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Unions: The New Reality


Hamilton Nolan has an interesting interview with AFSCME president Lee Saunders. Nolan can’t quite get over his Berniebroism in this interview, asking if unions supporting Hillary was a mistake and hinting at that old line I despise, that unions should organize instead of playing politics. Saunders has a good response here I want to highlight:

Do you think there’s a tension between the resources you put into politics, and the resources you put into organizing? Is that a zero sum game?

Saunders: Organizing is our number one priority. We spend about 30% of our budget on organizing. But we also believe that we have the ability to play heavily in the political arena. And especially where it matters most to our members—and it matters most to our members when you talk about governors races, state legislature races, city council races, and things of that nature. If you get them enthused and active in the local fight around politics, then you can start connecting the dots as far as the importance of federal politics associated with that. But a lot of our members say, “Why spend all this money on politics? Because it doesn’t matter.” I think what happened in 2016 was you had a lot of frustrated people who said, “It just doesn’t matter. We don’t care who’s in charge, because it just doesn’t matter.” And that’s why we’ve got to organize around the issues that impact them, and their communities, and their families. We’ve got to play. We’ve got to participate in the political arena. That’s how we’ve been able to move things in a positive way, not just at the bargaining table, but through legislation.

The problem with this whole construction of organizing versus “playing politics” that is so common on the left (and you will hear this from labor historians at labor history conferences, challenging unionists who are speaking), is that there is nothing in American history that suggests that unions can succeed in the face of a hostile government. There just aren’t examples suggesting otherwise. My forthcoming book on American strikes will explore this in detail. Counter examples just don’t exist. Now, that doesn’t mean organizing is pointless. The left critique of union leaders in not organizing for many years is largely accurate. Unions in the mid-twentieth century, largely believing they were a permanent part of American life, did stop organizing to a large extent, not building on their gains and ensuring that the government would continue being a more or less neutral arbiter between themselves and employers. Government certainly isn’t going to act unless people organize and make demands. But even if they do organize and make demands, if the government opposes them strongly enough, they will lose. Unions HAVE to be involved in politics if they want to succeed. It’s not all they have to do, but it is necessary.

Also, Saunders’ eyes are totally open to what this Supreme Court is going to do to public sector unions. We all need to understand this.

A lawsuit that’s making its way to the Supreme Court, Janus v AFSCME, could make public unions like yours “right to work”—which would be a serious blow to your ability to collect dues and maintain membership numbers. What are your thoughts on the suit?

Saunders: I’m not optimistic. If you look at the makeup of the Supreme Court, I believe that this time next year, this country will be right to work in the public sector. We can’t hide from that, we can’t bury our heads in the sand. The question is, what do we do about it? AFSCME has been very aggressive in making a lot of changes in our union, dealing with what we believe [will] be the Supreme Court ruling against us and overturning 41 years of law with the [Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision, which allowed public unions to collect agency fees from all workers in union shops, to cover the costs of representing the workers]. We’ve developed a program called AFSCME Strong, which is essentially back to basics. It’s talking with our members one on one, and listening to our members… At one time, we treated all of our members as if they were activists. And all of our members aren’t activists. That doesn’t make them bad people. They love their union. They understand the value of being a union member. But it also means that their plates are full, and they can’t devote 100% of their time to being a union member. And there’s nothing wrong with that…

Our folks are public service workers. They didn’t get into that profession to become millionaires and billionaires. They got into that profession because they care.

Public unions have been a popular political target, especially on the state level, in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Is there a way to make the public care about what’s happening to them?

Saunders: Quite honestly I think we have not done a good job of educating our communities and the public at large about what public service is all about—how people rely and depend upon those public services every single day, whether it’s picking up the trash, keeping your water clean so you don’t get sick when you drink it, repaving and rebuilding roads, providing health care services, providing child care services, providing home care services, having workers in libraries that work with kids. That’s the kind of work that our members perform. And we’ve got to promote that kind of work, because communities rely up on that. And sometimes that connection is not being made, where we’re providing those essential public services, yet we’re under attack.

Are you projecting a certain amount of membership loss, if the Janus case goes against you and you’re facing a “right to work” situation?

Saunders: I think there will be a loss of membership. But by the same token, with what we’re trying to do in recasting and rebuilding our program and developing the kind of strategy that I just talked about, I think that in many ways we can be a stronger union. And maybe a little bit smaller. But a stronger union, where we’ve made the connection where non-members are saying, “Wait a minute, I need this. And this is important to me. So I should be a member, and not someone who’s relying upon the benefits but not paying a dime. That’s not fair.”

He’s absolutely right. The funny part to me about this is that it provides the answer for Nolan’s later question about politics. How would this have been avoided? Hillary Clinton winning the presidency and Democrats winning the Senate. Of course, Nolan and his Deadspin bros notoriously hemmed and hawed and eventually most of them came around to reluctantly supporting Hillary, but not before proclaiming their purity about Bernie. But there are real life consequences to elections. When dimmer parts of the left talked about Democrats “blackmailing” them into voting for Hillary with the Supreme Court–There’s always the Supreme Court! they said–they were blithely choosing to ignore that a Trump victory meant real life suffering for real life people. And here we see it.

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  • Kevin

    Nolan is just insufferable. I have trouble clicking on anything he writes now, but I’ll give this a read, at least Saunders seems to know his head from his ass and has real answers here.

    • thequeso

      He writes really well on boxing and his intermittent fitness writing/trolling is great/brilliant, but yeah. His general attitude is insufferable.

      • Kevin

        I’m a boxing fan, so I’ve probably read his boxing stuff without noticing it was him writing.

  • Magary is the only man at Deadspin who acquitted himself well during the election. Pareene’s gotten better since, but the rest are awful.

