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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Need Stronger Unions

In his WaPo op-ed, Harold Myerson opines on the Democratic Party’s pursuit of the elusive “white whale” (working class). Meyerson notes that union membership has declined from 35 percent of the labor force in the 1950’s to 12 percent today (only 7.5 percent of the private sector). No doubt the figures for white workers are even smaller. Myerson sees unionization as Job One for getting the Democratic Party in position to win an enduring majority of the white working class:

In every election during this period, union members have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate at a rate about a dozen points higher than the general public and about 15 points higher than the non-union sector. In 2004, for instance, Kerry won 61 percent of union members while getting just 45 percent support from nonmembers….White male union members gave Kerry 57 percent of their vote; white male nonmembers, 38 percent — a 19-point gap. Fifty-seven percent of white male union members who didn’t go to college voted for Kerry, while only 34 percent of white male, non-union non-collegians backed him — a 23-point gap. Equivalently gaping differentials are present in exit polling clear back through 1972.

“White working-class voters vote two to one Republican if they are not in unions. They vote two to one Democratic if they are union members,” echoes Robert Borosage in his Campaign for America’s Future post “Bringing the White Working Class Into the Progressive Majority.”
Myerson sees enacting the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800, S. 1041) as an essential first step for helping unions regain lost membership. More than 60 million workers would join a union of they could, according to a 2006 study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and another survey found that private sector companies illegally fire employees for engaging in union activity in more than 25 percent of organizing campaigns. Not surprisingly, McCain, along with all other GOP Senators, has opposed allowing the bill to get a floor vote. Senate Democrats are nine votes short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and get the EFCA and other progressive legislation moving.
In addition to EFCA, Borosage calls for more vigorous support for unions from federal, state and local government:

We have a great stake in turning that around, not simply by passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which is the centerpiece of reviving the right to organize, but by turning government at all levels into an ally of unions. “FDR wants you to join a union,” they used to argue in the 1930s. We have to make that slogan true for governors, mayors, legislators and the next president

Borosage sees women workers as a potential wedge for unions and Democrats seeking a larger portion of the white working class vote. “We should be focusing more and more resources and energy on our secret asset among white workers—women, particularly single women…Single women vote overwhelmingly on economic issues and overwhelmingly for Democrats and progressives.” White women workers have had low rates of voter turnout, Borosage concedes. But he adds that they have been “turning out in large numbers” this year.
Myerson credits the AFL-CIO ‘Working America” program, which mobilizes unorganized workers for political action, with helping to secure “large majorities in recent elections for such Democratic candidates as Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.” With more support from rank and file Democrats, Working America and union GOTV campaigns may make the difference in November.

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