"New Politics" Not on CTWC Agenda
By Steve Early
We absolutely believe the AFL-CIO has become too much in the back pocket of
-Anna Burger, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer and leader of the Change To Win
Coalition, Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2005
THE SITUATION OF WORKING people in America is grim indeed due, in no small
part, to labor's self-defeating reliance on business-oriented neoliberal
Democrats. Now that it has defected from the AFL-CIO, will the Change To Win
Coalition (CTWC) break with this pattern of dependence?
The answer is yes - that is, if you consider going from bad politics to worse a
good way of demonstrating labor's "independence." CTWC unions like the
Service Employees (SEIU), the Teamsters, the Carpenters, and UNITE-HERE have found
common ground in the misbegotten strategy of "teaching the Democrats a
lesson" by endorsing and financing more Republicans! In return, they hope to get
patronage, political access, and favored treatment for their own organizational
goals or members. Unfortunately, any such gains come at expense of the working
class as whole, which is invariably harmed by implementation of the GOP's larger
political and economic agenda.
The worst CTWC offender in this regard is Carpenters' President Doug
McCarron, George Bush's closest labor friend, who remained neutral in last year's
presidential election. For the Teamsters and its president, Jimmy Hoffa, embracing
White House Republicans in order to neutralize corruption probes is an
organizational and family tradition. Few unions had a bigger love-in with Richard
Nixon, Ronald Reagan, or George Bush (the elder). For much of George W. Bush's
first term, Hoffa reprised this role by acting as a key lobbyist for oil
drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He even threatened to withdraw
Teamster support for Senate Democrats in Michigan and New Jersey if they opposed
this White House initiative. Like McCarron, Hoffa provided Bush with Labor Day
photo-ops by welcoming him to union events.
Throughout the 1990s, Massachusetts Teamster officials similarly--and
shamelessly--aligned themselves with Governors Bill Weld and Paul Celucci, despite
the privatizing, tax-cutting agenda of their conservative administrations. They
were joined by HERE's largest New England affiliate, Local 26 in Boston. These
same unions - plus the Carpenters, Teamsters, Service Employees/District 1199,
and recent hotel workers' merger partner, UNITE - then helped re-elect
Republican George Pataki as governor of New York in 2002.
Pataki's anti-worker positions included opposition to a minimum wage hike,
which was finally adopted by the state legislature last year, over his veto,
after intensive organizing and lobbying by New York's feisty Working Families
Party (WFP). Unfortunately, the bigger CTWC local unions in New York have tended
to pursue their own political agendas, rather than putting large-scale
resources into the WFP, which uses cross-endorsement and independent candidacies to
advance working class issues. Now a lame duck, Gov. Pataki is still promoting
right-wing schemes like privatizing the New York State Thruway; meanwhile, his
"labor liaison" three years ago, Teamster and 1199 consultant Greg Tarpinian,
is heavily involved with the CTWC.
In 2004, SEIU tried to buy influence elsewhere by giving $550,000 to the
Republican Governors' Association. This contribution was the group's largest--more
than it received from the NRA. The money aided GOP campaigns in 11 states,
including North Carolina, where organized labor's small base was otherwise
united behind the Democratic candidate for governor. In Indiana and Missouri,
victorious Republicans took office and immediately stripped state workers,
including some SEIU members, of bargaining rights obtained under previous governors.
In Congress last year, SEIU and UNITE-HERE were also busy soliciting
thousands of union dollars for a Denny Hastert fundraiser. The House Republican leader
recently returned the favor by rounding up the votes needed to pass
CAFTA--the latest free trade attack on workers here and abroad.
As this sorry track record confirms, getting into bed with Republicans is not
the way to get out of "the back pocket of the Democrats." It sends all the
wrong messages to union members who are often disgusted with both major
parties because they fail to represent workers' interests. Instead, CTWC and AFL-CIO
activists should unite behind efforts like the Working Families Parties in
New York and Connecticut, the Vermont Progressives, the Progressive Dane party
in Wisconsin, and any other state or local initiative which puts pressure on
the Democrats from the left, either inside or outside the party.
In Massachusetts, a coalition of unions and community groups is currently
organizing to get a referendum question on the ballot next year that would permit
cross-endorsement voting of the sort already possible in New York and
Connecticut. (To their credit, local affiliates of three CTWC unions - the Teamsters,
SEIU, and the United Food and Commercial Workers - are supporting this measure.)
In New York, cross-endorsement or "fusion" voting has provided labor and
low-income organizations like ACORN with their own working class ballot line, which
can be used to reward friends and punish enemies in both major parties and to
build left/labor political strength without playing a spoiler role in
elections. This Working Families Party approach is far more effective than funding
Republicans who are even less deserving than labor's often unreliable
friends," the Democrats.
Steve Early is a Boston-based national union representative of the
Communications Workers of America. CWA has been a major backer of the Working Families
Party in New York and Connecticut.