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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Unions and the Democratic Party: The Present and Future

The Democratic Strategist has posted a lot of content about the party’s quest for winning a greater share of the white working-class vote, which has become a more widely shared concern in the wake of the midterm elections. Trade unions have a critical role to play in meeting this challenge, and the Democratic party has a reciprocal obligation to support the labor movement, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is a strategic imperative. For today, we’ll just flag two recent articles worth review for those who share these concerns.
Thomas B. Edsall’s New York Times op-ed “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions” provides a well-sourced update on the status of unions in America, coup-led with a richly-deserved scold for the Democratic party for neglecting this key constituency: One of Edsall’s nut graphs:

Democrats neglect the union movement at their peril. Not only does organized labor provide millions of dollars – the Center for Responsive Politics reports that unions spent $116.5 million on politics in 2013-14 – but union members are a loyal Democratic constituency. On Nov. 4, the 17 percent of voters who come from union households supported Democratic House candidates by a margin of 22 points, 60-38, while the remaining 83 percent from non-union households supported Republicans 54-44.

To get a sense of the future possibilities for the labor movement, the must-read is Harold Meyerson’s post at The American Prospect Long Form, “The Seeds of a New Labor Movement.” Meyerson takes an in-depth look at the more innovative organizing strategies, with particular focus on the creative efforts of David Rolf, president of a Seattle-based long-term care local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Meyerson writes of Rolph:

…Between 1995 and 1999, while still in his 20s, Rolf directed a campaign that unionized 74,000 home care workers in Los Angeles. It was the largest single unionization since the United Auto Workers organized Ford in 1941. SEIU then sent him to Seattle, where he has nearly quadrupled SEIU’s Washington state membership. Last year, he led the initiative campaign that persuaded voters in SeaTac, the working-class Seattle suburb that is home to the city’s airport, to raise the local minimum wage to $15–the highest in the nation. He also managed to make SEIU’s campaign to organize fast-food workers and raise their pay to $15 the centerpiece of the mayoral race in Seattle proper…
Over the past 15 years, no American unionist has organized as many workers, or won them raises as substantial, as Rolf. Which makes it all the more telling that Rolf believes the American labor movement, as we know it, is on its deathbed, and that labor should focus its remaining energies on bequeathing its resources to start-up projects that may find more effective ways to advance workers’ interests than today’s embattled unions can.

Meyerson shares some of Rolph’s organizing techniques and has more to say about American labor’s future prospects. All of this should be of interest to anyone who believes that the Democratic party’s route to winning a larger share of the white working-class vote must go through a healthier labor movement.

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