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Getting What We Want? Unions and the Democrats

September 6, 2011

Yesterday, President Barack Obama spend part of his Labor Day in Detroit speaking to organized labor, rank and file members and their supporters.

The President’s speech was filled with rhetoric that received some occasional applause. He talked about rebuilding the Middle Class, fighting for better wages and even acknowledged what unions have done for the US, such as fighting for the 8-hour work day.

However, rhetoric doesn’t pay the bills or put food on the table, especially not when there are millions in this country who are unemployed, underemployed and living in poverty. These statistics are on poverty are even worse in Michigan, particularly for children.

Further indication of the administration’s claim to care about working families, means we need to look at the actual record on policies over the past 2 and one-half years. Here is a partial listing of the Obama administration’s voting record that has not been good for working people:

  • Despite his campaign promise in 2008, the Employee Free Choice Act has not been passed.
  • The Obama administration has continued to pass policies that benefit Wall Street.
  • The average CEO salary continues to increase while the average worker pay is decreasing.
  • The Obama administration has continued the Bush tax policies, which benefit the rich, but not working people.
  • During the 2008 election, Obama promise new fair trade policies, but has continued to embrace corporate trade policies and is looking to push through more devastating trade policies.
  • Funding for war has increased under Obama, while funding for social programs has dropped.

These are just some of the policies the current administration has adopted, which have been devastating for working people and their families in the US. This begs the question – why do unions continue to support Democrats?

In May, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka claimed that he wants a union movement that is independent of the Democratic Party, but is there any clear indication that this will happen? One way of determining if the labor movement is independent of the Democratic Party is to look at how much money they give to Democratic candidates.

In a recent posting at, researches provide us with some data on labor financing of Democratic candidates and how much money they spend lobbying. At the federal level, unions have spent over $771 million since 1990 on financing political candidates. In the 2008 election cycle, unions gave just short of $75 million to Democratic candidates, over $96 million in 2010 and over $12 for the 2012 election to date.

A similar scenario is at play in Michigan with labor unions giving thousands to Democrats in 2010 and thousands more already in 2011.

Clearly organized labor has given a great deal to the Democratic Party, but the question must be asked, what have the got in return? It seems to this writer that if organized labor wants to have the kinds of policies they want put in place in this country that they either create a worker movement that is independent of partisan politics or they force the Democrats to actually do what working people want.

What if organized labor in the US said to the Democrats, we will not vote for you in 2012 if you do not pass the kinds of legislation that we demand? What if they don’t give the Democrats another cent until their demands are met? You would never see corporations giving money to politicians and not get what they want in terms of policies. Organized labor needs to use the only power it has, which is the power of numbers and not continue to fund the Democratic Party and get token returns.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2011 3:06 pm

    Let’s not forget that Obama swore in his campaign that he would provide a public option and portability of insurance from one job to another. He also proposed safeguards that would prevent capitalists from dropping health care coverage just to fatten up their bottom lines.

    He caved on every health insurance promise he made that had real teeth. This also presents new hardships to the working class and leaves unemployed, laid off, and underemployed workers without health insurance in a country where health costs are skyrocketing every year. Oh, yeah–he also caved on the protections that would prevent double-digit health care inflation…

  2. mike kowalski permalink
    September 8, 2011 10:35 am

    I agree with your article. It is very good. Working people need to break from the two party shell game of the Democrats and the Republicans. What we need is a fighting Labor Party. Mike

  3. comrade zero permalink
    September 8, 2011 6:53 pm

    the problem isn’t who labor supports, the problem is capitalism. it doesn’t matter whether its the democrats or a labor party, neither is going to help working folks. we aren’t going to get anything from candidates, legislation, or any of those distractions. we need a revolutionary force that attacks capitalism directly.

  4. Deirdre permalink
    September 8, 2011 7:48 pm

    Comrade Zero, I don’t disagree with you that Capitalism is the root of the problem, but my suggestion about not voting for or funding Democrats is one tactical decision that organized labor could use that is not in conflict with an anti-capitalist stance.

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