OCAW’s Tony Mazzocchi and his campaign for a Labor Party in 1989: Some lessons for today

by John Reimann, member North Star editorial board on October 15, 2017

Here are segments of a video of an important union meeting that was held in 1989.

In that year, AFSCME Local 444 in Oakland, CA, sponsored a meeting for Tony

Tony Mazzocchi, then-Secretary-Treasurer of OCAW, speaking at the meting of AFSCME Local 444 in 1989. He set off quite a discussion throughout the labor movement but ultimately his conservative approach was a dead end.

Mazzocchi, national secretary treasurer of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW) to speak on the need for a labor party in the US. Mazzocchi later said that the success of that meeting and a similar one in New York was what inspired him to start a national organization called Labor Party Advocates, later called the Labor Party. In actuality, it never became a real party and, in fact, never really got full lift off. The main reason was that Mazzocchi was unwilling to make an open break with the rest of the national union leadership. However, that meeting has some small historical importance. Also what was said at it is significant and helps give a sense of the times and how they differed from today.

A video was made of that two hour meeting. We reproduce below an edited version of that video in four segments of about 15 minutes each. We are doing it that way because most people won’t watch a two hour video, but we’re putting the link to the full video here also, if anybody wants to watch it.

Part One
Part one contains the introduction to the meeting, including some remarks by Local 444 member Richard Mellor, who was the real driving force in the local for the building of the meeting.

Part Two
Part two contains an edited version of Mazzocchi’s speech.

Part 3
Part 3 contains the first part of the discussion period, including comments on the need for a labor party as well as criticisms of Mazzocchi’s approach.

Part 4
Part 4 contains some further discussion as well as Mazzocchi’s response to some of the criticisms. Among other things, it also contains the best presentation on why we need a working class party that this writer has ever heard. That is the first speaker on this segment.

A couple of retrospective comments:

At that time, it was not so clear to this writer and to some others at the meeting that the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries were headed back to capitalism. As a result, we also did not anticipate the global triumphalism of US and world capitalism that would sweep the world. In addition, I think it’s fair to say that we did not fully appreciate the consequences of the defeats of all the defensive strikes of the 1980s. This skewed our perspectives for how things would develop. However, everything that has happened since 1989 – including in recent years – has shown over and over the dire necessity for a mass working class party, which cannot be built without a complete break with all wings of the Democratic Party. For those who want to read further, here is one article on the subject, and here is a more in-depth article (a pamphlet, really) on the US under Trump and how the absence of a mass working class party played the key role in allowing him to be elected.

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