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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Building Unions Key to Strong Democratic Party

Which comes first, a strong Democratic party or strong unions? It is a chicken-and-egg argument of no mean consequence, arousing fierce passions on both sides and occupying the heart of organized labor’s recent split. Our August 12th post cheered the cooperation of both factions of the union movement in mobilizing resources for the November elections. Well and good for the short run and for the Democrats’ hopes to win majorities in both houses of congress in November.
But the long-term strategy of allocating more resources to build strong unions and less to politics merits a fair hearing and some serious consideration by all Democrats. A good place to begin is Kelly Candaele’s piece in today’s Los Angeles Times “Unions Should Organize, Not Politicize: More collective bargaining, not government action, is what workers need most.” Candaele, a former employee of the Los Angeles County AFL-CIO makes several good points:

The American labor movement is using political power to make up for its own failure to organize new unions. It’s unclear whether this trend is a sign of weakness or strength.
…While recognizing the power and importance of the state, the most successful and dynamic unions have also had a healthy independent ethos. Despite its flaws and current weakness, the best bet for providing the protection and decency that working people need is still a revitalized labor movement.
Some labor leaders argue that the Gompers approach simply doesn’t work in today’s hostile environment, and that improving conditions through politics is the only alternative. There is some truth to this. After all, where would the elderly be without Medicare and Social Security? But if there is a future for organized labor in the private sector, workers have to build power from the bottom up. Government can be helpful, but unions also have to save themselves.

Strong progressive parties in other nations are undergirded by a much higher level of union membership. For the long-range health of the Democratic Party, American progressives outside the union movement should begin to direct more attention to making it true in the U.S.

One comment on “Building Unions Key to Strong Democratic Party

  1. Robert Goldschmidt on

    We don’t need unions in control of our country any more than we need the large corporations. We need to unify as a country with a Presidential candidate like Mark Warner and then address our two most critical issues — dependence on imported oil and runaway healthcare/retirement costs. These are not in alignment with the special interests of the large corporations or the unions, but our survival depends upon it.
    The most effective way to retake control is to contribute to the candidate of your choice. Currently only 4% of the public contributes to campaigns. Right now many members of congress are beholden to the large corporations for financing their last campaign, their next campaign and for the plum job they will get when they leave Congress. Money talks — $25 per year from a family will swamp out the special interests.


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