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Does It Really Matter Which Candidate Organized Labor Endorses?

With so many so-called “Cafeteria Catholics” (i.e., those who pick and choose what church doctrines to follow) telling us, on the one hand, how much they admire Pope Francis’s humility, compassion and spirituality, and, on the other hand, telling us that they strongly disagree with his views on immigration and birth control, what chance is a piddly-assed labor union endorsement going to have in a presidential election?

If good, strong Roman Catholics can openly contradict the Pope—who, as I (a non-Catholic) understand it, is not merely some Vatican bureaucrat, but recognized as a direct link to God—how can the rank-and-file be expected to vote the way the executive board of their International tells them?

Alas, based on my own experience, and given how cynical and ornery union members tend to be, it wouldn’t surprise me if the membership did the exact opposite–voted against their union’s official endorsement solely because their union leadership urged them to do otherwise.

In the early 1990s, after learning that Snapple beverages was one of the regular sponsors of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, our industrial union (representing West Coast paperworkers) launched a national boycott against Snapple. Despite being aware that boycotts are rarely successful, we thought we’d give it a shot anyway.

Not only did the boycott fail utterly, we had angry people approach us demanding to know who the hell gave us the right to “order” them what to buy and what not to buy. I had a woman get in my face and tell me that, even though she had never purchased a Snapple beverage in her life, she intended to go out and buy one, just to demonstrate her outrage at being “told what to do.”

So far, Hillary Clinton has secured the lion’s share of big-time labor endorsements. She has the support of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), NEA (National Education Assoc.), AFT (American Federation of Teachers), UBC (United Brotherhood of Carpenters), and IAM (International Assoc. of Machinists), along with the Bricklayers, Plumbers and Pipefitters, Roofers and Water-proofers, and other trade-craft unions.

This morning, Bernie Sanders joined a group of CWA (Communications Workers of America) members who were demonstrating outside a Verizon Wireless store in New York, demanding an equitable contract and the reinstatement of a woman union official who was unfairly fired for engaging in organizing activities.

It goes without saying that getting the CWA’s endorsement (it has almost 460,000 active members) would be a major victory for Sanders. Not only would it further establish his labor creds, it could even influence other unions to reconsider before aligning themselves with Hillary. And with the estimable—1.9 million members—SEIU (Service Employees International Union) yet to decide, who knows which candidate (if any) they’ll ultimately endorse?

Of course, considering how squirrelly the Republican nomination process has been so far, it wouldn’t be a total shock if the SEIU threw its support behind the Donald Trump, a move reminiscent of the Teamsters mind-blowing decision to back Richard Nixon in 1972, the first time in history a big-time union endorsed a Republican presidential nominee.

Still, discounting the campaign donations that these Internationals would be expected to make, will any of this matter when it comes to counting the ballots? Does anyone seriously believe that America’s union members will vote the way their parent union tells them to vote?

Indeed, if that degree of loyalty and solidarity were possible, America’s unions (with 14.6 million members nationwide) wouldn’t be where they are today, flat on their backs and relegated to sucking hind teat. If organized labor could be relied upon to deliver the coveted “union vote,” our political landscape would be dramatically different.

If unions were seen to wield genuine, electoral power, corporations would respect them, the Republicans would fear them, the Trots would cautiously join them, and the Democrats would be forced to court them, hat in hand, rather than consider them an automatic “get.” If only.

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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

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