I’ve been a Democrat for about 30 years. When I was a kid growing up outside Pittsburgh, just about everybody was a Democrat. Most parents were working class. Some were farmers, others worked in the mines, and some worked in the steel (pronounced “still”) mills. Even those parents who were in management had grown up working class (like my father who was raised on a farm). Most of the families in my neighborhood were second- or third-generation Americans from places like Germany, Italy, Ireland, or Poland. We thought of ourselves as Americans. Most of the people in my neighborhood were Catholics. In other words, we were the bedrock of the Democratic Party.
Unfortunately, in the late-60s and early-70s, the Democratic Party was taken over by middle-class, college-educated elitists. Their goals and, more importantly, their attitudes toward the traditional values of the Democratic Party were very different. This observation is nothing new. The “Reagan Democrats” were the traditional Democrats who felt abandoned and ostracized by their Party. The working class was now seen as some kind of “noble savages” or just idiots because they didn’t know what was good for them. Thank the Mother Goddess that new, better (used in a moral sense) educated individuals knew what was best for the rest of us idiots (See, for example, David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There).
Through it all, the leaders of organized labor have steadfastly remained loyal to a political party that takes them for granted. I remember at the North American Labor History Conference in 1994 the big news was that the Clinton Administration had promised organized labor the 4-day work week. Still waiting. Democratic presidential hopeful, Barrack Obama, has promised organized labor that his administration will opt out of (if not actually repeal) NAFTA (then again, maybe he wouldn’t: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20080227/dems_nafta_080227/20080227/) This is another shibboleth. NAFTA doesn’t cause the loss of nearly as many jobs as does businesses like Wal-Mart buying more and more goods from China. The US opting out of NAFTA would be like Germany opting out of the EU – and just as likely to happen.
The most glaring example of the Democratic Party taking organized labor for granted is the Party’s continuing support for the same level of corporate welfare favored by the Republican Party – welfare for corporations but not for individuals. Take, for example Kmart’s bankruptcy. This was one of the largest bankruptcies in history. Kmart emerged from this debacle by screwing their workers and private stockholders. Over 37,000 workers lost their jobs while Kmart restructured (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2658539.stm). Despite this widespread suffering, Julian Day, who engineered this restructuring, received a $1 million bonus (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2968785.stm). And while private stockholders had to eat their losses, banks and bondholders were taken care of. How did emerging from bankruptcy on the backs of workers and individual shareholders work out for Kmart? Apparently, remarkably well, because, within less than a year, Kmart was able to buy one of its competitors, Sears, for around $11 billion (when you’re talking billions, it’s hard to be precise). Eleven billion bucks is a lot of money for a recently bankrupt company to come up with. One of the ways the company did this was, no surprise, on the backs of its workers and former workers. Sears retirees, many of whom had worked for years for the company, now found themselves without health benefits (ht to http://politicalman.blog-city.com for this information). The Democratic National Committee, the defenders of labor, did nothing to stop this egregious form of corporate welfare.
In a similar vein, General Motors recently balanced their books on the backs of their former salaried workers by taking away their health benefits (ht to http://politicalman.blog-city.com for this information) (http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080715/BUSINESS01/80715107/1118/rss). How long will it be before they do the same for hourly retirees?
Even if you accept the limited definition of “corporate welfare” advocated by the Cato Institute, the government was spending $75 billion on these benefits – and that was in 1996 (http://www.cato.org/pubs/handbook/hb105-9.html). In 2000, Ralph Nader, in one of his more lucid moments, laid out an impressive list of abuses by both Parties on the backs of the American consumers (http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Nader/CutCorpWelfare_Nader.html). For example, Nader argues that the S&L bailout was “Perhaps still the largest corporate welfare expenditure of all time” and was the result of the cooperation between both Democrats and Republicans. Of course, at the time, he never suspected the debacle of the Mortgage Bailout. While the act proposes $300 billion for the FHA to help save the banks at the expense of taxpayers, an editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer points out that there may be $1-2 trillion in bad loans (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/373835_Housinged.html). It’s a safe bet that the taxpayers will eventually bear this cost. Instead of defending 95 per cent of taxpayers who are making their mortgage payments on time, including the majority of the working class, the Democrats have chosen to support their financial supporters. Maybe we can count on Congress to stop shelling out billions of taxpayer dollars to big business. Or, maybe this will be Congress’ response: http://comics.com/wash/opus/archive/opus-20080727.html.
The leadership of organized labor must stop using the workers as the whipping boys of the Democratic National Committee. They need to stop being taken for granted. I would not urge the creation of a Labor Party in the US because it’s not necessary. Both political parties are simply a loose coalition of interest groups. One or more of these groups periodically attain a dominant position within the party. Thus, for example, Evangelical Christians have an influence in the RNC greater than their numbers within the Party. Likewise, pro-abortionists have a similarly disproportionate influence within the DNC thanks to NARAL. And this points out why these groups have so much influence – they are organized. It’s time for trade union leaders to start throwing their organization around. They should sell their votes to the highest bidder. If the parties are just loose alliances of interest groups, the trade unions must look at themselves as just one of these interest groups. If they want to really protect workers they must seek to influence one of the two parties – it really doesn’t matter which one because there isn’t a great deal of difference between the two (http://aspatula.blogspot.com/2008/07/i-might-be-paranoid-but-i-might-not.html). If the Sen. Obama wins the presidency and then screws labor the same way Clinton did, then the leadership should investigate what the Republicans have to offer. Remaining loyal to a party that is not loyal to you is idiocy.