Radical But Incoherent: A comment on the Green Party program

by Jehu

Given that this election season is over except for the crowning of one of the two major candidates, I assume many third parties will now be looking to the 2018 and 2020 election seasons. So I thought I would spend some time looking at the Green Party program. As the largest radical Left party on the scene, they bear watching.

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Some significant radical measures

The Greens have a very good platform that includes:

1. Radical restructuring of governance
2. Reduction of labor hours
3. Worker-owned cooperatives
4. Workplace democracy
5. Labor law reform

The Greens appear to have given a lot of thought to their platform in an attempt to develop a fully rounded approach. The most important measures they propose concerns the radical restructuring of governance: community assemblies that appear to echo the Paris Commune. The community assemblies would serve as local legislative bodies with power to “monitor, instruct, and recall representatives elected to municipal, state, and federal office.”

Also included under this section is a proposal for reducing the salaries of elected officials to that of an average worker.

It is unclear from the platform if this body carries out its duties alongside the existing local, state and federal government or replaces it entirely. In other words, it is not clear if the Greens want to add another layer of administration to the existing state or abolish it. If it is the latter, the Greens propose to go much further than anything radical governments have attempted in decades.

The next set of measures in terms of importance are those related to the economic well-being of the working class. The Greens have several interesting measures to be noted under this heading. They propose to reduce hours of labor to 30 per week — no more than six hours per day, and no more than five days per week. This would be accompanied by a ‘second paycheck’ proposal, where state funds are paid out to make up the difference between what a worker was paid for 40 hours and what she would be paid for 30 hours. Apparently, the Greens believe this higher wage rate to offset fewer hours of work should be borne by government not businesses.

Additionally, the Greens propose a basic income grant, paid out by the state, of $26,000 for a family of four. Finally, the Greens propose the government should guarantee jobs to everyone “through community-based public works and community service jobs programs, federally financed and community controlled.”

Under the heading of ‘economic democracy’, the Greens propose a number of radical measures whose relation to one another are not entirely clear. The most important measures under this heading is the Green proposal for election of managers and supervisors, and for the community at large to vote on investment decisions made by plants. The Greens also include several proposals to break up large enterprises and banks into cooperative or publicly owned ventures.

Finally, the Greens propose a repeal of all present major labor laws and replacement by measures extending full constitutional rights to the workplace. The workers would no longer have to leave their basic rights as citizens at the entrance to the factory. This replacement would also protect workers from discharge at will, and enhance the right to organize.

A half way decent radical program, but no commitment to it

As radical as this program is, I want to note that the following disclaimer is carried on the platform:

“This platform is not binding for candidates on any level”

Like the Democrats and Republicans, the Green Party platform is mostly worthless window-dressing, with no commitment from the party to make good on the promises contained in it. Although the Green Party advances some startlingly radical measures, there is no commitment of its candidates to abide by the platform. I find this odd, since the platform itself calls for assemblies with power “to monitor, instruct, and recall representatives”, yet the party that proposes assemblies with this sort of power, declare it no such control over its own candidates.

If you pull the lever for Jill Stein in 2016, you are voting for her, not the Green Party platform nor any commitment that she will adhere to what her party claims to stand for.

However, by releasing its candidates from any commitment to the platform the Greens are now free to add to their platform whatever plank meets the latest fad on the Left. Having warned the voter nothing in the program has any weight, the Greens can promise, for instance, both a jobs guarantee and UBI, without having to explain how the two proposals will work together as a package or even how they will be paid for.

The Greens can propose to turn the business investment decisions of the capitalist firm over to the employees and, simultaneously, to the community without explaining how future disputes over investment decisions will be resolved between employees, on the one hand, and the community, on the other hand.

The Greens can promise to reduce the salaries of elected officials, but say nothing about the bloated salaries of cops and other public employees who are often paid many times what the average citizens receives.

This level of incoherence in Green platform is permitted because the Greens actually have no commitment to the platform.

Making promises local candidates cannot fulfill

To put this in perspective, the Harris for Baltimore campaign is completely silent on the most far-reaching proposal in the Green platform: the promise to replace the existing government with an assembly.

