S coalition is also incomplete. Reflecting the experience of progressive organizations that start white and then remain largely white, Gonnecticut's African-American commimity remains largely outside the electoral coalition. A political network more tied to the mainstream of the Democratic Party had already developed within this community that made the entrance of an instirgent coalition more difficult. By contrast, for the less politically developed Puerto Rican community, LEAP built a solid partnership by providing itself as a key channel for developing leadership and electoral success within the community. To cross the racial divide, LEAP activists have fostered new issue coalitions that reach well beyond LEAP'S member groups. The Northeast Action Resource Genter has also established a New England-wide training and internship program that helps develop the skills of activists within the African-American community and build ties across the barrier of race. Finally, LEAP'S very success in getting progressive groups to support each others issues has led it to rethink its ultimate agenda. Like many progressive groups across the country, LEAP and its member organizations see a need to move beyond traditional interest group politics in which each group specializes in its particular issue. Interest-group-style coalitions run the risk of producing platforms that are simply "laundry-lists" which add together each group's specific issue concems. Such agendas are no longer adequate, however. Gonservative momentum dominates today's politics as a comprehensive agenda. Progressives can only hope to fully cotuiter the Right through a comprehensive altemative of their own. To this end, LEAP and its spin-offs have begun to find ways to transcend specific issue work and the perspectives of individual member groups. This process is seen quite clearly in the jobs and economic justice coalitions that have grown out of LEAP-style organizing in Gonnecticut and Massachusetts. These initiatives aim to develop broad progressive economic altematives to the dominant corporate agenda. In Massachusetts, the coalition effort has produced an ongoing campaign around temporary and contingent work. With a quarter



ofthe state's work force holding part-time, temporary, or other forms of contingent jobs, the campaign has developed legislation aimed at stripping away the tmfair elements of contingent work by requiring: equal pay for workers regardless of employment status, pro-rated benefits for all workers in part-time jobs, and matemity leave and strengthened unemployment insurance for part-time workers. The campaign has also established a modest contingent Workers Genter in the Boston area to foster direct grassroots organizing among workers. Tackling contingent work offers a concrete project that transcends separate groups' issue concems to address the broad questions of fostering a community-driven economy. In Gonnecticut, Gitizens for Economic Opportunity (GEO) are organizing to bring together unions, as well as community and religious groups to promote 'corporate accountability' through the development of state laws that would, for example: deny tax breaks to irresponsible corporations; provide financial assistance only to those that can demonstrate a record of living wages and decent jobs; and require the same hotu-ly pay and benefits for temporary and part-time workers as are paid to regular employees. Reflecting LEAP'S trajectory, labor and community organizers in Minnesota launched two sister coalitions aimed at redirecting economic policy debates in their state (Duncan 1990, Howe and Vallianatos 1998). The Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action (MAPA) was formed in 1988 to promote a progressive legislative agenda. Its companion organization. Pro-Vote, organizes to get progressive candidates in public office along LEAP lines. In the early 1990s, MAPA developed corporate accountability legislation requiring firms receiving state financial assistance to meet specific wage and job creation goals within two years. Through a hard fought and very public series of efforts, the coalition got most ofthe legislation enacted, minus the wage requirement vetoed by the governor. With a reputation for serious grassroots organizing, MAPA is now continuing the struggle for corporate accountability, undertaking detailed research on the impact of money in politics, and developing a strategy for promoting "community wealth creation." This last concept redefines economic development as a process driven by community participation, vision, and resotirces. Unions and the New Party The LEAP experience demonstrates how a very modest electoral project can grow to deliver very broad and multi-faceted results. The same can be said of union participation in the fiedgling New Party.



