Are the centrists in the Democratic Party actually missing the labor movement now that the Supreme Court has dealt public-employee unions what Republicans hope will be a knockout blow? Noam Scheiber of the Times has a really smart piece detailing all of the ways the unions help Democrats and grassroots advocacy groups, and how weaker public-sector unions will set back not just workers but progressive politics generally.
This belated discovery by centrist Democrats of the value of a strong labor movement is a little like Eisenhower’s famous farewell address criticizing the military-industrial complex. Where the hell were they when we needed them?
The Republicans sure figured out how important unions were to Democrats, even if many Democrats didn’t.
We would have a much stronger labor movement, whose voting strength would surely have spared America Donald Trump, if only the last three Democratic presidents had made trade unionism a higher priority. But neither Obama, nor Clinton, nor Carter (though they all had good cabinet and sub-cabinet appointees at the Department of Labor) put any political muscle behind reforms of the Wagner Act needed to stop union-busting and making it possible for workers to organize without risking their jobs.
Those damned pesky unions—opposing corporate designs for trade that organized labor resisted, resisting deregulation of Wall Street, and challenging the Obama administration’s embrace of a brand of education reform that scapegoated public schools and schoolteachers. The real power players like Robert Rubin under Clinton (or maybe Clinton under Rubin), and his clones in the Obama administration, were opposed to unions and did not lift a finger to help them.
So now, when we need a labor movement more than ever, unions have even less backing from the government or from the rules of the game—and will have to rebuild labor strength one worker at a time. That may yet succeed. But truth be told, the presidential Democratic Party and its allied centrist theorists and Wall Street masters has been a pretty feeble ally of organized labor. Now we all pay the price.