The relationship between "Big Labor," especially the AFL-CIO, and the Democratic party over the last few years has been painfully one-sided. Unions raise large sums of cash for Democrats in federal elections, help them whip up support for major votes, and get nothing in return. Is labor finally ready to reconsider this terrible deal? Perhaps!
Probably the most stinging backstab national Democrats gave labor was when they had 60 votes in the Senate a couple of years ago but still couldn't manage to pass card-check, a piece of legislation that would have made it easier for workforces to organize and which big unions considered their last big opportunity on the federal level to save private sector unionization from its rapid slide into extinction. The problem was that one Democratic senator, Blanche Lincoln — who technically represented the entire state of Arkansas but was essentially a voting lobbyist for the company Walmart — didn't want it, and it died. Blanche Lincoln still managed to lose her reelection bid in 2010 by double digits. So allowing her to get away with that, while perhaps dealing a death blow to the last decently organized liberal group in your national coalition, seems to have been a miscalculation.
Then this year, when teachers' unions became public enemy #1 and the source of all deficit problems and earthly evil according to new Republican (and even some Democratic) state legislatures across the country, national Democrats barely opened their mouths.
And don't forget that the Democratic party for the first time ever chose to hold its 2012 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina — smack in the middle of a right-to-work state. Unions simply did not care for this, either.
There were plenty of other sources of tension. But whether you "like unions" or not, you can clearly see that them dutifully giving dozens or hundreds of millions of dollars to Democrats around election time every cycle hasn't been the best investment. It's time they quit focusing on elections as the source of their salvation, stop letting the Democratic party treat them like an ATM, and go about re-building their national infrastructure on their own terms.
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.
"We're going to use a lot of our money to build structures that work for working people" Trumka said. "You're going to see us give less money to build structures for others, and more of our money will be used to build our own structure." [...]
"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."
Will it work? Who knows! But at the moment the national Democratic party is treating unions as discardable, so priority number one should be to avoid being discarded permanently, by trying something else.
[Image of Richard Trumka via AP]