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.