Unions splitting from Democrats in 2012, Trumka says

The media likes to push the notion that the Republican Party will split in two because of the Tea Party, but they may have missed a real split on the other side of the aisle.  AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka announced the creation of a union super-PAC that will “build our own structure” rather than “build structures for others.”  And by “others,” Trumka means the Democratic Party:

The growing rift between labor and their Democratic allies was on full display Thursday, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters that labor groups are planning to scale back their involvement with the Democratic Party in advance of the 2012 elections.

Going forward, Trumka said, the labor movement will build up its own political structures and organizations rather than contribute to and depend on the Democratic Party’s political operation. …

Labor has traditionally been a major contributor to Democratic candidates and causes around the country. Trumka said that their outside effort will help keep union-backed candidates more accountable for promises made on the campaign trail.

“Let’s assume we spent $100 in the last election,” he said, explaining the union’s position.

“The day after Election Day, we were no stronger than we were the day before,” said Trumka. “If we had spent that [$100] on creating a structure for working people that would be there year round, then we are stronger.”

That’s not just an expression of disapproval with the Democratic Party.  It’s a public vote of no confidence.  Unions spent heavily in the 2010 midterm elections; they accounted for three of the top five high-spending outside groups in that cycle.  They also spent tens of millions of dollars in Wisconsin this year in an attempt to wrest control of the state Senate away from Republicans, and failed to achieve their objective.  Trumka’s comments make it clear that he doesn’t see a great prospect of electoral success in 2012, either.

Trumka also directly criticized Obama for his inaction on job creation:

“He’s going to give a speech in a couple of weeks on job creation,” Trumka told reporters. “If he’s talking about another percent or two break from a tax here and doing something with patent control, and doing three years down the road something with infrastructure bank, that’s not going to get the job done.”

This puts the AFL-CIO into a position where the creation of a third party is not just a theoretical possibility, but perhaps a likely outcome.  The Tea Party doesn’t have deep pockets for organization, but the unions have a mostly-mandated grip on the pockets of their members, thanks to closed-shop rules in many areas of the country.  They can generate hundreds of millions of dollars for elections and candidate recruitment, especially in areas of high union concentration.  Unions might not be strong enough to run their own presidential candidate, but they could win House seats and perhaps a few Senate seats as well, or more likely just provide a competitive third choice for voters.  In fact, there’s really no other way to read Trumka’s statement but as a threat to compete with the Democratic Party on their own terms.

And that’s where the Democratic Party will suffer most.  If unions start running well-funded alternative candidates, the vote will split and allow Republicans to make gains in Congress and in state legislatures.  Either Democrats will have to start endorsing union candidates or start falling hopelessly behind the GOP in power and influence.

Even if this turns into just a one-cycle phenomenon, it couldn’t come at a worse time for Obama.  In order to win a general election, Obama needs to run to his right — and in order to keep the union funding he desperately needs, he will have to move to his left.  Either way, Obama loses, as does his party.