Why Labor

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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

Subscribe to our posts

About the author

Calamity Jan


Click here to post a comment

Please enter an e-mail address

  • 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 us all.

  • 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 victories.
    Next, I know biography never actually seems to matter in blog writings, but just so the record is clear, I organized workers in Alaska and I was a member of the teacher’s union in a right to work state.

    And finally the most salient point at the convention was Jim Elliot’s observation that he did not know how the Dems could ever be the majority party in the state legislature unless the Dems broadened their appeal. Sadly there was no discussion of that. Perhaps someday a Democratic leaning blog could address that very real challenge.


    • 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 for a Democratic party that holds increasing animosity towards it’s organized members who want good union work is counter-productive at best. Calamity is absolutely correct, and addresses the very point that you find lacking on the blogs. You grow the party by siding with the people who work to make the vote worthwhile, and not increasing relying on the enemies of those make the vote worthwhile for funding. Though probably put more harshly than it should be, why would a union member who pays to have that organized strength keep supporting an organization that wants that might to protect LGBT people, the environment, and womens rights and yet treats that organization itself as a given, an afterthought? Democrats in this state have done precious little to protect Labor while counting on Labor for all their pet projects.

      I don’t know why you feel the need to personalize any of this as Feaver v. Adams. If I’m being honest, I don’t really care. Regardless of any of that, I am curious why you would look to blogs for solving open ended questions. You are a Political Notable now. What’s your answer for ‘broadening appeal’? And why aren’t you screaming for that answer from the MDP instead of questioning bloggers?

    • 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.

  • 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 been a staunch supporter of organized labor and always will be.

    And as I also noted, one of the reasons that labor has such influence on the party is it has reliably supported Democratic candidates and issues over these many years. Union members have been the ones at the phone banks, the fundraisers, knocking on doors and poll watching. That sort of energy from other constituencies will go a long way in giving them a stronger voice in party decision making.

    • 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 to support the 300 pound gorilla for once, especially considering it used be an 800 pound beast.

      Either way it just strikes me as wrong that anyone would call for homogeneity of leadership in a party where certain factions are almost petulantly opposed to others for little good reason.

    • 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.

  • 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 in politics. That’s no excuse for giving up Democratic principles. We don’t flop over because our job is too hard and the way is too rocky.
    Cutting organized labor from our party would deprive Democrats of historically strong and loyal allies. Perhaps Mr. Adams has not been a Democrat long enough to appreciate this solid fact.
    Less than two years ago Mr. Adams prepared to run for the U.S. Senate by meeting with a long-standing group of Bozeman Democrats. Here are his answers on questions about issues that were important to the group of 15-20 people present at that Friday Morning Coffee meeting. We wanted to get to know him and hoped he would be interested in hearing about our views on topics important to us.
    This is a report I circulated after that meeting: “9/6/2013 Mr. Adams came to the Friday morning D’s coffee today. Present at the table were at least 5 people who have been candidates in MT elections. Dorothy Eck invited Dirk Adams so he could introduce himself to Gallatin Co residents.
    Dirk Adams claims many, many MT Democrats agree that the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling is “water under the bridge” and a fact of life real people must live with because it’s a “trivial” matter not worthy of a Constitutional amendment.
    Adams said there’s no reason to raise the minimum wage when there are people willing to work for the current amount.
    He also sees no problems with fracking.
    Asked about coal he told us three major coal mining companies in Appalachia have declared bankruptcy. But never fear, it is to MT’s advantage that those reserves have dwindled.
    He said, “During the election no one will be able to get to the right of me.”
    He said that the positions of individual candidates are far less important than having a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.
    When Dorothy Eck asked him his position on legalizing marijuana his off-the-cuff remark was “Who cares?”
    He said he’s pro-choice and wants “to get government out of our businesses, bedrooms and off our computers.” When asked what his business that he wants to get the government out of is, he went to a different subject.”

    The life-long Democrats meeting him for the first time that day were not pleased to hear these opinions and no one who was there supported his Senate campaign as a Democrat. Perhaps Mr. Adams thought only elephants have long memories. In fact, it is the under-dogs who retain the knowledge of who are their friends.
    Actions speak louder than words. The acts of Dirk Adams at the recent state convention were unexpected, unfounded in Democratic principles, and unwelcome.

    • 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.

      • 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?

        • 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.

          • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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. When environmentalists show such a thing, then the rules change. But, simply put, you need them more than they need you. I suggest that rather than lamenting *their* lack of support for *our* issues, we should be fostering a platform that employs union labor to maintain (buy back) dams, build wind towers, improve infrastructure (which I know the Democrats have tried) and hold Labor as a fundamental right.

      • 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 and apart from “our” (environmentalists) concerns. The environment is not a special interest. Union members and their families will be impacted just as strongly by careless and aggressive industrialization as other people.

        Look at the local news channels. Sniff the air. The effects of human-caused global warming, mainly from too much petroleum industry activity, are apparent all around us. But the labor unions want us to push forward with oil, coal, and natural gas projects that can only worsen the situation.

        And the state Democratic Party goes along with them. The tail wags the dog.

          • 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 environmental concerns regardless of the political pressure, scapegoating or the name-calling. It is what the system allows.

          • 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.

          • 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 the two parties. So the people fighting in the trenches labor in obscurity.

            • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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.


            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. I don’t recall predicting any future outcomes.

          • 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.

          • 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 have a point you’d like to make? I’m listening.

          • 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 have already, that they leave the forest service for more satisfying jobs in the private sector after being dumped on by the very people they sought to help. Isn’t it funny that there is no shortage of work placement for Forest Service jobs? Hmmm?

            I absolutely disagree with your premise. I think 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. One of the largest unions in Montana is being told, by you, that they are mindless drones to the word ‘of the boss-man’. They don’t like you. They shouldn’t like you. They pay for organized power, and they increasingly lean Republicant. You don’t. What do you actually think you can gain by insulting these people? Anything? Inquiring minds want to know … ‘Kelly’.

          • “…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 a paper on it one time, that you are already aware of all the defects in your argument, and your sounding like a right winger is a deliberate part of your being a leftist with insight?

            Because,. honestly, and it surprises me not at all, you look, talk and walk like a right winger, so I wonder what you are doing in the Democratic Party, and then I don’t.

          • 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 simple and unassailable. The organized union people he most needs help from to coerce the shadow Illuminati you think make policy are the very people he dumps on for the very policy your shadow Illuminati makes. On a 10 pointy scale of counter-productive, Steve ranks about an 8.5. You’re the jackass, Mark, who keeps caterwauling about how people must organize to overcome the shadow Illuminati, and then absolve yourself from responsibility for that resolution by claiming that it can’t and won’t ever happen. You are weak and cowardly; we know this and have seen it a hundred times from you. Unions are organized and can influence not just elections but the resulting policy. So when you see people attacking the people organizing, those should dictate your enemy, and not the fantasies that make you feel important. People like Steve are the problem, Mark. Unions are part of the solution. So stay on topic.

        • 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.

Send this to a friend