Organized Labor and Democracy: Talking to Liberals

by Carl Proper


Photo by Dana Simon

[Author’s note]: This is a draft for a talk to a generally liberal and economically well-off audience in Arlington, Virginia.

The U.S. labor movement once had significant liberal support. Now, not so much. We need liberal support in the political arena – and they need us. This represents an effort to appeal for liberal support, to an audience with little direct union experience, in terms of our common interests.

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When people hear that I spent most of my working life in the labor movement, they often say to me, “unions are really in trouble today.”

My default answer: “the country is in trouble; democracy is in trouble.”

That answer is what I want to explain today.

My political belief, generally, is that the Founding Fathers were right to recognize the dangers of concentrating too much power in one person, or one institution. I believe in checks and balances. Applying that radical moderate belief to our economic system places me pretty far to the left in this country today.

I share the understanding of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, who faced the then-new phenomenon of giant corporations (“trusts” in Teddy’s day). These continental organizations wielded economic power great enough, if left unchecked, to overwhelm a weak and passive national government. The Roosevelts, from their lofty perspective, saw that American society needed the countervailing power of free labor unions as well as a strong national government to balance corporate power. Continue reading

The Right to Unite

Fight for $15

2015-10-06 (1)

TPP Unveiled

TPP REVEALED: Special bulletin from our colleagues on Pro Trade: The Obama administration has released the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Read it here:

The release sets the stage for a divisive fight in Congress next year that will once again pit Barack Obama against the labor movement and most of his fellow Democrats, reports Pro Trade’s Doug Palmer.

Approval of the landmark trade agreement between the United States, Japan and 10 other Asia-Pacific countries would rely heavily on votes from Republicans, in a replay of this year’s battle over trade promotion authority, which allows Obama to submit TPP to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without any amendments.

From Politico’s Morning Report.

Laws enabling public-sector collective bargaining have not led to excessive public-sector pay

The rapid growth of labor laws that have enabled public-sector collective bargaining have not led to excessive public-sector pay; for example, employees covered by the right to strike earn about 2 percent to 5 percent more than those without it.

Source: Laws enabling public-sector collective bargaining have not led to excessive public-sector pay

National Union of Healthcare Workers Endorses Sanders

The 2015 Leadership Conference of the NUHW National Union of Healthcare Workers [200 elected rank-and-file leaders] voted 72% to endorse Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for president of the United States. Sanders’ message of reversing economic inequalities; his support for a single-payer health care system, Medicare for All; and his stance of holding HMOs like Kaiser Permanente accountable for failing to comply with mental health parity laws, resonated with NUHW members.

“As a democratic, member-led union, I am grateful for the support of the National Union of Healthcare Workers,” said Sanders. “With their support and the support of hundreds of thousands of union members across the country, we are building a political revolution that will transform American politics.”

“We’ve had a great relationship with Sen. Sanders for years,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli. “He’s the real thing. He’s been standing up for working Americans for decades. But no president can go it alone; it will take a bottom-up, grassroots movement to change the direction of our country. NUHW is proud to be part of that movement.”

The vote was the culmination of a three-month, bottom-up, democratic process. The union’s Executive Board, consisting of elected rank-and-file members, sent questionnaires to every Republican and Democratic candidate. Union stewards reviewed the questionnaires and discussed the election at monthly steward council meetings at each NUHW-represented hospital, clinic, and nursing home, and discussed the candidates with their constituent members in each facility. And finally, on October 10, leaders from throughout the union gathered in Pasadena to cast their ballots.

Hillary Clinton garnered 17 percent of NUHW members’ vote in the Democratic column. Eighty-six percent voted not to endorse a Republican candidate.

Rank-and-File Teachers Object As Nation’s Biggest Union Weighs Early Clinton Endorsement

Source: Rank-and-File Teachers Object As Nation’s Biggest Union Weighs Early Clinton Endorsement


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