LOS ANGELES — At a May 26 labor rally here, Laura Garza, a rail worker and member of the SMART-Transportation Division union, and her campaign supporters distributed hundreds of flyers announcing she was running as the Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate in California in 2024.
“The power of the labor movement can be felt in a mobilization of our numbers. That strength needs to be extended to politics by having an independent working-class voice. My campaign calls for the formation of a labor party based on the unions,” Garza’s campaign flyer said. Unions are the key organizations workers have, millions strong.
Many unionists she talked to there responded positively to the need for a labor party, as opposed to supporting the parties of the ruling rich — the Democrats and Republicans.
Garza’s campaign supporters set up a table, with a sign in front reading, “For a labor party based on the unions. Laura Garza, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate.” It featured the Militant and books by SWP leaders and other revolutionaries.
Unions participating in the rally represent more than 200,000 workers with collective bargaining agreements expiring in 2023.
The protest included members of SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union; IATSE, the stagehands; Teamsters; hotel workers in UNITE HERE; United Teachers Los Angeles; Service Employees International Union; United Food and Commercial Workers; and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Writers Guild strikers postponed regular picketing to join the rally.
The rally was held across the street from the California Democratic Convention meeting. The Democratic Party holds the governorship, both U.S. senators and both houses of the state legislature, and has done so since 2011.
Garza met Mikey Gilmore, who works in the entertainment industry. “We need to have decent wages, health care and a life, not just make money for the bosses,” she said.
“We are all here for a common cause,” Gilmore responded. “There’s a camaraderie on the set.”
“Everything is done for profits,” Garza said. “All of this is about going from where we are today to workers taking power out of the hands of the ruling rich. That requires a big social movement. We have more in common with workers in China than with bosses here. Democrats are leading the charge against political rights. Wages are set by how much workers fight.”
“Unions need to come back,” said Writers Guild striker Monty Russo. “I grew up with unions in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The bosses wanted ‘the right to work’ for dirt cheap. Louisiana was a very union state and that has got pushed back.”
“There has to be a fight, a social movement. We need a labor party,” Garza said.
“Those who are in power are out for themselves,” said Russo.
“I’m a rail worker,” Garza told him. “Despite the fact that the majority of the members of our union voted it down, both Democrats and Republicans rammed a contract down our throats that doesn’t address the right for rail workers to have time off. The crew size is down to two and the bosses still want to try to cut it down to one engineer on an up to 3-mile-long train.”
“Yes, you really got screwed,” said Russo. “I didn’t like Trump, but don’t like Biden either. I’d like to see the unions pushing back against the employers.”
“Trump won because of the devastation workers face, including in the rural areas,” said Garza. “In over 200 counties that were carried by Obama twice, voters went for Trump. Workers need an independent road forward.”
Things are changing
Garza said a growing number of workers are saying “enough is enough” and using their unions to fight for better conditions. This includes the recent strike by school workers in Los Angeles, the unfolding nationwide fight by Teamsters at UPS, the contract struggle by International Longshore and Warehouse Union members, the ongoing Writers Guild strike and many others. But when it comes to election day, we are confronted year after year with calls to vote for a “lesser evil.”
“I am running for Senate so there will be a working-class voice in the elections. I propose that we break with the capitalist rulers’ two-party shell game and organize our own party, a labor party based on the unions. No one will do it for us,” she said. “We can begin by discussing this with fellow workers and in the unions. Decades of experience tell us that the Democrats and Republicans will defend the interests of the ruling class, which is responsible for today’s economic, social and moral crisis.”
“A labor party can speak and act in the interests of the working-class, working farmers and all those oppressed and exploited by capital, in the cities and rural areas,” Garza told those she met. “One that will tell the truth — that all political questions, from how the bosses run the factories and economy to their predatory foreign policy and wars are class questions. Class vs. class.”
She said the unions need to champion the rights of immigrant workers, an essential stance to unite the working class to better fight for the rights of all.
Russo agreed. “It’s slave labor. This nationalist bulls–t needs to come to an end. There are exemptions for 10-year-olds to work in the fields. If the ones on the bottom are not united they totally get taken advantage of.”
He said he’s been a writer since 1995, but didn’t qualify to get in the Writers Guild until 2014. “I was over at the Warner Brothers picket line. It seemed like every car that passed by honked in support.”
“Something is changing in the working class,” Garza said. “Rail workers, workers at Nabisco and Frito-Lay, teachers and others are fighting back a little more, pushing back against the bosses’ attacks and gaining confidence in the process.”
“When we were suffering in the pandemic, all the billionaires got richer. At the top of the caste system in this country is wealth,” Russo said. “You don’t become a billionaire if you care about others.”
“A labor party can fight to put in power a workers and farmers government to rebuild society in the interests of all working people,” Garza said. “With power in our own hands, we can end the system of wage slavery once and for all and join in the worldwide fight for socialism.”