Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

lovin your ugly sugar daddy

I had an interesting experience today that reminded me why progressives really can’t afford ambivalence on the future of unions.  And as we face both the upcoming EFCA fight and  state “Right to Work” initiatives in 2010 ( not to mention the current slog through the public flogging of the evil UAW )  a strong reminder and warning seems in order.

Please read on as the truth might surprise and alarm the hell out of you.  Let’s engage in a little re-edumacation on just how progressive work really gets done.  


Today I had ten minutes on the meeting agenda of the local progressive voter coalition made up of all the usual players — ACORN, environmental groups, Planned Parenthood, Triangle and local progressive organizations.  I was there to gain sign-on for a union effort that really should have mattered to them enough to get off dead ass for it.  

The bulk of their meeting was spent doing alot of backslapping over their successful contribution to Obama’s election and local Dem wins — lots of PowerPoint slides about calls made and good achieved.   The pride power was evident and the room lit by a palpable potential energy to now radically advance each of the progressive agendas represented.  Happy days are finally here again.  Or so it might first seem in the blush of victory.

During my ten minutes, there was plenty of outrage and concerned questions about my material. It cut to the heart and core to everything progressives should care about — red-lining, thinly veiled racism, poor handicap access, consumer fraud, access to affordable health care, environmental problems, unsafe products, erosion of communities.  My presentation was throwing a bushel of red meat to the usual dogs.  

Yet by the time their two hour meeting had ended no one had time to talk to the union organizer — there were important world changing discussions to be had.  But no matter.  There was only one person in the room I really needed to talk to, a representative from the one organization there that should have jumped all over my pitch.  During my presentation she could hardly contain her outrage, but later, one on one, she was combative and skeptical as we got around to “the ask”. “Is this really an organizing drive?” she asked me squinty-eyed, as if organizing new union members and rebuilding the labor movement was the equivalent of selling condo time-shares.  She was deeply troubled that even a tangential association with what might be construed by some as an “organizing drive” (it helps to hold one’s nose while considering that) would somehow sully her organization’s ideological purity and compromise their holier than thou “mission”.

Oh.  I see.

As I looked around the room I saw representatives of ten out of ten organizations, plus the coalition itself, the state Democratic Party and the Obama campaign more than happy to fuel their engines using dirty ugly union money. Um, didn’t I just see seven union logos up there on your coalition’s PowerPoint slide, including my own?  Guess what, knights of the round table, we didn’t just bring the bagels.

Apparently the union stench didn’t overwhelm their sensibilities while they held their meeting, as they always do, in a union hall. (and yes, the coffee and the Xeroxes are free too)  And I knew from my experience on the other side of the curtain that, proud as they all were of their new progressive mojo and all,  well over half the  boots on the ground two weeks ago were union staff and member volunteers, signed sealed and delivered to the effort by icky creepy union goons like me.  

I have seen the graphs and could quote the numeric realities — SEIU, for just one example, could buy and sell every progressive organization twice, including even the national Democratic Party,  with change left over to rent Lincoln Center and paint it purple.   And together with the dreaded UAW and others, labor had pumped hundreds of millions of dues dollars into this election, much of it through the coffers of the usual progressive players, enough to give even the Obama campaign treasurer the vapors.

Forget any connection ACORN supposedly has to Obama himself — without SEIU there would be no ACORN or ACORN newly registered voters.  Or America Votes.  Or Progressive America.  Even Soros doesn’t have a checkbook that big.  And ask the Democratic Party if they’d even exist today without decades of financial support from some outfit called the AFL-CIO.


Attention progressive left — that was Walter Reuther standing next to Martin Luther King at the front lines of the March on Washington in 1963 and for good reason.  (MLK was no starry eyed dope) Those were unions first demanding partner benefits and including them in their staff contracts and then fighting to defend them in the state courts. And that’s the AFT leading the fight far out in front for trans-gender medical benefits.  Oh yeah.  And that was John Sweeney publicly questioning the rationale for the Iraq War before even Barack Obama.

