The Role of Labor in a Political Campaign

The blogosphere isn't very conducive to discussing labor issues, mostly because blog readers probably don't belong to unions and don't know much about them. I know I didn't know anything about unions a few years ago. This can often blind us to important political developments.

For instance, SEIU had a huge victory in Houston, organizing 5000 janitors, and yet there was very little chatter on this enormously important victory.  Nathan Newman had to go so far to point out to Ezra Klein why it is in fact a good thing.  I don't have very much experience with campaigns and politics, but what I do have suggests that even small groups of labor support are critically useful.  5000 janitors can provide a base for a politician, and that politician can write labor-friendly laws or make sure that contracts go to unionized companies.  5000 janitors can do PR on behalf of workers, and point out legal and political problems that might remain otherwise hidden.  Unions are an organized constituency group that can organize other groups into political coalitions that help Democrats; without them we lose.  It's that simple.  So while musing about car companies closing is important, using that fact to dismiss what could be a model for a newly unionized American workforce is incredibly foolish.  If you are a liberal and you write off unions, you are writing your own political obituary.  Also, if you consider that the future of political campaigns lies in door walks, the internet, and social organizations, labor unions look more and more important for any progressive coalition.

So let's talk unions.  Unlike Nathan or Chris, I'm no expert, and unlike Ezra, I'm no journalist.  I've never done actual union organizing work, as I can't even organize my sock drawer.  But I've looked through FEC reports and seen the financial support, and looked at the numbers and examined the demographics.  My brother is in a guild, I worked a bit with unions, and I have friends in unions.  I'd like to look on a more practical level why unions are important to Democratic campaigns.  If you have a different view, please chime in below.

One of the coolest experiences I had during the Corzine campaign was hanging out in an ironworker local union hall for an afternoon.  We were using their hall to conduct a training session for non-union volunteers, and before the session I talked to some of the guys there.  There were amazing posters on the wall.  One was the New York Times list of dead from Iraq.  One was a picture of four workers sitting 50 stories up on a metal beam eating lunch during the construction of the Rockefeller Center in the 1930s.  And one was a bunch of ironworkers on a New Jersey pier angrily watching the World Trade Centers fall.  The guys at the hall were huge and burly - they worked with metal - and yet they talked like angry liberals.  One of the workers showed me a joke Bush doll, which cursed in a not-particularly-nice manner.  You didn't see any parsing here, or any triangulation.  These guys hated the Republicans because they think America is a place where you build things, and the Republicans destroy things.

Labor is the single most reliable, organized and powerful segment of the Democratic political coalition.  It's not necessarily the biggest, but if you are good to Labor, Labor people show up on time, wherever you need them, and act as surrogates on whatever issue you need.  And that's not all.  Let's go through what labor does for a Democratic campaign.

Money

Unions support candidates with money, reliably.  That's a big deal.  Cycle after cycle, union PACs give money to local candidates, state candidates, Federal candidates, and do it when and where it is necessary to advance the interests of working families.  The blogs focus on national races, but politics is a local game.  If you're running for state assembly, or town council, or mayor of a small town, especially in an off-year, very few people are interested in your race, and few give money.  Labor is interested in these races, for pragmatic and ideological reasons.  But they aren't like normal donors; they always give.  This means you can rely on them, you can plan for them, and you can negotiate with them.  It's invaluable to have that kind of political stability if you are not a millionaire political hobbyist, or even if you are.

Nathan Newman points out what this means for the Houston area:

Do these numbers-- janitors pay dues of roughly $20 per month, or a bit over $200 per year.  Multiply by 5000 and you suddenly have an organization with $1 million per year to promote organizing and political mobilization in the Houston area.

$1 million, every year.  If you're considering running for office, a quick call from the janitor's political director can be a strong incentive to get in the race.  If you're a politician considering allowing a Walmart into a town, a quick call from a political director with a $1 million cannon is a disincentive.  That's huge.

