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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Re-Energizes Labor Movement — for Democrats

Of all the bad decisions Republican leaders have made during the last year — and it is a long litany of stupid calls — it would be ironic if the most self-destructive one turned out to be their suicide attack to destroy the American labor movement.
I say ironic, because last may AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, with the strong support of union leaders, announced at the National Press Club that labor unions were tired of being taken for granted and would no longer provide automatic support for Democratic candidates, who didn’t reciprocate by supporting the priorities of the trade union movement. As Trumka said, “If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, then working people will not support them.”
He meant it. Union leaders were sorely disappointed by weak Democratic support of measures like the Employee Free Choice Act, which would help strengthen union organizing rights. And there a number of Democratic candidates who received support from unions, but who didn’t do much to advance other bread-and-butter union priorities, like fair trade. Trumka and other union leaders understood that Republicans were the primary force obstructing pro-union legislation, but they also felt, with some good reason, that too many Dems, including many ‘blue dogs,’ caved to the Republicans too easily.
Smart Republicans welcomed this development. Anything that reduced labor support for their opponents they saw as a good thing. Unions provided about 30 percent of the top four Super-PAC expenditures supporting Democrats and about two-thirds of the financial support provided by the pro-Democratic House Majority PAC. But today, unions are facing a very different reality, as Matea Gold and Melanie Mason report in the L.A. Times:

Flash forward to today: Labor appears squarely back in the Democrats’ corner for the 2012 election — pushed there in large part by Republican attacks on collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Those and other anti-union measures are rallying organized labor to the side of its longtime Democratic allies, and not just in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, where they are battling efforts aimed at curbing union organizing.
The country’s biggest unions also have played a central role in helping a network of federal pro-Democratic “super PACs” get off the ground, pouring more than $4 million into those groups in 2011, even as many wealthy liberals kept their checkbooks closed.
And some major labor groups have even inserted themselves into the Republican presidential primaries with ads that take aim at White House hopeful Mitt Romney.

So, not only have Republicans overplayed their hand as legislative obstructionists, souring the public into record-low approval ratings of their party; Not only have they revealed themselves as groveling lapdogs for their wealthy contributors at the expense of working people; Not only has the GOP defined itself, most recently, as the party of extremist opposition to women’s reproductive self-determination. Now they have also taken a huge trump card that they could have played to significant advantage — labor’s decision to withhold support from some Democrats — and compelled the union movement to not only reverse that decision, but to go all in for record union support of Democratic candidates.
Democrats should hold a national “Thank Scott Walker Day.” But it’s not just Walker; It’s Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Ohio Governor John Kasich and other GOP leaders who have been arrogant enough to think they could crush the union movement with little resistance and no consequences. With classic Republican myopia, they are doubling down, as Mason and Gold explain:

Across the country, state GOP lawmakers — many of whom were swept into office by the tea-party-fueled wave that dominated the 2010 midterm election — are aggressively pushing right-to-work laws that would make it harder for unions to collect dues. And in the presidential campaign, Romney has taken a particularly antagonistic posture against what he calls “big labor.”

As a result,

“I think we’ll be more engaged in 2012 than certainly in the last 20 years,” said Mike Podhorzer, political director for the AFL-CIO, a federation of 57 unions. “Working people realize in a way they never have what a threat the current Republican platform is to their well-being.”
Organized labor is now expected to match or slightly exceed the estimated $400 million that unions spent to help elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats in 2008, according to Marick F. Masters, a business professor who studies the labor movement at Michigan’s Wayne State University.

As the authors note further, one union alone, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, will invest up to $100 million this year to help Democrats. “What’s the alternative?” asks AFSCME President Gerald McEntee. The union has already spent $1 million attacking Romney in Florida. SEIU also ran attack ads against Romney in the Sunshine state. The ads represented unprecedented involvement in a GOP primary.
Labor unions are supporting very few GOP candidates who support them. But the pro-Republican pickings for unions are exceedingly slim this year as a result of the GOP’s jihad on unions. The AFL-CIO will be more selective in choosing which particular Democratic candidates they support this year. But the GOP’s war on collective bargaining has insured that union support of Democrats will be stronger than ever, both in dollars and muscle.

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