Once upon a time, back when America had a strong middle class, it also had a strong union movement.
These two facts were connected. Unions negotiated good wages and benefits for their workers, gains that often ended up being matched even by nonunion employers. They also provided an important counterbalance to the political influence of corporations and the economic elite....
It’s often assumed that the U.S. labor movement died a natural death, that it was made obsolete by globalization and technological change. But what really happened is that beginning in the 1970s, corporate America, which had previously had a largely cooperative relationship with unions, in effect declared war on organized labor. Don’t take my word for it; read Business Week, which published an article in 2002 titled “How Wal-Mart Keeps Unions at Bay.”...
Whoever receives the Democratic presidential nomination will receive labor’s support in the general election. Meanwhile, however, unions are supporting favored candidates.
But Barack Obama, though he has a solid pro-labor voting record, has not [received support] — in part, perhaps, because his message of “a new kind of politics” that will transcend bitter partisanship doesn’t make much sense to union leaders who know, from the experience of confronting corporations and their political allies head on, that partisanship isn’t going away anytime soon.
O.K., that’s politics. But now Mr. Obama has lashed out at Mr. Edwards because two [labor union] 527s — independent groups that are allowed to support candidates, but are legally forbidden from coordinating directly with their campaigns — are running ads on his rival’s behalf. They are, Mr. Obama says, representative of the kind of “special interests” that “have too much influence in Washington.”...
Part of what happened here, I think, is that Mr. Obama, looking for a stick with which to beat an opponent who has lately acquired some momentum, either carelessly or cynically failed to think about how his rhetoric would affect the eventual ability of the Democratic nominee, whoever he or she is, to campaign effectively. In this sense, his latest gambit resembles his previous echoing of G.O.P. talking points on Social Security.
Beyond that, the episode illustrates what’s wrong with campaigning on generalities about political transformation and trying to avoid sounding partisan.
It may be partisan to say that a 527 run by labor unions supporting health care reform isn’t the same thing as a 527 run by insurance companies opposing it. But it’s also the simple truth.
4 years ago