As with LEAP, dissatisfaction with conventional politics convinced Wisconsin progressives, including several key officers within the state and local AFLCIO unions such as the Transit Workers, to try something different. Initially the group focused on the modest task of running people from within the progressive community for selective local offices. In contrast to LEAP, however, Wisconsin activists placed themselves on the third-party route by affiliating with the fledgling national New Party. Formed in 1991, the Wisconsin New Party movement is much younger than LEAP. Nevertheless, it has already established a record of electoral success. In Wisconsin's capital, Madison, the New Party has established itself as the largest group on the city council. By the end of 1996 the local New Party had elected nine members to the county board, twelve on the city council, and two to the school board. At the same time, in Milwaukee, three New Party members won seats on the county board, while an incumbent member of the city council switched his affiliation to the New Party chapter. The Milwaukee New Party also provided the electoral structure by which progressives successfully fought back conservative and business efforts to transform the city's school board. All of these contests were in nonpartisan races for which the candidate's party affiliation has not been a factor. In electing three state legislators. New Party organizers made the tactical decision to use the Democratic ballot line by entering activists in successful primary campaigns. Just as with LEAP, New Party organizing quickly grew beyond the task of electing progressive candidates. From the beginning, founders of the local chapters conceived of their efforts in terms of building the political arm of a broader progressive movement, not just contesting a few election. The New Party nationally sees its task as one of building serious grassroots organizations that allow ordinary citizens to participate in politics. Through their Precinct Leadership Action Network (PLAN) model organizers aim to recruit effective leadership at a blockby-block level that will sustain ongoing and active neighborhood organizations. The New party has used electoral bids, house parties, and targeted issue work to develop their PLAN. For example, in Milwaukee the first Living Wage campaign (described below) began by targeting one city neighborhood, chosen for its racial and economic diversity. Volunteers went door-to-door systematically throughout the area. In speaking with residents, the activists both built support for a local living wage ordinance while also identifying people willing to volunteer in the campaign. Through PLAN organizing the local New Party expanded its activist base beyond the "usual lefty suspects" to include many residents not normally politically active, but concerned about the economic future for themselves and



their community. The New Party volunteers found that they did not so much have to convince people ofthe limitations ofthe current policies as offer a believable altemative course of action. The first living wage campaign during the summer of 1995 grew well beyond the initial neighborhood. By the end ofthe summer, Milwaukee organizers had developed a base of 86 Precinct Leaders and several hundred voltmteers who signed "activist contracts" pledging to participate neighborhood activism. Through models such as PLAN the New Party aims to constmct genuine political organizations that allow people to participate in politics directly in their neighborhoods. While in theory all political parties should organize at a grassroots level, in the U.S. the Republicans and Democrats largely abandoned serious local structures almost a century ago. Even the stirviving big city machines today command but vestiges of their former grassroots armies. Much ofthe scholarship on American electoral politics mistakenly assumes that this evolution of the two major parties represents the natural transformation and modemization of party organizations (Reynolds 1997 chapter four). Yet, as the New Party's success in grassroots activism across the coimtry demonstrates, the mainstream vote-getting, candidate-centered networks do not represent the only possible form of electoral politics in the 1990s. New Party grassroots organizing coincided with the launching of what is arguably one ofthe premiere efforts at metropolitan-wide community plarming: the Gampaign for a Sustainable Milwatikee. Since local New Party founders saw their tasks in broad movement-building terms, an economic coalition was a naturally partner to their political efforts. Sustainable Milwaukee began with key leaders who had enough credibility among a diverse mixttire of groups, such as Bruce Golbtim then secretary-treasurer ofthe Milwaukee AFL-GIO, to convince other labor and commtinity activists that a year and a half spent in a planning process would yield valuable results. Through separate task forces and general meetings a coalition of activists from a broad mixttire of groups developed a people-based economic plan for the fiiture of Milwaukee. Estimating that the city needs 50,000 new jobs to employ everyone who wants work, the group proposed concrete ways for local and state govemment to use their spending and regulatory powers for encotiraging companies to establish family and cotnmtmity supporting jobs. At the same time the group proposed ways to discotirage and penalize employers who seek only to provide low-wages, temporary work, or neighborhood pollution and environmental destruction. Sustainable Milwaukee's plan also calls for: Training programs which combine education with real employment.



Establishing community- and worker-nm companies. Several new mechanisms to provide credit-starved neighborhoods basic resources for mortgages and small businesses. Fostering greater use and availability of buses and trains. Promoting clustered suburban development and farmland preservation. Improving the public schools by, for example: linking classroom mate rial to work experiences in the real world; giving parents leave from work to volunteer at their schools; and tuming school buildings into community centers or "lighted schoolhouses", which would be open from moming until evening with programs available to be enjoyed by residents of all ages (Sustainable Milwaukee, 1994).

