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Monday, July 25, 2005


Josh Legere

The last 2 postings are right on.

But Marc. You cannot exclude cocktail party radicals either. Nor can you exclude "left wing" intellectuals in the academy.

From reading Navasky's new book I concluded that the mouth pieces from pretty much the center to the radical left are selling opinions and seeking therapy rather than trying to build a movement of change public policy. It is also evident that cocktail party radicals and cocktail party neoconservatives pretty much run and the same circles and really only seem to seek readership. They are selling ideas. They don't really CARE about working people. The workers you saw in the Central Valley are a blip in the minds of those in LA and the Bay Area who are eating the fine organic produce they picked at chic eateries.

From Berkeley to Manhattan to Silverlake to Portland to all the havens to many Universities across the country. Horribly creations such as identity politics and Bush bashing are passing for liberalism and radicalism.

It is sad. But with the entrenchment of many of these people in left oriented institutions like the AFL-CIO to environmental and human rights NGO's and on to Universities and publications, nothing is going to change anytime soon.

It is a monumental tragedy. It cannot be overstated just how enormous the political void is in this country.

Steve Smith

How is a split of the AFL-CIO bad for the Democrats? Seems to me the party just found a nifty way of pitting rival unions against each other whenever they need to raise campaign funds....

Jay Byrd

Among today's recommended diaries at DailyKos is

For Democrats, The Weekend's Most Important Story

It's possible to attend a Bush-bashing anti-war picnic AND attend to what is going on in labor. As for the Democratic party leadership -- they suck, which is why much of the activist rank and file effort is aimed at replacing them with real progressives.


TPMCafe also has some excellent discussion of the CTW and related issues. Regarding the "Democratic activists" who held some protest meetings over the weekend (this is the ONLY blog I read that mentioned those events so far as I can tell, incidentally - not KOS, not atrios, not TPM, not Washington Monthly - so Marc's suggestion that all the liberal Dems have cloistered themselves to focus on these events and hold hands is something cute for GMR to bask in, but not related to reality) - anyway, the idea that those protest meetings on the Downing Street Memos and related events should have been turned into discussion groups about the debates between & among AFL-CIO/CTW/SEIU/CNA/UFW, etc. etc. is pretty ludicrous. Sure liberal activists can always do more to join hands with labor - and vice versa (sometimes, more vice versa than the former since labor had to be dragged kicking and screaming into revitalizing even modest progressivism among most of its ranks over the past forty years and can trace many of its problems to its own decades-long somnambulance while others were re-shaping the liberal agenda to address the issues that arose during the last four decades of the twentieth century) - but what possible point could there have been for a bunch of anti-Bush protesters to weigh in on these very complex internals of the labor movement ??? Bizarre suggestion... All liberals should keep abreast of this stuff via articles, etc., but to hold meetings about what Andy Stern should do would be arrogant and absurd.

Also, the short bit I read in my local paper on the Downing Street community protests made it sound like the usual peace movement suspects - Green Medea Benjamin appeared as a prominent local player - more than a broad group of "Democratic activists" (not that there isn't overlap). Frankly, I've been wondering what happened to those folks and given their particular approach, Downing Street is as good as any issue for them to pump up the volume. Don't quite understand what kind of explanation you need from them to justify their protest.



Abbas-Ali Abadani

Incredible. Here we are now, six replies into a post dealing with organized labor and "a certain someone" has yet to show up to post a thesis-length snoozefest explaining why "the Democrat Party" needs to embrace the vision of Peter Beinart ( http://tinyurl.com/djcoo ) and Joe Lieberman.

"They don't really CARE about working people."

Show that you care, donate to the United Farm Workers.

Thanks for the link, reg.

This comment gives pause for thought.


Some Non-PC thoughts...

I have to say that this labor split looks - typically - like a dispute between hierarchies and personalities more than a principled, coherent strategy to revitalize the labor movement. The fact, noted in that TPMCafe comment linked above, that Jimmy Hoffa JR is one of the key proponents of the split doesn't bode well. Sweeney is way past his moment, but Hoffa ???? Give me a break. The California Nurses Association, which is one of the most progressive, activist unions I'm aware of, looks to be affiliating with the AFL-CIO at precisely the moment the SEIU is disaffiliating. More than likely, internal competition for pieces of the dwindling unionized ranks of labor plays a role in all of this. Marc himself admits he doesn't know whether this is the right prescription. Which is an odd perspective for one who "fully supports" it. I don't know either, but I do know that the technoworkers who Marc lampoons as the base for MoveOn, etc. aren't at fault for having no interest in labor unions. Organized labor is more often than not at fault because it has offered them little or nothing adaptable to the nature of their work...