    • Kevin

      I’m wondering if it’s because Magary is a bit older than them, married with 3 kids. He seems like a real person (not saying single people aren’t…I’m single with no kids in my mid-30’s, I’m real i think!), whereas they seem like children who think politics is about placating their whims and soothing their egos.

      • Justin Runia

        This would explain a lot.

      • That’s probably a big part of it. Burneko also has kids, I think, but the rest all seem young.

        • thequeso

          Marchman has kids too. Having kids doesn’t make you a reasonable adult and citizen. They’re just insufferable leftist white guys.

          Burneko is a lot easier to take when he’s writing about food more consistently. Which, coincidentally, he started doing again.

          • Kevin

            Well, there goes my theory! It was good while it lasted…for 4 mintues…

            Magary is really good though. Burneko I can read when he talks sports. Nolan is awful pretty much always.

            • Craigo

              Burneko is a good sportswriter. (He has a good piece today on what Chris Paul means for analytics.) I try to ignore him on every other subject, and ignore HamNo on literally every subject.

              • Kevin

                Yeah, read that piece today, was quite good, food for thought.

          • A quick reminder that Marchman’s 2016 political commentary was easily the FUCKING WORST among the Deadspin staff. Pareene gradually became wankier as tthe cycle progressed and Burneko’s writing then was always unpleasant…but even compared to those two at their nadirs Marchman is unreadable pigshit.

            • farin

              Burneko’s eulogies for Republican primary candidates were consistently good. I think he owns any topic that calls for unlimited, hyper-verbal scorn (in addition to the areas where he does legitimately good analysis, like food and basketball).

              • I didn’t say he was a bad writer. And it looks like is more recent work is a lot easier to sit through (his McCain article last Thursday, for example).

          • Origami Isopod

            Having kids doesn’t make you a reasonable adult and citizen.

            Thank you for saying this.

    • Aaron Morrow

      I will never get tired of this response. Seriously, Nolan had the third best note in the original Deadspin post. The rest of them were worse than Nolan.

      • Yeah, Nolan!s stand there was fairly testy without being butthurt. (I’d also like to add that Petchesky, Scocca and Ley’s responses were also reasonably good – if anything closer to Magary’s post than Nolan!s.)

      • Joseph Slater

        Yeah, that Jezebel response was perfect at the time and really stands up now.

    • Kevin

      Also want to recommend Magary’s books. Last years “The Hike” was really good, a kind of twisted fairy tale. His first fiction book, “The Postmortal” was also excellent, although he sucked at dialogue when he wrote it. But the ideas in that book are really great.

      • DN Nation

        Zaid Jilani wrote the article in question, so ya know, judge accordingly.

        (My ultimate conclusion remains that the American left needs to get better – even starting would be better than the status quo – at building left-leaning foreign policy structures. More think tanks! More hacks! Anything to stop the deluge of Very Serious People saying Very Serious Things that we find reprehensible. This of course requires building something rather than hot-takin’ on the tweets, so alas.)

        • Brien Jackson

          I’m not sure that’s all that possible, even. Foreign policy is 99.9% dealing with trade offs and incorporating the perspectives and interests of other parties, and the people you’re talking about reject that stuff out of hand as a matter of principle.

          • busker type

            Remember when John Bolton was ambassador to the UN?

            I’m not saying we need Ambassador Jilani, but ideological hacks can move the needle on foreign policy decisions.

            • Brien Jackson

              I don’t even know what that means. I suppose Glenn Greenwald could be the Director of the CIA or something under Bernie or some other hypothetical left-wing President, but that’s not the same thing as saying he can come up with an intellectual foreign policy framework.

        • Matty

          Oh, my god, this has been a point of crankishness with me for a while. I am, to put it mildly, not jazzed about the general FP stance of the Democratic Party and especially of its leadership. I’m also keenly aware that people who don’t believe in the Empire don’t get to run the Empire.

          I think I’ve posted this here before, but Noah Berlatsky had a really good point that the left needs specific demands, not just a vague “oh, foreign policy is bad” stance: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/04/trump_s_newfound_militarism_shows_why_we_need_some_kind_of_a_war_tax.html

          I saw someone suggest that organizing around repealing the 2001 AUMF is probably a good thing. But you still run in to the problem that this country isn’t electing an anti-imperialist, for whatever value of anti-imperialist you want, any time soon.

      • farin

        Goddammit, sometimes I really do wish Deadspin would stick to sprots.

    • rfm

      Tim Marchman should be punched in the face if he ever tries to talk about politics again.

      Albert Burneko is also a complete idiot.

  • thequeso

    No one at Deadspin besides Magary should be taken seriously in any discussion of electoral politics after the last election. Literally none of them.

    Excuse me, none of the male employees. The women (and Magary) had it right.

  • Tim Reynolds

    Invoking the sexist “Berniebroism ” is proof that you’ve given up convincing anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

    Kind of a waste of time reading you if you’re just going to spend your time jerking off baby-boomer feminists by fanning their hatred of men and young people like that.

    • busker type

      if you’re so sensitive that “Berniebro” triggers you, maybe you should get off the internet entirely.

    • Erik Loomis

      “fanning their hatred of men”

      • Pat

        Don’t you love the inherent contradictions in Tim’s rant? Warning a male writer against “jerking of baby-boomer feminists” by “fanning their hatred of men?”

    • drdick52

      Speaking as a *male* boomer feminist and Sanders supporter, that is the most egregiously sexist and idiotic statement I have seen in a while that did not come from a member of the Trump administration.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Agreeing with Dr. Dick. LGMers know that I am no fan of the phrase “BernieBros,” both because there are women who also hold the idiotic beliefs associated with the term and because it tends to blame, by association, Sanders himself and most of his supporters for views they just don’t hold. Heck, even Amanda Marcotte has urged folks to stop using the term. But Tim Reynolds is incredibly out of line in this comment. That old comment of his downthread strongly suggests TR is just a right-wing troll.