The Sustainable Milwaukee plan has become an ongoing organizing project. Today, it is a formal, non-profit organization with a growing staff. Through grassroots organizing the coalition has won several living wage campaigns. These victories have put in place ordinances requiring companies contracting with the city, county, and school board to pay a minimal wage level of up to $7.70 per hour. Today, the coalition has begun to use the living wage concept to pressure employers not connected to public money to pay a decent wage. During the summer of 1998 volunteers began leafleting local fast food franchises found to be paying poverty wages noticeably lower than their suburban counterparts. Sustainable Milwaukee's Job Access task force has teamed up two groups that previously warred with each other: the building trade unions and civil rights organizations. Today, they lead grassroots efforts to pressure large pubHcly funded construction projects to pay prevailing wages and conduct significant minority and female hiring. The coalition has also waged an ongoing battle to steer millions of Federal transportation dollars into a light rail system and expanded bus services. Transportation has proven a broad concem touching issues of job access, community development, and suburban sprawl. Sustainable Milwaukee is part of the Milwaukee Jobs Initiative a project that recruits and prepares inner residents for high paying jobs in construction, manufacturing, and printing. Indeed, it provided the initial conduit through which a multi-million dollar grant fTom the Casey Foundation supporting the project came to Milwaukee. Sustainable Milwaukee directly administers the Central City Workers Center component of the Jobs Initiative. The Center prepares local residents for the job training and placement programs. Sustainable Milwaukee could have developed independently of electoral politics. However, clearly political organizing and an economic coalition are natu-



ral allies. The same imion and community activists who helped found the local New Party, also provided much of the core leadership for Sustainable Milwaukee. Along with several other local groups, the local New Party had also provided significant grassroots organizing behind such victories as the living wage campaigns. And the New Party provides an important political context for making the prospects of changing local economic policies believable. Local politicians who do not take Sustainable Milwaukee seriously faced the prospects of a well-organized New Party challenge to a future reelection bid. The New Party had equally benefited from the economic coalition. Sustainable Milwaukee provides the local chapter with the grassroots non-electoral activities key to sustaining and expanding neighborhood organizing year round. Milwaukee's example reflects the New Party's general strategy that sees issue work as an equal component to electoral organizing. Wisconsin is only one example of New Party work. In states such as Maryland, Arkansas, and New York, New Party groups have directly confronted Christian Coalition-style school agendas which aim to restrict funding to public education while steering greater public resources into elite charter schools and private educational institutions. New Party candidates and supporters have countered with a public-education-centered approach to school reform. In Little Rock, Arkansas, the New Party won a police accountability ordinance after a controversial killing of three African-American men. The victory came in a context of several years of New Party issue organizing and electoral campaigns which placed eighteen New Party candidates into local and state offices by the end of 1997. New Party chapters have also fought to pass campaign finance reform, change the priorities of local government budgets, and promote local public transportation. In the last national elections, November 1998, thirty-two of the New Party's thirty-nine candidates won election including Chicago New Party member Danny Davis who returned to Congress, legislative seats in Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland, Montana and Minnesota, and twenty-nine local city council, court, and county board positions. Wherever they have been active, local New Party groups have opened new ways for union activism within their communities. Some local unions have outright affiliated with the New Party chapters. These include the NEA and UFCW in Montgomery County, MD, Teamster Local 705 and SEIU Local 800 in Chicago, and AFSCME Local 994 and SEIU Local 100 in Little Rock. In Houston, leaders from ACORN, the Houston Federation of Teachers, NOW, UFCW, AFSCME, the local plumbers imions, and the Houston Central Labor Council recently formed an organizing committee to build a local New Party chapter. In