The truth is that even in its post-WWII heyday, organized labor was part and parcel of political stagnation in this country. They also proudly wore economic blinders. They abandoned the most retrograde politics of the Cold War just about the time the Cold War abandoned itself. They had no strategy for dealing with new technology and globalization other than to create job trusts for diminishing numbers of workers. Labor has also consistently supported anything ...anything...that meant more jobs in the short term for its members, no matter how counter it might be to the interest of society at large. Any redevelopment scheme, any military-industrial boondoggle...anything. Also, public employee unions have done a terrible job of instilling much more than a sense of entitlement in their membership. I know that's not a popular thing to say in liberal circles, but anyone with a grain of honesty knows it's true and it hurts liberalism because public employee unions rarely show an interest in improving the delivery of government services and increasing the value derived from tax expenditures. Frankly these unions, including the teachers union, largely suck. The prison guards union in California is the worst case example of a "labor" monster that poisons the political well and makes reforming a public enterprise near-impossible, but it's not the only one. Right-wingers exploit these problems to promote their own brand of opportunism, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

SEIU has picked up a few of the pieces as service industries expanded the bottom rungs of the labor market. But there's not much that's hopeful in the labor camp. And I doubt that a split is going to produce a stronger movement. Perhaps, but it's hard to see how. Any energy that's generated will likely be countered by an increase of infighing, struggles over control of local labor councils, raiding members, etc. etc. These guys are better at that stuff than they are at organizing in most cases. Also, I doubt that the rank and file have been brought into this debate over their organizational future and relationship with other unions. That's not these guys' style - not even in the hallowed halls of the SEIU. It's a top-down done deal. These guys play an insiders game - they aren't "social justice activists" so much as canny bureaucrats - and frankly, most of the criticism and apathy they face both inside and outside their ranks is, at least to some degree, justified. It hurts to say this, but I believe it's true.

Jay Byrd

I remember some of my right wing friends telling me in 2000, in regard of my fierce opposition to George Bush, that I was afraid of change. That ad hominem charge is no better in this context. "Baying", "moaning", "whining" -- this from someone who has the gall to tell others not to impugn the motives or integrity of others. When the fellow shows some better reason for his recommendations than that his daughter is involved, I'll give his judgment due credit.

Michael Crosby

Marc, I'm afraid I don't get the "either/or" you perceive....People, activists and many, many others, are just plain old angry about being dragged into a war by liars telling lies. Activists can plan all sorts of events...98% of them are hardly noticed. This issue, fraudulent inducement into war, has hit a major nerve (finally, many of us might grumble). People respond.

The current state of the labor movement--in fact, the state of the movement since the early 70s--does not induce righteous anger. It induces sadness or, among the cynical, derisive laughter.

You are I believe absolutely right that until the labor movement--and it might look a lot different than the movement up to now, because the workforce looks different than it has before--is a daily factor shaping the direction of public policy action, we will be headed the wrong direction. When I was a kid, no economic story (and few civil rights stories) in newspapers or TV or radio omitted a quote from Walter Reuther or some labor leader. Now most of the "economic" news is just about what 26 year old is most likely to sell his converted methamphetamine lab to Pfizer for how many bazillion dollars.

You are equally right that activists should be concerned, should be and are talking about it. But it makes no sense to compare this sort of interest to the betrayal-fed rallies against the war and for impeachment.

If Andy Stern or John Sweeney or some insurgent activists want the help of people outside labor, and outlined what sort of support would be helpful, and people then said, "no, that's not important, we want to impeach Bonzo Bush instead," then I would see your point.

I worked full-time for 2 years and part-time for about 10 more for the UAW. Some of the best times and most fulfilling ones came in my work there (and certainly many of my best stories). Everytime I hear of a young person who is dedicating her worklife to the growth of the labor movement, I myself am moved. But at least at this point the ball is not just in the other court, but on another field entirely. In a structurally democratic society that is starved of participation by people's profound disinterest, the antiwar movement activism should be encouraged. It is not "masturbation," it is democratic procreation.


