American Prospect executive editor Mark Schmitt has a thought-provoking piece about organized labor’s diminishing role in the Democcratic party, as evidenced by resistance to the Employee Free Choice Act on both sides of the aisle. On the party that won with Obama:
The new progressive coalition follows the lines of the “emerging Democratic majority” that Ruy Teixeira and John Judis predicted in their 2002 book of that name: minority, professional, and younger voters, with help from a large gender gap. This is a coalition that can win without a majority of white working-class voters, whether union members or not. (Those who were union members were always solid Democrats.) In many ways, that’s good because it helps to bring an end to the culture wars that limited the party’s ability to speak clearly about matters of fundamental rights and justice. But it’s also dangerous. A political coalition that doesn’t need Joe the – fake – Plumber (John McCain’s mascot of the white working class) can also afford to ignore the real Joes, Josés, and Josephines of the working middle class, the ones who earn $16 an hour, not $250,000 a year. It can afford to be unconcerned about the collapse of manufacturing jobs, casually reassuring us that more education is the answer to all economic woes. A party of professionals and young voters risks becoming a party that overlooks the core economic crisis–not the recession but the 40-year crisis–that is wiping out the American dream for millions of workers and communities that are never going to become meccas for foodies and Web designers.
By positioning EFCA as a harbinger, rather than the heart, of the Left’s problems, Schmitt raises some interesting points about who’s really getting ignored in our government. The recession has hit people of color longer and harder than anyone else — and suggestions like ‘education’ and ‘job training’ don’t help constituents who are already working three jobs to make ends meet, or who don’t have the language skills to take classes. The AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka will be the first to say that unions still have race issues to address before a truly inclusive multi-racial labor coalition can make itself felt on Capitol Hill they way insurance companies and corporate employers are. But POC workers often can’t even join a union. Why rock the boat when the economy is tanking? And what about the millions employed off the books, i.e. the workers most in need of protections and representation? While this includes Latino undocumented workers, it also includes Black and Asian workers who can’t afford to lose their government health insurance by showing more income — they know that no employer will offer anything comparable, and they’ve got their kids to think of. Is it, once again, up to the community organizers and advocates to keep the needs of POC communities on the table? How do we make our goals chime with the party that’s been assigned to us, on levels moral, economic, and political?