        • stepped pyramids

          “Bernie Bro” made a lot of sense for a specific period where it really did seem like there was a mob of young, male Sanders supporters who had just discovered politics and felt entitled to “well actually” much more politically-seasoned women online. I feel like that phenomenon mostly disappeared after the primaries, because most of those guys stopped giving a shit about politics again.

    • Craigo

      Maybe you should go play in the corner for a while. We’ve got some big trucks so you can go vroom vroom and (whispers) some candy cigarettes that look just like the ones the big boys smoke!

    • DN Nation

      Tim’s comment history is quite illuminating.

      The big problem for you all is, you think that ‘White Identity’ is evil, while ‘minority identity’ is good. It’s the ‘Our voters get to do stuff your voters don’t!’ problem that the Democrats have had for years now–you make rules that white people have to follow, only men have to follow, only Christians have to follow. Those groups aren’t allowed to make fun of other groups, but you throw fits any time someone suggest that those groups shouldn’t be allowed to make fun of white people or men, either. You get people kicked off of twitter for jokes you don’t like, then defend ‘KILL ALL MEN!’. You specify words and phrases that are racist, sexist or homophobic when other people use them, but give the people you like dispensation, so that Colbert can tell conservatives to go eat dick, but if a conservative does it, you swarm-shame them.

      • BigHank53

        The upside of Disqus.

        • There’s another upside that apparently only Scott, Drew and sharculese have even noticed.

          • stepped pyramids

            This one’s over my head.

            • The block function.

              • stepped pyramids

                Oh, friendo, that’s something I have been putting to good use.

                • I find it amusing – or at least baffling – that “we” (the LGM commentariat) still has more than its fair share protracted slapfights with obvious trolls and psychotics – which I suspect is at least partially why it took so long to ban NMAC, UtS, etc.

                  Has Marchman owned up to being a fucking idiot on PA going for Trump, by any chance?

                • stepped pyramids

                  I don’t pay attention to the Gizmobros anymore. I read that Burneko piece about McCain and it was fine but I don’t really find what they’re writing generally worthwhile.

          • Drew

            LOL thanks for the shout out

      • busker type

        heh… I was wondering if this was meant as sarcasm!

    • solidcitizen

      Great, now Tim has to vote for Donald in 2020 just to show you feminazis that he’s not going to take it any more.

  • sleepyirv

    Leftists disdain for “playing politics” is currently reaching it’s nadir, with so man Nolan-types lecturing Democrats on how to behave instead of doing the obvious thing of getting like-minded people elected. In an environment where Clintonism is discredited, this is a great time to get some leftists elected if you want that. Instead, we get whiny pieces like “Why won’t the current Democrats listen to me, a man who refuses to do any practical action to remove them from office?” http://splinternews.com/democrats-wake-up-and-smell-the-failure-1797015279 or “Losing is actually good because we never ever have to dirty our fingernails to help people.” http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/so-you-know-how-to-win-why-should-you-1796921246

    If you really think the leadership of the Democratic Party are incompetent nincompoops, you should be licking your chops to replace them and creating a more progressive platform. Instead we get this nonsense.

    • Kevin

      Well said. Hell, i’ve seen these guys saying that “leadership is the few, we are the many”…well, if you are the many…who cares what the leadership says or does? You have the numbers, elect people!!! Instead they are just whining and trying to sabotage anyone not named Sanders years in advance of an actual primary. It shows a real lack of confidence in their ideas.

    • Brien Jackson

      Well for one thing, they’re just AWFUL at politics. When they do try to do stuff, you get shit shows like DeMoro/Turner/Ellis have made in California, for example.

    • rfm

      A lot of American leftists act unconsciously exactly as a disciplined fascist fifth column would deliberately.

  • Zytor-LordoftheSkies

    Public sector unions are an aberration that should not even be allowed to exist. They just result in open, blatant and legal graft.

    A. Public union collects money from members
    B. Union spends money to support Democrat politician
    C. Democrat politician gets elected, votes to increase funding to government/union/schools, etc.
    D. Union grows, collects money from members…

    This is the overt definition of graft: paying a politico to vote in your interests. How is this legal?

  • NeonTrotsky

    Hell not only does the Supreme Court matter directly to Unions, but the composition of the National Labor Relations Board matters, as obscure and unreported on as that institution is. There are people who probably won’t even be able to organize within a legally recognized union now because of the people Trump will inevitably appoint to it.

    • Kubricks_Rube

      I wish more people understood that a vote for President is actually a vote for thousands of positions across the federal government, from judicial appointees and their staffs to cabinet members and their staffs to regulatory heads and their staffs to agency heads and their staffs to diplomats and their staffs, etc etc etc. Plus as a veto threat for a hostile legislative branch and a means of passing laws with a receptive legislative branch. And the same logic applies to the legislative branch: Whatever the merits of the candidates, I’m really voting for a potential House/Senate majority and control over who leads all the committees and which bills come to the floor and under what conditions. A vote in a general election is never for an individual politician.

      • Origami Isopod

        This country does not do well when it comes to focusing on organizations, versus individuals.

      • Yestobesure

        Some people vote GOP for that reason. “When a democrat is in the WH, suddenly all these regulatory bodies are staffed with people who have it in for me”
        I get that in our system, voting Republican assures that foxes will be guarding all the henhouses. Other developed democracies are less bipolar, with a more empowered bureaucratic state that doesn’t swing with the election cycle. Fukuyama says US is rare in evolving popular democracy before a strong administrative state.

    • Joseph Slater

      This is true, and even more true for a union such as AFSCME. The NLRB doesn’t govern public employees, but equivalent state labor boards do, and more importantly, (1) politicians are literally their employers/bosses, and (2) state and local public-sector labor laws are much more subject to being radically changed than the NLRA has been traditionally been (see Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, etc.)

