The Labor Movement and the Democrats

Published on Global, by Jack A. Smith, February 13, 2012.

New anti-union legislation was passed by Congress earlier this month despite a Democratic majority in the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House. It’s one more indication that America’s unions are over a barrel. The leadership of the Democratic Party — which is dependent on union support and money, especially this presidential election year — knows of labor’s plight, says it sympathizes, and goes off whistling an idle tune. 

President Obama and the Democratic House and Senate leadership nod with compassion but do virtually nothing when the unions seek support or removal of decades of anti-union legislation.

This has been going on for a long time. It is the main reason why the rich United States has the weakest protections for working people of all the wealthy democracies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and of many developing countries as well.

It is bad enough when the party known as “labor’s friend” ignores past injustices, or even refuses to act on a labor priority (such as the Employee Free Choice Act). It’s another matter when Democratic votes make it possible to perpetrate new anti-labor injuries, as took place Feb. 6 when the Senate passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill over union objections.

The worst part of the new legislation weakened bargaining rights for workers in the aviation and rail industries by increasing from 35% to 50% the number of worker signatures required to allow an election for union recognition. It was strongly backed by the airline industry.

Senate Democrats  called the final version of the bill the best “compromise” possible with the reactionary House measure. “That’s a step back, not a compromise,” commented International Association of Machinists president Tom Buffenbarger, a sentiment shared by many unions.

The Senate vote was 70-20. Only 15 Democrats voted against the measure, as did five republicans. Three of the Democrats voting “no” were from the Northeast: Blumenthal (CT), Gillibrand (NY), and Leahy (VT).

The bill allocates $63.3 billion to the agency through September 2015, but it wasn’t even necessary to pass the present measure at all. FAA reauthorization has been extended for the last four years by temporary funding, and this could have been continued until the labor restrictions were excised.

The “do-nothing” Tea Party-infused House passed the bill Feb. 3, 248-169. A respectable 157 Democrats voted against the anti-labor law, joined by 12 Republicans. Some two dozen Blue Dog (conservative) Democrats voted in favor … //

… The labor movement is weak these days compared to some earlier periods. But who’s to say this will always be the case?

The great labor leader Eugene V. Debs thoroughly understood the extreme problems and serious shortcomings of the union movement, perhaps better than anyone else, and elaborated them all in a 1894 declaration that ends with these words: “Not withstanding all of this, it is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission of emancipating the workers of the world from the thralldom of the ages is as certain of ultimate realization as the setting of the sun.” (full text).

More Articles by Jack A. Smith.

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