Breaking with the Democrats?
By Reginald Johnson
June 17, 2011
It was a hopeful sign the other day when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the federation may drive a harder bargain with Democrats if they want labor’s backing.
Trumka took a militant tone when he addressed a convention of the United Nurses in Washington, saying that union members are tired of working hard to get Democrats elected every election cycle and then being disappointed in the results.
“For too long, we’ve been left after Election Day holding a canceled check, waving it about—‘Remember us? Remember us? Remember us?’—asking someone to pay a little attention to us,” said Trumka, according to an article by John Nichols in The Nation.
Trumka and other union leaders have been frustrated with the failure of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (card check) and other needed labor law reforms as well as caving in to the GOP on tax issues.
“…I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a snootful of that shit!” Trumka shouted.
The AFL-CIO leader said the country needs an “independent labor movement strong enough to return balance to our economy, fairness to our tax system, security to our families and moral and economic standing to our nation.”
Nichols further wrote that Trumka has recently “been repositioning the AFL-CIO as a force that will hold Republicans and Democrats to what he describes as “a simple standard: ‘Are they helping or hurting working families?’ ”
It is very refreshing news indeed if the AFL-CIO --- which represents 13 million workers --- is going to take a more independent position on national political issues, and not just be a lapdog for the Democrats, as they have been for too too long. The Democratic Party in recent years has been drifting to the right --- with President Barack Obama and leaders of the U.S. Senate taking centrist or even conservative postitions on key issues of government spending, taxes, social programs, labor needs, civil liberties and war policies. Caving in to the Republicans has become the norm for Democrats, not the exception.
You get the sense now that people in labor and many progressives have had it with the Democrats and are ready to make a move away from the party. This move could be to create a new umbrella organization that would work to achieve a clear set of progressive goals. In turn that group would in effect tell all political candidates seeking their support --- ‘endorse our goals or we don’t support you.’ Period, and no compromise. If no candidate meets the test, the group simply announces, ‘OK guys, we’re sitting out the election.’
Or there could be a move to form a third party altogether.
I know this has been talked about ad infinitum, the idea of breaking away and forming a new party. In the past progressives and people in labor have always rejected this idea in the end, and stayed with the Democrats, seeing that, while not perfect, the Democratic candidate for president in any given national election was always more palatable than whoever the Republicans put up.
This syndrome was, as Ralph Nader puts it, opting for ‘the least worst.’
But has ‘least worst’ run its course?
Think about it. How much difference is there between Obama, and say, Mitt Romney? Obama has been lousy on labor, lousy on the environment, lousy on civil liberties, and a total sell-out on tax and spending issues. Where’s the big difference?
I think more than ever this year, people, including those in labor, are showing disgust with the performance of both the Democrats and Republicans. I think there’s wider recognition among people today that the leaders of both parties are really not interested in the welfare of workers and consumers and are just kow-towing to the interests of the corporate elite --- because in the end that helps them stay in power and continue to enjoy their privileged status.
I do hope that the stirrings of setting up new political formations will come to something. The country desperately needs it.