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September 02, 2007

Labor and the Democrats

Organized labor has been a stalwart and incredibly valuable supporter of Democrats.  While the split across voters was 49/49 in the last election, union members went 64/36 Democratic/Republican.  And that's just the beginning.  In a post yesterday on Firedoglake, Ian Welsh reminds us:

They give money, and they give it early. They do field and GOTV, and indeed, they probably have the best field organizations in America. Kerry ate Dean’s lunch in large part because of the International Association of Fire Fighter’s (IAFF) organizers out organizing (sometimes rather brutally) the Dean machine.

Unions provide organizing space, they provide media surrogates, they conduct training, they support think tanks and so on. They provide a lot of the infrastructure that keeps the party going - and that pushes the party to pursue liberal and populist policies when in office.

Jumping to the end of his article before coming back to an analysis, Welsh has a map that supports his conclusion:

Where unions are strong, Democrats win. But Democrats seem to have forgotten that at a very fundamental level and have allowed unions to sicken till they are but a pale shadow of what they once were. If Democrats want to win, they need to rectify that. If unions want their strength back, they need to hold Democrats to policies that aid unions, knowing that in so doing they are serving both sides. And the middle and upper classes that run the Democratic party need to get over their disdain for unions and recognize who their real friends are - even if only for hard-headed pragmatic reasons. There will be no new permanent Democratic majority like the one that ruled most of the post-war period, until the unions recover.

My interest is in Welsh's thinking about this underlying separation between organized labor and the core Democratic "deciders".   Welsh talks about how the Democrats "have often disrespected union, even while paying them court".  Democrats have not actively supported either of the two prime labor issues - fighting NAFTA-type free-trade bills and supporting universal health care.   He digs deeper.

Meanwhile the deeper reason that unions don’t get the respect they should in Democratic circles (and by “should” I mean on totally pragmatic “they make us win” terms) is probably because unions get little respect from white collar workers. Two episodes stand out for me on this - the first was that long period the 90’s where techies used to disrespect unions and resist unionization because they were being paid so well because “they were smart, and, like, knowledge workers” and therefore didn’t need unions. What they didn’t realize, because everyone who gets paid well always wants to think its because they, personally, are so wonderful, is that it was just a tight labor market for people with specific skills and that as soon as that skill set became common enough, the gravy train would stall. Sure enough, in the 00’s techies took it on the chin, and companies outsourced and offshored as much of their technical functions as they could. Suddenly a Bachelors in Comp.Sci wasn’t a ticket to the gravy train any more. Techies had made the classic error of attributing to themselves (genius knowledge workers who are each individually unique flowers with a skill set that can’t easily be replicated) what was a property of the situation (new technology, moving fast, not enough early adopters with the necessary technical skill set, therefore a labor crunch in the field).

And then, of course, there was the New York City Transit Strike - and the comments, I, as a blogger defending them, received from my commenters about how they should just be grateful to have decent jobs, shut up and go back to work, because my readers didn’t have half the benefits those blue-collar transit workers did and they didn’t deserve them anyway. No one seemed to make the connection that if the transit workers were costing the economy billions of dollars every day, then the economic value of what the transit workers did must be, ummm, rather larger than they were being compensated for. What was revealed then was a lot of ugly class hatred and envy - people with BA’s who felt that if they weren’t making it, neither should be blue collar workers without a degree. Fortunately, the majority of citizens of NYC actually backed the union (despite a full court press offensive against the union) and things worked out reasonably well.

But this middle class contempt for unions, and for the sort of people that make them up, boils up so frequently that I’ve come to believe it’s a deep malaise in the American middle class psyche. I’m not entirely sure why it exists, other than as manifestation of the very human emotion of envy, but it definitely exists. And as the middle and upper classes (who never liked unions to begin with) have become the powers in the Democratic party (try and get started in politics and you will quickly find that the easy route - internships - is mostly only available to you if mommy and daddy can afford to support you while you work for nothing) a fundamental misunderstanding, and often, outright contempt, for working people has taken hold (again, at the end of the day… remember all those “free” trade bills, passed by Democrats despite Labor’s strenuous objections).

In the three campaigns I've been closely associated with over 15 years, I've found much of what Welsh is talking about.  Sometimes it has seemed as if labor and the Democratic party folks were in two separate silos, aiming for much the same thing but not much at ease with each other.  However it has been getting better as the years go by, thankfully.

UPDATE: Joel Connelly has a nice piece this morning on the importance of time with family as a labor issue and illustrates a point I circled around but didn't quite get to - labor issues are all of our issues; organized labor is often effected more, push harder and articulates better - although all of us have some work to do to more consistently help the larger society see that.   

Posted by Lynn Allen on September 2, 2007 at 09:59 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink


this guy walsh nails it.

-- aside
i've been a total nothing campaign person on many campaigns, on and off, going back to the late 70's.
in MA., where I lived till I was 29 in '89, politics consisted of 3 kinds of groups. one kind of group was the townie clique in charge (and other townie cliques trying to get in charge). another kind of group was the ivy / k-school real thing / wannabees who were in charge or similar cliques trying to get in charge. the last biggest kind of group was all the rest of us, whether town or gown, getting used by the first 2 kinds of cliques.

I haven't figured out the northwest in 19 years ... too many too affluent too nice people who are too incompetent to really fight the incredibly too evil?
-- end aside

so, from my experiences, this walsh nails it.

and, I think the root of the 'problem' stems from the 60's & the explosion of college degreed white collar jobs - while it is great that 90% of us aren't banging on rocks or dirt with a hoe or getting our fingers greasy making the machines or running the machines,

too many affluent people got where they got, too often, by not rocking hte boat, by shutting up and by keeping their heads down while the bossman chucked the trouble makers and loud mouths and bad attitudes and un-team players over the side.

people like that ain't fighting for the peee-ons, and the peee-ons know it - see, cuz the peee-ons are working for these people!

more people do NOT vote than vote for tweedle-dee or tweedle-dum. and while the Dems are grossly incompetent at for fighting for the peee-ons, they are better for the peee-ons than the fascists, and still tens of millions of peee-ons vote for the fascist liars!

i've been scratching my head since '78 when that liar jarvis came out with Prop 13 in CA. dissing gov't ... see, i too hated gov't in that my family was on welfare and nothing seemed to work to help us help ourselves, BUT, I knew that jarvis and his fascist scum friends really really wanted me and everyone fighting to drink outta puddles to lick their boots
... and I've been wondering for 29 years who is gonna come up with the right ideas / marketing to put those flat earth fascists on the side of the antipodes!
oh well.

thanks for the snapshots of this walsh guy, he rocks.


Posted by: seabos84 | Sep 3, 2007 9:44:43 PM

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