Why Labor

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The Montana Democratic Party’s (MDP) Convention offered us two takeaways. First, Democrats are united in re-electing Governor Bullock. Second, a small and misguided group of outspoken activists want to purge the Party of labor’s influence.

A rule, proposed by former Party Chair Jim Elliott and supported by the Dirk Adams faction of the Party, barred someone from serving on the Executive Board of the MDP if they are affiliated with an organization that has endorsed a Republican candidate. The proposed rule change was roundly rejected by most in attendance and Elliott was eventually forced to withdraw the rule change.

Pogreba writes, “Democrats did well to remember that our party has no better friend than labor, a vital constituency that not only works tirelessly for Democratic candidates, but represent a partnership at the core of our identity as the party that puts working conditions, fair pay, and respect for a hard day’s work at the top of its agenda.”

I was happy to see the Democrats reject such a nearsighted attack on the labor movement. However, the failed proposed rule speaks to a larger and much more dangerous issue: some progressives forgetting just how important labor is to their cause.

Pete Talbot, a fellow writer here at Intelligent Discontent who I greatly admire, wrote this in his convention takeaway:

Labor v. Everybody  Else.  Organized labor is an integral part of the Democratic Party but it tends to be the 300 pound gorilla.  The goals of labor are admirable and I’m a strong supporter, but not to the exclusion of other interest groups.  I sometimes wonder if the 49 percent turnout in Missoula County for the 2014 midterm elections was because other constituencies didn’t feel represented by the Democratic Party.

Point taken, but I think we’re forgetting why labor is so important to the Democratic Party.

For the last fifty years, labor has been taken for granted and the Democratic Party has suffered. Julian Zelizer, a Princeton Professor, writes,

The loss of organized labor’s clout within the workforce and among the Democrats has been a devastating loss for the party. As the party turned away from this constituency and hesitated to support policies that would reverse the damaging trends that have hindered union membership, they have lost an animating force that could help sustain them in their struggles against a rightward bound Republican Party.

This is what should bother everyone in the Democratic Party: without labor, Democrats will be forced to rely on big business, just like the GOP. “In post-union America, rich businessmen will be the only viable sources of political funding [for Democrats],” writes Matt Yglesias.

This isn’t just conjecture, it’s fact. Open Secrets crunched the numbers “and it turns out that as Democrats have become less dependent on unions, they’ve become ever-more-dependent on rich businessmen and corporations.”

Listen, you don’t always have to agree with labor’s priorities, but without labor the Democratic Party will be forced to rely on big business and that’s bad for the entire progressive movement, including the environment, civil rights, LGBTQ equality, gender equality, and the list goes on. Labor is the life blood of progressive politics because it provides the only substantial counter balance to the special interests of greed. Progressives would be wise to remember that.

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Calamity Jan

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Carol Stahl
Guest
Carol Stahl

Organized labor is a strong link in the chain of democracy, one of the few remaining challengers of corporations, CEOs and stockholders. The recent criticisms of Amazon’s treatments of their employees elicited comments in yesterday and today’s public media about how A’s white collar employees have no way to improve their pay, benefits, hours, treatments and other reasons people are willing to work there. R’s would like us to abandon the remnant of strong labor unions and all by itself that is one good reason to support them. And of course, the rising of downtrodden workers is the rising of… Read more »

Dirk Adams
Guest

Dear Calamity (if I may use your first name): First, thanks for spelling my name right. Second, after being whipped in the spring of 2014 like a borrowed mule by Eric Feaver and others for giving a total of $1,500 to Republicans some 20 years ago, I was enchanted by Eric’s fervent defense of his union’s right to both be a voting member of the MDP and to fund and endorse several Republican candidates in legislative races. In fact, in Eric’s description of this spring’s legislature, it was only his wise support of Republicans that led to the Bullock legislative… Read more »

Rob Kailey
Guest

Excuse Mr. Adams, but some of us Democratic leaning bloggers have written about that very thing. Those of us who have are often not well favored among the greater progressive community. I certainly made no friends when I pointed out 3 years ago that the Left has shown an arrogant disdain for >a href=http://wulfgar.typepad.com/a_chicken_is_not_pillage/2012/07/labor-and-the-left.html>the rights of people to control the value of their own efforts. I and others have pointed out many times that you grow the Democratic vote by embracing those who are predisposed to fight for their rights to self-governance in all matters political and economic. Party purity… Read more »

Rob Kailey
Guest
CJ
Guest

Maybe you could have brought up your concerns (in a constructive way), but rumor is that you weren’t at day two of the convention.

