The president of the United States and his entourage trekked to Lanham, Maryland, yesterday, Feb. 15, to address the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 26. Union members served as the backdrop for Mr. Biden’s new economic plan, in which he spelled out a “vision to grow the economy, lower costs, and reward work, not wealth.” Throughout his lengthy political career as senator, vice president, and now president, Biden has often used organized labor for these messages. He is perhaps the all-time champion of this classic ploy in which Democrats exploit union members as an archetypal step-and-repeat. But are the rank-and-file still drinking the Democrat’s Kool-Aid, or are they getting a mite tired of being recycled as human props for political promises and pledges?
Democrats Trot Out Lunch Bucket Joe
Even the bible of the progressive left complained loudly in 2020 about how the Democrats have mistreated labor. In an article for The Nation, author Paul Blest flatly stated: “The Democratic Party will keep betraying labor.” He added, “The arrangement isn’t working for unions.” Blest insightfully assessed the relationship between the party and organized labor:
“…the Democratic Party has ostensibly been the party for workers. And yet its alliance with labor has always been one of conflicts and contradictions—first with the anti-union, anti-civil-rights efforts of the Democrats in the Jim Crow South and more recently as the party embraced corporatism.”
The electoral picture is not exactly the shiny object it once was for this dysfunctional relationship between the Dems and unions. A shocking New York Times exit poll following Election 2020 revealed Donald Trump walked away with a “double-digit” victory among union households “in Wisconsin and Michigan,” according to The Nation. That’s a real uh-oh for the Democrats, who had seemingly perfected the art of pandering to big labor.
Still, this political marriage has been degrading for a while now. In 2013, Daniel Schlozman of John Hopkins University noted, “Unions provide votes, money, and volunteer time, and Democrats offer policy benefits when they take office. This partnership is often taken for granted.” Without a doubt, labor unions are the lifeblood of the Democratic Party. Still, one wonders if the natives are beginning to wander off the reservation because they have little to show for their allegiance to the man. Since 2010, unions have coughed up $1.3 billion to the Dems and other progressive groups, according to a Center for Union Facts report. But the question remains: Are they getting enough bang for their buck?
“Union leadership provides a reliable ATM for the Democratic Party and liberal special interest groups across the country, whether employees agree or not,” Center for Union Facts spokesman Luka Ladan told the Washington Examiner, adding, “union officials have ‘exploited’ their members.” The Employee Rights Act – which has been languishing in legislative purgatory for lo these many years – is a Republican-led effort that would put the worker back in the driver’s seat by requiring union bosses to get written permission from the rank and file before they are allowed to fork over member dues to political entities.
Lunch Bucket Benedict Arnold
It’s more than likely the president enjoys the moniker “Lunch Bucket Joe.” He’s quoted as saying, “The best place for me to be my whole career is surrounded by organized labor. And I know how to say ‘union.'” However, when it comes to unions, he has become a master poseur, as Gabriel Winant of The Guardian pointed out: “Biden’s not a scion of wealth, but he grew up in the middle class: his father was a used-car salesman, not a factory worker.”
Biden cultivates this image as just another blue-collar guy, but when the rubber meets the road, he’ll dump the union in a New York minute if it gets in the way of his political aspirations. The most recent example was his during tenure as president, when he stuck it to the Railroad Workers Union. Furious, Union treasurer Hugh Sawyer wrote:
“He [Biden] had the opportunity to prove his labor-friendly pedigree to millions of workers by simply asking Congress for legislation to end the threat of a national strike on terms more favorable to workers. Sadly, he could not bring himself to advocate for a lousy handful of sick days.”
Mr. Biden’s actions reveal him as the Benedict Arnold of US labor unions. In 2011, he was silent and sunning in the Hamptons during a Verizon strike. Later that year, when labor leaders begged him to rescue them from the hand of then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, he was a no-show. He also supported the unfriendly-to-labor Trans-Pacific Partnership and voted for the legislation that really broke the back of American industrial unions – NAFTA.
Without a doubt, Mr. Biden talks a good game when it comes to organized labor and vows to be the “most pro-union president” in American history. But the unions don’t have much to show for the time, talent, and treasure that they have generously provided the Democratic Party. Organized labor has the back of the Democrats – but does their fearless leader have the back of the unions? An unbalanced relationship like this can only last so long before one of the parties files for divorce.
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