That’s union labor being sent to Habitat for Humanity sites and river clean-ups, spending their vacations with hammers in hand in New Orleans,  sustaining their local soup kitchens when no one else can or will, funding legal aid and passing the hat for DV shelters.

And the labor movement has been buying in hard and early on every item on the laundry list of pet progressive issues from Choice, to Peace, to Global Warming, to Affirmative Action, often at risk of alienating their members, thus requiring massive self-funded education of their memberships on progressive issues.  Unions have printed and hung more door hangers on progressive issues than all other progressive organizations combined times ten. And when I walk into any abandoned storefront office of progressive organization (as I do alot lately) I see nothing but earnest activist purists changing the world on union donated desktops surrounded by stacks of union donated lit while seated on union donated folding chairs who couldn’t cut a turf unless, doh, a union-trained staffer first showed them how.  


I’ve yet to find the organization so pure as to turn down a check from dirty ugly nasty suspect Big Labor.  Ya’ll seem happy as damn clams to meet in our union halls, borrow our call centers and flatbeds and expertise, and use our pre-mobilized volunteers even as you piss and theorize about unions not really belonging in your progressive movement.  You seem mighty appreciative of the UAW or SEIU when you can’t make budget, or gain access to a politician, or get blue collar traction.  Where are the unions on this, you cry, when your valiant unimpeachable cause du jour is going nowhere fast.  And the answer is always the same — right behind you, pulling out their checkbooks, firing up their call lists, getting some real shit done.  And yet, how soon we forget.

Quite fluidly, you’ll throw the UAW under the bus with one hand while endorsing a check from a union with the other.  You conveniently choose to forget that real grassroots money is funneled to you primarily through…union dues  and without union member education and turn-out you’d never get the votes you need either.  

“The UAW went too far” you’ll write, as if there is such a thing as being too successful in the fight for social justice or Greenpeace, Al Sharpton and Code Pink are the paragons of progressive restraint.  Too bad about the UAW retirees you contend, when those are the one and same dues paying schlumps who kept hope alive for you since the 60s.

And when Big Labor comes back to you – – to help with an organizing drive, to not cross a fcking picket line, to support a corporate critique, to fight for EFCA or educate your people on Right to Work — Oh my goodness, clutch the pearls!  Aren’t unions what’s really wrong with this country?  Can we really afford such unseemly associations?  Can we ask our delicate msnicured memberships to associate with the kin of Jimmy Hoffa?!  

Aren’t all unionists in it just for the … money? [insert shock here]  Aren’t all unions corrupt and top-heavy and chock full of hairy racist sexist Mafia thugs and backwards trogladites interested only in feathering their own fat pensioned nests?

Well, not really.


So next time you feel compelled to trash the UAW for daring to protect their members too much for too long or are tempted to ponder if unions haven’t outlived their relevancy, think again.  You have absolutely no idea how dependent you are on your ugly sugar daddy.  

Good luck with promoting a progressive agenda on happy thoughts, positive energy, Chomsky articles and bake sales.  I know, I know, you’ll win in the end because you really really care and you’re really really smart and the truth is on your side and Obama is in the Whitehouse and the money fairies will have enlightened unicorns shit dollars into your checking accounts.  But take a moment to consider the size of your fight when there are no unions left to pay your bills and doing your heavy lifting for you.

Pray you don’t see the day when the Big Tent is held up by high hopes alone.  



  1. This country had a very small middle class until the union movement really took hold. We were the same as every other country in the world. There was a working class, a professional/merchant class, and the rich. It was after the union movement in the 30’s that the middle class really expanded. Working class people were able to move into the lower-middle class, because of wage negotiations undertaken by the unions.

    And, when did the middle class start to shrink? Why, after Reagan began his war on unions in the 80’s. That has continued until the present and has been the main cause for the current wealth inequality that exists today. Piss and moan all you want about the ‘evil’ unions. If unions die in this country, we will be little more than a oligarchy. There is something wrong with an economy when the head of a company makes 100-300 times what a line worker makes, even when that CEO runs a company into the ground.