  • Brien Jackson

    “blithely choosing to ignore that a Trump victory meant real life suffering for real life people.”

    Sums up the entire Firebagger left since 2007 rather nicely.

  • drdick52

    The whole idea that unions should avoid politics and focus on organizing is absurd on its face. Politics is is at the heart of successful organizing. The rise of unions in this country in the 30s and 40s was linked to political activism and the rise of the New Deal. The decline of Unions in the 80s was a result of politics and Reagan’s deliberate union busting.

  • epidemiologist

    Thanks for sharing this interview Erik. Nolan is of course insufferable but I think his questions are not uncommon ones and Saunders gave convincing, thoughtful responses to all of them. It seems to me that not only is a receptive government necessary for unions to be effective; but organizing and political advocacy should be synergistic. Unions that are not only larger, but growing, should be able to leverage that politically. Meaningful wins for organized workers would make organizing more appealing to others.

    For me the possibility of public sector right to work raises questions about the commitments and character of public sector workers. Will a lot of them think it’s just fine to benefit from union representation while paying nothing?

    The only public sector workers I know really well are other public health folks, and teachers. People in my field are generally liberal, see themselves as providing a public service, and have a well-developed understanding that even things not obviously related to health can sicken or kill you, which adds some urgency. My experience with teachers is more… Varied. Not all of them seem to think of themselves as providing a public service, as opposed to engaging with individual students or their subject matter. And it seems to me that the abuse of teachers must feel more immediate and personal, because even among quite liberal teachers I more frequently see resentment of the public, other school systems, other unions (or even their own if they’re weird).

    • Pat

      One does hope that Nolan will learn from his interview with Sanders, and incorporate Saunders’ answers over time into his worldview…

      Hey, a person can dream.

    • NeonTrotsky

      I’ve met a fair number of anti-union teachers. The hilarious thing is that in my state at least, they can already choose to opt out of paying into the political activities fund and only have to pay dues for organizing/bargaining, so they really have nothing to complain about at all short of wanting to be free riders. Their health benefits, and nice pension are only possible because of the union but they seem convinced they’d be bail to get the same deal or even better without having a union, and without having to pay for it. Hilariously a lot of these people also took jobs in public schools because they didn’t like what they were getting paid in non unionized private schools. Seems like some real cognitive dissonance is going on.

      • Kevin

        I have many friends who are teachers. I live in Toronto, Ontario. Ontario pretty much has the best teachers union in North America. You have teachers after 10 years making about $100K, and they have a fantastic pension. Some of my teacher friends are anti union. I think they’ve learnt not to say that around me after I called them fucking idiots enough times….one doesn’t have to look far to see how good they have it.

      • dl

        But I think a lot of them just want to be free riders, sadly.

      • Origami Isopod

        Nah, it’s just FYIGM.

    • Hob

      I was a nurse in a public-sector union (SEIU) for a while, and my experience was similar to what you said about teachers. It’s possible that their attitude toward the union had partly to do with the noticeable disconnect between the union leadership and the trenches – nursing was clearly not a thing SEIU really understood in terms of any work issues specific to the job, so they tended to focus heavily on just salary/benefits… and there was a general feeling (I don’t know how realistic) that trying to get more nurses to move up into leadership positions in the union was a non-starter because “it’s all a clique, it’s about who you know,” etc. But also some people are just deeply apolitical, and working as a nurse or a teacher doesn’t automatically change that.

      • Deborah Bender

        I was a member of SEIU from the mid Seventies to the mid Oughts. The union was good on representing members in disciplinary hearings and our contracts had excellent benefits. The rank and file got to elect the stewards, but apart from that, the union was run from the top down.When I started, the chapter represented the agency I worked for, but it was merged repeatedly with other chapters doing different kinds of work at other agencies, without the membership’s approval, any consultation, or even an explanation of why they did it. The national organization took all but a pittance of our dues.

        I experienced eight or nine contract negotiations, two strikes and a lockout. The union’s strategy for getting good contracts depended heavily on getting Democratic politicians to lean on the agency’s board of directors to settle (this worked more often than not). They did sometimes survey us on priorities for contract terms. When there was any grassroots disagreement about negotiating strategy, it was overruled; at one contentious strike meeting, we were told outright “We will keep voting until we get it right.” I was briefly an area steward and got to be a delegate one time to a meeting of a higher tier of the regional SEIU governance. The delegates had had no personal connection with each other or opportunity to meet ahead of time and were given no advance information about the agenda items. It was obvious that everything had been decided beforehand by the staff and the executive council of the union and that we were there to rubber stamp it.

        I don’t think the chapter was especially corrupt and some higher-ups got forced out for reasons they didn’t tell us, but were rumored to involve either misconduct or ineffectiveness. During the time I was a member (nearly thirty years), the chapter offered next to no educational programs for members on union history, limited leadership training, no service programs in outreach to the wider community, and no social activities other than a labor picnic.

        SEIU got me a steady job with decent working conditions, good wages and benefits. It did not cultivate grassroots support among its members or the community, and without a symbiotic relationship with Democratic machine politics, it would have been powerless.

  • HugeEuge

    Among the many infuriating aspects of overturning Abood will be, according to my understanding, the requirement that not only will non-member and non-agency fee payers still be entitled to 100% of the benefits of the union contract negotiated for union members in any given workplace, the non member will also be entitled to bargain individually with the employer for exclusive benefits (pay) for himself/herself, and the union will still have to represent this non-member non-agency fee payer in any disputes that he/she may have with the employer (such as in a grievance hearing).

    Why, it’s almost as if the intent were not simply to tell people that they don’t have to be a union member but can stand entirely on their own vis-a-vis relations with their employer, but rather [the intent is] very specifically to penalize union members and the handicap the union as a whole.

    • Joseph Slater

      You are correct. It’s the classic “free rider” problem.