Portland, Oregon a similar group includes leaders from the Rainbow Coalitions, Jobs With Justice, the Oregon Public Employees Union, and the Sierra Club. Many other unions have joined New Party-sponsored electoral and issue coalitions. Roughly two out of five New Party members are either in unions or in some way connected to the labor movement. "Local leaders from my union in several cities have been quite involved in New Party activity," explains SEIU President Andy Stem. "The most important and impressive aspect of the New Party is its successful dedication to independent, class-based, multi-racial electoral activity." {New Party News vol. VI No.2 p. 12) Politics without Elections: Living Wage Campaigns In December 1994, Baltimore's mayor signed into law Council Bill 716 requiring city contractors to pay service workers at least $6.10 per hour. The first of its kind in the nation, the new law followed a year long broad-based grassroots campaign organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and a group of fifty multi-denominational churches called Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD). The impact of this victory spread far and wide. Before the win, Charles Riggs, a thirty-two-year-old who cleaned Oriole Park at Camden Yards, would check in at the local homeless shelter every night because his $4.25 per hour fulltime pay check couldn't support a rented room. Thanks to the new law Riggs saw his wages increase by almost 50 percent itnmediately. An estimated 1,500-3,000 workers gained from the ordinance. Local church soup kitchens and homeless shelters no longer had to feed and shelter workers such as Riggs. The AFSCME/ BUILD coalition persuaded the mayor to take back, as state jobs paying a livingwage, custodial services for thirty-six schools that had been previously been contracted out. As a centerpiece of the campaign, activists founded the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee (SSC) as an organization of low-wage workers covered by the living wage. The SSC offers workers immediate membership benefits through a package of low-cost health and insurance discounts. At the same time, it mobilizes its growing membership to fight for enforcement of the living wage, the right to remain on the job even if their employer loses the public contract, pro-worker welfare reform, and basic worker rights. Most important, Baltimore's example sparked a grassroots movement for living wages and economic justice. In the few years since the Baltimore campaign, living wage coalitions have won local ordinances in thirty-two cities including Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Los Angles, Duluth, New Haven, Durham (NC),



Portland (OR), Jersey City, Boston, Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, San Jose, and Madison. Hard fought campaigns lost their initial efforts in Denver, Albuquerque, New Orleans, and St. Louis, but continue to organize. The St. Paul campaign lost an initiative vote, but went on to win a living wage law passed by the city council. By early 1998, new living wage efforts had taken root in almost three dozen communities, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Albany, Spokane, Miami, Cleveland, San Francisco, Alexandria, Austin (TX), Washtenaw County (MI), and Kalamazoo (MI). The momentum continues to grow. The basic concept behind the living wage campaigns is simple: tax payer money should go to companies that support the community, not those that force Workers to live in poverty. Local govemment contracts and economic development assistance have provided the legal mechanisms. Some campaigns, such as Baltimore and Milwaukee, have focused just on contracts. Other ordinances, such as in St. Paul, apply just to economic development money above a certain dollar amount. Some of the more recent living wage laws, such as Los Angeles, Oakland, and Detroit, include both contracts and economic assistance. While the exact dollar amount defmition of a living wage varies by campaign, generally orga:ilizers have set the amount around 100-125 percent ofthe Federal poverty line for a family of four (by the end of 1998 this line worked out to $8.35 per hour). More and more commonly, activists have also placed other requirements in their ordinances. The Los Angles law requires $7.25 with health care or $8.50 without. In Boston and St. Paul the ordinances mandate hiring among residents. The Minneapolis and St. Paul laws contain provisions which make union organizing a much fairer undertaking. These include voluntary card checks, mandatory arbitration for a first contract, and special preferences given to companies with good labor relations. Different campaigns have tried different routes toward winning living wage laws. In St. Paul originally activists tried a ballot referendum. However, with an incomplete coalition the canipaign was not able to fend off the money spent by the business community to oppose the living wage. After a 59 to 41 percent loss, the campaign pursued a joint legislative route with neighboring Minneapolis. In the end, this well organized effort saw resolutions pass their city councils unanimously in both cities. The central labor council in Detroit built into the laborcommunity mobilization already planned for the November 1998 elections a living wage ballot initiative that won with an impressive 81 percent ofthe vote. The local Chamber of Commerce was taken completely by surprise by the campaign that maintained a low profile well into the fall, but then exploded in the election get-out-the-vote drives.



