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Unions Shouldn’t Fund Their Enemies

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Talked about this last week, but Arkansas electing Tom Cotton is going to be horrible. So I don’t blame liberals and unions going all in for Mark Pryor, bleh as he is.

On the other hand, I do think unions should have some baseline standards before they give a politician money. For instance, should teachers’ unions give money to Pryor when he turns around and gets in bed with the union-busting charter school movement? I would argue no, but they are giving money to Pryor anyway. It’s one thing to give money to someone who is your not greatest supporter in Congress. It’s another to give it to someone who openly opposes what you stand for. I have trouble believing that’s in their members’ interest. After all, it is not unions’ job to be the only progressive organization to have to ignore their own self-interest for the broader progressive movement. It’s not as if NOW is expected to work for anti-abortion Democrats or Sierra Club is supposed to get out the vote for politicians in the pocket of the oil industry. But unions routinely go to the mat for politicians who don’t pay them back. Tom Cotton is bad but on the issue of teachers unions, Pryor is not much better and certainly not good.

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  • Manny Kant

    But isn’t it in the unions’ interests for the Democrats to retain the Senate? It feels like a tough call to me.

    • The AFL-CIO, perhaps. Is it in the interests of teachers unions though to fund candidates who openly oppose their goals? That I am skeptical of. And again, it’s pretty much only labor among the big Democratic interest groups expected to sacrifice its principles for the team. It’s not as if anyone expects NOW to fund Bob Casey’s reelection campaign or Sierra Club to go to bat for Mary Landrieu, although they may in certain cases. Green groups have given Landrieu almost nothing and that’s good.

      • Manny Kant

        This is fair enough. But I think in many ways it’s a big problem that progressive groups are a bunch of narrow interest groups that generally have little interest in funding the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents. I understand why that is, and I think it’s justified in each individual instance, but it adds up to a situation that makes things difficult for the Democrats to win majorities, which turns out to be bad for all these groups. Mary Landrieu may suck on the environment, but she’s certainly no worse than whatever awful Republican would otherwise have the job, and her presence in the Senate also helps keep Mitch McConnell from becoming majority leader. Might it not be in the interest of the Sierra Club to support her?

        I don’t think I have any definitive answer here, but I’m not convinced that funding in a way that makes it easier for Republicans to win is good for progressive causes.

        • “Mary Landrieu may suck on the environment, but she’s certainly no worse than whatever awful Republican would otherwise have the job, and her presence in the Senate also helps keep Mitch McConnell from becoming majority leader. Might it not be in the interest of the Sierra Club to support her?”

          That may well be the lesson.

        • Brett

          The Democrats would have to build a stronger central party fundraising and turnout machine to get around that problem.

          • And that should be on the Democratic Party or should be shared by all the big constituent groups. Right now, way too big of that burden is forced onto unions.

      • cpinva

        well prof. Loomis, while your skepticism is well founded, what is your viable alternative, for the union supporters of AR? is there a ralph nader-like, but viable, third-party candidate, that the unions can all support in good conscience? the problem, in states like AR, is that, in order to be a viable democratic candidate, you have to heel pretty closely, but not quite to, the GOP/tea party line.

        as manny kant points out, it is, ultimately, still in the union’s best interest to retain a democratic majority in the senate, though some of those democrats aren’t perfect.

        • There’s a difference between sighing to vote for a candidate like Pryor and giving him money and time for what is essentially nothing, at least for the core issues of the teachers’ unions.

          • Brett

            The answer is to fight harder in the Democratic primaries, either getting someone more pro-teacher in the process or spooking Pryor into being more careful about who he endorses.

            I’ll give the Republicans that – they’ve been willing to do that kind of “discipline” on their politicians. It means they lost a couple seats for it, but scared the rest into alignment.

          • cpinva

            “There’s a difference between sighing to vote for a candidate like Pryor and giving him money and time for what is essentially nothing, at least for the core issues of the teachers’ unions.”

            agreed, up to a point. on the surface (and really, that’s pretty much all we get to see, being outsiders), it would appear to be a waste of scarce, allocable resources, for the teacher’s unions. however, if what they bring to Pryor’s campaign table is more than just a few dollars and a couple of bored telephone callers, the threatened loss of those assets could be, eventually, significant enough to make him (more importantly, his staff) perk up their ears. how easy would it be, for his campaign to replace those lost assets, should he continue to flip them the bird? easy enough for him to dramatically close his briefcase, get up an leave? I have no idea, these aren’t simply rhetorical questions. I was hoping you might have a bit more in-depth knowledge of his campaign’s fiscal situation.

            “I’ll give the Republicans that – they’ve been willing to do that kind of “discipline” on their politicians. It means they lost a couple seats for it, but scared the rest into alignment.”

            brett, yes they do, for good reason. the GOP is a monolith, in terms of its agenda and constituencies. it is concerned, ultimately, about the health & wellbeing of the 1%, and will do whatever it needs to, to protect it. if it means pretending to give a rat’s ass about abortion, that’s fine, they’ll happily suck those fundie “values voters”, their dollars & votes, right in. throw another plank on the platform. if it means pretending to give two tiddlies about “illegal aliens”, and the ranting racists who hate them so, they’re good with that too. throw yet another plank on the platform. hell, they have an entire pallet of planks available. in return, they get a whole bunch of barking mad lunatics happy to vote for keeping their marginal tax rates up, to make up for reducing the marginal rates of the filthy, obscenely rich. they are most definitely good with that.

            any potential GOP candidate who doesn’t tow that line gets quickly drop kicked, because the GOP has no interest in a “diverse” constituency that includes anyone other than old, white, rich males. granted, this very narrow demographic will eventually do them in, but being long-term planners (other than for the desired 1%), isn’t real high on the GOP’s agenda. as long as the current group gets their’s, they just don’t care about the future.

            fortunately/unfortunately, the democrats do, and aspire to a diverse constituency, making it a lot harder for them to exert the same level of discipline on their own. hopefully, it works to their advantage in the long-run, when we’ll all be dead anyway.