His campaign is silent on the promise to reduce public salaries to that of an average citizen of Baltimore. In a city mired in poverty and police violence, he says nothing about reducing the salaries of cops and other public employees. In a city with a large population of unemployment, he never addresses reduction of labor hours, universal basic income, or a jobs guarantee.

Finally, in contrast to the Green platform with its emphasis on economic democracy and direct administration of the community, Harris is inordinately focused on business development — and despite lacking the real resources necessary to meet that promise.

I don’t mean to single out the Harris campaign, but clearly he faces a problem the national Green Party campaign doesn’t. He cannot make a promise that he later intends to meet by increased taxation on the local community, printing money or borrowing.

The Green Party, which has the task of building its bases on the local and state level in anticipation of the 2018 and 2020 elections has a program that simply doesn’t work on the local and state level. Since it doesn’t work for local candidates, these candidates must inevitably opt out of it.

For instance, let’s assume Harris did get elected and reduced hours of labor: where would he get the money to make up the lost wages of the workers? To fix unemployment, does he propose spending to, a. pay everyone in the city a monthly universal income? b. guarantee everyone a job? or c. reduce hours of labor to share work?

Well let’s see: Harris has no money to pay universal income — so that is a non-starter. He has no money to employ everyone who needs a job — so a jobs guarantee is meaningless. And he has no money to make up for lost wages caused by a reduction in hours of labor — so if reducing hours reduces wages, this won’t fly.

The Harris campaign is a real life exercise. It is not just a simple thought experiment. Did anyone sitting on the platform committee think about how a candidate in Harris’s position, running for local office, would pull any of this off? Thus, Harris is forced to fall back to the old neoliberal standbys:

  • Cut taxes
  • Attract new capitalist investment
  • Offer favorable treatment of local businesses at taxpayer expense

You can take that template and apply it to the campaign of any politician, anywhere in the United States. For all the radicalness of the Green Party program, where the rubber meets the road and people have to run a city, you get the standard neoliberal boilerplate.

Final note

One of the problems that the Green Party was formed to address is climate change and their program comprehensively addresses this concern. However, the party gives no thought to how local governments in poverty stricken cities will find the resources to implement this program.

At the same time, their proposal on labor hours reduction seems to ignore this global problem that is really the raison d’etre of the Green Party. The Greens propose a reduction of labor hours from 40 hours to 30 (five six hour days of work per week).

Clearly, no one on their platform committee had sense to ask how fewer hours of labor might help the problem of climate change. If they had, it would have been obvious that four 8 hours day or four 7 hour days per week has a bigger impact on climate change than five 6 hour days. If you already propose to reduce labor hours, a 32 hours/4 day work week or a 28 hour/4 day work week is preferable to a 30 hours work week from a climate change perspective, since it eliminates one day of commuting by tens of thousands of workers to and from work each week.

Moreover, a reduction of hours of labor to 32 or 28 hours (4 days a week with 8 or 7 hour days) gives Harris a three-fer. With such a reduction he can promise to:

  1. Significantly reduce carbon emissions by cutting out one day of commuting;
  2. Significantly address unemployment by sharing existing work; and,
  3. Significantly reduce government spending by shutting down government one extra day per week

Of course, this reduction has a cost: reducing hours of labor is not “business-friendly” and will likely be resisted by the local business community. Reduction of hours of labor would drive a number of for-profit local businesses into bankruptcy — an impact that is not addressed in the platform.

However, this impact on for-profit firms is not really a bad thing in my eyes, because the workers can take these bankrupt firms over and run them quite well as worker owned co-operatives, because they don’t have a requirement to produce a profit.

This means reducing hours of labor to 32 or 28 hours also allows Harris to accomplish a fourth Green Party goal: convert capitalist firms into worker owned/managed firms.

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The Green Party platform is an incoherent hodge-podge of promises with little or no internal consistency in terms of its long-range goals and in meeting the needs of the working class from the local level up to the federal level. It is not the program of a party that is trying to find a base among workers at the local level that will carry it into national elections.

They would be advised to revisit it before the 2018 and 2020 election season.

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