Politico included a curious heads-up in its morning e-mail blast today regarding a speech later this afternoon by AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka at the National Press Club. One of the more frequent visitors to the Obama White House will tell the media that the labor movement will begin to move away from supporting “one party” after hearing from its membership, and instead work on policy that impacts working families:
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka will outline his view of the 2012 landscape in an appearance at the National Press Club this afternoon, and pledge to “spend the summer holding elected leaders in Congress as well as the states accountable on one measure: Are they improving or degrading life for working families?” In his address, Trumka will amplify recent signals from organized labor that unions don’t just want to be an arm of the Democratic Party in 2012. “We are looking hard at how we work in the nation’s political arena,” Trumka will say, according to prepared remarks. “We have listened hard, and what workers want is an independent labor movement that builds the power of working people-in the workplace and in political life. Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.”
It’s no secret that Big Labor has found Barack Obama and Democratic majorities to be disappointing. Democrats have done nothing to advance their highest priority — Card Check — although the recess appointment of Craig Becker has the NLRB trying to force businesses to knuckle under to labor on almost every other front. Trumka and the labor movement pushed hard to get recalcitrant Democrats to back the wildly unpopular ObamaCare bill, staging demonstrations at townhall meetings and intimidating Tea Party activists, only to get nothing much back in return.
In fact, assuming Trumka’s on the level, that might be a big reason for the shift away from Democrats. Their strong-arm tactics on ObamaCare backfired. The bill passed, but its unpopularity hasn’t helped a labor movement that hasn’t been relevant to most Americans in decades. The rather blatant politicking on behalf of Obama and the Democrats on Obamacare has made the labor movement an even bigger and more popular target for the Tea Party activists they once attempted to bully.
It’s no coincidence that efforts to break the stranglehold of public-employee unions on public policy through collective-bargaining limitations and open-shop laws have sprung up in a number of states after Labor’s performance on ObamaCare. Whatever illusions the labor movement successfully planted about independence with the electorate dissipated at those town halls, and the people want to take back control of public policy. In Wisconsin, once an epicenter of Midwestern populism, they succeeded — and in Indiana and Ohio as well.
But is Trumka being honest? He’s probably being honest about the feedback he’s getting from the rank and file, many of whom don’t support the radical Left agenda of the union bosses. Trumka will want to re-establish the mirage of independence while funding Democrats, but he’d be better advised to follow his own stated advice here. First, in an age of forced transparency through technology and easy activism, the illusion simply won’t hold any longer; people will see where the money goes.
More importantly, if the labor movement wants to survive at all, existentially as well as politically, they need to get out of the business of agenda-carrying and stick to the issues that directly relate to their members’ lives — and find ways to work with both major political parties. Part of their marginalization comes from the sell-out of Labor to Democrats, which give Republicans zero incentive to work with them. That only benefits Labor when Democrats hold all the power — and as they discovered to their chagrin between 2009-2010, even those benefits are illusory.
Update: Jammie Wearing Fool says that you can buy the Brooklyn Bridge at a discount these days, too.