Interview with Peter Camejo: Unions and California Politics

Peter Camejo: The new development of the new civil rights struggle of immigrant workers is an expression of a process that is tied to globalization. There is now a radicalization taking place in the third world that extends into the United States because of this. The conditions in Mexico has worsened, as they have in many places in the third world. And so now we see, inside the United States, the impact of these processes. I think that the immigrant workers are becoming the real leaders of trying to defend the rights of all workers in the United States. I think it completely changes how the Green party has to focus. Amazingly the people who vote green, are not the same sociological group that attends meetings in the Green Party, who are primarily of European descent. And many are environmentalist. The people who mostly vote for the Green party in California are poor people, and who are primarily Black and Latino. This is a very interesting dichotomy between who founded the party and who is its apparatus with who votes for it. That is a sign that there is a need for a third party in America that will really represent Latinos, Afro-Americans, and working people.

JA: Talking about class and unions in California, it appears all the unions have put all their energy in supporting Phil Angelides. And I just had a discussion with an organizer from AFSMCE local 3299, the largest AFSMCE local in California, and he said that Angelides is very incompetent and not very charismatic, but they are going to support him anyways against Schwarzenegger. So I asked why wouldn’t his union endorse Peter Camejo, and his response was that its absolutely unrealistic that Camejo would win. What is your response to trade unionist and workers who are part of unions to that line of thinking?

PC:What this person has not thought through is why he has no choice. If he is basically saying that I’m not happy with the candidate that I’m voting for and maybe this is the candidate that I don’t prefer, but I’m going to vote for him anyways, then he has no immediate understanding of why that is. Its Phil Angelides and the Democratic party that does not allow free elections in America; so that labor will vote for pro-corporate candidates. And our candidacy is not because were about to win, in that sense he is right, but that we want free elections, so that he would be free to vote for who he really supports. And why do you continue to vote for the people who oppress you, in continuing to support the parties that deny you free elections. For example, the Democratic Party has lowered the minimum wage from over 10 dollars an hour to 8 dollars an hour when the economy doubled, they have allowed the unions to collapse, they have allowed the richest one percent to take all the profits when the overwhelmingly majority of working people have received no pay increases. And yet labor leaders will tell you that there voting for those policies that are totally anti-labor because that same party these leaders are voting for does not allow free elections. What that shows is a total lack of understanding by that labor leader of the reality of America. And its not this person’s fault, it’s the whole leadership of the labor movement who is committing suicide by continuing to support the Democratic Party. The labor movement used to be 37% of the American workforce, now its 12%. It is dying because of its support to the Democratic Party. By voting for Phil Angelides, he is destroying the unions and destroying the workers ability to defend its self.

JA: So what is the strategy of the Green Party in making in roads in the unions and the labor movement?

PC: It doesn’t have one. The Green Party is trying to present its view the best it can. Right now, the fact that, people who are telling the truth are weak is not a condemnation of those who are telling the truth any more than it was for the early abolitionist movement, who in their first presidential race received 7,000 votes. They got much lower percentages than what the greens did. And yet looking back, we now recognize that the abolitionist were 100 percent correct, 100 percent right for refusing to vote for the parties that supported slavery. It’s the same thing today on many political levels.

For example, the sympathy that is growing for the Green Party, one population sector where it has become massive is the Arab-American Muslim community. About 30% of this community considers itself Green. Also among the very young in California, polls in Marin show 25% of people under the age of 25 consider themselves Green. And in my last election, the highest percentage of those voting for me where the poorest people in California and the youngest people in California. Of both of those categories, I received 15% of the vote. You see the Green Party occasionally receive high votes. A beautiful example was the race for superintendent of school where our candidate came in 2nd.And this candidate only had 3,000 dollars but was able to win that much support because of our politics. So it’s a mixed picture but at this point the Green Party has no overall strategy, specific strategy, except trying to build caucuses in the unions that begin to understand this. But were very weak. We have a caucus in the teachers union and we are trying to build others. But were still very, very weak.

JA: My Last question is what is your response to political activist who see change taking place outside of electoral politics and see electoral politics as a dead end?

PC: Well I think the people who act in the social movements who do not see change taking place through elections are in general correct. It’s the other way around. Its when massive movements develop in the streets that electoral alternatives might appear that can actually triumph. But they are not in contradiction with one another anymore than the direct actions of the movement against slavery was in conflict with the fact that candidates were running apposing slavery. So I do think we have to have a balanced view of this.

I’ll give you the example of Venezuela where there was the two party system that had complete control for a long period of time. Roughly a 25 year period, 30 year period, and one day an independent candidate suddenly swept the elections and the two major parties collapsed to 5% of the vote between them. And that will be the way change will come. It will be sudden and drastic but it takes some time, a long time, and if there aren’t pioneers that pave the way that begin the process like what happened in Venezuela- it went on for 25 years before that explosion took place of people organizing and fighting against the two major parties. So we see the Green party as an early indication, an early step into that direction, and it may not even be in the electoral form that will come at the end when the break happens and the two corporate money controlled parties collapse.

There are signs all over the world that the two party systems are starting to collapse and people want alternatives. There signs of it in Europe, all over Latin America, and we think that eventually that will come into the center of the United States, which is really an empire and at the center of the empire.

JA: Thank you Peter for the interview

PC: Thank You