From email@example.com Tue Aug 22 13:03:50 2000
Labor's Love for Gore May Be Lost
By David Moberg, Newsday, 17 August 2000
'I'M LOOKING at the most powerful people in America," Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union, told union-member delegates on the eve of the Democratic convention.
"You can decide the outcome of this presidential election." It was not entirely hyperbole to fire up the labor troops, who make up 30 percent of convention delegates. Unions provided vital early primary election muscle against Sen. Bill Bradley, and this November they will have to turn out voters disproportionately from union households for Al Gore to win essential midwestern swing states, such as Michigan and Ohio.
By the normal calculus of politics, Gore would then owe working people-and their unions-a big debt of gratitude. Their reward certainly should go beyond what Clinton delivered. Although wages at the bottom of the job hierarchy have risen recently, as a result of minimum wage hikes and a tight labor market, most moderate-income workers gained relatively little from the Clinton boom, and the gap between the corporate elite and everyone else widened.
Luckily for Gore, he could satisfy his union family supporters with a few strategic moves that would also be both good public policy and a boost to the Democratic Party.
But those same moves might not satisfy the corporate funders much in evidence as the convention opened, such as SBC (Telecom), Blue Cross (insurance), Raytheon (military hardware) and the National Restaurant Association (opponents of the minimum wage). Though some unions, like McEntee's, are big contributors, all unions together have given only about 10 percent of the money the Democratic Party itself has raised.
But if Gore wanted to reverse the nation's growing inequality, he could, first of all, promote legislation to make it easier for workers to organize unions and harder for employers to interfere with their choice, for example, by granting union recognition simply when a majority of workers sign union cards.
Though getting comprehensive labor law reform through Congress now seems unlikely, Gore - and other labor-backed politicians - could still show up at office buildings and factories where workers are organizing to support them and oppose employer harassment of pro-union workers.
Gore could also make sure that no federal money is used, even indirectly, to fund anti-union campaigns, as happens so often now, and treat persistent corporate labor law violators as "irresponsible contractors" that can be barred from federal bidding. He could also change federal policy toward recent immigrants, one of the most promising groups for union organizing, by establishing a new amnesty program for those who have been here for years without proper papers and by protecting workplace rights of immigrants rather than harassing them.
If more workers organize, they will have greater power to reverse the decline in income equality that started in the early 1970s, which will be good for the economy as a whole. That will also help to better enforce existing workplace laws and give a voice to workers, helping to democratize the economy.
Politically, it would also help the Democrats, whose slippage - especially as a progressive party - tracks closely the decline of organized labor. But it might upset Jonathan Tisch, the chief executive of the Loews hotel chain and a major Democratic Party contributor, whose luxury Santa Monica hotel was the target of a major rally supporting workers who are trying to organize in the face of the company's anti-union campaign.
Second, Gore could use public policy directly to reduce the income gap.
Beyond preventing privatization of Social Security and raising the minimum wage, the most urgent need for working people is national health insurance.
That would essentially mean expanding an improved Medicare program to the entire population, starting - if Gore insists on small steps - with coverage of all children.
But he could also begin to reclaim the notion that federal monetary and budgetary policy should aim to keep unemployment low, not just fight inflation or reduce the debt. If Gore simply re-read the 1992 Clinton-Gore tract, "Putting People First," he would find better ideas for public investment than either his debt-reduction plan or the Republicans' proposed tax cuts.
Finally, Gore needs to deliver on his promises to make workers' rights and environmental protection part of all global economic agreements. The growing power of multinational corporations in a global economy has been a major factor in the trend toward economic inequality and the silencing of workers' voices on the job. Increasingly, the rights and standards of American workers are linked to the fate of working people in other countries.
Moreover, the political future of the Democratic Party hinges on its adopting a new approach to globalization, an issue where Clinton and Gore have been out of step with most of the public, especially union workers. Instead of continuing to act as a global apologist for the biggest banks and corporations, Gore should be arguing for the same kind of regulation of corporations in the global economy that progressive reformers won domestically over the past century.
While Gore's strategists, busy trying to inoculate his campaign against the Republican campaign's character attacks, would scoff at the idea of running for president on such a bold platform, polls generally indicate that these three strategic initatives would have wide popular support.
Will Gore seize the chance to reward the union workers who put him in office with sound policies that are politically popular and would strengthen the Democratic Party? His labor backers hope so, but the growing corporate influence in the Democratic Party certainly makes it less likely, even if they have the power, as McEntee argued, to determine who will become president this fall.
David Moberg is a senior editor at In These Times and a senior fellow of The Nation Institute.
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