Field and GOTV

If it rains on election day, unions show up.  That's a big deal, but it's not something we think about very often.  In 2000, Gore was down by a few points to Bush in the polls the night before election day, and it was union GOTV work that brought him back up to even.  Labor GOTV adds several points to Democratic campaigns where Labor is strong, and this cannot be understated, since turnout is often low in less sexy elections.

Unions also show up in crowds when and where campaigns need them, and campaigns need crowds, a lot.  During the Corzine campaign, and yes, New Jersey is an especially unionized state, we built press events all the time, and because of labor, there were crowds whenever it was important.  Before debates, Doug Forrester would see a group of Democratic supporters shouting for his opponents, and Jon Corzine would see lots of people shouting his name.  That was critical, because Forrester would get pysched out, and Corzine would get pumped up.  The press was impressed by the crowds.  And this wasn't a one-off.  Any time the campaign needed crowds, we could turn to labor.

Oh sure, you can build crowds with other techniques, but on, say, a boring rainy day, in a lackluster race, it's pretty nice to have unions to rely on.  

Media

Want 2 working families as media surrogates whose husbands were disabled because of faulty consumer products, in two days?  Where are you going to turn?  That's right, labor.  It's not just an issue of money and field, it's also that labor unions are reliable advocates for legislation that promotes progressive issues such as health care, safety for workers, and economic equality.  They will fiercely attack Republican candidates, and surrogates, when a campaign needs a boost and the press needs someone to quote other than a candidate (which is often).  It's like a constant stream of pundits, except pundits who actually work for a living and who take losing personally (because losing means jeopardizing the welfare of their families).  

Leadership and Intangible Benefits

There are many other ancillary benefits - unions provide a pool of talent from which you can draw candidates, and they also have union halls, space where you can conduct trainings, have parties, and generally get together.  Without public space, it's surprisingly difficult to organize anything, actually.  Unions solve this problem.

Newman points out that unions also create a cultural and political presence:

Add a few more around the region and you've added what will automatically become major new political and social institutions in regions that now lack them.  Just by existing, the Houston janitors will be an example to other workers that they can organize and they can win even in the South-- a key message for any hope of labor revival.

I suspect, though I don't have proof, that union members are also less prone to race-baiting than other groups, because unions take a pragmatic approach to politics.  This is not to say race-baiting doesn't happen, or that unions are always on the right side of every issue, but it is to say that unions provide a strong structural advantage for Democrats.  They provide crucial and reliable campaign help, field help, media help, talent, money, and social and political leadership even when there are no elections and you need 20 people to picket, say, a new Walmart.  

Governing

Importantly, when a politician wins because of union support, they pursue union-friendly policies that are often strongly progressive.  Though trade is a wedge, on taxes, worker safety, consumer rights, health care, education, and infrastructure, unions are important areas of agreement.  Democrats beholden to unions do things we like.  Democrats beholden to wealthy donors do not.

I hope that blogs can one day do all of these as reliably as unions do, and I think we will.  Politics is about staying in the game so people can count on you.  Labor has done that for Democrats for more than a century, and far from being in the past, unions are simply essential.

Tags: Labor (all tags)

Comments

34 Comments

Intrastructure
I've worked a lot of campaigns in the Detroit area. One aspect of Union presence in campaigns that you'vr overlooked is the preexistence of physical infrastructure for campaigns. Need a phone bank? The UAW will set you up with 50 phones overnight. Need access to fax machines? Use the NEAs. Want to call a meeting, a youth rally, set up a staging area for GOTV? Call for a Union Hall.

I ran a campaign office in Michigan 12 for Kerry. I can't speak highly enough of the incredible work the unions did in that campaign.

by NWHarkness 2005-12-01 11:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Intrastructure
great  point!
by Matt Stoller 2005-12-01 02:23PM | 0 recs
I was a union lobbyist for
the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs (AZCOPS) www.azcops.org and the Arizona Probation Officers Association (AZPOA) www.azpoa.com

Before the union took an active role in the political process (lobbying, endorsing, having a PAC), the membership was majority Republican.  This was in about 1998.  Then, upon working with the conservative legislature, the union found out (duh!) that the Republicans generally are no friend of labor.  

