Democrats Paid a Huge Price for Letting Unions Die

By  Eric Levitz

There is power in a union.
The GOP understands how important labor unions are to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, historically, has not. If you want a two-sentence explanation for why the Midwest is turning red (and thus, why Donald Trump is president), you could do worse than that.
With its financial contributions and grassroots organizing, the labor movement helped give Democrats full control of the federal government three times in the last four decades. And all three of those times — under Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama — Democrats failed to pass labor law reforms that would to bolster the union cause. In hindsight, it’s clear that the Democratic Party didn’t merely betray organized labor with these failures, but also, itself.

Between 1978 and 2017, the union membership rate in the United States fell by more than half — from 26 to 10.7 percent. Some of this decline probably couldn’t have been averted — or, at least, not by changes in labor law alone. The combination of resurgent economies in Europe and Japan, the United States’ decidedly non-protectionist trade policies, and technological advances in shipping was bound to do a number on American unions. Global competition thinned profit margins for U.S. firms; cutting labor costs was one of the easiest ways to fatten ’em back up; and breaking unions (through persuasion, intimidation, or relocation) was one of the easiest ways to cut said costs.
Nevertheless, there was lot that Democrats could have done — through labor law reform — to shelter the union movement from these changes, and help it establish a bigger footprint in the service sector. At present, employers are prohibited from firing workers for organizing or threatening to close businesses if workers unionize — but the penalties for such violations are negligible. Further, while they must recognize unions once they are ratified by workers in an election, employers can delay those elections for months or even years — and, even after recognition, face no obligation to reach a contract with their newly unionized workers.

Democrats could have increased the penalties for violating labor law, enabled unions to circumvent the election process if a majority of workers signed union cards (a.k.a. “card check”), and required employers to enter arbitration with unions if no contract was reached within 120 days of their formation — as Barack Obama promised the labor movement they would, in 2008.
Or, if they were feeling a bit more radical, they could have repealed the part of the Taft-Hartley Act that allows conservatives states to pass “right to work” laws. Such laws undermine organized labor by allowing workers who join a unionized workplace to enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without paying dues to the union that negotiated it. This encourages other workers to skirt their dues, which can then drain a union of the funds it needs to survive.
And that has the effect of draining the Democratic Party of the funds — and grassroots organizing — that it needs to thrive. As Sean McElwee writes for The Nation:
In a new study that will soon be released as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, James Feigenbaum of Boston University, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez of Columbia, and Vanessa Williamson of the Brookings Institution examined the long-term political consequences of anti-union legislation by comparing counties straddling a state line where one state is right-to-work and another is not. Their findings should strike terror into the hearts of Democratic Party strategists: Right-to-work laws decreased Democratic presidential vote share by 3.5 percent.

The study found that impacts persist in down-ballot races, and have given Republicans more power in the Senate, House, and governors’ mansions, as well as in state legislatures. This leads to a vicious cycle wherein the GOP can use that power to further suppress votes, gut union rights, and gerrymander legislatures—in other words, embark on a fundamental retooling of American political mechanics.

The decimation of the blue wall in 2016 may have been driven by Trump’s unique candidacy, but right-to-work laws had been weakening the foundation for years. In 2014, Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s narrow victory against Democratic opponent Mark Schauer may well have gone in a different direction were it not for the state’s 2012 right-to-work law. It’s not impossible to imagine that progressive Senate candidate Russ Feingold would have beaten Tea Party–backed incumbent Ron Johnson in 2016 if only Wisconsin private- and public-sector unions had not been completely gutted. The effect of right-to-work laws, according to this research, are large enough that it could have easily cost Hillary Clinton Wisconsin and Michigan—two states that went right-to-work before the 2016 elections.

