« Fight the Right: The Commonweal Institute | Main | Scandal: Pelosi Tied to Tony Blair »

November 13, 2002

Daschle No Sellout on Homeland Security

I just can't agree with Seeing the Forest that Daschle has sold out unions and progressives by refusing to filibuster the Homeland Security Bill.

I'll back down to no one in my opposition to this dangerous union-busting measure-- I was writing about it long before it became a major media or political issue. See my piece from early Summer "Homeland Security" as Union Busting.

I give the Democratic leadership great credit that they hung tough through the fall and refused to give in to GOP attacks on their patriotism in order to defend union rights and fight Bush's patronage goals. But elections have consequences and if there is one issue Bush campaigned on and knocked off Senators with, it was passing Homeland Security. Bush gets little mandate off this election, but that's an issue he got.

Any attempt to filibuster is a lost cause. Once the GOP is back in control in a few weeks, they'll be able to jam it through, whether attaching it to other "must pass" legislation or just brow-beating the Dems for a month if necessary with the media at their back.

I don't think Daschle could even hold the 41 Democrats needed for a filibuster over time, even if he and the Dem leadership thought the political price was worth paying. That's a sad fact, but I don't blame Daschle for making a reasonable political judgement given the reality of last Tuesday.

If progressive bloggers want to change the situation, they need to help educate more people about why union rights matter, not just for the workers involved, but for assuring that the independent judgement of regular employees is not subverted, whether by corporate bosses or political overseers.

Like a lot of union activists, I actually have a bit of a beef with fellow progressives. Unions carry heavy water for civil rights, social service spending and a range of other issues. But most progressive writers spend very little time talking about why unions are good for society, why union struggles matter for justice and equity.

So when an issue of Homeland Security comes up, given that weak ass defense of unions by most progressives, it becomes far easier for someone like Bush to paint resistance to his efforts as protecting union "special interests."

Want to help fight the Right on patronage in government? Talk about the local union struggle in your hometown. Highlight those who suffer and struggle to end arbitrary management favoritism. THEN translate it into why giving Bush arbitrary control over 170,000 Homeland Security employees is so dangerous.

But it's because progressives weren't already doing that enough that the GOP was able to paint a war hero like Max Cleland as some kind of traitor for standing up for workers rights in government.

It's not Daschle's fault-- he did his job. It's the fault of most progressive writers who haven't been doing their job on union issues for years.

Posted by Nathan at November 13, 2002 09:59 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Well, I'm a former AFSCME Chief Steward and I spend some time (but not nearly enough) on my weblog mentioning union and worker issus: Here, here, here, here and here Join a Union. I agree we need to see much more. I think many bloggers likely come from a better-paid professional class, which doesn't tend to be unionized and (at least until recently) didn't face the kind of worker protection issues that blue-collars did. So they're not as aware of the central importance of organizing to fight The Man.

I think that filibustering the Fatherland Security bill would be a good way to bring the union issue to public attention.

I also think that filibustering more and caving less will bring the BASE back and energize them to start helping.

Posted by: IssuesGuy at November 13, 2002 01:52 PM

I wasn't so much talking about you particularly, but the problem that so-called liberals in the media have tended for years to deemphasize union issues.

But I did note a relative dearth of commentary on the whole ILWU showdown-- that was probably the peak of my own traffic because a number of bloggers kind of said, hey go see Nathan to get some info, which was nice, but there was none of the intensive individual commentary you see on issues of other importance where most folks have pretty strong opinions of their own.

I don't think the Homeland Security bill, especially at this point, is where the public can easily start their education on union issues. The demand for flexibility is not unreasonable on its face in this situation, so you need a deeper faith in the importance of unions for the fear of arbitrary management to trump fears over national security.

The place to start on educating the public on union issues is around living wage campaigns, highlighting janitors and nursing home strikes, demanding labor standards in trade agreements, and a range of other day-to-day struggles that happen.

As I blog on my Labor Monday writeups each week, there are so many union fights worth commenting on, yet I see so little of it. That is my frustration.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at November 13, 2002 04:26 PM

I'm no Chief Steward, only a rank-and-file member (AFM Local 65-699), but I agree we have a lot of work to do to educate the public. Explaining to a neighbor why I don't shop at Wal-Mart, I mentioned forced unpaid overtime... she understood and sympathized with the workers... "dead janitor" life insurance policies... again, she understood... and Wal-Mart's anti-union activities... my neighbor just blinked and stared. She works a steady job herself. I've no idea of her political affiliation, but she clearly didn't get it about why one might join a union. We need to start the public's education process with the basics, not with complicated issues involving national politics.

That said, and with due respect for your exoneration of Daschle, I still have the feeling he caved without getting the best deal he could have gotten, even under these adverse circumstances. But I admit it's just a feeling on my part, and you may be right.

Posted by: Steve Bates at November 13, 2002 09:12 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)