  • Morse Code for J

    If the Senate goes Republican, there won’t be another successful NLRB, FLRA or NMB appointment before January of 2017, especially if any of those bodies drop below quorum in the meanwhile. What little function our labor mediation bodies retain would be gone, and employers would act accordingly. It would be nice if there were such feeling for organized labor in the Senate that unions could afford to give and work for only those candidates who shared their principles, but you can’t blame them for not wanting to risk being shut out.

    • Manny Kant

      Of course, none of those institutions have any sway over teacher’s unions, do they? Public state employees are basically excluded from federal labor law, no?

      • Bruce Vail

        Yes, but NLRB has jurisdiction over private schools.

      • Morse Code for J

        Certainly. I should have been more clear that I was speaking of unions generally.

  • efgoldman

    The enemy of my enemy….
    Hell you know how it goes.
    Supporting a Senator who is unfriendly to the union is certainly preferable to tacitly supporting a genuine loon who would, left to his own devices, get rid of secular public education altogether.
    The other way is Naderism, which helps no-one, not even Nader.

  • Steve LaBonne

    Not to say anything that hasn’t been said 1000 times before but we have to be a lot more indulgent with a Pryor in a state like Arkansas than with asshole like Cuomo in a state that can do far better.

  • ploeg

    Yep. We’ve been over this before. It would be stupid to vote for anybody but Prior if you live in Arkansas, because there isn’t much of a choice on the ballot. But donating or volunteering are different. A candidate doesn’t have a claim on my money or my time, and I have every right to choose to spend my money or my time in ways that achieve my ends more effectively. If a candidate wants money or time, the candidate should expect to make the case for that.

  • Bruce Vail

    I’m with Erik on this one. There is no way you can justify giving teacher union money to Pryor.

    • cpinva

      if you want to have any hope in hell of having any kind of insider influence, money is your means of greasing that wheel. unless you can convince him that your union has influence far out of proportion to its actual numbers, like the tea party has convinced the GOP.

      • Bruce Vail

        Buying insider influence is the preferred method of doing politics, it’s true, but teacher contributions to Pryor don’t seem to buying anything.

  • The Navigator

    I have a theory that the real reason unions do this is because, sadly, they’re too weak not to – if they ever didn’t give money and do their famous GOTV and the candidate won anyway, they’d be exposed. Many other borderline-unsympathetic politicians would give up on labor entirely if it became obvious that you could win without them. I think union leadership secretly thinks that, in many situations, conservaDems could, in fact, win without them, and they’re justifiably determined not to let that become documented fact. Right now, the Pryor-style conservaDems are awful on labor, but they wouldn’t actually, fer instance, hold up a pro-labor NLRB nominee – there’s limits, in other words. I hope I’m wrong and maybe others here are more clued in and can point to reasons why I’m wrong.

    • cpinva

      rats, should have read a little further down!

    • IM

      I have a theory that the real reason unions do this is because, sadly, they’re too weak not to

      I fear that is all to true.

  • Jordan

    I think I agree with a lot of what you say here, but in what sense is Pryor an “enemy”? Rather than being an uncertain figure who is clearly not perfect, or even that good, but is also clearly superior to the republican alternative, both individually and at the federal level?

    The teachers unions in arkansas seem to be on board. Thats almost always good enough for me without strong evidence otherwise.

    • A supporter of the charter school movement is an enemy of public school teachers’ unions. And just because the Arkansas teachers’ unions are making this choice doesn’t mean that they see him as their friend.

      • Jordan

        I agree, so far as it goes. But the link was just to a fundraiser with the bad guys. Even then, there are degrees: does he support charter school stuff while also supporting normal public school funding and whatnot? Is he a full-on Rheeist, or is he Rhee-curious (like, say, Booker?). Those things matter. There are degrees, between straight up “enemies” and “jackasses who nevertheless can be worked with”.

        The arkansas teacher’s union may well not see him as their friend. They do appear to see him as someone worth supporting in contrast to who he is running against. I think that matters. A lot.

        Anyways, I’m not saying I know any of this. The opposite: I want to know more.

      • NobodySpecial

        Barack Obama is a supporter of the charter school movement. Should they not have funded him?

        • Should teachers unions have said we are not giving to a candidate who supports a policy that eviscerates our interests? Sure.

  • Murc

    Off-topic, but because this is a labor thread… Erik, I’d be interested in seeing a post with your thoughts on the latest Amazon vs. their serfs dustup, especially with regards to the Department of Labor and the vile Paul Clement coming in on the side of “we can subject you to dehumanizing treatment and we don’t even have to pay you for your time!”

  • jamesepowell

    Teachers’ unions need to donate to Pryor not just because he is almost certain to be better than any Republican, but because we need to hold onto the Democratic senate.

    I don’t see this being similar to the abortion rights groups who stuck with Joe “Take a Cab” Lieberman when they had a genuine, pro-choice Democrat on the ballot.

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