Newspaper article

Can Unions and Democrats Beat the Oligarchs?

Newspaper article

Can Unions and Democrats Beat the Oligarchs?

Article excerpt

In mid-February Minnesota’s union community held a two-day “start the 2018 elections” conference. Well organized. Seminars on finding candidates, getting the message out, etc., etc. Capped by a forum with the four current DFL candidates for governor of Minnesota who were well received and able to periodically excite the hundreds in the audience. There was a genuine feeling of empowerment. “If there’s enough effort, enough money, enough smarts, labor can help win 2018 for Democrats,” seemed to be the feeling.

Labor’s interest in the 2018 election is, to put it mildly, justified. Unions have already seen a drastic deterioration of their power, especially in the private sector, where managements are able to fight unionization with ease and with the support of conservative national and state governments. In 1983 16.8 percent of private sector wage and salary employees were in unions; in 2015 it was down to 6.7 percent.

The percentage of public sector employees in unions remained, during the same three-decade period, about 35 percent. But the very idea of public sector unions is now under attack. Republicans in Minnesota talk openly and gleefully of matching Wisconsin’s public employee union busting under Gov. Scott Walker. All that Republicans have to do in Minnesota is win the governorship and keep control of the House and the Senate and they can put unions into permanent nonentity status.

Action at the Supreme Court

On Monday of this week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the “bust public employee unions” case Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Swing vote Anthony Kennedy sounded like he was ready to join the four dependable conservatives in seriously hobbling public employee unions all over the country, waiting for state legislatures to finish the job.

So can unions, and their allies in the DFL party, win in Minnesota in 2018?

It’s going to be tough. Labor union impact on elections is traditionally an organizational, not just a monetary activity. Unions agree on whom to support and then methodically convince members, families and neighbors. There’s some money involved, but it’s the people outreach that’s important. Till 2000, Minnesota had effective limits on campaign spending, so people power in campaigns was important. Then the federal courts blew the lid off campaign spending controls. Money got to be more important.

Enter the oligarchs, both Russian and American. Russian oligarchs, with no one to stop them, will keep on meddling. …

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