    • dl

      Is the part about individual bargaining for pay really true? I haven’t read that anywhere.

      • solidcitizen

        Pretty sure that’s not true. Would need to see some very credible proof.

      • Joseph Slater

        Overturning Abood would not allow individual bargaining by members of union bargaining units.

    • kindasorta

      Anybody can bargain individually for higher pay with his employer, in the same way that he is free to write a bestselling novel or hit single or Oscar-winning script.

      • HugeEuge

        IANAL nor a contract expert, but I think that’s only true in the case of minimum terms contracts, where the agreed upon contract terms set a minimum that the employer can choose to exceed with some employees. In other cases, I believe that [at least some] contractual terms must be adhered to identically for all employees.

        • kindasorta

          Who’s going to enforce the contract against a bargaining unit member who negotiates a higher salary for himself? How will they find out about it if the process is kept quiet? What is the remedy, and how long will it take to obtain?

          I’m saying that your bargaining power as an individual employee is pretty much zero.

  • The necessity of a union friendly government and thus of unions being heavily engaged with politics is such an important point. Thinking we can just organize our way out of this problem without taking political power is a joke.

    Having said that, unions really do need to focus more on supporting pro-union Democrats in primaries. It truly was an epochal error for major unions to actively support Clinton over Sanders in the primary, and the same thing is going on on every level of politics.

    • Brien Jackson

      Yeah, no one could know what’s in their best interests better than you know what they should do. It’s really a mystery why peole hate Berniecrats so much!

      • Who’s the most popular politician in the country again?

        And what’s your take on working class people voting Republican? Are Democrats being ridiculous because we say they’re voting against their own interests?

        • Justin Runia

          A couple distinctions:
          Being popular is not the same thing as being successful.
          There is a sizable gap between a popular person and the fans of that popular person. Welcome to the internet.

          • I think you may be confusing popularity on your part of the political internet with actual popularity.

        • Brien Jackson

          Yes, anyone who says that is an idiot who denies them the agency to decide what their interests and priorities are.

          • Murc

            No, they’re telling people that what they’re doing to advance those interests is wrong or flawed in some way.

            Something that you, yourself, do all the time.

            • Brien Jackson

              Is there a right way to advance an interest in maintaining white supremacy?

          • Ah, the just world fallacy as applied to political preferences, got it.

          • And people have other interests than what we may see as their economic interests, and people have conflicting interests. To think self-interest is only on one axis is idiotic.

            Also, some people have interests that are harmful or idiotic. There’s not only the problem of denying agency, there’s often a rejection of the rational basis of others’ acting in their self-interest. If you’re a 51 year old unemployed guy in Massillon Ohio raising your learning challenged grandkids because your son & daughter in law are methheads, it’s in your self-interest to vote for Trump if you think women shouldn’t be president, or you think abortion is murder and it should be banned in all cases.

        • EliHawk

          Judging by the polling that shows him running best against Trump and better than Sanders, Joe Biden.

          But you’ll always have that Harvard poll, or whatever.

          • Not sure how you got from “most popular politician” to “polled best against Trump at some point” but whatever, I guess if that’s your standard I guess I will take Sanders polling second best by like 2% points as your agreement that he’s in fact fantastically popular rather than an object of widespread hatred.

            • EliHawk

              I mean, if you want evidence someone is the most popular politician, you’d expect him to poll ahead of the other politicians, right? I’d actually take “Polling of Politicians with high name recognition three years from an election is of limited value” for $500, Alex. (See also: Hillary Clinton, America’s most popular politician 2011-2014.)

              The real problem is that whatever “popularity” he has is a mile wide and an inch deep, judging by the fact he’s had zero coattails, from Quist to Mello to Periello, and showed up in negative ads in GA-06 right after Pelosi. That’s not a mark of an actual super popular politician. Instead, folks on the internet keep writing checks based on polls that voters won’t cash.

              • Heh, you are doing a lot of work in this post to define popularity as something other than “highest approval rating”

      • Murc

        Brien, with respect, “Politician X is better than Politician Y on issue Z, and groups and people who think otherwise are mistaken” or “Group A made a mistake supporting Politician B” might be wrong statements but they aren’t, on their face, illegitimate ones.

        • Brien Jackson

          When you find yourself defending the “black people are just too stupid to realize how awesome Bernie would be for them” line of argumentation, maybe you’ve gone round the bend?

          • Murc

            It’s a good thing I’m not doing that in any way, shape, or form, then.

            • Brien Jackson

              Um…of course you are. “Why were unions not smart enough to see they should have backed Bernie” is literally the exact same argument aimed at a different target. And yes, it is illegitimate if you’re not, you know, asking *them* why they thought Clinton was a better option than Bernie and, ultimately, accepting of their decisions on their own terms.

              • Murc

                “Why were unions not smart enough to see they should have backed Bernie”

                Is not an argument I’ve seen advanced by anyone here…

                is literally the exact same argument

                … and even it had been, the actual target matters. Accusing black people of being idiots in thrall to white people has a racially charged history, and thus, any argument you make that the black community may have made political choices that are either wrong, morally suspect, or counter-productive has to be phrased with great care to avoid reinforcing this history.

                Other groups do not have this history behind them.

                And yes, it is illegitimate if you’re not, you know, asking *them* why
                they thought Clinton was a better option than Bernie and, ultimately,
                accepting of their decisions on their own terms.

                By this logic I can never say anyone is wrong, or has made an error, about anything ever. Indeed, you shouldn’t be telling me that I’m wrong. After all, I’m correct on my own terms, and that’s apparently what matters.

                • Brien Jackson

                  Jesus Christ:

                  “Having said that, unions really do need to focus more on supporting pro-union Democrats in primaries. It truly was an epochal error for major unions to actively support Clinton over Sanders in the primary…”

                  As for the rest of it, I’d say it’s telling that the comparison you have to go to isn’t an example of unions picking one Democratic Presidential candidate over another, but supporting conservative Republicans.

