Shafting Labor

Thomas Frank has an indispensable piece in the Wall Street Journal on the Democratic Party’s propensity to rely on labor votes and labor grassroots electoral efforts to win, then stab the labor movement in the back when it comes to actually passing legislation that helps America’s workers (while siding with big business interests and their heavily moneyed lobbying efforts). Frank notes that a number of the key lobbying shops for Wal-Mart are Democratic and progressive branded, a sign that the white collar parts of the Democratic elites are simply either indifferent to the plight of working Americans or fundamentally opposed to progressivism when it is placed against a hefty paycheck from a big business client.

Frank doesn’t really touch on the political dynamics that have emerged within the Democratic Party on the Employee Free Choice Act as addressed by Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union in a Washington Post editorial board meeting earlier this week.  While Frank is right that Democratic consultants helping business in their fight against America’s workers is deeply problematic, the elephant in the room that Stern addressed is that labor has been left on its own in this fight, without the White House whipping on the Hill to pass Employee Free Choice. The question naturally arises, is there a substantive difference between Democratic consultants helping the Wal-Marts of the world stop Employee Free Choice Act and the administration backing off campaign promises to pass this critical piece of legislation that will grow the economy and rebuild the middle class?

It’s also worth noting that the problem of getting Democrats to support Employee Free Choice outside of the political campaign season does not start and end with the White House. Unions have been ineffective at getting key swing votes — conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans — who supported Free Choice in the past to stay with us. This gets back to problem Frank identified in the beginning, namely that “Democrats torpedo the most trustworthy member of their coalition,” out of a lack of genuine support, understanding, or influence by corporate money. This whole situation is frustrating beyond belief, to say the least.

Disclosure: While I’m proud to work for the Service Employees International Union, this post was written without their knowledge and does not represent anyone’s views but my own.

One thought on “Shafting Labor

  1. I think that a lot of this problem is not with Democrats per se, so much as the fact that the party is not monolithic. I don’t know if labor was a real help to Blanche Lincoln , Mary Landrieu, or Ben Nelson in their campaigns, but we’ve had a pretty good measure of their quality for a now while, right?

    The reason I react badly to “the problem with Democrats” critique is that it’s not clear what course of action it implies. Northeastern Democrats are pretty good votes on most things, (so I don’t have anyone at hand to punish), and from there, you’re left with going after the DNC, putting resources into minor parties (or the rare pro-labor Republican), and, for a few very large donors, leaning on existing relationships with the DCCC and DSCC.

    Still, those options all seem a little reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah — laying waste to a whole city because of the unrighteous within the walls. And a wide majority of the Dems are on board! So I wonder if there’s either a way to do an effective national action addressed to the party, or if it’s more productive to try to separate out the bad actors and administer beatdowns to them individually (primaries, minor party challenges, etc).

    As for Obama, it seems to me that the real problem is that they communicated early that there would be no cost to opposing his legislative program. Once these goofs understand that they can crap all over EFCA (or anything, really) and still be chairs of their committees next term, it’s not clear to me that there’s anything Obama can do to get those votes back.


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