A socialist Walmart employee explains why he’s running for Philly mayor

 Osborne Hart of the Socialist Workers Party is running  for mayor of Philadelphia.(Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

Osborne Hart of the Socialist Workers Party is running for mayor of Philadelphia.(Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

Set aside those preconceived notions that November’s mayoral-election results were finalized in May, if only for the time it takes you to finish reading this story.

Will Jim Kenney take over a second-floor office in City Hall once it’s vacated by current tenant Michael Nutter? Probably. Voter-registration figures, fundraising advantage, blah x3, etc.

Still, Nov. 3 is a ways off. Historically unexpected things happen from time to time like, say, when a Main Line university’s hoops squad knocked off big, bad Georgetown to win a championship three decades ago.

In that context, it made perfect sense when, after handing his nominating-petition signatures over to the county Board of Elections office last month, Osborne Hart of the Socialist Workers Party spoke confidently about his mayoral mission.

After all, the leading contender has already made it clear that he’d like Hart and independent candidates James Foster and Boris Kindij to join him and Melissa Murray Bailey, the Republican challenger, on stage for four debates leading up to election day.

“We run to win,” said the 63-year-old Hart, who lives in Germantown.

Who is he?

A Walmart shelf stocker, this is far from Hart’s first political rodeo.

He’s run for U.S. House seats (Georgia in 1976 and Michigan in 2004), mayor of Detroit (2001), Philadelphia City Council at-large (2007) and a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania (2012). He did not win any of those races.

Having garnered enough signatures to avoid potential challenges, Hart recently sat down with NinetyNine at an East Falls cafe to share his political vision.

His candidacy is focused on issues surrounding the minimum wage, police brutality, universal health care and, among others, assaults on public education affecting America’s working class.

Hart doesn’t think that the average American really has a voice in the process, even at this time of cultural evolution. So, by entering the race, he gets the chance to share that message with more people.

“What is needed in this country is fundamental change. The social system is not in the interest of the majority of working people,” he said. “What we’ve seen in the past 15 years is that there’s a deep economic crisis worldwide. And we’ve seen, because of the profit drive, attacks on some of the big social and political gains that mass movements of working people accomplished.”

Having been “politically active for more than 40 years,” Hart traces his path back through the civil rights and anti-war movements.

The latter came about when he got his draft number while a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

“I was opposed to the war, what it was about and what effect it had in the U.S. and around the world, even though I was from a military family,” explained Hart.

He noted that his political attention quickly shifted to the “Battle of Boston” fight about busing and desegregation and, later, the anti-apartheid movement.

Issues of the day

A longtime industrial worker (meat-packing, railroads, industrial factories, steel), he’s “very pro-union.” He maintained unions bolstered working-class Americans’ ability to provide for their families and have a say in the political process.

He rues the thought that “unionization is at its lowest point in the United States since ’21, right before the big rise of the union movement,” as well.

“That’s the way the social organization of working people began to coalesce,” he said. “That’s why we’re calling for independent political action based on the unions. The two-party system reinforces the social order. It’s interested in profits, not human beings.”

He’d like to see momentum toward boosting the minimum wage extend beyond a few recent victories “now, not two, five, 12 years down the road.”

He touted “ballot access for anybody who wants to run [for office] without [having to pay] fees.”

He also said current “attacks” on public education and moves to dissolve teachers unions in the name of educational privatization are attempts to roll back social gains that have roots in the Reconstruction era.

“Philadelphia is just one of the examples of this happening,” Hart said. “It’s all across the country, the whittling away of public education, with privatization making it a commodity.”

On the positive side of the political ledger, he cited the multiethnic response to the tragedy of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shootings and the “dignified response” up to and including the Confederate flag removal at the South Carolina statehouse.

“We see what a broad mass movement with some leadership will do. That’s what our campaign is about: Building a movement,” he said. “We think the road forward for working people is fundamental social change, which will be another revolution in this country. This system is in a deep crisis.”

Localized focus

Hart often talks about big-picture historical and international topics.

When asked how it applies to the race in which he’s currently engaged, he said, “We point to the idea that what happens in Philadelphia reflects what happens in the world.””I work for Walmart. Walmart is the biggest employer in the U.S. and the world. [Current Socialist candidate for City Council] John [Staggs] and I are no different than the cashier, than the overnight stocker that’s in, say, Buenos Aires,” he said. “So, our demands around work schedules, full-time work, benefits, minimum wage, we’re no different.”

Hart said he was well received when going door-to-door for signatures, even by ward leaders with longstanding ties to the local Democratic Party that prevented them from signing his petition — but not from engaging in lengthy discussions about the state of the city, commonwealth, country and world.

He said he can see seeds of similarity between the Greek economic crisis and Harrisburg’s inability to pass a budget.

He chided Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey for their commitment to the “stop and frisk” practice for police officers, something that particularly stings since the Tyree Carroll pummelling happened a matter of blocks from his Germantown home.

What’s next?

As for where he goes from here, Hart vowed to “fight to be in any debate” so his issues can be heard.

“We need the working-class voice around these issues. Working people need an independent political party, a labor party,” he said. “We are on the ballot. This is a legitimate campaign.

“Where I work, I have co-workers who are single mothers, working two jobs to support a kid or two. What kind of society is this? You have huge wealth, but it’s not in the interest of humanity or working people. We bring all of these issues to the floor. We see ourselves as citizens of the world.”

The Kenney campaign reached out to all the campaigns to let the his rivals know he welcomes them on the debate stages. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.

Regardless, just what would an inability to upset the proverbial Hoyas in the way of that venerable Villanova team of yore mean for Hart?

“If we don’t win,” he said, “working people lose.”

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