Most living wage efforts, however, have chosen a legislative route. While such a strategy risks negotiation and compromise, it requires fewer resources than a ballot campaign and lessens the impact of the business community's big money. While not organizing to get out the vote, legislative campaigns have hardly been "behind the scenes" deals. Indeed, most successful efforts require significant mobilization among coalition partners and at the grassroots. For example, the final seven to one vote in favor of Boston's living wage law came from a hard fought campaign. The support of many city councilors expressed early on in the campaign threatened to evaporate when the mayor announced his opposition to the proposed law. The final negotiations kept most of the campaign's demands intact, including the application of the law to employers of welfare-to-work individuals, only because of a strong grassroots campaign complete with lawn signs, petitioning, rush hour picketing, and large turnouts at city council hearings. The law was also passed during an election year in which many incumbents looked to labor's endorsement. Even then, a year later the living wage coalition had to rely upon the credibility it had established in order to save most of the ordinance from legal and political counterattacks by the Chamber of Commerce and its allies. The process of living wage organizing has proven to be a major coalition builder and a great opportunity for labor and community mobilization. Chicago's Living Wage campaign well illustrates these dimensions. In Chicago politics, the will of Mayor Richard Daley typically holds sway. With his likely opposition, Chicago activists knew fighting an uphill battle. Indeed, some organizers did not originally believe that they could even pass a living wage law, but saw the campaign as an opportunity to stir up local politics and build alliances. The campaign did indeed bring together a broad coalition. Mass mobilizations, including several demonstrations and a "Tour of Shame" bus trip of Democratic Party National Convention delegates to low-wage employers, gave the campaign significant visibility. In the end, six living wage organizers were arrests as they tried to exercise their legal right to attend the open council meeting voting on the living wage. At that 1997 vote, however. Mayor Daley did prevail. Although the bill originally had more co-signers than aldermen needed to pass it, in the end only seventeen out of fifty, defied Daley to voting in favor of the living wage. Daley claimed, as is often done, that he was not opposed to the general concept of the living wage, but that the city could simply not afford it. He carted out a study, (which has now become a typical form of living wage opposition,) that estimated a cost increase of $19.8 to $36 million to the city budget as contractors passed on wage increases to the city. A detailed study by the Preamble Center of Baltimore's



living wage law suggests that not only do contractors not pass such costs on to the public, but that gains in worker productivity and lower employee turnover actually offset the costs of wage increases. The Chicago estimates, however, could simply be rejected even at their face value. Twenty to thirty-six million dollars may seem like a large sum of money, but relative to the city's overall $4.5 billion annual budget this amount is trivial. Despite their loss, living wage organizers had much to celebrate. They had made local economic development policies the subject of public debate and severely beaten up Daley's political machine. Growing from the initial initiative of ACORN and SEIU Local 880, the Chicago Living Wage Campaign had grown to nearly eighty labor, community and religious organizations. Indeed, by voting against the living wage in the face of this strong coalition, many aldermen had placed themselves in a position vulnerable to electoral challenge by New Party and other pro-living wage candidates. This vulnerability came into the open a year after the 1997 vote when, after rejecting the living wage on fiscal grounds, the Board of Aldermen wanted to raise their own salaries! The living wage coalition's electoral threat was sufficiently severe to convince Daley to negotiate a compromise living wage bill covering city contracts. The bill was passed by the Board of Alderman in the summer of 1998. Soon thereafter Cook County passed a comparable law. As the Chicago example suggests, win or lose, serious living wage campaigns deliver key gains for unions and community groups quite aside from the impact of any ordinance. The Chicago campaign cemented new alliances among local unions, community groups, and religious leaders, injected progressive issues into public debate, and exposed vulnerability in status quo politics. Similar gains are true elsewhere. In addition to Chicago, the New Party has used living wage organizing in Mirmeapolis, St. Paul, Milwaukee, Madison, Little Rock, and Montgomery Coimty, Maryland to build active local chapters. Living wage campaigns have opened new opportunities for unions to organize among low-wage workers. Indeed, the Los Angeles campaign grew directly out of struggles to save unionized jobs at the city's main airport (Khalil and Hinson, 1998). Today, the campaign works with SEIU, HERE, and other unions to use the living wage to organize among the airport's 30,000 non-union workers. In both LA and Oakland, HERE has used provisions of the living wage law and the support of coalition partners to gain organizing leverage in the hotel industry. And the Los Angeles campaign founded a new network. Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), that links the religious community to workers struggles. In several cities, groups active in low-income neighborhoods, such as ACORN, have followed



