Why This Old Democrat Has Trust Issues With New Democrats

Outsourced to former Democratic Labor Secretary Robert Reich (boldface mine):

The biggest thing that I regret not pushing harder on has to do with labor unions. Bill Clinton, as did Barack Obama, promised the unions that there would be labor law reform. That would be one of the major first initiatives of both administrations, when the Democrats had both houses of Congress. By labor law reform, I mean making it easier to form unions, making it harder for companies and employers to fire workers for trying to form unions.

In both instances, both the Clinton administration and the Obama administration, both presidents essentially said, “No, I don’t want to spend my political capital on that, even though I promised labor unions that I would. They have no real option. They’re going to be with me in the future.” That, I should have fought harder for…

Workers not only needed unions and still need unions but also the Democratic party needed labor unions because labor union members were the ground troops of the Democratic party. Without them, the Democratic party is really just a big fundraising machine. It has no members, no real active membership, apart from people who are party functionaries.

There is a price to be paid for such expediency. We’re already paying it.

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2 Responses to Why This Old Democrat Has Trust Issues With New Democrats

  1. John Magoun says:

    I have often wondered how much the decline of unions is a function of right-wing pressure and pull-back from New Deal legislation empowering unions vs. corporations, and how much of the decline is a social phenomenon involving the raising of much of the former working class of an industrial era into the lower-middle class of the post-industrial service economy.

    Class consciousness isn’t something that can be taught to people, it can only be awakened. Millions of people who, in my opinion, would benefit from strong union representation, and whose parents or grandparents were in unions or wished they could have been, seem now to think of the whole concept of being in a labor organization as demeaning, or limiting their freedom somehow. More liberal laws about organization aren’t going to change that generational difference in outlook.

  2. Tracy Lightcap says:

    Yes, this was a mistake, though pushing through even limited rollbacks of the barriers for unions would have been very difficult for both Clinton and Obama, And, yes, in both cases they had a bigger fish to fry: the start of universal health insurance. They needed every bit of juice for that, as Clinton’s failure and Obama’s very close success indicated. Further, the unions had lost so much membership by then that the political benefits of helping them out first – especially when they knew labor would be behind health insurance expansion – didn’t seem to them to be worth the effort. Can’t say I disagree.

    The president who could have done something along these lines was Jimmy Carter. He came to power with unified government and the most liberal Congress since 1936. We came very, very close to nationalizing the oil industry in his term. Problem = Carter was the first Neo-liberal Democrat to win office and had little interest in trying to re-new the New Deal coalition with the unions. Given their leadership at the time – this was George Meaney’s heyday – I can see his point. He had won as a reformer and was in constant conflict with the establishment Democrats of his day. I think he has seen the error of his ways, but I’ll ask him next time I’m at a showup with him.

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