Note to Unions: This Is Not How You Build a Coalition

The old saw that 'we hang together or we get hung separately' is a perfect description of how the left has disintegrated into irrelevance. Too often, groups will focus on modest gains for their own narrow constituency, while selling out other allies. Over the long term, each component of the coalition is so weakened, making it impossible to have any influence. Case in point: union support for the Keystone XL pipeline (which will ship oil extracted from tar sands in Canada). John Aravosis explains:

But I'd like to highlight the environment vs. "jobs" controversy, and the union's role in this progressive-coalition-killing discussion:

But the project's advocates -- including United Association general president William Hite, whose union represents plumbers and pipefitters in North America -- said it would employ thousands of Americans while supplying oil from a close ally. "It's a job engine for the country at a time when we need the jobs, and until we do something else, we need the oil," Hite said in an interview. "I don't see how we can turn it down."

Ah, unions. Cruickshank's rule: No one in a coalition takes a backward step to advance another member's cause. And never forget; the AFL-CIO was the prime enabler of Reagan's takedown of the Air Traffic Controllers union.

How can we help you, Mr Union-collaborator-in-your-own-destruction, when you won't begin to help yourselves? I mean that seriously.

While a fair number of the protestors will still support unions in principle, they will remember this. And when unions need non-union left wing support, it won't be very strong, it will be just going through the motions. Republicans and their allies get this, while career Democrats and their allied organizations don't (NARAL is a classic example of this).

Keep in mind, a fair number of unions do the right thing. Nurses unions have supported a wide array of liberal causes (and are very popular as a result).

Imagine if the plumbers and pipefitters had opposed this--even though it would come at a cost to them. Either the Obama administration would back down, strengthening their natural allies, or, it would go ahead anyway. In the latter case, the jobs would still be there, but unions would be viewed as staunch allies by those on the left who aren't unionized. And please don't play the 'long run' game card. Unions can't think that, in return for collaborating with the administration, that they'll receive action on card check legislation or elimination of Taft-Hartley. There is no long run game without a broad coalition.

Stupid and short-sighted.

More like this

There's very little agreement on the immigration issue, and unlike so many issues, it is not a purely partisan issue. One area where everyone seems to agree is that illegal immigrant labor drives down wages in at least some industries. I should point out that the evidence of economy-wide effects…
In his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama called for significant government investment in nuclear energy, telling Congress that "to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe…
So I was pleasantly surprised to read about this strong pro-union move by the Rockefeller Republican Obama Administration--it's definitely not par for the course: In what may be the strongest signal yet of the new pro-labor orientation of the National Labor Relations Board under President Obama,…
Sandy Levinson tackles the issue of Religion and politics after reading Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign by Michael Honey: Almost every single chapter of Honey's book makes clear, once more, the absolute centrality of churches to the civil rights (and…

What an arrogant condescending attitude, one that will NOT convince them to support your position.

Yes, they're worried primarily about jobs, what do you expect? Get out of the ivory tower for a bit.

Times are tough for them, it's not unreasonable for someone who has to work to survive to think primarily about jobs. Of course they are not going to immediately going to think of the big picture and rather than explaining why to them and trying to find some other work for them, you just make empty threats about withdrawing "your support". Hate the break the news to you, but "left-wing" ineffectuals in academia wildly overestimate the importance of their support or power, even in Massachusetts. They may be wrong from an environmental standpoint on this issues, but these are also the people who maintain your buildings, roads, transport and deliver your supplies and guard you while you sleep. You need to win their support, not vice-versa.

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stone either. I worked for a time as a lab manager in a Boston university. Among the biggest violators of hazardous material and OSHA regulations in the greater Boston area are academic labs. When the feds cracked down in the 90's and the universities' EH&S departments stepped up inspections and compliance many faculty balked and screamed bloody murder. Let alone how academia willfully ignores hiring, employment and privacy laws.

By Dropkick Duffy (not verified) on 01 Sep 2011 #permalink

I don't know about the US but here in Australia the unions include people from all parts of the political spectrum. Certainly you would be very wrong to assume that the majority of Australian union members are left wing and share your environmental values.

As a dues-paying member of a teachers' union, I have to disagree with Mike's opinion here pretty strongly. Labor unions exist to advance the causes of labor. Opposing the Keystone pipeline would actually be an example of "taking a backward step" in its own cause for the plumbers and pipefitters union. That union receives dues from workers that expect it to advocate for better pay, benefits, working conditions, and more jobs.

Unions doing the "right thing" in supporting a broad array of liberal/progressive causes is all well and good in keeping with the idea of a coalition. But by Mike's own reasoning, no one in that coalition should expect a union to stand by them when they advocate for a position that reduces the number of jobs, or limits the growth of jobs, for members of that union.

As a teacher, I'm willing to advocate for a position that is somewhat against my short-term personal interest, if it benefits the quality of education for children overall in a visible way. That is 'big picture' thinking, because I know that improving the respect and status afforded teachers will help me in the long run, and getting better results will help with that. But there would need to be pretty strong evidence that it would be in the long-term best interest of the teaching profession before I'd go along with something that actually started cutting teaching jobs or slowing job growth. If my union took that kind of position just to be supportive a broader political coalition, I'd stop paying dues. It is that simple. I don't give them my money to support a broad political cause, but to represent me and my profession.