E.J. Dionne, while discussing the Wisconsin conflict, asserted that:
It’s said that this fight is all about partisanship — and it’s true that Walker’s proposal is tougher on the most Democratic-leaning public-employee unions than on the ones more sympathetic to Republicans.
But this goes beyond partisanship. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which swept away decades of restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections, has already tilted the political playing field toward the country’s most formidable business interests. Eviscerating the power of the unions would make Republicans and Democrats alike more dependent than ever on rich and powerful interests and undercut the countervailing strength of working people who, as those Kohler workers know, already have enough problems.
Even critics of public-employee unions should be able to recognize a power grab when they see one.
The key problem here, as I see it, is one of timing. Labor in the United States today hardly stands as a countervailing power to the power available to American capital and its political allies. Union membership as of 1.2011 amounts to 11.9% of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 6.9% of private sector workers belong to a union while a mere 36.2% of America’s public sector workers belong to a union. Simply put, a fraction of America’s economic and political elite had already broken the union movement before Scott Walker put his name on the 2010 Wisconsin ballot. It used the Stagflation Crisis of the 1970-80s as a pretext on which to make a public assault on America’s unions. The AFL-CIO’s 1981 Solidarity March failed to intimidate the Reagan faction of the GOP or to embolden the remnants of the New Deal Coalition who cared about the fate of America’s working class. And it is because organized labor lacked the power to defeat the Reaganite onslaught of the 1980s that it ceased to provide a base from which sympathetic Democrats could contest the rightward drift of the American political elite.
The Democratic Party already depends upon and prefers the help it gets from big capital. Organized labor may have a seat at the big table, but it literally pays dearly for the meager results it gets for its money. One need only to consider the fact that both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama supported the horrible Blanche Lincoln in the 2010 Arkansas primary, and gave her this support even though a Lincoln nomination would only produce a defeat in November. Moreover, Obama’s election along with his very disappointing tenure as President supports nothing else but the conclusion that the leaders of the Democratic Party belong to the FIRE sector of the economy. In fact, one can measure Obama’s labor sympathies by the fight he made in support of the Employee Free Choice Act while President.
As for my take on Wisconsin: What we are seeing in Madison today is not organized labor fighting a state politician and his party in defense of the right of some workers to collectively bargain with the State of Wisconsin. Nor, for that matter, is the conflict a local instance of the national Democrats making a stand on behalf of its base. What we are seeing instead is a troubled part of American society defending itself against the predatory practices of a social and political system dominated by big capital, its money and its political allies. What about the legacy parties in Washington? As we know, they are already spoken for by their well-heeled friends. At least some Democratic Senators of the Wisconsin Senate had the nerve to flee to Illinois, thus saving the Party from colluding one more with the Republicans. That is far more than one could reasonably expect from the national Democrats.
Cross-posted at FireDogLake