Pete Talbot
Admin

Thanks for the kind words, Calamity Jan, and I appreciate your well-written post. The point I was trying to make was this: I wouldn’t want party leadership made up entirely of environmental activists, or the peace and justice movement, or the LGBT community, or a particular ethnic group (although I’d certainly welcome more people of color on the boards of the Montana Democratic Party). I believe that our ability to appeal to more Montanans and win more elections is through a coalition of all of the above combined with a strong organized labor presence. As I’ve stated before, I’ve always… Read more »

Rob Kailey
Guest

Pete, I share Calamity’s respect for your writing and opinions. Forgive me if I’m just being pessimistic today. It appears to me that Labor is finding itself increasingly at odds with special interest Democratic voters. However, the last 30 years (or longer) have seen Unions under severe attack in Montana and most of those battles Unions have lost. Calling now for Unions to support those who have not supported them in a spirit of unity is going to ring hollow for many voters. I could well be wrong about your focus. It is possible that you were calling for others… Read more »

Pete Talbot
Admin

I’m calling for mutual support for all constituencies, Rob, but maybe I’m a dreamer.

CJ
Guest

I also think everyone should be at the table. I just think we need to be mindful of who brought the table. I think we’re on the same page.

CJ
Guest

Hey Pete. I 100% understand where you’re coming from and I know you’re a strong supporter of labor. And even when you have problems with labor, it’s pragmatic, reasoned, and smart. I greatly enjoy your take on the issues and topics of the day. To be honest, I was just using that section of your blog post as a foil. I hope that’s clear.

Carol Farris Stahl
Guest
Carol Farris Stahl

Agriculture is important in MT, so important that it is cited as the basis for the MT economy in the 1972 state constitution. Farmers’ and ranchers’ lives are subject to the whims of nature, and now also to the unpredictable vagaries of global weather change. This causes many who work in agriculture to be conservative in their life views. It’s important to remember this when trying to decide which groups are likely to support the goals and aims of the Democratic Party. With my sincere respects to Jim Elliott, it’s unlikely that the non-ag workers in MT will ever predominate… Read more »

James Conner
Guest

I’m much more interested in what Adams will do to get Democrats elected in 2016 than in what he said and did in the 2014 campaign. If we want to win in 2016, we had better stop fighting among ourselves and pull together to fight the Republicans.

Carol Farris Stahl
Guest
Carol Farris Stahl

Those who will not look over their shoulders should not be surprised when they’re conked on the head. Or. Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. James, do you really believe from his actions last weekend and my report of his first interaction with a small group of dedicated Democrats that Dirk Adams has heard any thing Democrats have said to him?

James Conner
Guest

He’s heard what you and other Democrats have said to him, Carol. He just disagrees with a lot of what he’s heard. He’s not a man who defers to the judgment of long time members of the party — and that, I think, is a large part of the beef some Democrats have with him.

If you keep looking in the rear view mirror, you’re going to run off the road. Concentrate on 2016, and accept Adams’ help. We need every Democrat we can find.

Carol Stahl
Guest
Carol Stahl

Dirk Adams has an entirely different point of view than any Democrat I’ve ever known. (And I grew up on Detroit when it was all Democrats.) Were I a candidate I would be wary of anyone who talks as he does. I realize you may well be right, James. That doesn’t mean it’s big-hugs-all-around time quite yet.

Turner
Guest
Turner

My main complaint with Montana’s AFL/CIO is that they support Keystone XL as they once supported the MSTI power line. Both projects were/are very detrimental to the environment even though they would provide a few jobs.

The state party has lost the enthusiastic support of quite a few environmentalists, me included.

I’d feel better about unions if they’d concentrate their efforts on organizing fast-food workers and other low-pay employees.

Rob Kailey
Guest

Richard I write this with all due respect. Organized labor was not organized to protect the environment. It organized to protect the jobs, livelihood and well being of people who work for a living as opposed to the corporate fat-cats. That includes the jobs of people who build pipelines and transmission towers. It is not their task to support your concerns for environment, and it is not their obligation to support your inclusion in the Democratic fold. It should rather be incumbent on you to give due weight to their concerns. They have the organization and structure to win elections.… Read more »

Turner
Guest
Turner

I grew up in a union household and generally support labor unions. But I think the leaders in our state have persuaded rank and file members that environmentalists are against them — they’re just a bunch of sandal-wearing hippies that’ve never done a day’s hard work. I don’t hear Ekblad et al talking about getting labor behind windmills and solar grids. Instead, their position is that corporations are the job creators and workers need to support them (the corporations) so they can be hired. You seem to accept pretty comfortable with the idea that “their” (union members) concerns are separate… Read more »

Turner
Guest
Turner

Typing too fast. That’s “you seem to be pretty comfortable with.”

steve kelly
Guest
steve kelly

Turner, FYI. There is no monolithic interest group called “environmentalists.” The D.C.-based groups were co-opted long ago. These groups are well known, well funded, and function primarily as an element of the center-right, neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party. These groups are the paid collaborators. They know politics better than ecology or biology, and will support any and all Democrats, especially the “Blue-Dogs” who often can’t garner over 50% of the vote. The remainder tends to be grassroots, non-hierarchical, independent, non-partisan, and broke. There are thousands of these small, energetic, local environmental groups around the country. They remain focused on… Read more »

Pete Talbot
Admin

In response to Steve Kelly’s comment: “The remainder (of environmental groups) tend to be grassroots, non-hierarchical, independent, non-partisan, and broke. There are thousands of these small, energetic, local environmental groups around the country.”
Well then they better get their fucking act together: build coalitions, coordinate campaigns, have a unified lobbying effort, and together support certain politicians and issues, and fight hard against the bad ones. Or, I suppose they can just whine about how shitty and corrupt all the politicians are.

