South Carolina Working Families Party in context

The New York City politics publication City Hall News has been running a series of articles recently on the Working Families Party.   This week they examined the national organization of the party and looked at the somewhat loosely associated “sister parties” in other states, of which South Carolina is one.

South Carolina has four progressive parties on the ballot, a surprising number for such a conservative state.  These parties are the South Carolina Green Party (of which I serve on the steering committee), the United Citizen’s Party (which has some overlapping membership with the Greens), the Labor Party of South Carolina (founded in 1996 as an independent and classically ‘labour’ party) and the SC Working Families Party (oriented toward the Democratic Party through joint nomination of candidates).

To a certain extent each of these groups occupies the same ideological real estate, but the base is different for each one.  The SC Greens are of course part of the national Green Party.  The United Citizens Party is a civil rights party, originally created to run candidates against Jim Crow Democrats in the late 60’s.

The Labor Party was established to run working class candidates against both Democrats and Republicans.  I attended the Labor Party’s founding convention in Cleveland as a delegate for the union I was working for.  Expectations were high, but the whole project was quickly put to sleep by the national AFL-CIO leadership before a series of union mergers and the death of founder Tony Masaccio let the air out. 

It is only thanks to the work of the Charleston Longshoremen of ILA Local 1422 and their supporters that the 10,000 signatures were collected to secure the ballot line in this state.  The longshoremen have been at the forefront of reforming their national union and are undoubtedly the most important labor local in the state. Their independence and activity would bode well for any political campaign. There are indications that the Labor Party will be running a candidate for the state house this year.

The Labor Party didn’t take off in other states, though the potential was certainly there.  The open membership proved too hard to manage for the unions that were supplying the money and organizers.  The Labor Party banned fusion, and many of the labor leaders had long term relationships with Democratic politicians.  So many of the same unions that had founded the Labor Party (including CWA District 1, my old employer), ACORN and the former organisers of the New Party founded the Working Families Party on an explicity pro-fusion basis.

That was ten years ago.  During the 2009 NYC elections the WFP got a lot of notice because it has apparently succeded in doing what it set out to do: create an efficient political machine that can deliver elections and (maybe) hold some Democrats to its more-progressive platform.  

The New York party has a ready made mass base in the union membership that enthusiastically works for the candidates the party endorses.  It has considerable in-house talent pool of organizers and mailing lists with which to build campaigns.   Finding candidates is no problem as plenty of New York Democratic incumbents are already in agreement with the WFP’s social democratic language.  The WFP endorsement certainly made the difference in some NYC city council primaries and several sitting councilors serve as “Democrat-Working Families”.

These achievements are remarkable for a ‘third’ party but obviously limited.   The WFP campaigns can only be as successful as the Democrats they elect.  So, where the Democratic party is positively pulled toward more pro-union positions, the WFP is tethered to the Democratic Party and its independence is pretty questionable. 

This dependence may not matter very much in NY, but it will matter a great deal in SC, where the Democratic Party is considerably more conservative.  In NY, the WFP has run candidates against a few Democrats, where the Democratic primary winner was judged to be entirely inappropriate, but that’s only a handful of cases.  In SC, the situation would be reversed.  Here the WFP would be hard pressed to fill a van with serving Democrats courting the union vote.  I hope I’m wrong about that, but I’m going to need to see some evidence first.

I’m optimistic that we’re going to see a growth of independent political activism in 2010 and beyond.  The situation being what it is, a lot of it will be right-wing.  So its encouraging to see a movement by a constituency of the Democrats take a move toward political independence in SC.    Let’s hope that there’s such a progressive revival that the SC WFP is not only endorsing SC Greens, United Citizen and Labor parties, but winning some elections as well.

The South Carolina Working Families Party uses the same logo and issue list, as well as material on its website common in many states’ Working Families websites which lays out the logic of fusion voting.

This includes a simple chart explaining that if “Steady Sue” gets 42 percent on Major Party 1’s ballot line, “Fat Cat Bill” gets 48 percent on Major Party 2’s ballot line and Steady Sue gets another 10 percent on the Working Families Party’s line, “Steady Sue wins with 52% and knows where her votes came from.”

The South Carolina WFP was founded by Erin McKee, who now serves as state chair. A former official of the Association of Flight Attendants who is currently with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, McKee said she was inspired to start the Working Families effort in South Carolina after reading an article in The Nation that touted the New York WFP’s success and mentioned that hers was one of only two other states where fusion voting was already legal. A few weeks later, at an AFL-CIO convention at Myrtle Beach, she met Larry Moskowitz.

The two struck up a conversation.

Moskowitz began by briefing McKee on the mechanics of fusion voting and the kinds of people to whom the Working Families effort might appeal. Once the idea gained traction, Moskowitz provided additional help in the crafting of bylaws and rules for the new party.

Several candidates for state legislature and Congress have run on the WFP line, but McKee said bigger plans are being laid.

“We’re trying to figure out who’s running, who we might be able to help that believes in our issues and go from there. We’re trying to form clubs in Charleston and Columbia and Greenville and start getting people motivated, and educating them about the Working Families Party,” McKee said, adding, “we’re going to the unions and educating.”

A notice on the website encourages South Carolina candidates interested in running on the WFP line to contact organizer Joe Berry, reachable via at that same email extension that New York and Connecticut WFP employees use.

Berry did not return a call and email requesting comment, but McKee confirmed that he is the same Joe Berry who spent years on staff at the New York WFP as an organizer before returning to his native South Carolina. Now the only paid employee of the South Carolina WFP, Berry also served as an organizer for the separately incorporated Suffolk County Working Families Party, and was an authorized New York Working Families Organization lobbyist for 2007, 2008 and 2009.

As is the case for the Connecticut WFP, there does not seem to be a visible in-state means of support for Berry’s salary. According to the report filed with the South Carolina State Ethics Commission dated July 10, 2009, the party had a balance of just $200, thanks to a $100 contribution from the Columbia Central Labor Council and IBEW Local 772. The South Carolina WFP also got a $500 donation from the New York State PAC of 1199 SEIU, a key WFP/WFO member union, in October 2006.

Full article: Dovere, Edward-Issac, “All In The Family, Part 5”.  City Hall News. December 3, 2009.

Found via Ballot Access News.


Posted on December 10, 2009, in Politics, South Carolina and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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