International Socialist Archives

International Socialist was the journal produced by our tendency until January 2001, when we left the Committee for a Workers International. We now produce the journal Frontline.

Ralph Nader - A Green stands for the White House

Frances Curran

Having sat through Newsnight's coverage of the both the Republican and Democratic Party conventions, hearing pundits agree that there is no real policy differences between the candidates, I can understand why 50% of Americans don't vote. The abstentionists have the majority. Could that begin to change in this election? A radical candidate with a real grass roots campaign has entered the contest.

Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke are running for the White House on a Green Party ticket. Nader, a consumer rights activist, has taken on big corporations like General Motors and won. General Motors tried to get dirt on by him using private detectives, he sued for breach of privacy and settled out of court for almost half a million dollars. He then used the money to set up what he calls, public interest organisations, he has spent his entire working life fighting big corporations and promoting local communities to take power into their own hands. His running mate LaDuke is a Native American woman, she is a women's activist who also has a track record in fighting big corporations to stop them invading and degrading the land of the indigenous people's in the pursuit of profit. Initially she declined to stand because she has just given birth, a nursing mother, her second child is only 6 months old as she embarks on a national campaign covering 24 states.

The events in Seattle last year revealed a growing radical anti- capitalist movement across America. This is certainly one reason for the optimism of the Green Party ticket that they can achieve a very good vote, as well as getting their policies out to a wider audience. Using the election platform to aid the challenge against multi national capitalism.

The arguments and policies put forward by Nader reflect the present stage of consciousness of the coalition of forces which descended on Seattle to expose the real role of the World Bank and the multi nationals .

The Nader campaign is delivering scathing attacks on the inequality of wealth, the greed of the corporate bosses and the role of Gore and Bush in taking vast sums of money from these companies and then doing their bidding. He makes the point "Many politicians have been hijacked, becoming brokers for their corporate masters."

Ten and a half thousand people packed into a hall in Portland to hear him expose the greed of the multi nationals at the same time attacking inequality. He makes the point that wealth inequality is greater now than at any time since World War II. The top one percent of the wealthiest people have more financial wealth than the bottom 90% of Americans combined, this is the worst inequality among large western nations.

He asks "Can we plan ahead as a society so we know our priorities and where we wish to go? Or do we continue to let global corporations remain astride the planet, corporatising everything, from genes to education to the Internet to public institutions, in short planning our futures in their image? He attacks poverty, "A majority of workers are making less now, inflation adjusted, than in 1979 . Over 20% of children were growing up in poverty during the past decade, by far the highest among comparable western countries. There are 47 million workers making less than $10 an hour, after 10 years of economic growth they make less today and work 160 hours longer than they did in 1973." He has been completely up front in his support for trade union rights, for the right of workers to organise. Standing for the repeal of the anti trade union law , the Taft- Hartley Act, which prevents millions of workers from forming unions. He states "Workers are disenfranchised more than any time since the 1920s. Many unions stagger under stagnant leadership and discouraged rank and file. Furthermore, weak labour laws actually obstruct new trade union organization and leave the economy with the lowest percentage of workers unionised in more than 60 years. Giant multinationals are pitting countries against one another and escaping national jurisdictions more and more. Under these circumstances, workers are entitled to stronger labour organizing laws and rights for their own protection in order to deal with highly organized corporations." He calls for triple back pay for workers fired during a unionisation drive.

He is no stranger in this campaign to picket lines. Recently in New York during his campaign he joined workers on the picket line in China town at the New Palace Restaurant, who have been involved in three years of strike action over wages and union recognition.

He is advocating a blue- green, labour -environmental alliance. (the word blue originates from blue collar).

The right wing leadership of the US AFL-CIO national trade union federation is still tied to the Democrats, but Nader is attracting a lot of rank and file support. The only Trade Union Federation to openly back him so far is the United Electrical Workers, an independent union representing 35,000 workers.

This Union was involved in the creation of the US labour Party. A Party established by a number of left activists and spearheaded by Tony Mazzochi of the then Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW). The party only really came into being in 1996. The need for an independent working class party with mass membership and support in the US is absolutely clear. Those establishing the party considered itís development a long term project. The Labour Party has picked up the support of a few other trade unions, including the extremely militant Longshoremen union on the West Coast. These particular workers organised solid strike action in support of the Liverpool Dockers.

Since it's foundation a debate has raged inside the Labour Party between those who think that the party should stand in elections in order to build and those who argued that the party should not stand in elections until it had become a much larger force. The Achilles heel of the party has been the decision to date not to seriously contest elections.

Nader's presidential campaign could change that. Although the LP hasn't endorsed Nader, it's leader Tony Mazzochi has shared platforms with him.

Nader's critique of the role of profit hungry multi-national companies and how this affects workers, the poor and the environment cannot be faulted. However neither Nader or LaDuke are socialists, their solution is for a functioning democracy at grass roots level to challenge these corporate crooks.
On social policy, Nader is pro choice on abortion a subject Gore and Bush will not talk about, he is in favour of civil marriages for gay couples and opposes the death penalty.

Naders solution lies in regulation and reform of capitalism, itís banks, financial institutions and board rooms. He and the majority of his campaign see the problem as one of democracy. If a political system could be established where community networks and citizen organisations could be given the power through congress to challenge these companies then they could be brought into line. He says, "It is necessary to launch a sustained effort to wrest control of our democracy from the corporate government and restore it to the political government under the control of citizens.

"We need a deep initiatory democracy in the embrace of its citizens, a usable brace of democratic tools that brings the best out of people, highlights the humane ideas and practical ways to raise and meet our expectations and resolve our society's deficiencies and injustices."
He does not stand for the abolition of capitalism, nevertheless his presidential campaign is an important landmark. The programme of the campaign is challenging the triumphalism of capitalism, unleashed world wide after the fall of the Berlin Wall and that challenge is being mounted in America, the bastion of the free market.

The big battle at the moment is to get Nader on the platform in the live national TV debates scheduled in October. These debates are directly financed by multi national companies through sponsorship. They are terrified of Nader taking part. They have artificially excluded him by setting a 15% support threshold for inclusion. This is completely arbitrary. Nader has challenged the ruling in court.

Currently Nader is running at 6% in the polls with his highest showing so far 8%, the campaign is aiming for 10%. Four years ago he allowed his name on the ballot paper, didn't really campaign and got less than 1%. This time he is standing in very different political conditions. A political radicalisation has begun especially amongst a layer of students with global capitalism as the enemy.

If Nader and LaDuke get over 5% this will release $13 million of public money to the Green Party for campaigning and building. Nader is in favour of building a grass roots organisation. The most important question for socialists is can this election campaign act as a catalyst to the creation of a wider anti capitalist alliance involving the Green Party, the Labour Party, immigrant organisations, anti poverty coalitions, environmental groups and other organisations represented on the streets of Seattle. The establishment of such an organisation would be a huge step forward and provide an organised fight against global capitalism. It would also provide a political forum to debate the issues of whether multi national companies and capitalism can be reformed or whether they have to be completely overthrown and a new type of economic system- a socialist system is needed, to solve the problems of poverty and inequality which the Nader campaign rightly exposes.

* you can catch up on the Nader/LaDuke campaign at their website: