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What Unions Face with Democrats

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Another sign that most Democratic politicians simply don’t care about organized labor outside of writing checks and getting on votes on election day. Illinois governor Pat Quinn has named Paul Vallas as his candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Who is Vallas? The ultimate Rheeist, Vallas attacked teacher unions in Chicago before going on to doing the same in New Orleans and Bridgeport, where voters have just repudiated his “reforms” that had both Democratic and Republican support.

“Paul Vallas is one of the least popular leaders among the rank and file educators in Chicago public schools we’ve ever had,” said laid-off teacher Xian Barrett, a former member of the Chicago Teachers Union executive board currently working for a non-profit. Barrett cited Vallas’ moves that “reduced the power of the local schools councils,” and said before his 2001 departure he “was already laying the groundwork for a lot of the privatization movements” that progressed under his successor Arne Duncan, now President Obama’s Education Secretary. Barrett said Quinn’s choice of Vallas “reflects a disconnect between our state governance and the people, and specifically in this case a lot of the educators who’ve been Quinn’s greatest supporters his last time getting elected.” (The CTU, an AFT affiliate, did not respond to a Friday afternoon inquiry.)

Rob Traber, the vice president of Bridgeport Education Association, disputed Quinn’s praise for his new running mate. “I have seen nothing to show that he has been successful anywhere he’s gone, including Bridgeport,” Traber told Salon Friday. “And he has moved from one place to another and left it in worse shape than when he got there.” Traber contended Vallas and Finch had wrongly taken credit for construction of a new high school that “was already in the pipeline,” and that “the ‘miracle’ of balancing the budget” under Vallas was a response to “a budget crisis created by Finch.” Traber added that “the only reason it was balanced was Finch suddenly came up with money, which he hadn’t done for five years,” as did the state of Connecticut. “And so you know,” charged Traber, “that seems a little phony to me.” Like the IEA, the BEA is an affiliate of the NEA, the largest US union.

This is a case where organized labor should withdraw all support for Pat Quinn and the Illinois governor’s race. If the governor is openly opposed to labor’s interests, why should labor support him at all? This is a classic Samuel Gompers mentality–labor supports candidates who support labor. Labor does not support candidates that do not support labor. Progressives may look askance upon Gompers today for a number of reasons, but he understood the interests of his people and if Pat Quinn wants to put a teacher union busting Lieutenant Governor on the ticket in a relatively pro-union state like Illinois, then how much worse is a Republican going to be for organized labor? And while the answer to that question is potentially a Scott Walker and that would be horrible, we have to ask–would we expect pro-choice women to give money and support to an anti-choice candidate? Pro-gay marriage groups to support a candidate who named a homophobe as his running mate? Civil rights groups to support a ticket that included someone who backed voter ID laws? Ultimately, labor can’t be the only group asked to sacrifice when the Democrats promote people who oppose its interests. There has to be a payoff.

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