As we are in our glide path toward 1,000 pieces in this blog and its imminent retirement, it becomes really hard to avoid saying something that I hadn't pointed out before. I like a good point as much as the next guy, but not twice in a week, if you know what I mean.
So when had a recent conversation with my brother about labor unions, I had to do a lot of checking to make sure that I wasn't repeating myself in the topic we agreed made sense. Well, I had done a column back in 2014 about the state of contemporary trade unionism, but the topic as different, though the conclusion still applies.
Rich and I were kicking around the notion that maybe the Democrats weren't even the best landing spot for union members anymore, and possibly even for the trade unions themselves (I specify that we are talking about private-sector unions here; government unions not only should not exist because of the corruption I mention in that article, but are incorrigibly and irreparably socialist and, therefore, the province of the Democrats).
Private-sector unions, historically, have always been glued to the Democrats, donating primarily (or solely) to them and being a large component of their infrastructure.
What, then, have the Democrats done for the unions and union members (which are not exactly the same thing)? More specifically, what can Democrats do today that would have a positive effect on both the institutions and their membership? And can the Republicans actually offer a better return on the unions' donations?
That's why I highlighted the word "today" in the last paragraph. The 2018 Democrats are very little like the Democrats of 1947, or 1962. Where once they were the province of the "working man", or purported to be, today they are made up of multiple constituencies, as I wrote last week -- the aggrieved ethnic-identity types, the socialists, the old-style workers, the government Democrats.
Being nothing like the Democrats of 60 years ago when the unions had much larger influence, it can be assumed that the Democrats of today don't have as much to offer the trade union and the trade unionist of today.
So what about the Republicans?
OK, it would be utterly paradigm-shifting to imagine trade unions leaning Republican, but is it that odd, really? After all, trade union members certainly have jumped to the Republicans in elections before, most notably for Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, so does that suggest that maybe the unions themselves should shop around?
Let's note that, like the Democrats, the private-sector unions are far different from six decades back. Membership is far down and still falling. The unions' influence is as much as bankers and vote-bloc brokers as anything else; they manage massive pension funds that are arguably more important a role than negotiating contracts or legislative influence for worker rights.
The unions (as distinct from their membership) need to survive, to protect their income stream (dues), to manage their resources (pension funds) and, even if only incidentally, protect workers' rights.
The Democrats' policies don't necessarily mesh well with those aims. For example, their aggressive "let anyone in" approach to immigration is anathema to unions, as it expands the pool of laborers to compete with skilled union tradesmen and thus drives down wages, as well as decreasing union membership and dues. Their equally aggressive antagonistic view of banks and large financial institutions threatens the stability and success of pension funds. Their overly aggressive demands have pushed manufacturing jobs overseas.
Do the Republicans offer more? Well, they certainly offer more to the union member than one might think. Tradesmen need jobs to be employed full-time, and a successful, roaring economy produces growth and the environment in which those jobs are created and maintained.
Given -- and you have to concede this -- that the regulatory environment has been protective of the worker, by statute as well as by rule, the union worker is really not at any conscionable risk of losing the standing (vis-a-vis his employer) that he holds today. That is, the Republicans are not going to try to peel back much of that labor law where it makes sense, but neither are the Democrats in a position to add anything productive either.
The Democrats have long had a tight, cozy relationship with the unions that turned out Democrat votes for decades. But they also have a tight, cozy relationship with black Americans, who have long voted for Democrats even though they have done virtually nothing for black America in return.
I've read that the black support for President Trump has tripled since he was elected -- elected on a message that included "What have you got to lose -- the Democrats just take your vote and don't do anything to help you!" Last I looked, the president's job approval rate among black Americans was at an amazing 38% (Rasmussen poll), far up from 2017.
Union leadership people are very likely looking at the same thing and asking the analogous question.
Donald Trump had relationships with trade unions for his entire career as a builder. They understand each other, to the point that he is a president who can actually get the union leadership to ask themselves if perhaps it isn't better to deal with a businessman who understands them and has negotiated with them -- rather than a political party that has taken their votes and then promoted policies like immigration that are simply not good for the working American.
Perhaps the Democrats have bitten one of the hands that has fed them.
Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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