Super White Union Bosses Threaten to Elect More Republicans if Democrats Back Obama's Trade Agenda

AFL-CIO's President (forever, apparently) Richard Trumka in bitchface.

AFL-CIO's President (forever, apparently) Richard Trumka in bitchface.

No one on the Left wants to really believe it. After all, we rightly credit the organized labor movement in this country with achieving for the American worker things like the weekend, the minimum wage, and a plethora of other rights Americans take for granted. We have stood with them in the fights against right-wing attacks to do away with worker protections. Not to mention, labor is the one remaining singularly powerful entity that can somewhat compete with corporations in terms of funding in elections. Not that selling our democracy to the highest bidder should be our goal, but we have to play the cards we are dealt, and until and unless we undo Citizens United, Democrats are going to need money to win elections.

But from the unitary control of organized financial mechanisms of elections on the Left comes a level of undue influence and the potential ability to become exactly what the Right has long accused big labor of being: thugs. Big unions, in their tradephobic ploy to stop the expansion of enforceable workers' rights to our trading partners through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, are bullying House Democrats to vote against the most progressive trade agenda in history, or suffer supremely-well funded union opposition in next year's primaries - and here's the kicker - general - elections.

The AFL-CIO was blunt in the call that went out to Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat who represents San Diego: Vote yes on fast-track authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, people familiar with the conversation recall, and they’d spend a million dollars to knock him out in next year’s primary. If he managed to win, they’d drop another million against him in the general election.

And just what happens if the Democratic incumbent has a million dollars dropped against him in the general election by the labor unions, addition to the all the right wing money that will be looking to unseat him? A Republican takes the seat. And if the AFL-CIO is in fact not a wolf in sheep's clothing, one has to assume that they genuinely believe that an increased Republican majority in the House is in the best interest of American workers.

In fact, Labor is so incensed at the trade agenda of a president who has been the best friend to both organized labor and other American workers at least since FDR that they are promising to spend more money in next year's Democratic primaries to knock out Democratic incumbents in marginal districts than their entire campaign budgets in the last few midterms.

And more: primaries from the left. Threats to spend more money on direct mail in just a few districts to knock out uncooperative Democrats than was spent on labor’s entire campaign budget the last few midterm cycles. A promise that memories will be long, that even if members survive the next few elections, they’ll wait for the next round of redistricting, particularly in California, and make sure the members they call traitors pay the price then.

Which makes me wonder, if they have all this money collecting dust in their coffers, how come they didn't spend more of it to protect the Democratic majority in the House in 2010, or hold more seats in 2014? But no, the focus, for labor, seems to be on their own destructive power, not their constructive organizational skills. The threats, if one understands clearly, is to kick Democrats in the nuts and allow - heck, even encourage by spending millions against Democratic incumbents in the general - the election of more Republicans.

The focus on their own power to destroy is precisely what thuggery is, and this is no time to mince words: the current union leadership in this country - who, if they got into a room together, would look like a convention slightly less diverse than the Republican National Convention - are being plain thugs.

The thuggery has not gone unnoticed, even by Democrats who plan to vote with the unions and against the President's trade agenda.

“They were very heavy-handed. And it was not appreciated. And it will not be forgotten,” said one Democratic staffer for a member who will be voting no on trade, as the unions want.

When even friendlies are furious at your tactics, you should know that something has gone terribly wrong.

Let's get real about the momentous stupidity of the union thugs here. Not only is their heavy  handed attempt at corporate-style control of the Left threatening to give Republicans more seats directly, it is going to backfire and make Democrats more dependent on corporate funding and less friendly to labor as well. The Democrats who are threatened in this manner for voting with their own president no less will, both in order to save their own seats and in disgust from Labor's thuggish treatment, seek out alternative methods of funding, and where that cannot come from a grassroots fundraising juggernaut, it will come from corporations.

And in turn, it will farther confine labor's influence in pockets in the coasts while Democrats join Republicans in their distaste of union thug tactics.

But the shrinking influence isn't likely to come only from elected officials. The brazen opposition to a progressive trade agenda by the country's first African American president is likely to weaken African American support for unions - and given that African Americans as an ethnic group are more likely to be union members than any other, that should gravely concern the current thugs in today's union leadership. Politico also points out that the Congressional Black Caucus is already angry at AFL-CIO's decision to freeze donations until after a House vote to authorize Trade Promotion Authority - which would set standards and guarantee the TPP an up-or-down vote.

They also stand to suffer support from Hispanics and Asians as the opposition focuses the President's trade agenda to expand trade and labor protections to central and south America and the Asia-Pacific and brazen fearmongering about brown and yellow people "taking American jobs" take center stage in messaging.

So next time some well funded Republicans get an initiative on a state ballot to require unions to get permission on an opt-in basis to use membership dues on political campaigns, why shouldn't African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans vote for it given these tactics? Why would we stand with the super-white union leadership when the next Scott Walker comes along and strips public employee unions of their bargaining power?

I've got news for the unions: we won't. And the next time conservatives go on TV in an election campaign and call the unions thugs, there will be a kernel of truth in it that a whole host of Democrats won't bother disputing.

I have written before that the unions are digging their own grave, and they seem to be getting better and better at doing so.

But there is a ray of hope. There is a part of the labor movement that has been looking to modernize for some time now, and many groups from both inside and outside organized labor are looking to support a pro-trade, pro-labor agenda - or at least, accept the reality that trade cannot be stopped at our national borders.

“Once people have an opportunity really to look at this, I think you’re going to find some of the opposition dissipate,” said Mitch Stewart, a former Obama campaign aide who through his firm 270 Strategies is now advising the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs, a group of political leaders looking to build support for pro-trade Democrats.

This experience has solidified for Obama a distinction he makes between innovative labor leaders — those who have found a way to accept that he’s pushing for more trade — and those who are not. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry, people familiar with the thinking in the White House say, is in the former category. Trumka and Teamsters president James Hoffa are in the latter.

For the future of the Democratic party, for the future of the advancement of workers' rights, for the future of American labor, and for the future of our country itself, I sincerely hope that this new strand of labor wins out and the old, thuggish kind dies off.

Like what you read? Chip in, keep us going.

A Pragmatic Progressive’s Response to Hair-on-Fire Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership

So You Want to Be Dems' Rock & Roll Star?