                • Murc

                  “Having said that, unions really do need to focus more on supporting
                  pro-union Democrats in primaries. It truly was an epochal error for
                  major unions to actively support Clinton over Sanders in the primary…”

                  I don’t see the word “smart” in there anywhere. Making errors doesn’t necessarily imply a degree of intelligence or the lack thereof.

                  As for the rest of it, I’d say it’s telling that the comparison you have
                  to go to isn’t an example of unions picking one Democratic Presidential
                  candidate over another, but supporting conservative Republicans.

                  Telling in what way?

                  You’ve framed this a rebuttal, but it isn’t. Your point was that it is somehow illegitimate to tell groups of people they’re done something dumb, or even to tell them they’ve done something wrong. I responded in detail to this at multiple levels, all of which points you’ve either ignored, elided, framed in prejudicial ways (“Have to go to” indeed), or by moving the goalposts to say “doesn’t count because it involves Republicans. Because reasons!”

                • Brien Jackson

                  You’re cutting out the middle here. Sure, if a labor union leader says “I think Republicans will be better for us than Democrats on labor policy” than I can point out that, based on agendas, records, etc. they’re almost certainly wrong about that. But if they say “we’re supporting Nixon because we’re prioritizing social conservatism over labor policy this time” well, that’s bad, but they’re not voting against their interests. The fact of the matter is that the former doesn’t actually happen very often, and people are generally pretty good at picking the politician they want based on their priorities (hence why so many of us keep pointing out that it’s not about “economic anxiety” for marginal Trump voters).

                  Anyway, given the specifics here, the conversation is pointless. No one has asked the unions who endorsed Clinton *why* specifically they did so, so we can’t actually critique their reasoning. Maybe they liked Clinton better. Maybe they had better working relationships with her than with Sanders. But the original comment just takes it as a given that union leaders were too stupid to realize that endorsing Sanders was the best thing for them to do QED, and ultimately ends up asserting that they only did it because Clinton was the frontrunner. That’s the purely reductive thinking that eliminates the possibility of any sort of good faith disagreement that you always end up with when it comes to Berniecrats. That train’s never late.

    • Hogan

      Clinton isn’t pro-union?

      • It’s a spectrum. She’s certainly far more pro-union than any Republican, but substantially less so than Sanders.

        I don’t at all begrudge unions supporting Clinton in the general, they’d have been crazy not to. But she was pretty clearly the less pro-union of the two in the primary, making union support for her at that stage some combination of a waste and actively working against their own interests.

        • Hogan

          What’s the basis for “substantially less so”?

          • Clinton’s more pro-charter school, more pro-trade deal, less pro-15Now, more pro-employer (served on the Walmart board for god’s sakes), and just generally has a much less reliable history of supporting unions and union priorities. She’s not out to destroy them or anything like the Republicans, but also does not nearly have Bernie’s level of socialist-style desire to re-unionize vast sectors of the economy. The gap between the type of NLRB and Labor Department appointments Clinton and the Republicans would make is vast, but the gap between the ones Sanders and Clinton would make is also large and significant.

            • Brien Jackson

              Sanders doesn’t actually talk about unions much at all, labor policy was hardly ever discussed by his campaign, which instead focused on how Bernie Christ was going to save us all with free college, single payer ponies, and breaking up banks. More broadly, Berniecrats don’t seem to give a single shit about unions or working with organized labor. For fuck’s sake, even DeMoro spends gobs more time disturbingly worshipping Bernie and pushing single payer uber alles tropes on Twitter than she does talking about labor laws, policies, or organizing.

              Which, of course, is one of the reasons a lot of unions supported Clinton in the first place. Interest group politics on the left is still very transactional, and Clinton has spent much more time than Sanders cultivating relationships and building trust with union leaders than Sanders has.

              • Yeah it’s tragic that labor policy isn’t a major vote getter these days, but that’s the way it is. Sanders is superior on policy, the extent to which that’s a centerpiece of his messaging or not is a separate calculation.

                You’re right that the transactional nature of politics is why Clinton got those union votes. They decided it was a better move to go with the more likely winner and the candidate they were more familiar with rather than the candidate who’d be better for them if elected. My point is that history has shown that’s a bad strategy: Clinton wouldn’t have been any more hostile to labor if they’d been less supportive in the primary, and making candidates actually work for the union endorsement rather than getting it by default by being the frontrunner would have huge benefits in future elections. And of course all those calculations were premised on Clinton actually winning the general. Given her defeat there was zero benefit for unions for supporting her, just the missed opportunity to move the party in their direction by supporting Sanders.

                • Brien Jackson

                  Whatever you say dude. With an attitude like that, I’ve got no doubt you’re going to make tons of friends among people who didn’t vote for Bernie and easily cruise to more glorious victories like Perriello’s nomination and the CA single payer bill.

                • Murc

                  Classic Brien Jackson; non-responsive insults, drop mic.

                • Brien Jackson

                  Except all of the respones, I guess.

                • When you’re on the insurgent side you get used to more defeats than victories. It’s a lot easier to preserve the status quo than overturn it. But on the plus side you get used to getting stronger every year.

                  Not sure what about wanting unions to support candidates that will fight for their interests is supposed to hurt my ability to make friends, but I guess anybody who’s against that is someone who’s not exactly a natural ally anyway.

    • kindasorta

      No, it wasn’t an “epochal error.”

      Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary, and from the outset, it was never that close. Only a Democratic President puts a justice on the Supreme Court to protect Abood or maybe even the very concept of collective bargaining from Alito. Only a Democratic President staffs the NLRB/FLRA with people who aren’t predisposed to screw unions. So the smart thing to do, even in retrospect, is to help a prohibitive favorite to an early victory so she can keep her resources free for the enemy in November.