Mark T
Guest

Well, if the answer were to be contained in partisan politics, you’d sure be on the right track! But what is the advantage of electing one bought politician over another? They lie so easily, and are so rarely held accountable. These groups do everything you say. Their downfall is money – not lack of it, but that they are easily bought off by the foundations, and become weak and lose focus when well endowed. Those who have not been bought off are still fighting and doing the best they can. There is no access to media, and no answer in… Read more »

Don Pogreba
Admin

I don’t understand this thread of fatalism from some in the environmental community. It’s not inevitable that people will be “bought off,” and it’s not inevitable that movements will fail to get attention. Is the #blacklivesmatter well-funded? No. They just knew how to get media attention and support. The challenge, of course, is turning that attention into lasting action.

Mark T
Guest

It is discouraging Don, to place effort in the political system, elect a man like Tester, and find out he is not real.

But I don’t sense fatalism, never have. There is optimism in the spirit of the men and women in small environmental groups, even when coupled with pessimism of the intellect.

steve kelly
Guest
steve kelly

Pete, Constructive advice from 30,000 feet as usual, as far as that goes. The whining you hear is from the Forest Service, BLM and collaborators who can’t bulldoze and clearcut our public forests free of environmental laws and grassroots activists fighting to stop the insanity. Sorry that’s all you’ve got to offer. Don, No it is not inevitable that people will be bought off or co-opted in other ways. I did my best to explain the split and its causes in the so-called environmental movement that happened in the 1980s. Same division exists to this day. Fatalism is your projection.… Read more »

Rob Kailey
Guest

Steve, not to put too fine a point on anything but you do realize that the vast majority of Forest Service employees are unionized, right? By all means keep telling them about what they want and the hatred that they are owed by ‘real’ environmentalists.

steve kelly
Guest
steve kelly

Kailey, “Hatred” and “real” environmentalists is your terminology. More projection. Nor have I “told them what they want.” It’s the system, which I have observed for going on …. well for quite some time now. I simply disagree with the government’s vision, its mission and goals. Employees (union and contractors) have no more control over policy, programs and practices than you or I do. Quasi military agencies that facilitate commodity extraction at taxpayer expense take orders from Washington, D.C. Those who don’t like it leave. Many have. Do you disagree with the premise? Any facts I have presented? Do hou… Read more »

Rob Kailey
Guest

Steve, that’s what you misunderstand about unions. They do have control over policy, programs and practices, especially the practices. Or that is, they did when they actually had the support of the public in the voting booth. I’m stunned that you so willfully and ignorantly deny that most of the labor laws we have in this country did not come from DC, but those who pay for organized power. You are confusing causation with correlation. You think that people leave the Forest Service because of dictates from DC, and that somehow favors your causes? Really? I would suggest, as I… Read more »

Mark T
Guest

“…most of the people who work for the FS want to do good work, and they see the environmentalists dump on them at every opportunity.” That’s a view from far afield, for sure. It is half true, half false. Yes, there are many good people working for forest service, and if they determined policy, we’d all have a Merry Christmas. I’ve worked with them. There are scientists among them, trapped in politics. But it is a top-down organization, just like the corporations that dictate policy from behind. I suppose if I mention regulatory capture, you’ll tell me that you wrote… Read more »

Rob Kailey
Guest

I know that it’s too much to hope but could you please 1) stay on topic, and 2) engage without asserting your super supremacy of secret holy knowledge concerning the abilities, intellect and motives of another? Your mythology is old, boring, twisted and easily rejected, sad priest. The topic at hand is not your conspiracies of government coup. It is whether or not people like Kelly can continue to abuse the very people he needs to accomplish his goals and still see those goals to fruition. The answer to that is pretty simple. No. My argument with Steve is very… Read more »

Rob Kailey
Guest

All I’m suggesting is that MDP has an opportunity to take a leadership role and show Labor how environmental concerns can benefit their organized constituents. That would help the Democrats in elections, and win for both environmentalists and unions. The MDP isn’t doing that because the easy cash comes from corporations. If that is, as I suspect, the situation, then the MDP has an interest in maintaining the finger pointing between unions and enviros. I don’t want that. I doubt you do either.

LK
Guest
LK

THANKS, GIANTEFART! Jeebus. This dumb bassturd is gonna keep us in the news for a loooong time to come! I mean, really, what BETTER way to attract even more inbreds to Montana than to run creation boy himself?
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/greg-gianforte-creationist-dinosaur-museum-governor_55d39bbce4b055a6dab1d376?kvcommref=mostpopular

Big Swede
Guest

Democrats used to represent the people who pull the wagon. But now they represent only the wagon riders.

Don Pogreba
Admin

I’m pretty sure that most of the roads and bridges that anyone travels on were built by the laborers that Democrats support and Republicans have disdain for.

Big Swede
Guest

Your party has evolved Don. Emphasis on the words “were built”.

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