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Rethinking Our Union's Political Allegiances

A PA AFL-CIO leader exposes that Trump may have won because the Dem’s stopped listening

Brian Young's picture
Jul 27, 2017

Over the last 30 years, the union movement has moved further and further to the left.  From the 1950’s- 1970’s, the height of union membership, International unions would often endorse both Democrats and Republicans.  Presidents such as Nixon and Reagan ran with major unions endorsements.  In 2016, only one small union endorsed Trump, yet millions of union members, especially in the Midwest, stupidly  voted for him. Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale is now questioning whether unions have become out of touch with the realities of their members political affiliations.

Following the 2016 election, it became clear that many union members, especially blue collar white men in states that are traditionally union strongholds, voted for Trump.  While almost every union endorsed Hillary Clinton, their membership did not follow their lead.  According to exit polls Clinton only beat Trump among union voters by a measly 8%.

 In Pennsylvania, a swing state were the union vote is extremely important, Trump won and many pointed to the fact that he ran up vote total in many of the blue collar, union heavy areas.  This stunning development caused Bloomingdale to take part in a statewide tour to talk to the membership and find out why their votes changed so much. Some of the things that he heard included that the union movement often feels alienated by the left. He also said that many people felt that they had gotten to aligned with the Democratic Party. In an interview with WSKG, Bloomingdale said "We should be for people who are for us, regardless of party label. Issues like fair wages, good trade agreements, and accessible health care, need to be at the forefront of unions' messaging--not party.”

While it is easy to say that Unions need to endorse candidates on both sides of the aisle, this isn’t always so easy. Since Reagan, the divide has increasingly grown wider.  While there are Republicans in strong labor states that stand up for worker’s rights, many Republicans seem hell bent on destroying unions.  Just look at how many states have enacted Right to Work in the last decade.  At the Federal level it gets even worse.  Any reader of UCOMM Blog knows that Republicans have proposed a National Right to Work law, weakened laws protecting organizing, fought against increasing wages, and are trying to eliminate Davis Bacon. Finding both Republicans and Democrats to run for state and federal offices also becomes more and more difficult as big money interests like the Koch brothers promise millions of dollars in support for perspective candidates that will work to dismantle organized labor and collective bargaining rights.

If union members feel like the Democratic Party and their state and national union leaders have lost touch with their issues and Republicans are working to dismantle labor laws, what is the solution? One solution may be to create a labor candidate pipeline like the New Jersey AFL-CIO did.  This program trains recruits and trains perspective candidates from the union ranks and helps them run for elections at all levels of government in both respective parties.  By creating a pipeline of union members who are willing to run for office in both parties, unions may be able to once again take back the political process and get both parties to move away from talking about divisive social issues and bring them back to talking about issues that working people care about like fair wages, safety on the job, fair trade deals, and accessible health care.

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