up living wage victories with organizing among local residents to gain access to decent-paying jobs. Living wage organizing has also helped labor and the community to fight privatization and outsourcing by raising the wage floor and uniting coalitions dedicated to blocking low-wage jobs. In Little Rock, for example, the living wage is providing one of the initial campaigns for a new formal alliance of ACORN and the local central labor council. With four New Party candidates elected to the city council on a living wage platform, the campaign is now in a position to pass a local ordinance. Most generally. Living Wage organizing raises a fundamental debate over the purpose and vision of local economic development. It challenges the widely held assumption that local governments can only purse the kinds of job-at-anycost strategies of passive tax breaks and corporate welfare that randomly lure companies to within the city limits. The debate becomes all the more intense because the opposition almost universally attacks the living wage as a job killer. "This proposal is just another death wish," editorialized Crain 's Detroit Business. "It delivers to business a simply message: This is Detroit; it costs you more to do business here than anywhere else in Michigan. If you don't like it, leave." Living Wage organizers are faced with two major variations on this theme: that wage increases lead to reduced employment levels and that business will not locate in a city which passes such an "anti-business" law. Recent studies of both increases in the minimum wage and the living wage in Baltimore and Los Angeles suggest that none of this is true (Card and Knieger, EPI, Weisbrot and SforzaRoderick, PoUin and Luce). Employers do not automatically reduce their work force or future hiring simply because of wages increases. A research team headed by Robert PoUin estimated that the maximum total increased wage costs for 616 out of 668 firms likely covered by the living wage amounted to less than one half of one percent of their armual operating budgets. Only six firms would face significant increases of over twenty percent (PoUin and Luce, 1998). In addition to countering the opposition's factual errors, living wage campaigns must also counter the basic philosophy behind them. The issue is not a question of jobs or no jobs, but what kind of jobs a community wants to establish. The concept of a living wage forces a community to distinguish between different types of employers. Those pursuing "low road" strategies that compete with low prices from slashed labor costs are not the kinds of firms that a community wants. Low road employers simply strip the tax base while forcing poverty-wage workers to seek public assistance. Indeed, local governments that give such firms generous tax breaks and fmancial assistance are simply sacrificing scarce resources that could be used to attract a different kind of company. Firms pursue a contrast-



ing "high road" look for public investments in education, training, infrastructure, and a overall quality of life (Preamble, 1997). They compete on the basis of the quality and efficiency that come from a motivated and skilled work force and from partnerships with other local businesses, governments, unions, and community groups. By challenging unrestricted corporate welfare, living wage campaigns raise the central question for a community to chose between passive acceptance of the low road or active pursuit of the high road. This broader perspective is important to keep in mind because the actual physical impact of living wage laws remains modest. Pollin and Luce estimated that 7,500 workers would likely receive direct wage increases from LA's living wage law with another 10,000 workers seeing wage gains as a result of upward pressure on wages above the living wage. By contrast they estimated that over 870,000 workers would be effected by an increase in the local across-the-board minimum wage to just $6.50 per hour (Pollin and Luce, 1998). Living wage campaigns are not an end in of themselves, but a first start along a longer path. They pull together the broad coalition of groups and raise the fundamental issues needed to develop a long-term movement around economic justice and democracy. Indeed, the best campaigns, such as those in Los Angeles, Baltimore, San Jose, Oakland, Boston, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities, are those which cany their living wage organizing into ongoing work to build an altemative to the economic status quo (Reynolds and Kern, 1999). Providing Political Bridges While LEAP, the New Party, and Living Wage campaigns differ in many ways, their experience also points to several common lessons. All have succeeded because they establish a workable bridge between most unions' frustrations with the Democratic Party on the one side and new, more independent political action on the other. While the benefits of having a genuine working-class political party are clear, the most direct route toward independent politics, third party organizing, had traditionally seemed a risky and ultimately futile affair. In part, this reflects the distinct U.S. electoral system with its wiimer-take-all elections that require individual candidates to win electoral pluralities. The U.S. is only one of three countries to not use some form of proportional representation that allows greater access to minority and new fledgling parties.



However, this "common sense" wisdom also reflects no small degree of propaganda by the two major parties and their supporters. A convincing case can be made that third party building is far more viable than "common sense" assumes. For example, the conveniently forgotten history of the great Populist and Socialist revolts at the last turn of the century reveal political movements which mobilized literally millions of working people. Indeed, this third party organizing delivered many reforms that we now take for granted. Merely achieving today the same level of activism of these historical predecessors would have an enormously positive impact on the progressive community and reshape the terms of our nation's political debates. However, progressives can go even further. The Populists' and Socialists' ultimate demise was by no means preordained, but resulted from the rather undemocratic and blatantly authoritarian methods resorted to by the two major parties and their allies (Reynolds, 1997). Furthermore, Canada's New Democratic Party demonstrates that a lasting political altemative can be built in political soil quite similar to ours. Indeed, the United States is one of the few liberal democracies that do not have a healthy multi-party system. The public sees the contradiction. For years now poll data has consistently revealed people's alienation from the two-party system and their support for new altematives. However, while a strong case can be made for bold independent politics, most unions are understandably not willing to leap into the unknown of third party organizing. This is especially true if such a project requires them to jettison or jeopardize their ongoing political action working with the Democrats. No labor leader wants to politically isolate him or herself while giving opportunities to Republicans. Fledgling new political projects must avoid throwing down a gauntlet that asks unions to chose between the Democratic Party and an uncertain altemative. While legal-financial issues are also involved, the Labor Party's decision at its 1996 founding convention to not engage in electoral work illustrates a desire not to confront unions with a choice between their traditional Democratic work and Labor Party candidacies seen as hopeless and premature. LEAP solved this problem by forgoing third party politics to build an independent force within the Democratic party at the state level. As one LEAP state legislator commented "Inside the Democratic Party is an empty shell. There is ample opportunity for progressive influence and even a take over." Independent political organizing even within the Democratic Party went too far for some people. Indeed, early in LEAP'S history some labor leaders saw the coahtion as such a threat to their traditional ways of conducting politics that they even tried to shut it down.



