Third-party candidates emerge as champions of the working-class.
Hide your unions, Democrats, because the Green Party is coming to take them away.
Union support and third-party candidates don’t usually mix (especially in this union-backed Democratic stronghold), but a recent state representative race that you probably missed entirely suggests that that could change.
Hugh Giordano, a 26-year-old, Roxborough native and food workers’ union organizer for UFCW Local 152, ran on the Green Party ticket against Democrat Lou Agre for a seat in the 194th. He lost, but garnered 18 percent of the vote (23 percent in Philly)—an unprecedented number for a third-party candidate. He may have his district’s attention, but Giordano and the Green Party of Philadelphia want everyone to know that when it comes to the ballot, three isn’t a crowd. What’s more, they’ve got heavy union support—typically an automatic vote for Democrats—to help them.
“They want you to be stupid,” he says of the “party button,” which essentially allows citizens to vote along party lines without looking at who’s up for election. “It’s a way to control the voter. If you go in there and you think you’re a Democrat, you hit the Democrat button and don’t think about anyone else [in the two-party system]. Republicans and Democrats don’t identify themselves as voters. They identify themselves as a party. The party system is very slick.”
Giordano’s disgust with the system compelled him to approach union workers across the city. He wrote an open letter to them, and in it he blames both the Democratic and Republican parties for turning their backs on the working class: “Union brothers and sisters,” he wrote, “when any one of us becomes “fearful” or “controlled” by a political party—it’s time to step down and pass the torch on. WE are the voice of working people, and WE should be telling these politicians what to do; not the other way around.
“We owe the Democrats and Republicans NOTHING, because they have done NOTHING for our members, for our contracts, and for the movement. How much longer are we going to support a bunch of failures?”
His message was heard loud and clear. “He had many people come out,” Green Party member Dave Halk says of Giordano’s campaign for state representative. “Brothers from different unions came out on Election Day and stood out in the cold with us wearing Giordano T-shirts, handing out literature, cards and information.” Halk adds that donations were “10 times what we usually raise in a campaign. We had several billboards with Hugh’s face on them, glossy lit to hand out. This was more than the Democratic candidate had … Hugh was the hardest working candidate we had in a while.”
Giordano knew at age 19 that he wanted to run for office. After being promised two courses’ worth of tuition reimbursement in exchange for working in the food hall at Philadelphia University, then being denied the cash, he began organizing with the local food workers’ union. “I said to the administration, ‘If you can’t help me, then guess what? I’m going to help myself,’” he says. After an almost yearlong fight, he and the union lost and scab workers were brought in. Giordano began working at the UFCW Local 152’s Shop Rite on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough. He lost everything but says the process showed him how workers are being treated in America.
Giordano, who believes the Green Party represents his values and that it lends greater support to the labor movement than the Democratic Party, says his disillusionment stems from a taken-for-granted attitude the mainstream left has with the American worker. “How hypocritical is it of a guy to say, ‘I fight for union people’ and then take money from CEOs and corporate attorneys?” he says. “That’s one thing that made me gravitate toward the Green Party: Our strict stance of no corporate money—no ‘ifs’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts’ about it.”
The Green Party of Philadelphia lost 20 percent of its membership during the 2008 Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It’s gone up about 6 percent since November 2009, according to leadership’s latest numbers, with 2,033 Philadelphians currently registered Green. “We’re attributing that to Hugh Giordano’s campaign,” says Chris Robinson, Green Party spokesman. “In Hugh’s district alone, we saw a 15 percent increase in registration.”
And what began as a conversation on the local level has turned into a national movement in which unions are going Green.
This past fall, Tom Clements, South Carolina’s former Green candidate for the Senate, picked up the endorsement of the Greater Columbia Central Labor Council of the South Carolina AFL-CIO. Ben Manski, Wisconsin State Assembly candidate, won the endorsement of Madison Teachers Inc. Mark Swaney, who ran for a state representative seat in Arkansas, had the state AFL-CIO behind him. Howie Hawkins, a Teamster and former Green Party candidate for governor of New York, sent out a press release through the national Green Party, saying, “While Democrats cave in to wealthy corporate lobbies and campaign contributors, Greens are promoting Medicare For All and opposing plans by the White House’s ‘Catfood Commission’ to cut Social Security.” The list goes on.
National unions are also disappointed by the Democratic Party’s attempts to dismember the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize more easily.
Pennsylvania is one of four states in the U.S. with ballot restrictions that many would call harsh: Third-party candidates are required to have 19,082 signatures, which are often challenged by a major- party candidate. And when the major-party candidate has the money for expensive attorneys and the third-party candidate does not, the independent is often forced off the ballot, as was the case in Pennsylvania during the last three election cycles. Most recently, Green Party Senate candidate Mel Packer got booted off with a handwriting-expert challenge by Joe Sestak’s campaign.
In 2006, a team of lawyers retained by the Democratic Party helped get Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli erased from ballots, at which time Sen. Bob Casey’s Communications Director Larry Smar told the press: “It’s 14:59 and Romanelli’s 15 minutes of fame are up.” Romanelli was ordered to pay more than the reported $89,000 in court costs plus the Democratic Party’s legal bills in the challenge. But he’s yet to hand over a cent of it. “I did nothing wrong,” he writes in an email to PW. “Crimes were committed against my right to speak and run for office, so I refuse to pay the attorney and co-conspirators for the pleasure of being a victim of state-funded crime.”
As for Giordano, he isn’t sure whether he’ll run again, “but I want to always act like I am. It’s going to take time. We’re not going to be an overnight success. But look at Ralph Nader. He’s done so much for this country and was never in office. He fought characters all over the U.S. and there’s no reason I can’t do that at the Philadelphia level.”