Who Is Really Surprised the Democrats Got Their Ass Kicked?

On Tuesday, [11/02/21] the reliably Democratic State of Virginia (‘reliable’ in Presidential elections) saw Republicans sweep to victory, including a Republican winning for Governor. Further, deep blue New Jersey also nearly saw a Republican upset (although it looks like the incumbent Democratic Governor will hold on). In short, it was a very, very bad night for the Democratic Party. But does this surprise anyone? Really?

The Democrats took the U.S. Presidency, Senate, and House in 2020 (with HUGE support for the National AFL-CIO) largely promising to move forward an expansive, progressive, pro-Union agenda. They, as a Party, claimed to support the PRO Act, livable wages, paid family medical leave, free public college, student loan forgiveness, protection of voting rights, tax increases on the rich (not working people), and major environmental action. And, now, a year later, what have we achieved? The answer, beyond the temporary child tax credit, is VERY LITTLE.

And here, lets be honest…The PRO Act (which is a transformational pro-Labor bill that seeks to right the power imbalance between workers and bosses) is DEAD. Comprehensive voting rights looks dead. The 6 trillion social spending bill has been eviscerated down to under two trillion and now amounts to a universal pre-K bill (with a few good but limited other priorities tucked in), and even this modest bill’s fate still seems in question. And, while the infrastructure bill (also greatly reduced from its original scope) will likely pass (eventually), in isolation, it’s far too little too late. And, if this infrastructure bill is all that passes, it will be impossible to argue that the first year of Democratic Party rule has been anything other than an abject failure and disappointment for Unions, working-class people, progressives, and those National AFL-CIO officers who put all our eggs in the basket of the Democratic Party.

The Vermont AFL-CIO, from the start, has vocally supported the PRO Act, the larger social spending bill, the infrastructure bill, and major voting rights reform. Together, we view successful passage of these efforts as a start towards the implementation of a Union-led Green New Deal. And, like our democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, we will continue to vocally support these efforts, and we will even support passage of diminished bills which make progress towards these priorities. But, as much of these efforts become increasingly scaled down (to the point where they are no longer recognizable), and as the progressive promises of the 2020 election die on the watch of Democratic Party rule, the Labor Movement should not be afraid to call a spade a spade: The national Democratic Party, if they fail on these fronts, will have once again betrayed us (as they have over and over again throughout so many decades of false promises post FDR). In short, failure here will again indicate that they are not our friend and are unwilling or incapable of delivering meaningful wins for Organized Labor and the working class.

With this reality plain for all to see, and reinforced by too many letdowns to count, can one even pretend to be surprised that the Democrats got their ass kicked last night? If you are, you are not paying attention.

But, the real tragedy here is not that a majority in Virginia turned their backs on a Democratic Party that continues to not represent us, but rather that folks again fell for the shell game that is the two-party political system; they voted for the Republicans. And, when it comes to the national Republican Party lets also be clear…This party, unlike the Democrats, does not even pretend to care about us. Rather, they demonstrate an open disdain for Organized Labor, and through them, our Union rights have been eroded at an alarming rate when they are in power. The national Republican Party is also increasingly a neo-fascist party hell bent on undermining what democracy we have in the United States. A pox on both their houses.

These political realities, when and if the Democrats finally fail to pass the PRO Act and other transformative pro-working class bills in 2021, must result in the Labor Movement making moves to build working-class power beyond the Democrats (and obviously beyond the Republicans). We must consider taking steps towards establishing a pro-Union, working class-left party of our own on a national scale. And, we must STOP funneling tens-of-millions of dollars into the efforts to elect more Democrats who, when push comes to shove, will not support us. Instead, we must put the lion’s share of our money and resources into organizing new shops, and internally organizing those shops we already have. The National AFL-CIO would be wise to take money from our failed election and lobbying efforts, and instead send Union organizers to every State Labor Council and CLC in the country to help us build up our membership and grassroots organizing capacity. And through such organizing, we must build our own class power that relies on no political party to give expression to our desires, dreams, and demands. And, where we build real Union power, the politicians will follow (if for no other reason than fear). Otherwise, all we are left with is to pretend to act surprised, again, the next time we vote-in the Democrats, they fail to deliver, and then they lose the next election thereafter. It’s time for Organized Labor to wake up and become the change we need. Enough is enough!

David Van Deusen is the President of the Vermont AFL-CIO.