These findings will surprise no one in the Republican leadership. Since 2010, six GOP state governments have passed “right to work” laws. Last year, Kentucky and Missouri joined the club (the latter development will make Senator Claire McCaskill’s already difficult reelection bid all the more challenging). Republicans prioritized these regressive labor law reforms because they understood how devastating they would be for the unions — and thus, to the Democratic Party. Last year, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist argued that if right-to-work reforms are “enacted in a dozen more states, the modern Democratic Party will cease to be a competitive power in American politics.”
This could have been a golden age for American liberalism. The Democratic Party — and the progressive forces within it — have so much going for them. The GOP’s economic vision has never been less popular with ordinary Americans, or more irrelevant to their material needs. The U.S. electorate is becoming less white, less racist, and less conservative with each passing year. Social conservatism has never had less appeal for American voters than it does today. The garish spectacle of the Trump-era Republican Party is turning the American suburbs — once a core part of the GOP coalition — purple and blue.
If the Democratic Party wasn’t bleeding support from white working-class voters in its old labor strongholds, it would dominate our national politics. Understandably, Democratic partisans often blame their powerlessness on such voters — and the regressive racial views that led them out of Team Blue’s tent. But as unions have declined across the Midwest, Democrats haven’t just been losing white, working-class voters to revanchist Republicans — they’ve also been losing them to quiet evenings at home. The NBER study cited by McElwee found that right-to-work laws reduce voter turnout in presidential elections by 2 to 3 percent.
Further, the notion that grassroots organizing cannot make a non-woke white man prioritize his class interests over his racial resentments — and thus, that the Democratic Party’s refusal to bolster union organizing was irrelevant to its failure to fend off Trump — is unsupportable. In 2008, labor invested a quarter-billion dollars into Barack Obama’s election, allocating the bulk of those funds into burnishing the candidate’s support among union voters in the Midwest. That year, unionized white men backed Obama by an 18 percent margin; while nonunionized ones went for John McCain by 16.
If right-to-work laws alone cost Democrats roughly 3.5 percent of a given state’s vote share, how many votes has the party lost since 1978 by refusing to prioritize progressive labor reforms?
What kind of country would we live in today, if they hadn’t?

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Left warns Pelosi, Schumer: Don’t get too close to Trump

Liberals worry about the consequences of cutting deals with a divisive, mercurial president.


09/15/2017 06:30 PM EDT

Progressives are chiding Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for “normalizing” President Donald Trump, a man the party intends to run hard against in 2018 and 2020. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

For some liberal activists and lawmakers, the burgeoning partnership between President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi amounts to dancing with the devil. As long as the Democrats keep leading — driving a wedge between Trump and the fractured GOP — no one will bust up the dance.

But the sudden burst of bipartisanship could be perilous for Democrats. Already, immigration activists and Hispanic lawmakers are worried Democratic leaders will give too much ground in any deal to protect Dreamers. Progressives are also chiding Schumer and Pelosi for “normalizing” Trump, a man the party intends to run against hard in 2018 and 2020.

“Nothing Trump has done should change the fact that he’s pursuing a toxic agenda, that he has been and continues to be divisive and disastrous,” said Justin Krebs, campaign director at “The American people at large know that, and Democratic leaders should not forget that.”

Even within Schumer and Pelosi’s own caucuses, some Democrats are rattled.

“I am asserting that our base — our rank-and-file base — and a lot of us in the caucus, want to see … or hear, periodically, that parameters are being set” in discussions with Trump, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said in an interview. “And we get alarmed at the speculation that this might be a new day dawning.”

Schumer and Pelosi have made a concerted effort to loop in liberal groups that provided potent grass-roots backup in their successful fight against the GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort. But amid longtime skepticism on the left toward party leadership, the bonhomie Trump appears to share with the two top Democrats has put some on edge.

“Schumer and Pelosi often tend to be out of touch with the zeitgeist of the progressive movement,” said Murshed Zaheed, political director at the liberal group CREDO Action.

Zaheed predicted “fierce blowback” if activists perceive that the Democratic leaders have traded away their base’s priorities in any agreement with Trump.

The risk is highest so far on immigration. Liberal activists are continuing to push for a vote on stand-alone legislation to give a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, even though Pelosi and Schumer have inked a “deal to make a deal,” as Pelosi called it, to trade Dreamer protections for beefed-up border security.

“I love Nancy Pelosi,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) declared. “I don’t have any doubt of her authenticity and commitment. But how do I now have to accept border security? Do I now have to put up half a fence? Is it going to have electricity and barbed wire on it?”

For their part, both Democratic leaders are confident in the red lines they have drawn with Trump so far. Schumer made clear to Trump over Chinese food Wednesday night that major talks are impossible on White House priorities such as tax reform until the president can work with Democrats on the Dreamers and shoring up Obamacare, according to a person briefed on the dinner, and Pelosi agreed.

White House says it will lay out immigration priorities in 7 to 10 days

Schumer and Pelosi were “presented with the option of working with a president we don’t like, abhor on a number of fronts, or letting hundreds of thousands of young people get deported,” one Democratic leadership aide said. “So I don’t think there’s a question.”