      Unions realize what “progressives” didn’t. The choice is always binary, and every time the wrong party is in power, something is lost, maybe never to return. We aren’t looking to heighten the contradictions, because we are part of the group on whom the contradictions will be heightened. There are a few exceptions where it might make sense for a union not to stand behind the Democratic frontrunner (e.g., CTU and Rahm Emanuel), but none of them apply in the presidential race.

  • But the unions looked so good in that picture with Trump.

  • sanjait

    Money in politics has become less potent for presidential elections but remains decisive at the state and local level.

    The Koch and ALEC type groups have figured this out. That explains much of the Republican Party’s recent success.

    It’s good to hear Saunders recognizing the importance of counteracting that with people power, implicitly.

  • TheBrett

    I’m glad they’re prepping for potentially every public sector worker ending up in a Right-to-Work situation, although I’ve never believed that that’s what screwed over public sector unions in places like Wisconsin. What screwed them over was the combo of no automatic dues collection, annual recertification votes, and especially the extremely tight restrictions on bargaining topics.

    Of course, Nolan and his Deadspin bros notoriously hemmed and hawed and eventually most of them came around to reluctantly supporting Hillary, but not before proclaiming their purity about Bernie.

    I remember that on election day. The Women of the Gawker Sites gave them a lot of well-deserved shit over that type of thing (especially Jezebel).

    • Justin Runia

      Seeing Brendan O’Connor giving his endorsement to HRC in the comments kills me, because he was happily sandbagging her and the Democratic party pretty much until the last minute. This was the sad trend of 2016: splenetic venting about how shitty the Democrats were up until the day before the election, then futilely giving an endorsement to HRC, because hey, it turns out the “lesser of two evils” really had quite a bit of daylight between them and the other candidate.

    • Joseph Slater

      You’re right that there was way more going on in Wisconsin than just right to work, but right to work is significant and very bad for unions on its own (see, e.g., Michigan).

  • Murc

    Were unions really all-in on Clinton during the primary? That escaped my notice if so.

    I mean, clearly they were behind her during the election itself, because they’re not nuts.

    • Brien Jackson

      Some of them endorsed her in the primary (and some endorsed Sanders of course). AFT was the only one I’d say was really strong supporters of her, though AFSCME has been a long time ally of hers.

    • To a hardcore Sandernista, supporting Clinton during the general is a betrayal of the Glorious Worker’s Revolution.

    • kindasorta

      SEIU and NEA were before the primary contests began. AFL-CIO waited until the third week of June.

  • Tsuyoshi

    Organizing and politics are different words for the same thing. I don’t even understand the question.

    • Murc

      In this context, when people say “unions should focus on organizing, not politics!” they’re not using the broad definition of politics, which covers everything from who gets to be president to who gets the corner office to which kid gets the bigger bedroom.

      They mean in the more narrow sense of “mainstream electoral US politics.” That is, they mean “unions shouldn’t endorse candidates or get involved in their campaigns or do GOTV efforts or shit like that. Nothing but organizing; trying to get people to join up, trying to unionize more workplaces, leading labor actions, etc.”

  • Linnaeus

    Saunders: Quite honestly I think we have not done a good job of
    educating our communities and the public at large about what public
    service is all about—how people rely and depend upon those public
    services every single day, whether it’s picking up the trash, keeping
    your water clean so you don’t get sick when you drink it, repaving and
    rebuilding roads, providing health care services, providing child care
    services, providing home care services, having workers in libraries that
    work with kids.

    AFSCME could re-release this classic (NSFW).

    • dl

      came here to post this

  • Roger Bellis

    I detest the notion that everyone who is a union member wants to be a union member.

    I’m a union member because I work in a unionized (public sector) workplace, but I can’t stand my union.

    I disagree with them politically, I can’t stand their political alliances, and my union’s officials never respond to anything I suggest. I don’t think my union does anything to enhance my salary either. Not all employee classifications at my workplace are unionized and the non-union workers get the same increases the union workers do.

    I want the Supreme Court to side with Janus. I do not want my workplace’s union getting another cent of my money.

    • “Not all employee classifications at my workplace are unionized and the non-union workers get the same increases the union workers do.”

      I’m sure if there wasn’t a union all those employees not part of the unit will continue to get those raises…

      • Yes, just like they do in the IT sector.

        • Gregor Sansa

          IT work is, generally speaking, good work. But there’s almost no denying that it would be even better if employees were as coordinated as employers.

          • I would say that IT work is deceptively good work, in that the pay is good, but you can easily find yourself working 60+ hour/week with no extra pay and no job security, especially in the startup scam.

    • solidcitizen

      Does the union represent the majority of workers? Do they hold regular elections for officers? Do people vote on the collective bargaining agreement? Do they hold membership meetings you can attend?

      If so, then how is this any different than saying, “My candidate lost the last election, I don’t think I should have to pay taxes”?

      If the non-union workers get the same raises as the union workers, it sounds like the union gets you and others a raise on a regular basis. Guess what, even after Janus, it will still be the union that negotiates raises for everybody. It’s just that, thanks to people like yourself, they will probably be weaker and will do a worse job of it. Fewer raises for everybody! That’ll show ’em!

    • GoBlueInSF

      So, you are like…a Republican, then?

    • Paul Thomas

      Three observations:

      1. It has been established since at least 1963 that no person can be compelled to become a union member, even if they are in a represented bargaining unit. Nonmembers can– for the moment, at least– be compelled to pay the actual costs of representation, which is normally not full union dues, and depending on how much the union spends on political activities, is sometimes quite a lot less than full union dues.

      2. Your disagreements with the union implicate two different rights– the right to seek to decertify the union as representative or petition to replace the union with a different union, and (as long as you ARE a member… but see #1, above) the right to participate and vote in union elections. As solidcitizen points out, if you are unable to persuade your coworkers of your point of view, you may well be unhappy, but that’s kind of how democracy works.

