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Who does the Working Families Party work for?

Andrew CuomoThe Working Families Party, which began in New York and has attempted to spread to other states, stirred up considerable controversy in 2014 by supporting Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign for New York Governor. Cuomo has done much to anger New York progressives, including breaking a promise to support independent redistricting and vowing to fight labor unions in his second term.

The Working Families Party’s decision to endorse Cuomo a second time has raised questions about their strategy of urging progressives to vote for right-wing Democrats like Cuomo, as well as possible links between this strategy and the WFP’s sources of funding.

From In These Times, “Andrew Cuomo and the Sad State of the Working Families Party”:

To demonstrate the party’s weakness, one need only look at how far out of its way the WFP went to win voters by not mentioning the candidate at the top of the ticket. Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) President Stuart Appelbaum on his Facebook simply said that he was voting for “Governor of New York” on the party line—no mention of who that governor was. Party mailers featured not an image of the governor but of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose plan for progressive taxation to fund universal pre-kindergarten was thwarted by the fiscally conservative Cuomo.

And there are many reasons why the party couldn’t talk about him. Cuomo failed to make good on a central promise he made in exchange for the WFP endorsement: to push for Democrats to regain control in New York’s State Senate.

From Socialist Worker, “The Working Families Party Charade Unravels”:

By 2014, everything had changed, however. WFP leaders faced an angry rank and file that was balking at nominating Cuomo. Union leaders delivered an ultimatum–they would cut off the party’s funding unless the WFP nominated Cuomo. Even so, Cuomo was forced to present a video message promising to work for progressive policies like a higher minimum wage and public funding of elections.

Most important of all, he pledged to go all-out to elect a Democratic majority in the state Senate. For years, Republicans, sometimes with Democratic support, have used their control of the Senate to ensure that nothing threatening to business or the right wing becomes law. This has enabled Cuomo to avoid vetoing bills that conflict with his real pro-business agenda–the progressive legislation never makes it past the Senate.

Every observer of New York politics knows perfectly well that a Democratic state Senate is the very last thing Cuomo wants. As Michael McKee of Tenants PAC wrote, “It is not a secret that Cuomo prefers a Republican-controlled Senate, although he won’t admit it, and virtually no other politician will say so in public.” Since the WFP convention, Cuomo has studiously avoided campaigning for Democrats for the state Senate, as he promised he would.

From Howie Hawkins, “Working Families Party’s nomination of Cuomo betrays working families”:

“The WFP is a tool of the Democrats and their corporate sponsors to confuse voters into supporting the agenda of the 1%. They literally have sold their souls to the devil. And the reality is that they have delivered only a few minor reforms during their 16 years of existence while doing their best to undercut the development of a true independent progressive movement in New York,” noted Hawkins.

“After all their noise and handwringing, they once again turned their back on their grassroots supporters and did the bidding of those who pay their bills. It has been a great fundraising and GOTV team for hire. Money talks when it comes to the WFP,” noted Hawkins.

NYPIRG recently noted that the biggest source of money for the WFP is not the unions, but transfers, usually from candidates they have endorsed (52.36%). This means that much of WFP funding is actually laundered donations from corporate and special interests who gave to Democratic Party candidates.

From Mark Dunlea, “Why the Green Party deserves your vote and the Working Families Party does not”:

One major problem is that, increasingly, the WFP chooses candidates not based on whether they are progressive but on whether they are incumbent Democrats. For instance, while urging voters to support peace, they run candidates for US Senate who support war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They adopt the Green agenda in their outreach to voters but actually embrace the Democratic Party corporate agenda with their candidates.

The power of the WFP is greatly exaggerated. What they have evolved into is probably the best door-to-door political campaign organization in NYS, probably only exceeded in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts by the money and phone banking of union organization 1199 SEIU. But the WFP’s canvassing operation allows them to go into unorganized districts – for a substantial fee – to help elect Democrats.

The WFP is an aggressive lobbying organization and has won some good reforms over the years but fairly routine ones – less than other well funded lobbying groups; a few crumbs here and there while the 1% wins the real power and rewards. Income inequality, for instance, has greatly increased during the WFP’s existence….

Now the WFP, despite the rebellion from their membership, has decided to re-nominate Cuomo and his bad agenda. They made the wrong choice 4 years ago; they made a horrible choice this time. And now they want progressives to join with them in their disempowerment and protest Cuomo by voting for him. I wonder if George Orwell would have found this logic plausible to include in 1984 if he was around to update it.

Dave Schwab

2 Comments

  1. As a supporter of the WFP and a lifelong union supporter, I am astonished that the Green Party advocates so strongly for people like me to support them. They do not ever cross endorse and fall into the same trap that so many progressives fall in and that is an uncompromising belief that they are the only voice for the middle class. Howie Hawkins was never a real candidate with the ability to attract solid support. He benefited from low voter turnout and dissatisfaction from the left. I am fed up with corporate Dems too but I also believe that our system the way it is currently structured, does not allow for a third party candidate to be effective. I choose the WFP because they are issues oriented and to me, are the best advocates for my needs.
    They made a choice and have to live with the fallout until the next time. But I will never vote Green because they are the party that gave us 8 years of George W. Bush. What about that fallout? People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

    • First of all, George W. Bush was selected after the Florida GOP rigged the vote by disenfranchising tens of thousands of African-American voters, the Republicans on the Supreme Court ruled that we couldn’t count the votes, and the Democrats gave up without a fight (watch the documentary American Blackout for the facts). The reason the corporate political-media establishment scapegoated Nader is that he was the only one who posed a threat to the system, because he has been an incorruptible advocate for the 99% for decades.

      Paul, you should read the above articles. It’s the year 2014, and there’s a reason why the Green Party’s vote grew and the WFP’s shrank. It’s because progressives are realizing that a strategy of cross-endorsing Democrats like Cuomo is not accomplishing anything; it’s a counterproductive dead end. Yes, our system is structured against anyone outside the Democrats and Republicans… and that’s why American workers are so far behind workers in Europe and other countries with multi-party systems in terms of wages, health care, living standards etc. Howie Hawkins is building a movement to not only open up New York’s notoriously corrupt political system, but to make government work for the middle class and working class people who are being left behind by this economy. Candidates like Howie (who got a record showing for an independent candidate in NY *despite* low turnout) actually pull politicians like Cuomo to the left, while WFP chases them to the right. For example, would Cuomo even hesitate to greenlight fracking if he didn’t have to worry about a Green uprising?

      Read Mark Dunlea’s article first. As he notes, he’s supported the WFP in the past and acknowledges that when they started, he and many others thought their fusion strategy could work. It’s crucial that progressive New Yorkers have this conversation, rather than dwelling on past grievances. At least I can tell you that the Green Party welcomes WFPers with open arms; in fact many of them worked on Howie’s campaign.

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