June 19, 2005

THE CONTINUING CRACK-UP:

A Democratic House Divided: Big Labor has long been the Dems' best friend. But an internal rift could dilute their clout at a crucial juncture. (Howard Fineman, 6/19/05, Newsweek)

[T]he House of Labor is divided against itself, and it's not clear it can stand. For reasons of philosophy, money and ego—the Potomac power mix—the slice of America that used to be called "Big Labor" may soon collapse. A breakup would have broad implications in the workplace, pitting one set of unions, and one vision of unionism, against another. In politics, it would create competing spheres with one of them—the renegades—more willing to work with Republicans and more focused on organizing drives than on electoral politics. "In terms of Democratic politics, it's a disaster," says Rick Sloan, the Machinists communications director. "It would eviscerate our ground capabilities in ways Karl Rove and Tom DeLay will try to exploit."

The family feud has been building for years, and with good reason: the family is falling apart. When the American Federation of Labor and the Council of Industrial Organizations merged in 1955 to create the AFL-CIO, nearly one in three workers was a card-carrying union member. On the golden anniversary of the merger, that number is now less than 10 percent in the private sector, 13 percent if you count the public sector. To protect their clout during the generation-long rise of the conservatives, unions transformed themselves into turbo-charged fund-raising and turnout engines, dedicated (in fact if not by law) to Democrats. Members of union households were 19 percent of the vote in 1992 and rose to 26 percent last year—a tide of about 7 million votes, most of which went into the Democratic column. Yet unions have little to show for all that effort in terms of legislation—and nothing in terms of Democratic control of the Congress.


Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2005 11:31 PM
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