John Sweeney, the Greens and the Million Worker March

by Mike McCallister

Plans for a Million Worker March on Washington this fall received a warm welcome from delegates to the Green Party convention in Milwaukee.

The group “Labor Greens” voted unanimously to make the October 17 Million Worker March a centerpiece of its organizing in the coming months. The group plans to develop a leaflet to build the march among social justice fighters not involved in the labor movement, and a second leaflet for distribution at the march on “Why Workers Should Be Green.”

The Green Alliance, which gathers anticapitalist Greens of various political orientations under its banner, also endorsed the march.

Clarence Thomas of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 came to the convention seeking Green support for the march. He spoke Friday, June 25, to the party’s National Coordinating Committee to ask for its endorsement, and gave a short speech on the march to the nationally televised post-convention “super rally.” Thomas also introduced Matt Gonzalez, the San Francisco Green who nearly defeated his Democrat opponent for mayor of San Francisco last spring.

In speaking at the Green rally, Thomas cited the long history in the U.S. of mass action independent of the two-party system as important precedents for this march. “African Americans didn’t win the right to vote (in the 1960s) by voting. Women didn’t win their rights by voting. People marched to win their rights.”

Thomas told the rally that AFL-CIO national headquarters had sent out a memo to its affiliates discouraging central labor councils and state labor bodies from participating in the Million Worker March. “While we may agree with many of the aims and issues of the March, the AFL-CIO is NOT a co-sponsor of this effort and we will not be devoting resources or energies toward mobilizing demonstrations this fall,” the memo, under the signature of Marilyn C. Sneiderman, Director of the Field Mobilization Department of the AFL-CIO, said. “We think it is absolutely crucial that we commit the efforts of our labor movement to removing George W. Bush from office.”

Echoing some of the statements later released as march organizers’ official response to the memo, Thomas asked the Greens: “What does the defeat of Bush have to do with national health care? What does the defeat of Bush have to do with ensuring that Social Security is not privatized?” Some delegates who support party nominee David Cobb may have difficulty answering those questions.

While the Green Party National Coordinating Committee postponed endorsing the march at its preconvention meeting, an email discussion and vote was expected to be noncontroversial.

The Labor Greens group was founded at the Labor Notes conference in Detroit in September 2003. It has been slow getting started. Around 30 union activists attended the late-night meeting June 24, from a variety of unions. Teamsters, auto workers, public employees, and electrical workers were among the unions represented. While most of these people supported the Nader/Camejo ticket, there were more than a few Cobb supporters in the room. Many also were members of the Labor Party.

Whether the Green Party as a whole, and the Labor Greens as a subset, can survive the bitter divisions over how to relate to the Democrats and their always-worse companions, the Republicans, is a real question.

Million Worker March organizers point to one way to overcome these differences:

“The Million Worker March is organizing working people to put forth our needs and our agenda independently of politicians and parties.

“We say that only by acting in our name can we build a movement that advances our needs. The very formation of the trade union movement was the result of independent organizing and mobilizing of working people. The struggle for industrial unionism, the movement for women’s suffrage, the great movements for civil rights—all these flowed from the will to mobilize independently and in our own name.”