by Duane Campbell
Elections are one of the important tools in labor’s arsenal and organized labor is the organized expression of the working class. We should act like it. Labor has its problems that have been analyzed by many (see the excellent new piece by Harold Meyerson http://prospect.org/article/seeds-new-labor-movement
But, organized labor is still 6 % of the private sector work force and 13 % of the public sector work force. It is the most organized electoral machine on the democratic left. And we need to join in and make this machine work.
When the Waltons (Walmart) and other out of state super rich such as the pension fund thief John Roberts invest almost 12 million $ in the race to defeat teaches’ unions in election for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, there must be a reason . This is one of the current battle against neoliberal power.
See Talking Union below and http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/10/28/3585128/arnold-pensions-retirement-manufactured-crisis/
As we know, the U.S. political system is overrun by money. Economic power at the top is used to produce political results in Congress and in elections. The rich get richer while the middle stagnates and the poor get screwed.
Our response must be encouraging more voting, not less. The lack of interest in electoral participation expressed in many places is not progressive, rather it reveals a lack of interest in defending democracy. Not voting is giving up on what democracy we have. Yes, our democracy is truncated, exploited, and distorted by economic power, but we need to grow and expand democracy, not abandon it. And, that is why we organize politically in labor.
Political activity – elections- is a an important tool in the arsenal of labor. Election victories are one of the key elements of union power, particularly for public sector unions and often even for the building trades.
As reported here the National Education Association ( a teachers’ union) is spending $40 million this year in key governors’ races against primarily Republican governors who have made devastating cuts to state education budgets. These cuts have cost up to 100,000 jobs. How is it progressive for us to abandon one of the few effective tools labor maintains?
Columnist Jimmy Franco well describes the problem of low voter participation.
In reality, the majority of working-class voters, minorities and women do care about their jobs, wages, children’s education, rights and the continual rise in consumer prices. What these frustrated and angry voters have experienced and still observe is a government that takes their taxes while talkative politicians continue to break their campaign promises by not enacting any concrete laws to improve economic and social conditions for middle-class and lower-income people. This is particularly true at the federal level and even locally within the Los Angeles Unified school District where chaos and dysfunction dominate an educational system that is run by incompetents. Distrustful voters have witnessed a situation of ongoing political gridlock among the US Congress and the president for close to four years now. This legislative stalemate, name calling and inaction on pressing issues is what creates cynicism and non-voting among the electorate especially those who are low-income, minority and young. People no longer want to hear rhetoric, but want to see real changes occur within the real world in which they live.
The argument heard in some quarters that we should not engage in elections is an assertion that we should not participate in the gains of the working class and that we should not engage in the major organized efforts of the African American and Latino communities. A portion of the US left is disdainful of electoral work primarily because we don’t have an independent labor based political party. I understand this frustration well. But, because of their disdain for the Democratic Party and some labor leaders, these folks are arguing to not organize on the issues that working families care about. There is work to be done now.
Underfunded schools, lack of building of highways, ports, infrastructure, trade agreements, pensions, even the right to organize and to vote – these are important issues and they will be decided in the political area. Many unions are doing a good job of organizing on these issues.
As union members, we certainly have much to learn. In particular, we need to learn more about how to develop internal education efforts in our unions to prepare our members for the continuing battles. If readers have examples of successful internal union organizing and education, please write up a post and send it in.
In the meantime, if you are not going to do electoral work, then what are you going to do to provide health care for the millions of working people in the South, in Mississippi, in Texas, and in Pennsylvania that have been excluded from Medicaid?
What are you going to do to protect the rights of women to have quality health care and safe abortions? What are you going to do to resist the attacks on unions in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere? These are real assaults on working families and unions should be engaged in their defense.