It seems to me that labor doesn't have a friend in Washington on either party. Both parties are in bed with one sort of vested money interest or the other.

But I think that labor could find itself in an interesting alliance with populist conservativism against illegal immigration. Very few things undermine the labor market as badly as millions of illegal workers arriving every year with the tacit approval of both parties in Congress because both parties big donors throw a fit if the laws against hiring illegal immigrants are actually enforced. Add to that the fact that the Democrats actually feel illegal immigrants eventually turn into votes for thier party, and you've got the vast majority of Americans being sold out by special interest groups. Uniting the labor cause ideologically with homeland security seems like a pretty good idea at the moment.

One of the few bits of Kerry's platform I actually supported was corporate tax reform. It doesn't take much of a mind to realize that if we've got a tax structure actually encouraging you to move overseas, that it isn't good for labor. The Republicans for thier part spent years talking about corporate tax reform, and serious pressure from labor for them to actually do so could force both parties to bring something to the table. So long as the votes of labor where their to keep the parties honest, you might actually see something in the interest of both American companies and American labor.

Basically speaking, in our current Democracy, if you aren't clearly a swing vote, then you might as well not exist. No one panders to voter blocks that are basically stuck firmly in your back pocket no matter what you do. That's the biggest mistake the activists on either side make.

Jay Byrd

> Basically speaking, in our current Democracy, if you aren't clearly a swing vote, then you might as well not exist. No one panders to voter blocks that are basically stuck firmly in your back pocket no matter what you do. That's the biggest mistake the activists on either side make.

Uh, whose back pocket are Democratic activists stuck in? Terry McAuliffe is gone, and the resistance to the DLC, eight time loser Bob Schrum, and Hillary (who didn't hesitate to take Marc's advice and fold over the Roberts nomination) is very strong. I wonder if folks like you and Cooper have ever even met a Democratic activist.

Marc Cooper

A few responses... Reg, let me clarify my remarks. While it's true I dont know if Stern's approach will work in the long run( seeing as how I cant foresee the future) I do know SOMETHING about it. In fact, I know a LOT about it. And here's the main difference between the AFL-CIO and SEIU.. the former has remained stagnat over the last 10 yers and SEIU had doubled in size to nearly 2 million. So I would imagine that Andy Stern has some strong arguments on his side.

Crosby: ur point is well taken.. to a certain point. I still contend that all the wanking around Downing Street and all the myriad rally/prayer meetings are useless. But OK. Labor certainly can be faulted for coming down the other side of the street and outreaching to these Dem activists. On the other hand, what for? Th unions have already been overly generous with the Party, handing it something like $100m in the last election cycle. And the Downing Street sort of activists are pretty much useless to labor. In any case, the disconnect on both sides merely underlines to what degree the DP is not even remotely the "party of the little guy." More like the party of little or no ideas!

Jay Byrd: What's ur problem, pal? Why so much anger all the time? My 30 yr professional career is an open book thanks to the web. You really think Ive never met a Democrat activist? Come back to earth, son. P.S. Resistance to Hilary is strong? What fishbowl are u living in?

Jay Byrd

> Resistance to Hilary is strong? What fishbowl are u living in?

I hang out with these people, you only bash them for a living. You're the one living in a bubble.

Jay Byrd

Here's the sort of view of Hillary one can find at DailyKos, for instance:

Let's Turn Back the Clock: Hillary to Head New DLC Agenda

my problem with Hillary

Ten Reasons Not to Nominate Hillary

It is widely felt among rank and file Dem activists -- the sorts of people who hire baby sitters so they can come to Democracy for America meetups, or just bring their kids -- that Hillary in '08 would be a disaster.

Michael Crosby

Well, I did not feel that my presence at the local gathering concerning the memos was necessary either...but I do see the value of keeping this issue alive. There is a real grassroots resentment at the way we were suckered into this war. I spoke this weekend to my oldest friend (in terms of service), a truck driver who has been unemployed, etc, for too long. He just heard about the opportunity to sweep floors and drive trucks in the Middle East for $100,000 or so, he believes for a Halliburton subsidiary.