  2. GrassrootsOrganizer

    Because I just had a fabulous idea — from now on,

    for every FIRST HAND (urban legends can’t count) story someone tells about a terrible worker having their job saved by a union, I’m going to tell TEN first hand stories about an honest, hard-working model employee who had his or her job SAVED by their union — and we’ll see who runs out of stories first. (yes, I do have an unfair advantage here, but I AM making it ten to one…want twenty to one?)

    I usually don’t tell those stories because saving the jobs of people unfairly fired and disciplined is what union’s do, so to us?  It’s an everyday thing.  We don’t sit around with our friends over beers retelling that story about that famously unfairly fired worker ten years ago whose job was saved by the union.  That would be akin to a doctor talking about every strep throat.  

    Of course, the fact that I see union’s save good workers’ jobs every fucking GD day doesn’t make me blind to the internal problems of some unions, nor does it bring me to assume the majority of unions are swell.  Too bad that rarely works the other way.



    It’s been rolling around in my head recently that many people think that the terms liberal and progressive are interchangable.  I see it differently.

    I see liberals as ideologues and progressives as pragmatists.  Many people are both but it’s not guaranteed that a liberal is a progressive.

    Your meeting appears to be fulls of ideologues but short on progressives.  Sure, everyone wants fair wages and a clean environment and they care about a woman’s right to choose, etc.  But they draw the line at the activism necessary to make those things a reality.  Liberals are ‘pro-union’ but progressives get out and organize.

    That’s my take on it anyway.

  4. Jjc2008

    It is great to hear from a union organizer…..and great to hear you taking on the progressives who are anti union. And sadly there are too many.

    I am a lifetime member of NEA, and was active in my local.  I was stunned and shocked that at so called “progressive blogs” like dkos, at the hate rhetoric directed at teachers’ unions.  I am sure it has been directed at the UAW there too.  And yes, the generation of our kids, the thirty somethings, have seemingly bought into the neocon anti union mentality.  It stuns me.

    My mother worked in a textile mill when I was a kid.  She had actually been pulled out of school to work as a kid (her parents had died and her macho, abusive brother-in-law, saw school as a waste of time for girls and it was before the unions got child labor laws enacted). Anyway, I remember her talking about how scary it was when they tried to unionize (when she was still a kid).

    Years later when I was a teen, I used to pick my mother up from work (this was all she had ever done, and she had no education beyond the sixth grade).  She never wanted me to come into the mill to get her….and of course that piqued my interest.  So one day, I just did it. I walked in. I wanted to see where she worked.

    It was awful. It was summer, no AC, and these (mostly) women, mostly immigrants like my mother, were sweating in the heat doing physical work, pulling things off (bobbins and spinners, I think they were called) from machines…and putting them in large carts.

    And the “floor man” was yelling and screaming and cursing at some women.  My mother saw me and as she had just clocked out, she ran over and got me out of there.  I remember her yelling at me…and me arguing with her that I just wanted to see.  I asked why that woman was getting yelled at….

    I got no answer, just that “don’t say another word” look a mother gives you.

    It was about five years later, when my mother died at age 55, that I learned some more.  Because of her sudden death, I had to help my dad round up financial records, working past for insurance, etc.  She died in 1971.  I was stunned to learned that during her last years of work, she was making less than $2000 a year.  Her company closed not long after her death and moved to a state in the south.  Apparently they were trying to unionize during the time of my mother’s last few years. I vaguely remember her “going out” with some of her lady friends from work (and oddity for my mother whose social life consisted mainly of family gathering).

    Obviously the attempts at unionizing failed as the company closed.  Eight years later I saw the movie “Norma Rae” and cried. It was an emotional movie for me in that I knew my mother and her friends had tried and failed.

    And when Reagan came into office, I was depressed. His attitude toward workers and unions had been clear and disconcerting.

    I live in CO now, and when I moved here I was shocked at the attitude of workers toward unions. The district where I got a job teaching actually and shockingly had the only successful strike in the state in years.  We struck NOT FOR MONEY, but for the right to collective bargaining.  I will never forget how those of us who struck were treated here….I was told more than a few times what to do with my picket sign.