Now, in 2005, the 6,000 member strong organization (the largest in Arizona) is becoming a monolithic Democratic voting bloc and gets its members out for Dems.  The AZ Correctional Peace Officers Association (AZCPOA), which is under the AZCOPS umbrella was instrumental in getting Governor Janet Napolitano elected in 2002.   They are going to come out just as hard for her in 2006 and for the Dem US Senate candidate, Jim Pederson.

It does behoove Democrats to take care of labor.  With their corporate policies, the Republicans managed to turn 6,000 mostly Republican voters into Democrats.  Haha.

by jgarcia 2005-12-01 11:15AM | 0 recs
Painters Union Hall!
In my Islip long Island Town the Democratic Party had deteriorated to maybe 150 paper committeepeople out of 446 positions. This past year we had the first competitive election in years for a Town Council seat. The Painters Union Hall in East Islip provided an office as permanent Town of Islip Democratic HQ and its attached Hall as home to the committees monthly meetings. On the weekends leading up to the election I saw about 200 rank and file union members come to the hall to pick up literature and lawn signs for townwide distribution! On election eve the Suffolk County Democratic Chair, Rich Schaffer held an election eve rally at the IBEW Union Hall in Hauppauge, hundreds of party and union volunteers were there to see Hillary Clinton speak along with County Executive Levy, DA Spota and every elected federal, state and local official and every nominated Democratic candidate in the County including Congressmen Bishop and Israel! Suffolk Dems had a great election night capturing 10-8 control of the Suffolk Legislature, Electing a County Sheriff, DeMarco who was head of the Deputy Sheriffs union, re-electing DA Spota and capturing Town Board seats in every town except unfortunately Islip where one of our council candidates, Gene Parrington fell 1600 votes short out of 40,000 cast of winning a seat!  The new presiding officer of the county legislature, William Lindsey was a union officer in the CSEA. The unions and the Democratic Party have become a very potent force in this suburban white middle class county of 1.4 million!
by politics64 2005-12-01 11:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Painters Union Hall!
I didn't know that unions played a big role on Long Island in '05,  but it's not suprising.  Thanks for the comment!
by Matt Stoller 2005-12-01 02:24PM | 0 recs
Impressive post
Matt, again, a great post.

I myself have some experience working with union members -- and I've found that these guys are something rather rare these days: white, male, working-class, and Democratic.

It's a fact that white males in America mostly vote Republican. It's also a fact that white males in unions mostly vote Democratic. That shouldn't be lost on anybody in our party, but sadly, I think it is.

However, it's certainly not lost on Republicans, who have successfully chipped away at union membership for this very reason.

My final point: these guys are fighters. We want them on our side.

by LiberalFromPA 2005-12-01 11:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Impressive post
the main issue whereby Repugs obtain otherwise Democratic, white male union voters is guns, especially in places like PA, if I can say that not being a Pennsylvanian.
by jgarcia 2005-12-01 12:12PM | 0 recs
Wedge issues
Republicans use wedge issues to pry union members from the Democratic party. In the old days, it was race. Then immigartion. Then guns. Now, gay marriage.

It's an old trick, and one which certain union members keep falling for.

But when 2/3 of white males in unions voted for John Kerry, the reality is that unions go a long way in helping Democrats no matter what Republicans do.

So the Republican most effective trick hasn't been splitting unions from Democrats: It's been to simply destroy unions altogether.

by LiberalFromPA 2005-12-01 01:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Wedge issues
you know the funniest part about it all? they pitch themselves as these wealthy people and yet they have to steal just to get a million dollars.

I know some liberals that give a million dollars to fight aids in africa or environmentalism action against polluters and those destroying the planet. Not just every year. Every Business quarter.

And yet, they would not consider themselves liberal. They believe in backing our country, in taking things the right direction. They're responsible people who would fight in war, protect the country and do their part.

