Does That Elephant Bite?

| July 11, 2003

In the 2002 elections, labor unions gave 90 percent of their campaign money to Democrats, but the communications and financial industries trumped union contributions and workers? voices were drowned out by the corporate-funded din. This is just one reason why labor unions are sliding down a slippery slope toward the right. Kim Phillips-Fein reporting for New Labor Forum explores the political climate in New York City since September 11 and notices a disheartening trend?union members are increasingly rallying for the right.

Labor unions like 1199/SEIU and UNITE!, which have long histories in social-movement politics are now turning out en masse to support Republican candidates like New York governor George Pataki. ?Pataki rallied his allies in the Senate to veto an increase in the state?s minimum wage,? writes Phillips-Fein. ?Workers? compensation benefits in New York are the 41st lowest in the nation. The number of New Yorkers without health insurance has grown over the past eight years, and while this is a national trend, Pataki has not moved to fight it.?

So how have some unions become so easily fooled by politicians? promises of limited benefit to their particular industry, while ignoring the fact that Republicans are opposed to the fundamental principle of a united work force? The answer is not clear. However, Phillips-Fein gives a list of four strategies that labor unions could focus on in the future. One option would be for unions to give up on electoral politics altogether. ?The labor movement could concentrate on building the ground troops of the global social justice movement, funding rallies and demonstrations instead of the Democrats,? says Phillips-Fein ?After all, unions did not organize millions of industrial workers in the 1930s by funding the Democratic Party, and the Democrats did not grow more sympathetic to labor because of endorsements.?

Whether or not labor unions maintain their faith in the two-party system, voting for the right in exchange for small favors at the cost of undermining everything the labor movement has worked to create will prove to be self-destructive in the long run. Labor unions still wield real power in elections. Now what is going to protect them from that power?
?Nick Garafola

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