What if

by on Oct.29, 2010, under Politics

For someone who usually gets more excited to go door-knocking on Election Day than on Halloween, I’ve had a fairly detached view of the national political scene in the run-up to Tuesday’s election.

It’s clear that the Democrats will lose the House and keep the Senate, and that the President will spend the next two years doing small-bore politics frustrated by Congressional investigation a la the last six Clinton years. His re-election will depend on the state of the economy (political constraints suggest to me that it will not turn around very fast, which will cost Obama the 2012 election).

The last two years suggest to me that the next two will not cost progressives huge opportunities that were ever real. The utter failure of two years of a Democratic Presidency and a Congress under lopsided Democratic control to get anything done on climate change suggests that prospects for the future of the earth haven’t been very high and though they’re now dimmer, it’s not by much. The structural reform that could make the biggest difference would be the elimination of the filibuster, but too many Democratic Senators are too fond of their privileges to make that a reality, and even in a majority-rule Senate, I think that regional concerns would defeat effective climate change intervention.

It’s tempting to ask what if? I’m inspired by the round of What if Al Gore had taken power in 2000 over at Unfogged to ask this question: what if, for the past two years, the labor movement had been united?

(continue reading…)

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Me and the Sween

by on Sep.08, 2009, under Politics

John Sweeney retires. Two and a half cheers for the last fourteen years! Sweeney’s rise to the top of the AFL-CIO was an unambiguous victory for the labor movement against its worst self. It was a successful trickle-up of the renewed organizing energy that took over service worker unions in the late 1980s. The New Voices coalition, Sweeney’s governing troika, comprised fire-breathing orator (and now successor) Rich Trumka from the United Mine Workers and AFSCME’s Linda Chavez-Thompson, who came out of  open-shop organizing in Texas’s public sector. Their election in 1995 struck the first real blow from the left to Clintonism that came from north of Chiapas’s Zapatistas.

Harold Meyerson gets it right in the article linked above: “Sweeney repositioned labor as best he could, and with considerable success, at the center of American liberalism.” Its fortunes have not been so far off those of liberalism, either, with occasional displays of strength marred by fecklessness and disunity. His AFL-CIO was riven by internal stress over the appropriate resources and perceptible rewards of electioneering and organizing. The Change to Win split of 2005 might have presaged a renewal comparable to John Lewis’s extraction of the Congress of Industrial Organizations from the original American Federation of Labor. Instead, labor is mired in turf battles, leaving legislative opportunities around health care and labor law reform twisting in the wind.

But this can all be found, in greater detail and more perceptive analysis, on the public record. By way of fond farewell, I want to retell my memory of Sweeney speaking at the giant civil disobedience arrests during the Yale contract fight in the winter of 1996. Several thousand people stood at the corner of College and Grove streets, more than three hundred of us prepared to be arrested in protest of Yale’s plan to replace its unionized blue-collar workforce with subcontracted minimum-wagers. The unions’ logos were projected–a new tactic, then–onto Woolsey Hall, the massive rotunda that defines Fortress Yale against the surrounding city. Sweeney, not known as a firebrand, took the podium and declaimed, in a kind of Long Island honk, words that had been written all too particularly for this occasion:

“In the words of seventeenth-century poet John Donne, ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Yale… It tolls for thee!‘”

The crowd went wild, though a kind of bemused, did-that-just-happen wild. And then I got arrested for the second time.

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