Why should workers and their organizations side with winners if labor will be the loser?
Politically, union support for foes of labor and its issues is so typical it’s no longer surprising, and it cannot be explained as some social version of the Stockholm Syndrome, where victims under threat or pressure come to identify with their captors.
Logically, a result would be to not only to “gain a seat at the table” instead of being “on the menu,” as it’s said, but to expect or insist — demand, even — real consideration. For that, it’s necessary for labor to acknowledge flaws in its political approach over the last 34 years and overcome embarrassing and ineffective tactics.
Arguably, the future of organized labor — at least government’s labor policy — depends on Hillary Clinton defeating Donald Trump, whose campaign can confuse the task before working Americans. After all, the real-estate tycoon has blasted the North American Free Trade Agreement and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal more vigorously than Clinton. So it’s up to labor to get out the vote and — more importantly — inform everyday working people of the importance of politics, especially this election year.
“In no other advanced democracy are workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively more subject to the vicissitudes of elections than in the United States,” commented Georgetown University historian Joseph McCartin in the Washington Post.
Indeed, since the National Labor Relations Act became law in 1935 by connecting unions to Congress’ function to regulate interstate commerce instead of make collective bargaining a civil right, labor has been susceptible to whims or worse from elected officials, judges appointed by politicians or a National Labor Relations Board picked by whichever party’s in power.
Worse, Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the air traffic controllers union in 1982 largely neutralized labor’s main weapon, the strike. (Compare hundreds of work stoppages in the 1950s to 12 major strikes last year.)
“If Trump wins and Republicans hold the Senate, unions will face three Republican-controlled branches of government more uniformly hostile to union rights than ever before,” warned McCartin.
To prevent that, labor must revive its political power to include valued influence, not just campaign contributions, canvassing and calling from phone banks. Further, unions must overcome actions that can only be charitably considered foolish.
For instance, the United Food and Commercial Workers endorsed Clinton despite her years serving on the board of longtime UFCW nemesis Wal-Mart, and the Service Employees endorsed her even though she didn’t support a $15 minimum wage, a key SEIU drive.
“The SEIU-UFCW endorsements of a candidate so diametrically opposed to the unions’ longstanding primary campaigns brings labor’s strategic crisis into sharper focus,” wrote New York labor organizer Andrew Tillett-Saks in Truth-Out.org. “The SEIU-UFCW early endorsement of Clinton in the primaries was nearly as absurd as a Muslim-Latino coalition for Trump would have been.”
Other unions also defied common sense, such as the Teachers, whose Clinton endorsement startled a rank and file wondering about her advocacy for charter schools. Generally, unions excused their support of such a candidate by reasoning that a truly pro-labor candidate couldn’t win, or that they hope at least their union would see some benefit. The latter rationale is the opposite of solidarity, of course, like Wisconsin public-safety unions endorsing Republican Scott Walker ostensibly for immunity from his nefarious union-busting law there.
“Selling out the rest of the working class in the name of a union’s own members — the essence of the ‘narrow-transactionalism’ political strategy — never has worked and never will,” Tillett-Saks added. “Ironically, when unions only ‘look out for their own members,’ they doom these very members to eventual slaughter. As unions fight only for improvements on an ever-shrinking island of union workers, they eventually drown in the rising tide of non-union poverty and powerlessness.”
In the short term, organized labor must think of all unions — all workers — and command a policy commensurate with their commitment, support and votes for a candidate.
And this year, that candidate must be Clinton.
“If Clinton wins and brings in a Democratic Congress on her coattails, labor will be poised to translate its recent victories into bigger breakthroughs,” McCartin said.
If we demand it.
Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com.