Welcome to the Wayback Machine, a fairly new diary series for Motley Moose. The Wayback Machine will revisit diaries of days gone by…a peek into our moosely past. The original diary will be linked to, and reposted in full, but, with a fresh comment thread. If you have requests for the Wayback Machine, use the ‘Contact the Moose’ link at the bottom of the page and let us know your ideas.
Per request…this, the second diary that we shall revisit, is pulled from the writings of GrassrootsOrganizer (one of our earliest Moose). She is strong defender of Unions and brings the fight with some heat (and some history lessons) to the Moose in her diary ‘lovin your ugly sugar daddy’ (follow link for original diary and comment thread). We thought the diary rather prescient considering the events currently unfolding in WI.
As someone somewhere once said: “you can’t know where you are going without knowing first where you have been”
So, join us for a look back…
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 organiza
tion 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.