U.S. Politics

Democrats and Labor: A Murder-Suicide Pact

By Bruce A. Dixon

When the father of former black Republican congressman J.C. Watts observed not long ago that an African American voting Republican was kind of like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders, he could have been speaking for labor and all people of color as well. It’s not recorded what the old man had to say about Democrats. But if old Mr. Watts is still around, the current antics of corporate-funded Democratic governors in California and New York and elsewhere, and of our corporate-funded Democrat in the White House might cause him to compare that Republican Colonel Sanders with the Democratic Popeye’s.

Labor and Democrats have had this bargain for a while now. Democrats get all of labor’s cash contributions—not nearly what the corporations give, but still a substantial amount. Labor also mobilizes tens-of-thousands of volunteers in dozens of states to knock on doors, to staff phone banks and to canvass precincts for Democrats on every level. A disproportionate number of those volunteers, and of union members are black and brown, of course.

To understand what kind of bargain this is, let’s look at what labor gets for its money, its manpower, and its selfless dedication to the Democratic Party’s cause.

In California, the state legislature for the fifth time in recent years passed a bill that would compel growers to recognize Farmworker unions whenever a majority in any workplace signed union cards. Democratic governor Gerry Brown, the recipient of vast quantities of union money and union volunteer labor, did exactly the same thing his Republican predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger did the last four times. He vetoed it. On the other coast New York’s Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo, similarly blessed by the unions in his campaign, wages war upon public workers, slashing their pay, trying to raise their retirement age and two-tier their pensions to divide younger against older workers.

Barack Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 promising to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, to re-evaluate NAFTA, to walk a picket line with striking workers as the president, and to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. He was rewarded by the support of every large union in the country.

But like every other corporate Democrat, President Obama abandoned the promises and instead played the part of the Democratic Popeye’s to the Republican Colonel Sanders. President Obama froze the pay of federal workers and saddled GM’s autoworkers with their own underfunded retiree health plan.

But President Obama’s longest running campaign against the right of working people to organize and fight for equity and democracy has been against public school teachers. Banksters, hedge fund speculators and the Obama administration want to privatize public schools, turning them into low-cost holding tanks for the poor on their way to prison or minimum wage jobs at McWal-Marts. Organized teachers, when united with organized parents, are a major obstacle on that road and have been savagely attacked by the Obama administration’s Race To The Top program.

So what did the chickens of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest remaining union, do last week? You guessed it.... they endorsed Popeye’s fried... or rather Obama’s re-election campaign almost 17 months before the election.

The character of relations between labor unions and Democrats is clear. Corporate-funded Democrats agree to take labor’s money and volunteers, and to try their best to undermine and kill those labor unions. The suicidal union leaders in their turn agree to continue to fund and enable the assault upon them. NEA’s endorsement is only the latest ratification of this deal. The bargain between labor and Democrats is truly a murder-suicide pact.

Black Agenda Report, July 5, 2011