Working In These Times
To Regain Public’s Support, Labor and Dems Must Push Harder for Jobs
The last time that banks and corporations subjected hard-working Americans to this level of misery, the people responded by flocking in droves to the vibrant industrial union movement and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's efforts to establish a measure of economic justice in America.
But more than 70 years later, working people are turning off to both the labor movement and the Democrats. It would appear that ordinary Americans are feeling that the forces they once counted upon in tough times—labor and the Dems—are not there to protect their most vital interests.
Another Pew study, released Feb. 18, reflecting the more general downturn in enthusiasm for the Democrats, is particularly disturbing because it shows a huge drop among young voters where the Democrats assumed that they held a permanent electoral ace in the hole:
The "Millennial Generation" of young voters played a big role in the rehsurgence of the Democratic Party in the 2006 and 2008 elections, but their attachment to the Democratic Party weakened markedly over the course of 2009. The Democratic advantage over the Republicans in party affiliation among young voters, including those who "lean" to a party, reached a whopping 62% to 30% margin in 2008. But by the end of 2009 this 32-point margin had shrunk to just 14 points: 54% Democrat, 40% Republican.
While other polls and coffee-shop conversations all reveal that Corporate America—especially banks and health-insurance companies—is more despised than at any time in living memory, it seems clear that working people have expected far more action in their defense from the both Democrats and labor.
Foreclosures and bankruptcies are soaring. Families are using up every possible resource to survive, as I was told by the director of a community agency in Janesville, Wis., where the community valiantly but unsuccessfully coping with the loss of its economic foundation, a big GM assembly plant.
TOP DEMS IGNORE SEVERITY OF JOBS CRISIS
Well-respected public figures like Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the banking, have tried to sound the alarm in Washington, D.C. about the looming prospect of an America "without a middle class." But leading Democrats seem unwilling to frankly acknowlegde the extent of deeply-rooted unemployment and long-term human wreckage, as detailed here, here and here.
That's not seen as good politics, particularly if -- like so many Obama officials and congressional Democrats--you see your job as slowly deflating people's expectations, rather than fighting all-out to help them realize their dreams. So we are witnessing a parade of top Obama officials like Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner and Democratic Party hacks working to convince the American people that the economy is on the mend.
These operators aren't asking for much from working families, ignoring the evidence in front of their own eyes. To paraphrase Democratic Party spokesman Tad Devine put it on MSNBC Tuesday, "The fundamentals of the economy are fine."
Yes, "just fine." It seems that the top Democrats are rolling out much the same message that they used so disastrously in 1994. As progressive activist Steve Cobble put it, the message amounted to, "You're actually doing better than you think you are," words that served only to inflame workers whose real wages were falling and who were watching more jobs relocated to Mexico.
The absence of urgency about jobs begins at the top with President Obama, who still declines to push for a massive public-works program to create jobs. He seems to believe that he can lead the Democrats to mid-term success in November by pointing out how the $787 stimulus staved off even worse disaster, a less-than-inspiring battle cry.
As true as that claim certainly is, the stimulus is insufficient given the level of suffering that is still persisting from long-term job loss across America. The current crisis follows a decade of virtually no job growth in the US; of course, Corporate America has been simultarneously making vast increases in its off-short subsidiaries.
President Obama's address to the Business Roundtable—the elite of the elite of Corporate America—was anything but a declaration of a national jobs emergency and a call for major corporations to end their policies of job destruction and the off-shoring of work to Mexico, China, India, and other low-wage nations. At this point, it appears that only an electoral wipeout or fierce pressure from labor will alter Obama's cautious, complacent course. Obama offered only a mild explanation of his economic policies.
STILL NOT LEARNING FROM SCOTT BROWN WIN
Even the stunning election of Republican Sen. Scott Brown to take the seat held by the late Senator Ted Kennedy's has produced only a slight change in White House rhetoric—calculatingly adopting a few populist phrases—despite the powerful message from polling in Massachusetts.
The leading Democrats seem uttlerly incapable of beaking their bond with Wall Street. As Sam Stein and Ryan Grim wrote in Huffington Post,
A Research 2000 poll concluded that Brown benefitted heavily from voters' perception that the Democrats were not on their side in the major economic issues confronting them: A majority of Obama voters who switched to Brown said that "Democratic policies were doing more to help Wall Street than Main Street."
LOSS OF LOCAL PRESENCE
The main cause of labor's decline in popularity, while complex, is its too-close embrace of the Democrats, I would argue. The union movement has increasingly shifted its resources to lobbying Congress and state legislators, and has been tainted by its association with the Obama Administration's sleazy backroom deal-making with the insurers, drug companies, and job outsourcers. At the same time, labor has not left a visible impression of relentlessly fighting plant closings, foreclosures, and evictions at the local level across America.
As a consequence, the public has been feeling cut adrift, with once-reliable allies no longer battling on their side. New AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, despite making the right moves in his short tenure, must directly combat the public's perception by turning up the heat on the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats by mobilizing working people in the communities where they live.