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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Labor’s Split Could Affect Dems’ Future

Democratic strategists and campaigners should take note of Jeanne Cummings’ article “Unions Recast Their Political Role: Fracturing of AFL-CIO Could Boost Labor’s Influence Over Election Campaigns in Long Run” in today’s Wall St. Journal. Cummings discusses some of the ramifications of the widening divisions within organized labor on the Democratic Party. As Cummings points out:

The departure from the AFL-CIO of Mr. Stern’s Service Employees International Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters raises the likelihood of more split union loyalties in primary contests. It might even open a crack for some labor-friendly Republicans.
…To be sure, intralabor competition could end up wasting resources through duplication…they could dilute resources in a way that results in fewer victories.
One Democratic Party segment that may need to brace for fallout is moderate elected officials, many of whom joined President Clinton in the 1990s in backing free-trade deals. The Change to Win Coalition — which, like other labor officials, lambastes those deals as harmful to workers — pledges to take a tougher line toward defectors.
Just yesterday, labor presidents issued a warning to Democrats that supporting the Central American Free Trade Agreement now pending on Capitol Hill could cost them at re-election time.

Cummings also quotes labor insiders who believe the split could lead to an increase in union investments in political campaigns. The Democrats’ share of labor PAC contributions decreased slightly from 2000 to 2004, while the Dems’ share of the union vote remained constant, according to charts featured in her article. The voter turnout of union workers has increased in percentage terms in recent years, even as the number of union members has fallen.
Cummings and her sources agree that unions will continue to play a significant role in Democratic Party politics. But if the split in the ranks of organized labor produces an energized workers’ movement over the longer haul, unions will have enhanced influence in electing Democrats.