    I was a young single women living with two friends then and we were all out.  We all had migrated from the east coast and were stunned at how many scabs crossed our lines.  COORS Beer gave their employees that had college degrees a paid day of leave and free bus transportation to our district over 90 minutes away to scab.  We were out for two weeks.  I voted against going back in because the team gave up the rights of amnesty for ALL teachers.  Five were fired after the strike, on trumped charges, to make examples.  The papers in this conservative town trashed teachers daily.  But despite only 60% of us out, we won and kept our master agreement and the right to bargain.

    To this day we are one of only about five districts in the state to have an actual master contract for teachers.

    During that time, a guy from AFSCME  came to town to try to organize the bus drivers, custodial staff, secretaries, etc.  He opened an office and lived with us for about six months.  In that time, his office was vandalized and we started receiving threatening calls.  He was unable to get these groups to unionize.  To this day, the people working in these jobs have poor pay and poor job security.

    It troubles me the way young progressives are ready, willing and able to go along with the “blame the unions” meme.  

    I wish you luck in changing it.

    I am retired now and I am not as involved because the democratic party here is pretty weak when it comes to unions and other issues (sexism, racism, education) I care about.


    The workers were skilled and they earned a fair wage, had good benefits and retirement.  Each union (we had masons, carpenters and laborers) was different with respect to the way dues and benefits were handled.  The workers themselves made the determination.

    Laborers, for example, paid higher dues because some of the money went into a vacation fund.

    Carpenters paid low dues because they chose to handle their own vacation funds.

    Cement masons paid a little more dues so their retirement funds would be higher.

    I worked in the office (non-union) where I didn’t have a say as far as my retirement or any other benefits was concerned.  Just took what they gave me.

  6. GrassrootsOrganizer

    I have to wonder how much of the Left’s less than passionate support of unions has to do with class and the notion that all unionists, including their leaders, are uneducated working class who somehow embarrass the otherwise degreed and enlightened progressive movement.    

  7. DeniseVelez

    perpetuated to undermine the union movement in America.

    I teach at what I would call a “working class” NY State University.  A majority of my students are the first in their families to attend college.  Their parents are working class – yet when I ask them to describe what social class they are from, all of them say “middle class” with a variety of adjectives attached – lower middle, middle middle, upper middle…and none of them knows what that means.  

    When pressed to explain they simply  state that their  families aren’t “rich”, and “aren’t on welfare”.  Several whose families are on welfare, or receiving food stamps classify themselves as “lower lower middle”.


    In 8 years of teaching at the school only one American student has said “working class”.  None of them know what a “right to work state” is, yet quite a few have parents that are union members. (The European students I have had can discuss class).

    None know the term “scab”.  None have been taught labor history in High School.  I have injected “class” and labor history into the course, since anthropology does cover “social stratification” as part of the standard introductory fare, and have also done so in my women’s studies course, where we examine women in the workforce.

    Two weeks ago not one student in my women’s studies intro class knew what the ILGWU was.  Thankfully, the program chair is a labor historian, so women’s studies majors or minors do get women’s labor history as a requirement, but that is still a small percentage of the student body.

  8. …about the US labour movement. As I understood it, while very radical in the first thirty or so years of the 20th Century, my understanding was that they got more co-opted than their equivalents in Europe (who went on to form governments post war) and were also heavily infiltrated by various special interests, including the mafia.

    That’s the image of US Unions portrayed over here, and I’m sure it’s wrong, but would love to know where this stereotype came from.

    Oddly enough, though I’ve been active in the UK Labour Party for years, the only union I’m a member of is American: the WGA. It’s very powerful (as the recent strike has shown) and really looks after its members, if at some premium.

    My experience in the UK in the 80s however did show the downside of unions, in that they were not great at representing the really impoverished, the unemployed, because of course they don’t get to vote on issues. I see this as the moral flaw in the organisation of unions, but easily remedied by incorporating part time, flexible and self employed workers

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