A Costly Election for Labor Unions

Article excerpt

If you want a nuclear explosion from a Republican, just mention the word "unions."

Republicans are furious at the effort of organized labor to displace their party's congressional majority. The phrase "Big Labor" (or "Big Labor Bosses") is for Republicans what the words "Religious Right Extremists" are for Democrats.

It's odd that neither side can understand how similar their respective animosities are. For Democrats, labor's activism is great and the activism of the Christian Right (and the National Rifle Association) is terrible. For Republicans, the works of the religious conservatives and the NRA are moral and labor's doings are beyond the pale. "We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord," declared Theodore Roosevelt in launching his Progressive Party candidacy in 1912. When things get that serioW 2/3 - 1/5 1/5at the unions failed because the Republicans still control Congress. There is something to this. When you set out to displace the King, you had better succeed. If you fail, the K ing will try to get you. In this case, the King is Newt Gingrich, and he's still there. The Republican congressional majority will not be kindly disposed toward the unions. At a post-election forum last week organized by the Brookings Institution, retiring Rep. Steve Gunderson - a Wisconsin Republican, a moderate, and a man slow to anger - said that his fellow centrist Republicans are livid. The next Congress, he predicted, would do nothing to help unions and, where it had an option, would hurt them. Gunderson is no doubt right. The question is: What have the unions lost by doing what they did? Labor's campaign, whatever its failings, did change what the pollsters like to call the country's "issue agenda." The last thing one expected from the last Congress was an increase in the minimum wage. When the Democrats held the majority, at the beginning of President Bill Clinton's term, they didn't raise it. Clinton didn't do much about it then either. But labor's incessant advertising scared Republicans in working-class districts. Led by people such as Rep. Jack Quinn of New York - his district includes blue-collar South Buffalo - a large group of Republicans broke with the party leadership on the issue. …