Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Labor Support is Essential, but not Worth Courting

with one comment

A recent story in the New York Times makes a point that should be obvious but isn’t.  Labor is centrally important to the Democrats chances in November, and this is all the more true with the flood of conservative SuperPAC money.

If labor cannot provide the counterpunch to the conservative super PACs, it is unclear whether anyone else can. Nationally, organized labor has long been viewed as having the most effective political operation for Democrats. President Obama’s victory in 2008 here in Ohio — no Republican in modern times has been able to capture the White House without winning the state — was due in no small part to labor’s get-out-the-vote push. People from union households represented 30 percent of all who voted in the state that election.

But Democrats have made it more difficult for labor to help them. (I’d add too that these problems are not just with the president).

Labor is facing another problem: Many union members are frustrated with Mr. Obama’s performance, having hoped he would do more to reduce unemployment, push for stimulus and infrastructure spending and stand up to Congressional Republicans.

Union leaders are urging disillusioned members to back Mr. Obama anyway, telling them that Mr. Romney will lavish tax cuts on the rich, weaken unions and do little to discourage outsourcing. They insist that no one can do as much as unions to block his strategy of running up a large majority among white working-class workers, which many political experts say he needs to win.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again.  If it’s important enough for unions to use their members’ money not to organize or fight for better contracts, but to ensure that Democrats win elections, if labor support is so central to Democratic electoral prospects, than why is there so little effort by Democrats to deliver for labor, either substantively or even rhetorically? Why are they still pushing corporate trade agreements?  Why is federal pay still frozen?  What is deficit reduction doing as a continued goal in the middle of the continuing recession?  Why did the White House refuse to issue an executive order on high road contracting? Why did the convention so unfriendly to unions?  What makes that worth hurting the chances that Obama is re-elected?*

Also worth noting–even if labor was happy with what it was getting from the Democrats, it wouldn’t change the fact that union density has been on a downward trajectory since the 70s and that Democratic control hasn’t changed that.

Even if all you cared about was the president’s reelection, these choices are counterproductive.  And given that so many, and here I’m not talking about politicians and pundits, treat reelection as the prime goal, very few will demand a shift.  That’s what I find most baffling.

*Note my list of things here are the things that unions and their members care about, not necessarily what others think they should care about.  You don’t win political support by giving people stuff that they don’t care the most about.

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Written by David Kaib

September 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm

One Response

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  1. […] not the other way around, that members “fear and loathe” them.  Interest groups and unions could also transform themselves from operating like arms of the Democratic Party into truly member […]


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