It's Easy Being Green (With Help of Labor Unions)

Third-party candidates emerge as champions of the working-class.

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Dec. 29, 2010

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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.”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Anonymous said... on Dec 29, 2010 at 07:09PM

“Refreshing, honest, and real! This is a GREAT story......! I am so happy to see this young man taking a stand. I hope this turns into much more and that Labor Unions take his advice. I would LOVE to see 3rd party's candidates WIN!”

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2. Anonymous said... on Dec 29, 2010 at 10:19PM

“www.masspartyoflabor.org”

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3. Anonymous said... on Dec 30, 2010 at 09:38AM

“Great column! One correction, however. Hugh ran against Pam DeLissio, not Lou Agre. Lou lost in the Democratic primary.”

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4. Michael P. McWilliams said... on Dec 30, 2010 at 02:39PM

“Hugh Giordano is right about one thing. Republicans hold hard working union people in disdain and Democrats are worse because they pretend to fight for us but actually betray us.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jan 1, 2011 at 10:35AM

“Thank you for this article. It highlights a trend likely to be seen again in local elections - the growth of an alternative to the two money based parties. Lobbiests, and money grubbing members of Congress, are destroying the values that make this nation great. Please research and support the Green Party at gp.org, Check out our large list of candidates, run for office with us and know there are people as fed up as you and want to work together. And thanks to Hugh Giordano and the Pennsylvania Green Party for making a difference.”

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6. Brian "It is Good to be Green" Rudnick said... on Jan 5, 2011 at 02:44PM

“Giordano did not lose to Lou Agre (who lost in the Democratic primary) but to Pam Delissio (winner of the Democratic primary) n the general election in November 2010.

These are results copied from the Pa Department of state website

DELISSIO, PAMELA A. (DEM) 11,775 61.7%
DOWNEY, TIMOTHY S. (REP) 3,770 19.8%
GIORDANO, HUGH (GRN) 3,528 18.5%

County Breakdown for 194th Legislative District

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7. djmatt said... on Jan 16, 2011 at 09:50PM

“I know your first sentence was just being dramatic, but I think it is important to point out that no party owns or is entitled to any votes. They earn them. Democrats have not earned the union vote. Hugh is a dedicated union organizer who would have represented the people well.”

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8. Mark Hill said... on Jan 19, 2011 at 12:59AM

“Hugh is great! When you first see him you think, " Wow he is young", then he starts talking and you think " Wow.... he is the man!"

Good luck to the Greens to Hugh Giordano, I hope progressives open their eyes! You have a future leader right in fron of you.........”

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9. Elizabeth Berry said... on Apr 5, 2011 at 01:45PM

“Good!”

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