FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Hunt for a Blue November

“I could hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”

— Jay Gould, Wall Street financier, 1886

It’s not a happy time for labor unions. The institution that gave us the weekend, vacations, pensions and health insurance, and is credited with having more or less “invented” the middle-class, is now viewed as anachronistic and lame or, worse, parasitic and corrupt.

If Wes Craven were to make a horror movie about the economy, labor unions would be cast as the zombies. We walk the earth, we are sentient, we appear menacing; but we are neither alive nor dead. We are the American economy’s Undead.

Unless there’s a strike, racketeering scandal or rumor that Hoffa’s body has been found, organized labor tends to be ignored by politicians and mainstream media. There’s nothing particularly revealing in this neglect, other than showing that garden-variety union business doesn’t generate much interest-not among the movers and shakers, not among the moved and the shaken.

This changes come election time. Every four years, like clockwork, unions get nudged into the limelight, as national audiences are treated to media analyses and predictions of that coveted, elusive prize: the “labor vote.” And 2008 will be no exception.

During the 2004 primaries, as Democratic candidates toured the factories and union halls of Blue states-with the AFL-CIO remaining tantalizingly uncommitted, its 13 million members awaiting their “marching orders”-there was intense speculation over who would win labor’s endorsement. ABC’s Peter Jennings called Howard Dean “labor’s man.” CNN’s Chris Matthews said Richard Gephardt was labor’s “best friend.” PBS’s Mark Shields described John Kerry’s labor record as “tepid.”

Although the AFL-CIO-organized labor’s version of the Pentagon-cautiously withheld its endorsement until fairly late in the campaign (when it declared, anti-climatically, for Kerry), several prominent unions had come out early and aggressively for Gephardt and Dean, well in advance of the targeted Iowa caucus.

Iowa had been advertised as a showdown between the stolidly protectionist, anti-NAFTA Gephardt (who had won in Iowa in 1988), supported by steelworkers, machinists and other “smoke-stack” industries, and the ultra-hip Dean, whose endorsement by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), America’s largest union, was supposed to signal a sea change in labor’s national agenda.

Of course, instead of a union-driven victory for either Dean or Gephardt, Mr. Blue State himself, John Kerry, pulled off the upset, contributing to front-runner Dean’s stunning fall from grace, and Gephardt’s abrupt departure (he withdrew two days later).

What the Iowa Democrats did was no surprise. They did what defiant working people have been doing for 40 years-exposing bloc-voting for labor candidates as the urban myth it is. Indeed, anyone who still believes that “friends of labor” are less apt than the average voter to flex their political independence hasn’t been paying attention.

Those “Reagan-Bush ’84” bumper stickers seen in union parking lots-even in the wake of Reagan’s peremptory firing of 11,000 striking air-traffic controllers-didn’t get there by accident. They were put there to show union muckety-mucks that the membership doesn’t give a flying gee whiz about “trickle down” solidarity. No one’s going to tell them how to vote, thank you very much. Which is a pity.

For the record, there hasn’t been anything resembling a unified labor vote since 1964, when LBJ crushed Barry Goldwater. This was back in labor’s glory days, when membership hovered at 30% (it’s 12% today), when the UAW faced negligible foreign competition, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters still ruled America’s highways.

But by 1972, following years of radical politics and social upheaval, it had become apparent that the Democratic Party, long regarded as labor’s patron saint and benefactor, had drifted so far to the cultural left, become so diffuse and confoundedly “inclusive,” that it no longer automatically spoke for the rank-and-file.

As a consequence, unions found themselves representing a new breed of member: the fiercely independent, anti-corporate, pro-labor, anti-Communist, “Roosevelt Republican.” A walking-talking ideological paradox.

Accordingly, as union members openly bailed on the Party, the Democrats returned the favor, withdrawing their support of labor’s core agenda, and running for cover the moment anyone accused them of being “anti-business” (the Mark of Cain in politics). Even academe, long an ideological ally of the labor movement, eventually lost interest.

That awkward juxtaposition of Chardonnay-intellectuals and the beer-and-pretzel crowd had always been suspect, bringing to mind Oscar Wilde’s description of an English fox hunt: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.” In any case, today’s left-wing academics seem to have more sympathy for Turkish dissident poets than striking auto workers.

So, how much influence will an AFL-CIO’s endorsement have in ’08? Arguably, it will fall somewhere between the Teamsters’ historic embracing of Ronald Reagan, in 1980, and the UAW’s perfunctory nod to Michael Dukakis, in 1988. In other words, it’s anyone’s guess, as always. Which is a pity.

DAVID MACARAY was president and chief negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail