What Choices for Working People in Philadelphia Council Race?
2015 will bring the election of a new Mayor and City Council in Philadelphia. It seems to me that a united effort of various socialist and left forces could move the discussion of issues in the council races to the left. Why not run a slate of people for council? Or, at least, a serious effort aimed at the at-large council seats? In Philly, minority parties are guaranteed two at-large seats. These seats usually go to the Republicans in this mainly Democratic Party town.
Running a common list of candidates around a common program/demands is the way forward. How do we as a left address the questions of jobs, economic development, rent control, the minimum wage, education funding and schools, mass incarceration, and police accountability?
In Milwaukee, an independent socialist candidate for Sheriff got 20% of the vote. Jess Spear from Socialist Alternative got 16% campaigning against the speaker of the state house. The Green Party’s candidate for Governor, Howie Hawkins, in New York got a respectable 5%. Both Hawkins and his running mate, Brian Jones, are socialists. (Hawkins/SPUSA and Jones/ISO) Also, minimum wage increase referenda passed in several places. I think the admittedly modest results for socialist candidates contradicts the theme the Democrats keep pushing- that the mid-term election represents a turn to the right. Given a choice between two capitalist parties that pursue neo-liberal agendas, voters chose to punish one of them.
It is the obligation of the left and progressives to offer a real alternative to workers and oppressed people. Election campaigns are a tactical question for revolutionaries. How does a campaign advance the overall struggle against the bosses? How does a campaign relate to the mass organizations of workers — the unions? How does an electoral campaign fit in with a larger mass action/mass organizing strategy? How does an electoral program link the immediate demands with other demands of a more transitional nature? How does linking transitional slogans to immediate demands help keep the Democrats from co-opting our program?
I would like to suggest several programmatic points for discussion.
- Defend and fully fund public education. For an elected School Board. Disband the School Reform Commission. Stop attacks on teachers. Tax the rich, not working families to fund the schools.
- Stop tax breaks for rich developers and put the brakes on gentrification of working class neighborhoods. Rebuild housing for working people. Stop spiraling rents.
- Raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. For a public works jobs program to create sustainable jobs at a living wage. A job is a right. End the use of the “felony box” on job applications.
- Council should demand Federal aid to expand and improve SEPTA. Stop attacks on transit workers.
- Make cops accountable to the community. Form an elected Police Review Board with real power to investigate and punish police misconduct.
Early next year, left forces in Philly should convene a joint meeting to chart a strategy for 2015.. Specifically, this process should include the Philly Socialists, the Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Alternative, the International Socialist Organization, and the Workers International League, Additionally, movement groups like Decarcerate PA, 15 NOW and activists fighting to preserve public education, like the Caucus of Working Educators and PCAPS, should play a central role in choosing a road forward. Long term, our goal has to be to get the unions, on board with an independent political strategy.
The bosses have two parties, workers needs one of our own!