But they can't be anywhere near the bush republicans these days. Those people are toxic to them. The idea that one can be so brainwashed to take a position on something from a TV commercial is amazing to them. They wonder where their country is going.

And you know whats even better? Someone here is writing about how union members become liberals because they learn that they can surround themselves where they are on the economic ladder -  essentially the message the bush republicans push out all day, all night on these talk radio stations that are just used up entertainers who couldn't get it up to be in hollywood where the real money in entertainment can be found.

So there you have someone posting , essentially that unions are there to make you feel happy about getting less...

When in fact, unions have been about , historically at least, making you richer where you are - and keeping companies from taking advantage of you. Alot of things that this country enjoys directly emanate from their work in the past.

So lets recap. Liberals are wealthy, and unions are there to make you rich.  Conservatives are poor, so they steal money to pretend they are rich. And they fight unions because its the only way to clear a committee seat so they can trick everyone into not caring about it all. Oh yeah, and once they get all that money they have to waste it on reaaallly expensive TV ads all day and all night smearing the democrats so that they'll look reaally tough.

Does this sum it up?

by turnerbroadcasting 2005-12-01 02:09PM | 0 recs
true, but you missed the most important point
yes, labor does all of those tangible things very well.

what it does much better, especially over a long period of time, is create liberals.  Chris Bowers has waxed poetic about this point again and again, but union familes are liberal families, by and large.  this fact is no coincidence or accident of our times: being in a union means that you are led to believe (correctly) that your interests are best pursued by sticking together with others in roughly the same economic position as you, and that wealthy interests will undermine your well-being unless you are constantly vigilant.  that makes union workers liberals, and it makes their families liberal, hopefully for generations to come.

one of my favorite articles along these lines was published about a year ago at In These Times: http://www.inthesetimes.com/site/main/article/2034/.  in addition to extolling the significance of labor as a social movement, the piece points out other ways for us to build new social movements the create yet more liberals.

.. and it hardly needs to be said, but liberals are among the most reliable constituency of votes that Democrats can have.

by myddaholic 2005-12-01 12:13PM | 0 recs
Re: true, but you missed the most important point
Listen to the GOP talking point.

"stick together with others around you.."

"oppose the wealthy interests.."

The whole meme that the GOP sells to all the red states is that the GOP will take you to the land of the rich conservative white man and you'd better hop aboard. Its an exclusive club that makes you rich simply by saying you're republican. And absurdly corrupt organization that continues to draw in union members all over everywhere who think that liberals like bill clinton are immoral and that America needs effeciency and cost-saving tax cuts so that their take-home pay is more. They pander to this group's inherently unstable view about america, with weapons and guns , against gays ... and finally, really - against god in so many ways that its almost profane to think of how they continue to trumpet themselves as the holy party.

where are all the liberals created by a process that , as you say , makes you happy to be poor?

by turnerbroadcasting 2005-12-01 12:28PM | 0 recs
Re: true, but you missed the most important point
True. Not only that, but if liberals are ultimately striving for an egalitarian, socially equitable, sustainable society (psst...it's called socialism), then there is no other way for that to occur than for workers (be they farmers, industrial workers, service workers, painters, or small business owners) to band together and create that society themselves. You cannot progress if you just try to nibble around the edges of our corporatist state. You need workers banding together to democratically determine their own destiny.

Unionize Walmart  

by adamterando 2005-12-01 01:47PM | 0 recs
An Alternate Perspective on Unions
The Unions have been railroaded out of every state and local committee, they have been powerless to stop massive job loss and the rape of the American pension plan, they've fragmented horribly - each faction claiming to support workers.

It is getting more and more rare that the union members vote in one way -

There is a reason why both Unions and The Democratic party have been dying for years. And that is precisely this: both are formed to execute the will of the people. Without that, they are cut from the source and wither as the unions have - and as globalization continues to march on them, ... very well may in the future.

I say this not lightly. Alot of what the unions have done, are good for America. They courageously stood against the people who were trying to use Homeland Security as a means of cutting overtime pay. Think about this for a second: the democrats took a massive bloodletting because they stood with the unions, when in the 2002 midterms, the homeland security bill was going through the house - and the unions opposed it because it cut overtime pay for workers.

