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Labor Should Demand Political Value for Money


Two stories here that revolve around the theme of organized labor rarely getting value for the money it donates to Democratic politicians.

On the national level, Communication Workers of American president Larry Cohen held a conference call with reporters and bloggers yesterday to say that Senate Democrats who do not support institutional changes within the Senate that would allow presidential nominees to get an up or down vote will lose CWA support. Without a functioning National Labor Relations Board, Democratic judges on federal courts, and other key agencies not being staffed due to Republican obstructionism, this is a huge issue for CWA and other unions.

The question I have is what losing support means? Does it mean not getting union money? None of the union’s tremendous GOTV efforts? Funding primary challengers? None of this is at all clear. But it’s clear that CWA does not believe it is getting its money’s worth for supporting Democrats regardless of what they do or do not do for labor.

Let’s look at the recent South Carolina special election to replace Tim Scott. Elizabeth Colbert-Busch received $32,500 from organized labor, including $10,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Her payback?

Ashley Byrd, News Director for South Carolina Radio: We are going to stay on the topic of job creation. And, uh, let’s start with this: Boeing is bringing more than 8,000 jobs into South Carolina. So here is a two part question first to Ms. Colbert Busch: Did the NLRB overstep its bounds when it tried to block Boeing’s approach to expansion in South Carolina? Yes or No, and why?

Elizabeth Colbert Busch: Yes. This is a right-to-work state, and they had no business telling a company where they could locate.

If the first thought that ran through your mind was, “Sounds like a standard Republican answer to a question like that,” you would be right. But, of course, Elizabeth Colbert Busch was the Democratic nominee for Congress in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. In response to the Republican candidate, former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), stating that Colbert Busch “wants to be the voice for labor unions in Washington, DC”, she said the following:

First of all, um, Mark, what you’re saying is just not true. Things can be taken out of context, and everybody knows that. I am proud to support and live in a right-to-work state, and I am proud of everyone who has supported me.

Now of course it is South Carolina so what do you expect, right? Well, maybe. But why should labor should provide its valuable resources to politicians who do not support its fundamental positions? For 80 years, organized labor has thrown its hat in with the Democratic Party through thick and thin. This was a pretty good strategy for awhile, but today, everyone is questioning it, including at the very top of the AFL-CIO. Today (and increasingly since the 1970s) the Democratic Party just assumes labor is writing the checks and that it’s just an interest group to assuage but not take seriously.

The South Lawn has more here:

Labor also gave $68,000 in 2009-2010 to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). Yes, that would be the same Blanche Lincoln that played a large role in blocking the Employee Free Choice Act and who now works for Wal-Mart as a “special policy advisor” (read: lobbyist). You know, the same Wal-Mart notorious for its anti-union policies. It is not altogether surprising, though, given that Wal-Mart gave her $83,650 in donations over the course of her last term in the U.S. Senate.

Something is not adding up here.

Labor gave $1.1 billion in donations to candidates in federal elections between 2005 and 2011, and what do we have to show for it? No Employee Free Choice Act. President Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary heads a corporation that is being boycotted by labor for anti-union practices and horrible working conditions. The candidate who stated in 2008 that he would put on his walking shoes and join a picket line wherever collective bargaining rights were threatened seemed to forget where his local Foot Locker was when it came to worker oppression in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. But then again, that should not be surprising, given that the 2012 Democratic National Convention was held in a right-to-work state at non-union hotels.

I don’t necessarily agree with the article’s argument to use all those resources strictly in local politics. That needs to happen too, but ignoring the national scene would be counterproductive. Labor of course should and will stay involved in electoral politics. But the question is how it should operate. How can it receive value for its dollar? I think the answer is probably supporting individual candidates instead of the Democratic Party as a whole. It needs to act more like the Bloomberg anti-gun group, making politicians pay if they don’t support union issues. And while you are not going to hurt a South Carolina Democrat by running an ad saying they are anti-union, you are going to hurt them by not giving one red cent. For a Democratic Party strategist, this is not an idea you want to hear. But from the perspective of what is best for labor unions and pushing their causes in Washington, this is a sensible strategy.

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