We engaged in a few minutes of gallows humor, but my friend is boiling with anger that the only way he can get out of his financial hole is to help Cheney's company make money off the lies that he and Bush and that crowd told to commit us to an unnecessary war. And the necessity that we pay to clean up the mess those guys had a large part in creating (without any tax increase, natch) is going to exacerbate the deficit and make it that much harder to create real jobs in this country. Not to mention pay for health care, pension reinsurance or any of the other common needs of working people and even cocktail party liberals.

Back to the point....One thing to consider is what might happen if labor spent a larger share of its disposable income or in-kind services on its membership--education, etc--or on community projects. The national Democratic Party may not need labor money so much in the near future, as internet-based fundraising has been extremely effective.

Labor needs to spend its resources to grow, but growth would be aided greatly if the laws pertaining to the right to organize were revised.
Labor can never just ignore electoral politics. One thing we did at UAW in the 70s and 80s was to build strongholds in the precincts and wards where our members lived in the greatest number. Our greatest successes were in black middle class areas. I'm not even sure if such neighborhoods exist in Indiana now. The Democrats didn't care to deal with "labor" (except to flatter some egos of the leaders), but they had to deal with our committeemen and ward chairmen.

The last time I remember the left/liberals really doing anything in support of a labor project was in support of the grape boycott in the 60s and into the 70s. It has been pretty much a one-way street since then. I completely agree that we can't expect any real redirection of priorities in this country until working people are able to challenge the political, economic and social models prevailing in America now. It's more than just the Democratic Party, it's just about everything.


I don't want to demonize Hoffa JR as being simply the reincarnation of the Dave Beck/Hoffa Sr. style of corrupt unionism, but I don't find him one of the more inspiring figures in the labor movement. Interestingly, although here you state that "the Downing Street sort of activists are pretty much useless to labor", much of your article on Hoffa - which was interesting and redeems him to some degree as of it's writing - enthused about Hoffa allying himself with just those "Green-Blue" alliance sort of leftist activists.

I'm afraid that any trade union leader who pledges 30% of his unions' campaign contributions to Republicans - as Hoffa did in '02 - is a charlatan who's following in the Teamster tradition of buying friends in high places, regardless of the political impact on workers in general, and most probably in order to ease legal oversight of dubious internal practices.

Admittedly I'm not expert on the state of the Teamsters but many of Hoffa's public stances and associations raise doubts about him. That said, I fervently hope you're right that Stern has a good chance of leading and shaping this alliance to the benefit of current members and new organizing efforts, toward a coherent populist legislative agenda in the interests of all working Americans and to gain a more reciprocal relationship with liberal politicians who take labor's money and foot soldiers to bolster their campaigns...

Although I have fears that no major new energies or strategies will emerge from this and that bad blood and dissension will, at least in the short term, reduce an already tiny movement's effectiveness, there's something to be said about the old PR adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. While, particularly in the case of labor we know that's not really true, I don't remember the role of the labor movement in the life of the country and in our politics ever garnering this much attention in the years I've been following it.

While I don't want to defend the direction that many Dems have taken over the last decades in relation to unions, political action is the key to protecting union gains, spreading those gains to unorganized workers with an agenda that focuses on issues like universal health care, fair trade and increased minimum wage. Obviously one of the biggest obstacles that unions have faced in recent years is the weakening of labor law. Giving money to Dems isn't a guarantee that such things will improve, but not holding the line politically in the face of Republican dominance is a guarantee that they will get worse.

Van von Kuehl

I share Mr. Cooper's positive reaction to the AFL-CIO split. Anything that might revive some kind of labor movement worth the name is to be supported. The real problem is the scarce appeal that unions have in an increasingly balkanized country with masses of illegal immigrants.

richard lo cicero

Marc has had a soft spot for Hoffa since 1998 and Seattle - "Teamster and Turtles, together at last!" That lasted until the Teamster joined the construction trades in backing drilling in ANWR which made sense for their members. And the unions in trouble are the line manufacturing entities like the Steel and Auto Workers. Here the problem is Globalony which is holy writ among the great and the good. I hope this works but I worry when informed observers like Herold Meyerson have reservations.