      3. You also have another right– the right to quit. If your working conditions are really as bad as all that, you are welcome to exercise it.

  • Randle Aubrey

    I agree that the idea of unions organizing instead of “playing politics” is absurd. In a capitalist system, unions are political bodies simply by sheer virtue of existing. The whole point of organizing is so you can play better politics. Or at least it ought to be. That doesn’t mean everyone involved should be obligated to participate actively in labor politics, but those who wish to participate in their union more passively need to understand that even towing the union line is a political act, and not stand in the way of those who wish to engage more directly on their behalf.

  • zoomar2

    As a UFT member, I can have a UFT rep present to advise and defend me during any disciplinary meeting with administration. I was told that under “right to work” laws, the union is still required to defend non members who are at odds with their bosses as well. My feeling is that if you don’t pay dues, if you scab, you shouldn’t get services. This at least is what I was told by a UFT official when we were all sweating out the Obergfell decision. (which ended nicely, if only temporarily)

    • dl

      yes, correct. although my sense is that some unions might not quite go “all out” in the legally required defense of scabs.

      • Hogan

        Which would leave them open to a “duty of fair representation” lawsuit.

    • Paul Thomas

      This is correct as a statement of extant law, although there is a compelling legal argument– it recently got half of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to sign on to it– that said law is unconstitutional under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments because it has the effect of taking unions’ property without due process or just compensation.

      On a slightly different axis, Obama’s National Labor Relations Board had a test case asking whether unions could charge nonmembers in right-to-freeload states for actual service costs– i.e. you pay no dues, but if you want to arbitrate a grievance, you’d have to front the fees yourself– but for reasons that only the parties to the case know, the union in question abandoned this defense, and the case went away.

  • Gregor Sansa

    Not for the first time, I’m going to point out here that when you’re mocking the “supreme court blackmail” people, it would be worthwhile to give them an out as an aside: “If they really cared about not being blackmailed, they’d be organizing for voting method reform, and in the mean time making sure to vote for Democrats in any election polling within 7%.”

    The above is, I think, reasonably on-topic, but it’s stuff I’ve said before. I’m going to reply to this comment with something that’s a bit less of both.

    • Hob

      Thanks for that last decision. You know, you could always get a blog, and post links to your longer pieces.

  • GoBlueInSF

    So, the “Berniebros” voted for Clinton, but didn’t do so enthusiastically enough for you? My god, no wonder Democrats and the “Netroots” are so full of win.

    • No, the “Berniebros” (or my preferred term, Sandernistas) are those Bernie supporters who *refused* to vote for Clinton in the general. They’re the ones who largely wrote in Bernie or voted for Stein or left it blank.

      *Those* were the folks complaining that any discussion of the Court as a reason to vote for Clinton (in the general) was “blackmail” and “terrorism”. It doesn’t refer to most of the folks who voted for Sanders in the primary, who did indeed vote for Clinton in the general.

      • GoBlueInSF

        What you describe is an infinitesimal portion of the Sanders primary voting electorate such as to not be worth constantly bringing up. Regardless, the “I’m with Her” crowd just can’t seem to insist on titling at that particular imaginary windmill over and over and over again.

        It says something about the Clinton brigade. And what it says is not something that is at all good.

        • Origami Isopod

          What you describe is an infinitesimal portion of the Sanders primary voting electorate such as to not be worth constantly bringing up.

          Considering how fucking loud they have been, how they still won’t STFU, and their history of attacking people (largely PoC and women) who criticize them on social media? It’s hardly “tilting at windmills.” But idk, maybe they’re not going after you so it’s okay then.

          • GoBlueInSF

            I see almost none of this online and I read a lot of comment threads on various blogs and follow a number of left wing folks on Twitter. I rarely see any of this. What I DO see is Clinton supporters CLAIMING this is going on all the time and that they are more widdle victims of BernieBro harassment. And preemptively picking fights by making snide anti-Sanders comments.

            Shit, even Erik Loomis – who is one of the few bloggers on this site I actually respect -couldn’t help but make a gratuitous swipe at Sanders supporters. Y’all Clinton supporters need to grow the fuck up. Seriously.

        • I *wish* it was infinitesimal. But it was a significant number of people among the activists I knew during the election.

      • MichaelDrew

        those Bernie supporters who *refused* to vote for Clinton in the general. They’re the ones who largely wrote in Bernie or voted for Stein or left it blank.

        *Those* were the folks complaining that any discussion of the Court as a reason to vote for Clinton (in the general) was “blackmail” and “terrorism”.

        You don’t now that, and in fact it’s (obviously) not true. Many of those who objected to the way that voting for Clinton was pitched as the last thing between them and the abyss in fact came around to voting for Clinton.


          • MichaelDrew

            Well obviously some didn’t vote for Clinton. But many did. You simply don’t know the fraction.

            • Of the overall population, perhaps not. Of the activists I knew, around 80% voted for Sanders in the primary (so yes, not a representative sample), and 30-40% of those voted against Clinton in the general.

  • Paul Thomas

    This process is the culmination of a long-term strategy on the part of Republicans to de-fund the Democratic Party– a strategy in which, unfortunately, many centrist Democrats of the Rahm Emanuel school have been actively complicit, and the rest have done little to counteract. They seem not to realize that in attacking unions, they are drying up the wellsprings of their own political support base.

    What makes this doubly painful is that as support from unions dries up, Democrats turn more and more to support from corporations and wealthy elites in order to keep up with the torrents of cash flowing into Republican coffers, and thus become more and more corruptly within the grasp of those elites. For large businesses that can play the rent-seeking game, it’s better to simply buy off both sides, as the profit margins from political contributions are orders of magnitude in excess of anything they can hope to earn by investing their money in actual business ventures.

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