Now, Americans know that the people running the table on bills like that are corrupt.

But still, things have not changed. Union support means nothing. Endorsements in last years election did not amount to any movement in the polls. In fact, the most venerable of all endorsements - the AFSCME endorsement of Dean - became nothing short of an albatross upon the neck of the candidate. It was withdrawn and re-issued to Kerry. It neither helped Dean, nor Kerry. And phone bankers get hung up  upon.  

If you need a good example of a person or a family hurt by corporate greed logon to the Internet and you'll find twenty of them on the message boards and blogs and you'll be talking directly to them in 25 minutes after you zabasearch them. Go to the local labour union office and it will take two days.

And when you said "1 million dollars" I visualized you looking like Dr. Evil in "Austin Powers". Someone should whisper in your ear... uh.. 1 Million dollars is not a lot of money anymore.

By the way, did Emminent domain reverse because of the unions? Have they been able to do anyting with WalMart-izatoin of America? How well do the wal-mart employees get paid? I can tell you what the dead companies are that used to sell things near that wal-mart that walked into town selling chinese goods at 30% below American-union prices and I can even point to a walmart that landed right next to a textile mill and made it so that the mill could no longer sell its own products there, in North Carolina. And oh yea, by the way - I can also show you about 3000 union employees in that walmart right now buying chinese christmas gifts.

Someone I know (a distant friend of a friend) tried a few years ago to buy american for christmas. She ended up almost not being able to buy anything at all. Even the labels were sewn in, by the chinese.

-=-

Now, I have a solution to this problem but it involves a radical viewpoint, and the reader to think carefully. Its easy to dismiss my thought as simply that of a non-union person who thinks unions are dead.  I am not saying that they do not serve a noble purpose. Please listen, its only one sentence:

Stop the process that turns bills into 10,000 page monsters.

Its just that simple. Everything in DC  gets riders and admendments and gets rolled up into things that nobody can do anything with. Think of Homeland Security: nobody questions we need to respond to Al Qaeda - how is it that the bill has a provision to cut overtime pay? Hurricane Katrina Relief - surely that one is a no-brainer - but wait - it has a special amendment (barton, r, texas) to allow coal fired power plants in pennsylvania to dump more mercury in the water and air...

As such, the positions that organized groups of people could take on the bills are absurd. Do you oppose Hurricane Katrina relief? No? Well, do you oppose making global warming and greenhouse gases, and dumping mercury in the air? Yes? Ok, what's the union position on the Katrina Relief bill.

Forget about illegal immigration, the process that creates and guides legislation in America is the problem. We could have laws that could keep America competitive to  china, as well as keep China an ally. We could have laws that reflect the will of the people to cut pollution (80% want it). All it takes is the ability of the single person, not the union, or the committee - but the human citizen who now has the massive support and information processing power of the internet.

Do you seriously think bills could not be written so that people could read them? A hypertext document allows people to check the key provisions of a bill quickly and easily. Procedural stuff could be marked as such; the whole drama surrounding passage of a bill - the connections to other bills - can be viewed online.

Do you seriously think that, going the way things are going - it makes sense to keep paying union dues and hoping the unions can take a stance that means something?

Who has stood up against Katrina Relief?
Who stood up against homeland security?
Who needs to stand up now?

With things the way they are, corruption is the only thing that gets anything done. That is why the GOP is in power, they take the cash and pocket it and get a minor number of things done for the CEOs of the world... and the unions are left as bagholders. And so, too, America.

by turnerbroadcasting 2005-12-01 12:21PM | 0 recs
1 million dollars
...at the local level is a heck of a lot of money.

