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December 31, 2003

How Polarized is Labor?

"21 National Unions Supporting Gephardt"
"Major Service Unions Supporting Dean"

And on the ground in Iowa, the unions are at each others' throats over the competing candidacies, which leaves a lot of people worried the wounds might take a while too heal-- time we don't really have given the need to mobilize in the fall.

A Quick Kill: In many ways, I want Dean to beat Gephardt in Iowa, not just because I obviously like Dean, but because a loss in Iowa basically means Gephardt's out of the race and the inter-union conflict will not spread to other states at the same fever pitch.

But even that worry may be exagerated, since local labor politics in any state is always more complicated, since a national union endorsement not only doesn't always deliver the rank-and-file, it doesn't even fully control what local union leadership does.

A Yankee in South Carolina: Take this story from South Carolina, where Dean was talking about NAFTA before a ground of workers:

Dr. Dean, as he does daily, acknowledged his support for Nafta and other treaties but said he would sign no more until trading partners raised their labor and environmental standards. Next to Dr. Dean on the rostrum here was the president of the local steelworkers' union, who could not hold the rally at his local's hall because his parent union has endorsed Mr. Gephardt.
The international union can (at times) control how union resources are used and probably block a formal endorsement, but this kind of appearance by a local industrial union leader shows the "industrial versus service union split" is not the overwhelming reality many might worry about.

South Carolina is in many ways the heart of this recession's "rust belt", hemmoraging textile and other industrial factory jobs to overseas competitors, yet Dean has clear appeal to southern industrial workers -- in some ways the constituency the media says he would have the least appeal to. (BTW I'm sure Gephardt could find a nice crowd of latte-drinking yuppies who would cheer him on, against any stereotypes to the contrary).

Coming Together in the Fall: But this story gives me hope that the big union divisions, while real and probably personally a bit bitter among the top leaders, won't translate into real problems on the ground at the local level in coming together to defeat Bush in the fall.

Posted by Nathan at December 31, 2003 09:07 AM