Monday, July 25, 2005

Time for Democrats to Help Labor

The following post was cross-posted on Daily Kos:

Today labor is making headlines, with the New York Times reporting that 4 major unions are leaving the AFL-CIO to form a new labor coalition, Change to Win.

This development has wide-sweeping implications for the progressive movement. It's a shame it had to come to this, but the fact that labor is getting lots of attention out of this can't be a good thing. As they say, any publicity is good publicity. And this attention may put get more Democrats to pay attention to the plights of unions. The NYT piece notes that labor's internal divide has the Democrats worried, and rightfully so:

"A rift could hurt the labor movement badly by redirecting its focus and energies to internal battles instead of bedrock issues like fighting for wage increases and extending health care to more workers. Democrats, a traditional ally of organized labor, are especially worried that a schism might hurt their party's chances by making labor a less potent political force."

There's no question this is true. What I would point out is that labor has always been there for the Democrats, but not necessarily the other way around. In the 2004 election, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest union and the leading dissident in Change to Win, spent over $39 million to help elect Kerry. They were the 5th largest PAC in terms of receipts, placing them ahead of such well-known groups as and the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. Yet Kerry and the Democrats as a whole did little more than pay lip service to labor's concerns.

Where were the Democrats during NAFTA? Kerry, Edwards, Clinton, and many other Dems lined up right behind the Republicans in supporting a failed free trade agreement.

Perhaps most importantly, Democrats have not exactly been putting much weight behind the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize at their workplaces. Essentially, it is a piece of legislation that would help reverse labor's decline by making it easier to organize new workers. Unless I missed something, Kerry didn't exactly tout this legislation very much.

It's time the Democrats start fighting harder for Labor. The Democrats depend on Labor when the going gets tough. Now it's time for the Party to help out its most important ally.