One might think that the appointment of SEIU chief Andy Stern would cheer up Big Labor activists, but Bloomberg reports gloom instead. The union movement has lost ground in the private sector over the last couple of years as a percentage of workers represented, not to mention the lost opportunities they have suffered while Democrats bear the handicap of having an 18-seat majority in the Senate and a 75-seat majority in the House with a Democratic President:
The union-organizing bill known as card-check, labor’s top priority a year ago, has stalled. Obama ignored union pleas to use his executive powers to appoint a National Labor Relations Board nominee blocked by Republicans. Senate Democrats such as Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas haven’t supported some union goals.
“The labor movement is at a crossroads, and it has to rethink its political strategy,” said Amy Dean, a former labor official who is co-author of “A New New Deal,” a book about reshaping the labor movement. “The conversations that we are having at our kitchen tables and our living rooms that express our disappointment with this administration are very similar to the conversations that we had under the Bush administration.” …
Unions spent a record $450 million helping elect Democrats to Congress and the White House in 2008. With a mixed record of success going into the mid-term 2010 congressional elections, they are wondering what to do now.
“We’re demoralized,” said Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “We’re not happy about anything.”
Unions have fallen victim to their own successes. Over the last seven decades, the union movement has pushed federal and state governments to enact into law many of the workplace protections for which they had to battle corporate management. Minimum-wage laws replaced collective bargaining to protect employees from sweatshop compensation, and payroll laws force American employers to pay overtime for work over 40 hours in a week.
The result: most private-sector employees get a fair deal from their employers and don’t see the need to pay union dues. Instead of consolidating their strength around the rescue of manufacturing jobs — a task that could have attracted both Democrats and Republicans to their banner — unions responded by demanding an ever-more-radical agenda of government control and forced unionization that offended American sensibilities. That culminated in the Card Check bill, which would have eliminated the secret ballot and put the federal government in charge of setting wages in the private sector. Small wonder that Gallup and Pew polls show sharp declines in popular support for the union movement.
If unions want to survive, they have to divorce themselves from politics, or at least from the Democratic Party. It wasn’t that long ago that unions supported both parties and had an agenda almost entirely focused on workers rather than on growing government. Unfortunately, the only growth industry for unions now is government, with government employment the only sector remaining stable over the last two years — and the only sector that still has a healthy percentage of union labor.
If they’re demoralized now, just wait until after the midterms.
Note: The tagline comes from an excellent novel by Douglas Adams, one I’d highly recommend as an escape from … just about everything. If you liked Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll love The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
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