by Jon Flanders of New York State
Howie Hawkins is not a lawyer, businessman or scion of a wealthy family. Yet as a line worker for the United Parcel Service (UPS), he has managed to run for office numerous times from local to statewide, in the process helping to make the Green Party of New York State the real left opposition here. He has done this despite the default of the labor movement of which he is active as a Teamster. New York unions by and large have rejected political independence and chosen the path of least resistance, endorsing “winners” like Andrew Cuomo for governor, in the hopes of picking up a few fallen crumbs off the bargaining table.
Howie Hawkins appealed to me and many other increasingly frustrated union members in the state, because as working conditions every year, he stands with us and for us. He is not a product of “a penumbra of quasi-political institutions—think-tanks, consultancies, lobbying firms, politicians back offices” to quote an article in the Economist on how countries create a political class.
Hawkins argues from the point of view of his class, the working class, and we know when we support him, that when the election is over, win or lose, he is one of us. He has worked the midnight shift (still works it in fact), in the cold and dark, shared coffee with co-workers commiserating about a bad boss, poor safety conditions and low pay and benefits.
Hawkins first came to my notice in his 2010 campaign for governor, which I enthusiastically supported among my co-workers on the railroad. I found a positive response from many of them, enough to have me encourage Hawkins to campaign outside the rail yard, which he did successfully. I then joined him at other work sites, always with a good response from workers. In 2013, I took a ride out to Syracuse to support his second run for city council there. Campaigning door to door in his district, I saw first hand the support and respect he has earned in his base in that city.
In 2014, Hawkins went from getting individual supporters like myself, to actual endorsements from labor bodies. This reflects the growing understanding among workers that they need their own political representation and political party. His campaign got nearly five percent of the vote, leapfrogging the labor backed Working Families Party for fourth spot on the ballot. In my county he received ten percent of the vote. Hawkins’ campaign in 2014 has dramatically confirmed, in a big statewide race, increased support for an independent party for workers, and all of us in labor, owe him a debt of gratitude.
Jon Flanders spent 25 years as a Railroad Machinist, member and past President of IAM 1145. Steering committee member of Railroad Workers United. Retired.