Democratic leaders have no intention of giving in on any item that Trump could even spin as a down payment on his border wall, the aide added, noting that spending on a dam project in one border district got nixed from May’s government funding agreement to avoid giving the president’s team anything approaching a win on the wall. Whatever enhanced border security Democrats back will be much smaller than what their party supported in the 2013 Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Democratic leaders have also put out a hard line on taxes, so far adopting liberal activists’ rhetoric that “not one penny” in tax cuts should go to the rich or corporations. But the White House is eager for Democratic support on taxes, so leadership’s ability to maintain a united front may be tested.

On health care, Schumer and Pelosi may also soon have to decide whether it’s worth winning funding to stabilize health insurance markets in exchange for loosening Obamacare’s regulations. GOP lawmakers insist they won’t give a “bailout” to insurance companies without reforms to the health law.

A new bipartisan era could also undermine Democrats’ immediate political goals.

Midterms are typically unkind to the party who controls the White House, and a president with approval ratings in the 30s has Democrats hopeful for a wave in 2018. But giving Trump the sheen of bipartisanship risks boosting his standing and potentially undermining Democrats’ efforts to win back Congress, not to mention the White House in 2020.

On the other hand, some Democratic operatives see an upside to Democratic deal-making. Vulnerable red state Senate Democrats are eager to show they can work with Trump. And the president’s friendliness toward Schumer and Pelosi is only further frustrating the congressional GOP.

White House

‘Burned’ Trump finds comfort with Democrats

“You need to acquit yourself, if you’re part of the opposition to, ‘We might have to deal with this guy for four years. What can we do during that time to save America?’” said Rodell Mollineau, a veteran Democratic strategist now at public affairs firm Rokk Solutions.

“If it means making one-off deals here and there — so, for instance, 700,000 folks can stay in this country — then you do it,” Mollineau added, referring to the undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation after Trump canceled the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Should Democrats expand their budding dialogue with Trump to other issues, nerves would jangle even more within their base. But that hasn’t happened yet.

“There is little tolerance for working with the president to achieve his agenda, whether that’s the wall, Obamacare repeal, tax cuts, etc.,” said strategist Jesse Ferguson, a former deputy director of the House Democrats’ campaign committee.

“There is a wide willingness to accept his endorsement of our priorities whenever he wants to,” Ferguson said. “So if the president is willing to do a 180, we’re happy to keep staring at him as he turns around.”

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NY Post Columnist: If Dems Take The House, Trump Will Be Impeached

By Susie Madrak

The Morning Joe gang was pulling apart Trump’s latest poll numbers this morning, and Joe Scarborough supplied some historical context.

“You look at the states where Trump did very well in November and his approval ratings are in the mid to high 80s, and let’s not forget Richard Nixon never dropped below 50% until the day he resigned,” Scarborough said.

“If Mike Pence or Jeff Flake were to challenge him, people would be like, ‘we don’t have to have somebody who acts crazy in the White House who actually is a hard core conservative….”

New York Post opinion writer John Podhoretz said Trump had bigger problems.

“But you’re jumping pretty far ahead in time that we’re going to have an election next year,” he said.

“If he’s got 80% in Alabama, it’s not like a Democrat is going to win the Senate in Alabama. There is a senatorial race in Alabama and no Democrat is going to win that now or in 2018. That’s not the issue.

“The plain political issue is, Democrats need 24 House seats to take the House back in 2018, and the table is being set pretty nicely for them to get that number. And if they get that number, or ten more than that number, he’s gonna to get impeached. I’m not saying he’s going to get convicted and thrown out of office, saying the House will impeach him if Democrats have a ten-seat majority.

“If he doesn’t right the ship, he’s Clinton in 1998 and 1999 with no recovery possible. Clinton was doing that at a time of explosive economic growth.”



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Democrats once represented the working class. Not any more

Robert Reich
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama helped shift power away from the people towards corporations. It was this that created an opening for Donald Trump
Thursday 10 November 2016 07.00 EST Last modified on Friday 14 July 2017 14.20 EDT

What has happened in America should not be seen as a victory for hatefulness over decency. It is more accurately understood as a repudiation of the American power structure.

At the core of that structure are the political leaders of both parties, their political operatives, and fundraisers; the major media, centered in New York and Washington DC; the country’s biggest corporations, their top executives, and Washington lobbyists and trade associations; the biggest Wall Street banks, their top officers, traders, hedge-fund and private-equity managers, and their lackeys in Washington; and the wealthy individuals who invest directly in politics.