The New Party avoids throwing down a gauntlet by carefully targeting its electoral bids. The New Party prioritizes local offices (Cantor and Rathke, 1997). Most of these are nonpartisan. Thus, the party label and potential for being seen as a spoiler becomes irrelevant. However, roughly one-fifth of New Party election campaigns has been in higher-level, partisan races. In such situations local New Party groups have been open to running candidates in Democratic primaries. Such practices represent tactical decisions in which the benefits of building a coalition, winning the election campaign, and placing a committed New Party supporter in office are seen to out way the cost of blurring political distinctions. The New Party has drawn criticism from other third party supporters for this decision and its related attempt to knock down legal prohibitions on fusion (two parties endorsing the same candidate). However, through its electoral fiexibility the New Party has been able to go to local unions and ask them to support specific winnable candidacies, rather than a wholesale break with their traditional Democratic political action work. As local New Party chapters gain success after success they build stronger ties and credibility with local unions becoming increasing relevant vehicles for union political work. The New Party's electoral flexibility has also helped build a genuine multiracial organization. At least a third ofthe New Party's candidates and membership are people of color. This achievement came from deliberate and continuous effort. New Party organizers targeted issues, candidates, and geographical areas that would produce multi-racial organizing. The New Party's overall strategy aims to build a majority-seeking political coalition by uniting the nation's cities with their inner-ring suburbs. Electoral fiexibility has clearly helped multi-racial organizing. A significant number ofthe New Party candidates elected as Democrats are people of color. They include Danny Davis elected as the first New Party member of Congress. While Davis joined the New Party and agreed to promote it, he ran as a Democrat. In the one-party system of Chicago, challenging the machine-endorsed candidate in a Democratic primary was in itself a bold undertaking. Running independently at this current stage would have been altogether political suicide. By having the fiexibility to go with the logic of the local situation, the New Party won a major upset in Chicago politics and furthered its grassroots organizing within the black community. Both LEAP and the New Party have also gained credibility with unions because their activities extend well beyond elections. Living wage campaigns highlight the benefits of a mobilization that, while formally outside the electoral field, clearly impacts politics. The independence of living wage efforts lays in their articulation of an agenda outside the official concems of both major parties.



In an age in which the status quo tries to keep corporate power one of the best kept secrets within official politics, these campaigns thrust this issue into the open. The broad coalitions behind living wage campaigns articulate the very economic interests that unite the vast majority of the population. This is why Detroit's ordinance passed by a margin of four to one and why the Economic Policy Institute found a majority of Americans agreeing with a call for government to establish greater corporate accountability (EPI). When transferred into electoral politics this economic coahtion promises to offer the voting base by which progressive governments both locally and nationally could form a governing majority for a very long time. The Impact on Unions While electing candidates and winning issue campaigns represent visible successes, unions have also secured less immediately tangible, but no less important gains from innovative political activity. Clearly, their participation in the coalitions surrounding LEAP, the New Party, and living wage campaigns has opened new channels for unions to build lasting ties with other groups in their communities. When they are part of living wage efforts, civil rights lobbying, campaign finance reform initiatives, or progressive election coalitions, unions place themselves at the forefront of community battles and emerge as progressive leaders. Political organizing provides a key channel for imions' transformation from organizations representing simply their membership to a social movement of working people. LEAP, New Party, and living wage organizing has also helped to raise the political horizons of the unions and other groups involved. The defensive nature of many of current progressive battles reflects a weakness within U.S. activism. Simply defending people against right-wing assaults lets corporate America and conservatives set the agenda and the public debate. Progressive can no longer afford to fight in terms of what they are against. They have to be for something concrete and positive. For example, unions fight from a weak position when they are simply resisting union-busting employers. The companies have set the agenda and the union message is a negative one: "these corporations are bad". Yet, through innovative political organizing, activists have been able to look toward the future. The job coalitions in New England, econoniic plans such as Sustainable Milwaukee, and living wage fights allow unions to move to the offense. Because of political organizing, unions are now fighting positive battles for livable wages.



