The Socialist Equality Party was founded in 1966 as the Workers League Party. The WLP was formed to foster a labor-related movement aligned with the International Committee of the Fourth International, an international organization of Trotskyite socialists. In the first phase of the WLP history, it worked with the Socialist Workers Party, which was in sympathy with its views.
Around 1980, the WLP separated from the SWP when the SWP began to move away from a Trotskyite vision of socialism. In 1982, the Workers League ran candidates for Governor and U.S. Senate from Michigan in the party’s first foray into electoral politics. Helen Halyard, the candidate for U.S. Senate, received 6,085 votes.
The Workers League sponsored its first national ticket. Edward Winn ran for President with three different nominees for Vice President: Jean T. Brust, Helen Halyard, and Edward Bergonzi. Winn received 10,801 votes. The WLP ran candidates in the 1986 midterm elections in Michigan and Minnesota, the height of its political activity under the party’s original name. The party only sponsored one candidate per year in the next few elections: Ed Winn for President (1988), Fred Mazelis for NYC Mayor (1989), and Helen Halyard for President (1992).
In 1994, the Workers League Party was renamed the Socialist Equality Party. The SEP did not field any candidates that year. In 1996, Jerry White was chosen as the nominee for President, winning 2,400 votes. The party also sponsored local candidates in Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Party activists were obviously disappointed with their results. No SEP candidates managed to gain ballot status after 1996 until 2003 when the candidate for Governor of California received 6,700 votes. The SEP decided to contest the 2004 Presidential election, running Bill Van Auken. Local candidates ran in Illinois, Maine, and Michigan. Van Auken only received 1,857 votes, although he appeared on the ballot in five states.