At the start of the 2016 election cycle, this power structure proclaimed Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush shoo-ins for the nominations of the Democratic and Republican parties. After all, both of these individuals had deep bases of funders, well-established networks of political insiders, experienced political advisers and all the political name recognition any candidate could possibly want.

It was the Democrats’ embrace of neoliberalism that won it for Trump
Naomi Klein

But a funny thing happened on the way to the White House. The presidency was won by Donald Trump, who made his fortune marketing office towers and casinos, and, more recently, starring in a popular reality-television program, and who has never held elective office or had anything to do with the Republican party. Hillary Clinton narrowly won the popular vote, but not enough of the states and their electors secure a victory.

Hillary Clinton’s defeat is all the more remarkable in that her campaign vastly outspent the Trump campaign on television and radio advertisements, and get-out-the-vote efforts. Moreover, her campaign had the support in the general election not of only the kingpins of the Democratic party but also many leading Republicans, including most of the politically active denizens of Wall Street and the top executives of America’s largest corporations, and even former Republican president George HW Bush. Her campaign team was run by seasoned professionals who knew the ropes. She had the visible and forceful backing of Barack Obama, whose popularity has soared in recent months, and his popular wife. And, of course, she had her husband.

Trump, by contrast, was shunned by the power structure. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, actively worked against Trump’s nomination. Many senior Republicans refused to endorse him, or even give him their support. The Republican National Committee did not raise money for Trump to the extent it had for other Republican candidates for president.

What happened?

There had been hints of the political earthquake to come. Trump had won the Republican primaries, after all. More tellingly, Clinton had been challenged in the Democratic primaries by the unlikeliest of candidates – a 74-year-old Jewish senator from Vermont who described himself as a democratic socialist and who was not even a Democrat. Bernie Sanders went on to win 22 states and 47% of the vote in those primaries. Sanders’ major theme was that the country’s political and economic system was rigged in favor of big corporations, Wall Street and the very wealthy.

How the 2016 US election night unfolded
The power structure of America wrote off Sanders as an aberration, and, until recently, didn’t take Trump seriously. A respected political insider recently told me most Americans were largely content with the status quo. “The economy is in good shape,” he said. “Most Americans are better off than they’ve been in years.”

Recent economic indicators may be up, but those indicators don’t reflect the insecurity most Americans continue to feel, nor the seeming arbitrariness and unfairness they experience. Nor do the major indicators show the linkages many Americans see between wealth and power, stagnant or declining real wages, soaring CEO pay, and the undermining of democracy by big money.

Median family income is lower now than it was 16 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Workers without college degrees – the old working class – have fallen furthest. Most economic gains, meanwhile, have gone to top. These gains have translated into political power to elicit bank bailouts, corporate subsidies, special tax loopholes, favorable trade deals and increasing market power without interference by anti-monopoly enforcement – all of which have further reduced wages and pulled up profits.

Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there
Thomas Frank

Wealth, power and crony capitalism fit together. Americans know a takeover has occurred, and they blame the establishment for it.

The Democratic party once represented the working class. But over the last three decades the party has been taken over by Washington-based fundraisers, bundlers, analysts, and pollsters who have focused instead on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executives and getting votes from upper middle-class households in “swing” suburbs.

Democrats have occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years, and for four of those years had control of both houses of Congress. But in that time they failed to reverse the decline in working-class wages and economic security. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.

They stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class – failing to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violate them, or help workers form unions with simple up-or-down votes. Partly as a result, union membership sank from 22% of all workers when Bill Clinton was elected president to less than 12% today, and the working class lost bargaining leverage to get a share of the economy’s gains.

Bill Clinton and Obama also allowed antitrust enforcement to ossify – with the result that large corporations have grown far larger, and major industries more concentrated. The unsurprising result of this combination – more trade, declining unionization and more industry concentration – has been to shift political and economic power to big corporations and the wealthy, and to shaft the working class. This created an opening for Donald Trump’s authoritarian demagoguery, and his presidency.

Now Americans have rebelled by supporting someone who wants to fortify America against foreigners as well as foreign-made goods. The power structure understandably fears that Trump’s isolationism will stymie economic growth. But most Americans couldn’t care less about growth because for years they have received few of its benefits, while suffering most of its burdens in the forms of lost jobs and lower wages.

Trump won. Now we organize to block him, every step of the way
Kate Aronoff

The power structure is shocked by the outcome of the 2016 election because it has cut itself off from the lives of most Americans. Perhaps it also doesn’t wish to understand, because that would mean acknowledging its role in enabling the presidency of Donald Trump.

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