The good times were a function of labor unions and their political alliances. Those who have emasculated the union movement in the United States are now claiming that they will bring the good times back. Don’t trust them.
That may be good advice for the prom, but in American history staying with a political party has not always been productive. Sometimes the party changes either in direction or name. Sometimes the individual changes. Even so there may be wisdom in staying connected to long-time political allegiances.
Prior to the 1960s, the Democratic Party was split between the segregationists in the South and the liberals in the North. When in 1965 Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, the time was ripening for Richard Nixon to produce his southern strategy, and the solid Democratic South became the solid Republican South—spurred on by the short-lived rise of the Dixiecrats.
There were changes in the making whose implications resounded in the recent election. One major redirection involved the way Donald Trump captured the votes of working-class men and women. Trump realized that there were millions who believed cheap foreign labor had driven their jobs overseas. What is more, their mines were shut down and the nature of American industry was radically redirected—and they had been left out.
What has radically changed politically in recent decades is the former overwhelming commitment of America’s workers to the Democratic Party. That commitment flowered with the passage of the Wagner Labor Relations Act of 1935. This legislation made the federal government the arbiter of employer-employee relations through the creation of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which recognized for the first time the right of American workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers. The Act overturned decades of court decisions that had throttled the rights of organized labor.
Organized labor and political allegiance has been the hallmark of radical-left-leaning politics throughout the developed world. In Great Britain, in Europe and as far away as Australia, labor parties have championed the effort of working people to negotiate for their security without having to rely on the benevolence of plant management or company ownership. In the Wagner Act, the rights of America’s workers were finally recognized.
How is it then that in the recent election Trump found his overwhelming base of support in this group? The answer has been, in part, a result of the persistent attack by the Republican Party on the validity of organized labor as authorized in the Wagner Act. The conservative objective has been the emasculation of all unions. Piece by piece there has been a consistent effort to weaken them.
The Taft–Hartley Act of 1947 added a list of prohibited union activities including wildcat strikes, secondary boycotts, jurisdictional strikes, mass picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns. It allowed for states to adopt union busting “right to work laws” that outlawed closed union shops. A heavily Republican Congress overrode President Truman’s veto of this onerous legislation. But labor remained the basis of Democratic Party strength.
Unions had earlier cooperated in their own downfall when it became obvious that corruption had found a new home, encouraging Congress to pass the Landrum-Griffin Act in 1969, which throttled union leadership.
Fifty years ago a third of America’s workers were union members. Today that percentage is closer to ten, with the great majority of the still unionized the employees of government. Having decimated business oriented unions, attention has recently turned to the destruction of government-based or “public” unions. That is what you see in the attacks on teachers’ unions, or what the governor of Wisconsin attempted to accomplish as he conducted a campaign to delegitimize them. With that and similar efforts you will find evidence of the effort of the conservatives’ campaign to further throttle organized labor.
The union movement created America’s middle-class, focusing on communities where the average family earned enough to live comfortably. Go to any formerly middle-class community and you will see that the demise of union jobs has devastated them. Shut down the unions and you will have gutted these communities. And when the unions could not be easily defeated, conservative corporate America simply closed these plants and took them overseas where business could find cheap non-unionized labor.
Having participated in the demise of unions, the Republican Party has been shrewd enough to reach out to the former union members whose right to bargain had evaporated. Having pushed unions off the bridge into the ice-cold water, Trump has now tossed life preservers to the drowning. And they have grabbed them. There has been no attempt to restore the rights of working people, only to take advantage of their distress. Trump was clever enough to bring off the coup, while the Democratic Party stood by without a clue as how to respond. The cries of the drowning have now resounded at the nation’s ballot boxes.
Watch out for anyone who promises to fill your dance card. It may be the very one who had abandoned you.