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July 27, 2004

Labor Triumphant

The power of organized labor is highlighted most by how little they've needed to talk about it, but how much of their agenda has been almost automatically included in the Democratic Party's platform:

For decades, despite the ostensibly pro-labor tilt of the Democratic Party, unions have had to fight just to get pro-worker language onto the platform on such crucial issues as trade. Not this year. Thea Lee, the AFL-CIO’s chief policy and politics staffer on all things trade related, noted that Kerry’s platform watchdogs were happy to see that the platform includes the need for establishing workers’ rights and labor and environmental standards in trade accords...

Labor has also received enthusiastic backing on the platform and from the Kerry-Edwards ticket for its foremost institutional imperative, the Employee Free Choice Act.

Clinton never gave these issues the same prominence-- I don't think the words "right to organize" crossed his lips during any major speech--so it's a nice change in the political landscape.

Update: Kevin Drum is confused because a top leader like Andy Stern complains publicly that a Kerry win might slow further reform within the Democrats and the labor movement itself.

First, I think the Washington Post article Kevin highlights is taking some of Stern's statements out of context, since Stern's clear public statements (and union money) is directed overwhelmingly in wanting a Kerry win.

That said, there's no question that victory brings complacency. I think Stern is frankly more concerned not so much that the Democrats will take labor for granted, but that labor will take the status quo for granted and not make the internal union reforms needed to meet new challenges for organizing.

And let's be real, mine and Myerson's happiness at labor's success is relative. The GOP still controls Congress and the White House at the moment, and even if the Democrats got control of all three branches, they are unlikely to gain the sixty Senate seats necessary to overcome GOP filibusters against any proposed labor law reform.

So unions will still be largely on their own in reversing the slide in unionization rates and rebuilding their strength in the workplace. Which is why Stern is more focused on the internal changes the union movement needs to make than what will be gained with a Kerry victory. A Bush victory will be a disaster, since labor will be left playing defense, but Stern rightly is warning against complacency that a Kerry victory by itself is sufficient for unions to achieve their goals.

Update II: Andy has his take on the media firestorm in his own words. He backpedalled a bit, but the reality is that anyone who questions Stern's commitment to electing Kerry as President is hallucinating. SEIU is putting tens of millions of dollars into the campaign and far more than that in the value of volunteer hours.

Posted by Nathan at July 27, 2004 07:43 AM