As to the Downing Street Memos and Rove/Plame. There are many issues for Dems to talk about but I can think of none as important as this. An administration determined to go to war lied to the American People and dragged us into a conflict that has tarnished our standing overseas and left us open to legitimate charges of War Crimes under the Nuremberg Comventions - i.e. waging aggressive war. I think a party that failed to stand up for correcting thatwould be unfit for public office no matter what other positions it takes.

Virgil Johnson

I think we have to strike a blow to this present economic system, and the fallout it creates which is the waning of labor. It is much deeper than labor organization (alone), and the rush to attack the governmental figurehead in the person of Bush, in this present administration. Otherwise we just treat a symptom in either case, and die of the disease.

As American people we have never faced what unrestricted captialism does, and we are now experiencing the beginning of even rougher times to come if this does not stop. The force of efficency (as it is defined in this system), and the lust for greater profit for a few is destroying this country. You can either face this fact or wait for the freight train of reality to hit you.

Whereas, Reg (for instance) and I would perhaps see different remedies - I trust I can say that we agree the answer is much deeper than Downing Street Memo meditations, and bloated middle aged white guys making decisions to break away from a larger union concern (and also their time hackneyed practices).

Whatever you think the right answers are they better do several things. Big money has to be cut off from the political realm - something has to be done to stop the hemorrhaging of our jobs out of this country - we have to make the decisions of whether we will pay a little more for a human work force in this country, or run after the cheapest goods - we need to shore up domestic and foreign policy and practices that value humanity, and on and on and on. Don't kid yourself, this is all connected.

I don't care if you tie down this out of control captialism with draconian rules, or decide on a different course. You will either be driven by an economy, or drive an economy that cares for people at home and abroad.


"As American people we have never faced what unrestricted captialism does,"

Right. The New Deal is part of the Declaration of Independence.


Jay: I believe you missed my point entirely, to the degree that you in fact helped me make it. OK, so the Democratic activists are very unhappy with the DNC and with Hillary. Fine.

But where are they going to go? Are you telling me that the Democratic activists are so fed up with Hillary that they are going to vote Republican? Jeb Bush runs in 2008, and they are going to pick him over _anyone_ that the DNC runs? No, they are going to hold thier nose and vote for someone that they aren't happy with because they don't have anywhere realistic to go.

The same is true with the religious right, the conservative libertarians and other activists in the GOP. The motivated politically active wing of the GOP is not at all happy with Bush. They don't think he's nearly ideologically pure and conservative enough. He's not doing half the things that they demand of him. He's not controlling the budget. He's not taking a hard enough stand against stem cell research. He's not taking an ideologically pure enough line when it comes to Federalism. They hate 'no child left behind'. They hate the large growth in domestic spending. For them, Roberts is not nearly enough of a ideological firebrand to be nominated to the bench. And, they are furious that he's taken a very tolerant policy toward illegal immigration.

But, it doesn't matter. They don't have any real leverage over his policy, because where are they going to go? It's not like they would have voted for Kerry in any case. It's not like they are going to vote for Hillary. No, the conservatives are going to hold thier nose and vote for Bush even though they don't much like him, because in thier mind every other alternative is worse. The GOP has the far right in its pocket because at worst, some of them are just going to stay home, and even that's not very likely because as much as they dislike Bush, they DETEST the DNC.

Mavis Beacon

Celebrum - The right doesn't like Bush? Are you insane? Maybe he doesn't cater to every single Dobsonite whim, but he's pretty clearly the best they've had/could hope for.

Jay Byrd: "It is widely felt among rank and file Dem activists -- the sorts of people who hire baby sitters so they can come to Democracy for America meetups, or just bring their kids -- that Hillary in '08 would be a disaster."

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-dlc26jul26,0,1878987.story?coll=la-home-headlines -It's not often you get to be proven wrong so quickly.

On the Post: I think the change in financial priorities is right on the money. The two party system as it presently exists only has two options for labor - bad and worse. Americans respond to growth. The only way to get politicians to start paying attention to labor is to grow. Unions can spend money on issues that are of specific concern to them and otherwise just support candidates and policies at the ballot box. I don't have a good window into the internal politics of the thing and I'm not certain whether this will be good for the Dem party in the short or long run, but I do think it's the right thing to do for working people. I'm for it.

Jay Byrd

"Jay: I believe you missed my point entirely"

Your "point" was that Dem activists are making a mistake. You then argue that they have no choice. You can't have it both ways.

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