Wisconsin, unions, and defunding the left

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Mother Jones mag this month has a GREAT story about the battle in Wisconsin, the history of unions and the Democratic Party, and the real aim of the move to bust public-sector unions. Writer Kevin Drum notes:

In the past, after all, liberal politicians did make it their business to advocate for the working and middle classes, and they worked that advocacy through the Democratic Party. But they largely stopped doing this in the '70s, leaving the interests of corporations and the wealthy nearly unopposed. The story of how this happened is the key to understanding why the Obama era lasted less than two years.

He describes the history of the post-War era and the rise of the New Left, explains how the rift between big labor and the hippie/radical/antiwar folks culminated in the AFL-CIO refusing to endorse George McGovern in 1972, the decline of private-sector union membership and power and thed shift rightward of the Democratic Party.

At one point, he explains, unions were the only organized force with the resources to act as a counterforce to corporate America in political campaigns. Once that went away, the Dems had no choice:

In the real world, political parties need an institutional base. Parties need money. And parties need organizational muscle. The Republican Party gets the former from corporate sponsors and the latter from highly organized church-based groups. The Democratic Party, conversely, relied heavily on organized labor for both in the postwar era. So as unions increasingly withered beginning in the '70s, the Democratic Party turned to the only other source of money and influence available in large-enough quantities to replace big labor: the business community.

You can blame the Sixties radicals for not understanding the importance of labor (and you'd be right). you can blame George Meany and the AFL-CIO folks for not realizing that those acid-abortion-gay rights folks were their real allies (and you'd be right). But in the end, the bad guys took advantage of the split, and of sweeping changes in the economy, and now we live in the most economically unequal society in the Western world. (Remember: Unions bring up wages and improve working conditions not just for their own members but for everyone else, too.)

So now the only major sector where organized labor is healthy and growing is the public sector -- and that's why the Republicans want to get rid of public-sector unions. In San Francisco, it's often the case that the city employee unions (excluding police and fire) are the major donors to progressive causes -- and are often the only institutional base with the kind of money to counter the Chamber of Commerce/Committee on JOBS/downtown developer bloc. Bust that up and you get corporate hegemony.