Alexander Jones: Whither, organized labor?
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Unions have also made potent contributions to progressive politics in the Trump era. When Trump rolled out his abysmal cabinet choices, it was the nominees who faced union opposition who tended to face the greatest difficulty in winning confirmation. Unions defeated the virulently anti-labor fast-food executive Andy Puzder in his effort to become Secretary of Labor. While the unqualified billionaire donor Betsy DeVos did ultimately become Secretary of Education, teachers unions nearly succeeded in beating her confirmation as well. Other, equally toxic cabinet members won confirmation with ease.
Not only are unions vital to the progressive movement in the United States, but they’re also fairly popular, polling better in surveys of public opinion than the big businesses whose employees they represent. But restoring the bargaining power of labor will not be easy even in an economy where workers enjoy unprecedented leverage. Because Democrats lack the votes to pass the PRO Act, a sweeping measure aimed at easing the unionization process, hostile employers have far more resources to deploy in defeating drives than unions have in making them successful. Furthermore, most of the important political swing states, even deeply unionized Michigan, have anti-union (and misleadingly named) “right-to-work” laws.
Too many North Carolina workers remain deeply wary of what unions are and what they would mean if they took root in the anti-labor desert that is the Tar Heel state. While workers at one Boone Starbucks location successfully unionized just the other week, their colleagues at a different store in Raleigh, who had absolutely nothing to lose, still voted against organizing a collective bargaining unit. As they say, results may vary.
The Left desires to change the labor movement to meet the needs of today’s economy and its workers. Yet that very movement would also change the Left in turn. If progressives do succeed in rebuilding some sort of neo-labor movement, it will not merely represent an influx of supporters to the urban- and university-based progressives who now dominate the Democratic Party. Any new labor movement would be more working-class, more culturally conservative, less idealistic and more “Beer Track” than some elite activists would prefer. But that’s a small compromise to make in order to bring back the one institution that has historically succeeded in checking the oligarchical dominance of Wall Street and Big Business – and with them, the increasingly fascistic Republican Party.