New world's New Labor to fill union gap

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The Independent Online
THEY WANT a 32-hour week, a national health service and the right to work to be made a legal requirement. Welcome to New Labor.

The significancethere is the missing letter "u". The Labor Party in question is a new arrival on the American political scene, one that takes inspiration from Britain's Labour Party but which looks more to the union-based party of the 1970s than the glossy creation of the 1990s.

The Labor Party has been meeting for the past two days in blue-collar Pittsburgh, and has decided it will start fielding candidates in elections for the first time. So far the party, the creation of a 72-year-old union official, Anthony Mazzocchi, has concentrated on sparking debate rather than winning power. "This is another example of people being turned off by the two political parties," Mr Mazzocchi told the 1,200 delegates. "We're convinced there's going to be an alternative party. It's either going to come from us or from the right."

The party draws heavily on support from the unions. Mr Mazzocchi himself is an assistant to the president of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers' Union. Most unions are aligned with the Democrats, and are not happy about Mr Mazzocchi. But as the T-shirts in Pittsburgh read: "The bosses have two parties. Now we have one of our own".

The Labor Party exploits the growing sense in the Democrats that the party under Bill Clinton has shifted away from the needs of working men and women. For the past few years it has collected signatures for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to work for a living wage. It backs a Canadian-style health service, and it wants to limit the working week to 32 hours. It also wants to give every American four weeks' holiday a year.

America has an even more heavily entrenched two-party system than Britain. But independents have done well in recent years, with Ross Perot running for President, an independent member of Congress (Bernie Sanders from Vermont), and two independent governors, in Maine and Minnesota.

The US has a fine history of socialist politics that has been all but erased in the past two decades. Minnesota was once the home of the Farmer- Labor Party. It was absorbed into the Democrats in 1944.