Does That Elephant Bite?

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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Does That Elephant Bite?

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