Hell, it can even be a lot of money at the statwide level, especially during primaries. Just ask Arlen Specter, who was almost knocked out by Toomey, a guy who had a special interest group spend -- you guessed it -- 1 million dollars on his behalf. Specter won, but he was forced to veer heavily to the Right to fend off that attack. In the end, conservatives won, we lost. All cause of a million bucks.

by LiberalFromPA 2005-12-01 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: 1 million dollars
Specter has relatively good relationships with unions.
by Matt Stoller 2005-12-01 02:26PM | 0 recs
Re: 1 million dollars
Right. On the union issue, Specter is okay. In talking about Specter moving to the Right, I'm talking about his "I voted with Bush 9 out of 10 times" rhetoric, and the fact that he's pretty much caved on rightwing judicial nominees.
by LiberalFromPA 2005-12-01 03:33PM | 0 recs
Re: An Alternate Perspective on Unions
Wow, there is a lot to tackle in your post.  First of all, unions are not the reasons why legislation includes riders.

Now, on to your expectations that unions be the deciding factor for everything.  They aren't, they are not Superman.  However, as Matt points out we take them for granted.  The provide the baseline support that we can build off of.

By the way, did Emminent domain reverse because of the unions?

Can you tell me which union should be organizing in favor of this issue?  What workers are directly effected?  Look, unions work in the best interest of their members.  For example, police unions back Dems, even though their members are Republicans.  Why, well Dems tend to be more likely to give cops raises and put more of them on the street.  Unions do not exist to better the Democrats and liberal causes.  They exist to better their members.  Quite often, but not always they are the same goals.

Have they been able to do anyting with WalMart-izatoin of America? How well do the wal-mart employees get paid? I can tell you what the dead companies are that used to sell things near that wal-mart that walked into town selling chinese goods at 30% below American-union prices and I can even point to a walmart that landed right next to a textile mill and made it so that the mill could no longer sell its own products there, in North Carolina. And oh yea, by the way - I can also show you about 3000 union employees in that walmart right now buying chinese christmas gifts.

Sort answer, no, unions have not as of yet been able to unionize Walmart.  To be honest until recently, they have not been putting major resources behind it.  However, that is changing and is a major reason why Andy Stern broke from the AFL-CIO.  Their public education campaigns about why Walmart is bad for America is paying off.  Just look at that recent poll that was issued.  That is the first step.  Once the public is on the side of the workers and not the corporation the union organizing tactics will be better regarded.  The public has lost sight of why unions are needed.  Through Walmart they are remembering again.

by juls 2005-12-01 01:51PM | 0 recs
Excellent post Matt
The really cool thing is that despite the blogosphere's reluctance to talk about labor, labor is reaching out to the blogosphere.  Look at Walmart Watch, or Purple Ocean and Sliced Bread.

As for me, well I am sitting in a union office being paid full time by a coalition of unions to do online organizing and blogging.  It is my job to hang out here, at dailykos and others and post away.  Our goal is to connect the progressive netroots to the unions.  The unions have an amazing amount of resources and institutional knowledge that the fledgling netroots don't have yet.  You may be able to raise $100k in a couple days, but we get to send a lobbyist up to sit in on negotiations.

I am not from the rank and file, nor have I worked as an organizer, but in my professional life some of my greatest memories are working with the unions.  My heros in 2004 were the working men and women who gave up their lives for several months. They moved to swing states, lived out of hotels and knocked on doors for the SEIU.  Instead of cleaning office buildings, or changing bed pans, they were talking to voters about why they cared so much about who was president.  They were there rain or shine wearing their purple and pins.

The power of our union coalition here in California for the special election cannot be overlooked.  People put aside their egos (which in unions can be quite large) and focused on the real enemy, Schwarzenegger.  Now we still have a coalition intact to take him on during his re-election.  The leaders are still meeting, the head of the prisons union goes on tours of schools with the head of the teachers union.  And I am still here, connecting you to what they are doing.  So, let's keep these ties.  There is strength in solidarity.

by juls 2005-12-01 01:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Excellent post Matt
Ever consider unionizing bloggers?  :)
by Matt Stoller 2005-12-01 02:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Excellent post Matt
lol.  they are mostly underpaid and over worked for sure. but i am not complaining about how i am being treated, the Alliance really has been great.  it is a dream job for sure.
by juls 2005-12-01 02:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Excellent post Matt
Our goal is to connect the progressive netroots to the unions.