corporate accountability, job training, defense conversion, effective school-towork programs, etc. As political organizing grows, this potential becomes even greater. Progressives can move from unsuccessfully fighting off right-wing welfare reform to leading battles for national health-care, family-supporting wages, public low-cost child care, and long-term paid parental leave. Union activists can move from management's concession agenda to pushing corporate codes of conduct, public industrial planning, lower work hours, strong collective bargaining rights, and worker-centered codetermination within the workplace. In today's context, progressive change means not simply redistributing the economic pie, but also democratizing how that pie is made (Swinney, 1998). All of these reforms represent commonplace elements of the social contract in Europe. Both the moral and economic evidence clearly point to the need to have a related and even bolder contract here. Political organizing provides the path toward this future. Participating in projects like LEAP, the New Party, and living wage campaigns has also allowed unions to mobilize their own membership. While it has an important place, the task of servicing the contract is no longer adequate to the needs of a twenty-first century labor movement. Unions have to develop ways to organize their membership to fight on their own behalf both in the workplace and beyond. The community and electoral campaigns provide new, positive charmels for activating union members. For example, in Milwaukee the United Electrical workers quite deliberately used the living wage to build a network of member volunteers willing to serve as ongoing leaders and organizers within their neighborhoods. Progressive Opportunities The examples of LEAP, the New Party, and living wage efforts point to new progressive opportunities. The pain and suffering caused by the economic restructuring of the past two decades is real. And these changes have rendered many traditional interest-group-based progressive strategies obsolete. However, change has also opened up new possibilities. For the first time in our nation's history, the political mainstream does not offer the promise of a better future. More and more of the generations entering today's labor market will not live better than their parents. Many already established workers are seeing their standard of living freeze or slip away. Within this context, both major parties have abandoned mobilizing the hopes of a majority of the population. Instead, they compete for the loyalties of the minority who actu-



ally votes. And for these people the predominant messages promise to let people hold on to what they have, not to build a better society. However, progressives know that a far better future is possible. In organizing for that altemative, activists are filling a tremendous vacuum in American politics. Activists connected to the projects we have studied have not gone out into their communities and had their message rejected. Indeed, they have found people quite willing to support what official "political wisdom" would label as quite radical ideas. The task has been more to find the resources to get the message out, than to convince people of the need for change. Progressive activists may be frustrated by the growing ineffectiveness of many of their traditional strategies. However, the process of innovation promises to produce a much stronger Left. During the height of the post-war boom, progressive groups were able to play the interest-group game. Liberal politics meant focusing on one's specific issues and then pushing these concems through a combination of lobbying, protests, and funding Democratic candidates. While such strategies delivered significant gains, they also fragmented progressives, isolated them from many working people, and left them politically dependent on mainstream politics. Today, interest-group activism is no longer enough. As progressive groups rethink their strategies, more and more move toward seeking greater common ground and coalitions with each other, reconsidering insurgent electoral politics, and realizing the need for more ambitious and more comprehensive solutions. The end result promises to produce a progressive community far more unified, pro-active, and majority seeking than before (Rogers, 1993; Reynolds, 1994). The task is not easy. Activists must take a long-term view. "It has taken progressives a long time to get to the weak position we are in today," argues New Party organizer Daniel Cantor. "It is going to take progressives a long time to build an altemative." However, as LEAP, the New Party, and living wage campaigns demonstrate, a new kind of politics is possible. When SEIU member Richard Berghofer hit the streets of Milwaukee one summer evening for the new living wage campaign, he did not know the kind of reception he would get. After all, he would be standing at the doors of people he had never met. However, by the end of the evening Berghofer was ecstatic. Not only did he have a stack of signed living wage cards and the names and address of several new volunteers, but he had also had a good time. As one woman told him "you know, you are the first person who has come to my door that I have enjoyed talking to." Rethinking our political strategies promises to open many such doors.



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