If that's the case, ABC needs to figure out how  not to allow itself be divided on issues like Prop 73.  People will get over ABC's position on 73, especially since the proposition failed.  But if ABC consistently allows itself to be divided from the Democrats on wedge issues, there're going to be problems.  I know it wasn't your decision.  And I understand the rationales put forth by ABC.  But as an activist I can tell you that I know tons of women and men who worked very hard on the Special Election and who were deeply, deeply hurt and disappointed by ABC's position on 73.  Solidarity is a two-way street.  

That said, I do hope your netroots initiative succeeds.  You guys are way ahead of the CA Dem Party in establishing a netroots presence.  I certainly credit you personally for your part in this.  It's too bad that the CDP doesn't have someone who knows how to work the blogosphere like you do.              

by Matt Lockshin 2005-12-01 03:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Excellent post Matt
I understand your point about 73.  However, keep in mind what I said earlier about unions.  They do not exist for the betterment of the Democratic party or liberal ideals.  They work for those who pay them dues.  Union members had no dog in the fight over parental notification and frankly could have alienated a number of their own members.

Luckily 73 failed, but they will be sure to try and find wedge issues to seperate the coalition members and the unions from the progressives.  Hopefully, the ties we have all been building will keep us focused on the real task, getting a new governor for California.

Thank you for you kind words.  The CA Dem party is interested in the netroots, they have just not gotten their act together.

by juls 2005-12-01 03:34PM | 0 recs
Great Post
The MSM rarely talks about unions as they are owned by large anti union corporations.  I am glad some bloggers are talking about them.
by Andy Katz 2005-12-01 01:54PM | 0 recs
Unions need to improve thier image
Every union hater has a story about a lazy union member not doing something because it wasn't in his job class, or sleeping on the job, or whatever.  Unions need to provide protection for the hard workers and not do so to the truely lazy or stupid or criminal.
by Geotpf 2005-12-01 02:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Unions need to improve thier image
Every CEO hater has a story about how their boss screwed them, lied to them, and fired people so his stock would go up.  Corporations need to provide protection for efficient business practices and not funding for right-wing politics and criminal actions.
by Matt Stoller 2005-12-01 02:22PM | 0 recs
I'm a union member
However, I believe in some instances (the UAW for instance) this stereotype is quite true.  If it's not, the unions need to work on their PR.
by Geotpf 2005-12-01 02:29PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm a union member
I know what you are saying so this comment isn't directed at you in particular.  Anyway, I find it really fucking funny how people (mostly middle class) constantly say that about union members (kind of like they are jealous), but hardly ever talk about the much more illegal and worse activities of corps.

In today's society, a corporation like Halliburton stealing BILLIONS from us all doesn't get as much play as a guy like Hoffa stealing a couple million, but otherwise doing a great job.  

Which is worse?

by jgarcia 2005-12-01 02:50PM | 0 recs
Not much to add
except that, as an organizer who straddles community and labor camps, I can't think of anything more useful to winning a progressive future than more understanding in the loosely liberal netroots of the value of unions.
by janinsanfran 2005-12-01 03:48PM | 0 recs
3 steps to a progressive majority
If the Dems ever get control both houses and the presidency again, they need to do 3 things to create a stable majority -

  1. reform labor law so that workers can organize without fear of management retaliation - unionization rates would rise quickly, and that means more Democratic voters (just like the 30s and 40s)

  2. legalize the status of millions of undocumented workers (making friends of new Americans is how the Democrats became a majority part in the first half of the last century)

  3. pass universal health care - the biggest social reform since social security and medical care - solving this problem will bind millions to the party every time they go to the doctor and don't pay through the nose.

We should do these 3 things whenever we have a majority, even if we have to exercise the nuclear option on legislative fillibusters to do it.
by aenglish 2005-12-01 04:33PM | 0 recs
Re: 3 steps to a progressive majority
It's like you're my twin.  Great post.  Those are my top three as well.  Btw, the "new" Americans that you spoke of who would be legalized, would be free to join unions without being "ratted-out" by their employers.  The dirty little secret is the status quo is good for repugs because they get cheap employment plus the workers don't join unions because they're too afraid.
by jgarcia 2005-12-01 05:16PM | 0 recs
Unions the holy Grail of High Paying Jobing
Everyone thinks Manufacturing is the Holy Grail of High Paying Jobs.  One look at our history and China tells us this is not true.  In the United States, manufacturing jobs were low paying until the rise of the Union.  I believe this will be true in China too.  Why are Manufacturing Jobs moving to China?  Low labor cost. Why are the labor costs low?  Because in China, real unions are illegal.

I believe the Democrats should work for two major changes that will give unions more power in the USA.  

First Pass laws that make easy for Unions to form.  Today the deck is stack against the formation of unions in a nonunion work place.

Second Pass a law that makes it illegal to hire replacement workers for the first three months of a strike.  

By empowering unions, the service work force, the white-collar force, and blue-collar would have real power to raise their income and to obtain better benefits.  I do not believe any one type of job is the Holy Grail to High Paying Jobs.  The Union is the only counter balance that the employee has to the greed and the power of Corporations.  

by HCLiberal 2005-12-01 05:49PM | 0 recs
Three Quick Comments
  1.  Labor Unions have been working with the Alliance for Justice against Bush's Supreme Court nominees.  It's an important growth in their political activism beyond traditional labor issues.

  2.  Labor Unions have been extremely effective working with the Campaign for America's future on the ad hoc coalitions they've established on Social Security, the 2006 Budget, and a number of other issues.

  3.  One of the biggest threats facing labor at the moment is the abuse of the bankruptcy system for union-busting.  The judge in the Delta bankruptcy recently said:

"The issue is whether or not at this time I should permit the rejection of the union contract," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Prudence Beatty said. "One can talk about union busting and that is precisely what this kind of motion has the taint of. ..."

Her remarks came amid a testy exchange between the judge and Delta lawyer Jack Gallagher in which Beatty, who the pilots have in the past accused of siding against them, assailed some of the airline's main arguments.

by dtmky 2005-12-02 07:29AM | 0 recs
Important Point to Emphasize
Matt,

I am very happy you posted on unions, because I believe, as you point out, that the progressive blogosphere has a very weak understanding of the importance of unions to progressive electoral politics.

I just wanted to emphasize one point, which is that unions (and other grassroots groups like ACORN) can get the crowd turnouts and GOTV programs they have because they never abandonded the heart and soul of retail politics: face-to-face contacts.

While blogs and internet organizing bring a whole new capacity to engage people in public policy and elections, what they can never do (and shouldn't in my opinion) is take the place of a face-to-face conversation between two people in someone's home.

Studies of turnout in low-turnout elections show that this kind of contact, done 2-3 times can boost turnout by up to nine percentage points!

Union GOTV programs are effective not just because of the phone banks, which are important, but because of the door-to-door work, done by their members and volunteers. And one of the reasons it is so effective is because the unions represent a "trusted messenger" and their targeted voters are more likely to trust what the union says than Joe Schmoe from the campaign or the party, even if they are saying the same thing.

And, as other posters point out, unions, by engaging their members in the nuts and bolts of politics create progressive voters out of conservative ones. Investing in public policies that enhance the ability of unions to organize new members means investing in the expansion of the progressive base, which means, ultimately, more progressive Democrats in Congress, in State Houses, and in City Councils.

These points cannot be overemphasized.

by nathanhj 2005-12-02 08:33AM | 0 recs
the role of labor
For someone who said he didn't know a lot about labor and its positive effect on politics, I think you were dead-on right. Thanks for the recognition. Some of us have been doing this for 30 years, and we get very frustrated when we help elect people, then get ignored, or not have our work acknowledged.
by thelonius 2005-12-02 10:30AM | 0 recs

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