Politics & Policy

Labor Pains

The Democrats perform for the AFL-CIO.

The Democratic candidates running for president met Tuesday night in Chicago for an AFL-CIO labor forum. National Review Online asked a group of labor experts to react.

Linda Chavez

The Pander Bears were in good form in Soldier Field Tuesday night, with each Democratic contender trying to out-promise the next one to win labor-union support in the AFL-CIO-sponsored candidates’ forum. Senator Clinton was ready to throw NAFTA overboard — one of her husband’s few real achievements in his eight years in the Oval Office — and she was joined by each of the candidates who promised to put the brakes on free trade.

All of the candidates talked about “creating jobs” at “prevailing wages,” music to the ears of organized labor. But of course presidents don’t create jobs, the private sector does; and if there is one sure way to put a damper on job creation, it is by forcing employers to follow Davis-Bacon and other prevailing wage rules. The Pander Bears know better, of course, but they can’t afford to alienate Big Labor, which will provide many of their troops and much of their cash in the months ahead. Unions may be losing clout in the workplace, representing just 12 percent of all workers and less than eight percent of private-sector workers, but they still hold the purse strings. In 2004, the AFL-CIO spent $44 million to support John Kerry for president, and that was on top of the money spent by individual unions, directly and indirectly. Of the top 13 all-time donors to the Democratic party as of 2004, 9 were unions. Expect more of the same this time around.

– Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

Stefan Gleason

It should come as no surprise that the Democratic hopefuls came to the altar of Big Labor to make their offerings. With more than $10 billion annually in compulsory union dues that over 12 million American workers must pay or be fired, union-boss support can make a big difference in who wins the nomination.

But what was most striking about the debate was not what was said, but what wasn’t.

John Edwards boldly declared he wanted an America “where no scab can walk through a picket line.” Or what, Mr. Edwards? Should bullets and brickbats be the fate of those awful “scabs” who have the gall to remain on their jobs to support their families?

Hillary Clinton vowed to sign into law the diabolicially named “Employee Free Choice Act” that makes mandatory the abusive “card check” organizing method. What that really means is that she wants workers to be denied access to a secret ballot election. No problem, right? Sure, workers have only to tell a burly union organizer “no” and he’ll go away quietly.

When various candidates talked about rebuilding American industry, they overlooked the fact that states with Right to Work laws vastly outperform Big Labor-dominated forced-unionism states when it comes to creating jobs and creating real income growth for workers. The devastated auto industry is Exhibit A of the “job security” that forced unionism brings.

In short, at every turn when given a choice between standing up for the rights of individual employees or supporting special privileges for union bosses, the candidates turned their back on the workers.

– Stefan Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Carl F. Horowitz

The Democratic presidential debate before a handpicked crowd of 15,000 at Chicago’s Soldier Field was all that the host AFL-CIO could have hoped for. Having brought its fusion of progressivism and populism to an ever greater boil over the years, the candidates knew the union-friendly script to perfection. They would “bring this country together” (as opposed to “divide” us, as the Bush administration has been doing); create a universal health-care program; cancel or severely modify all existing free-trade agreements; “invest” government funds in jobs and infrastructure; and remove all U.S. troops from Iraq. Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, and Barack Obama proved the farthest out in Left field, though overall it was close to a toss-up. Even Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, who threw in a hint of talking points on the war, reverted to type.  

Platform differences being cosmetic, this was primarily a contest of rhetoric, of conveyance of personal authenticity through the memorable phrase and the human-interest story. At one point, candidates seemed locked in a contest to see who had the most experience walking a picket line. Give John Edwards the slight edge here. 

But what defined the proceedings, most of all, was the aura of politics as mass infotainment. Why not? This was an NFL stadium. With the specter of being cut off by moderator/referee Keith Olbermann’s 30-second stopwatch, moral indignation and clever tag lines ruled the evening. Devoid of real opportunities for rebuttal, candidates piled it on in a rapid-fire Fanfare for the Common Man. This wasn’t a debate; this was political speed dating. At least TV audiences got a strong dose of their favorite candidates in tongue-lashing mode. If Christopher Dodd becomes our next president, heaven help the staffer who gets on his bad side. 

 – Carl F. Horowitz is director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project at the National Legal and Policy Center. 

Lawrence W. Reed

What can you say about a show that’s neither educational nor entertaining, where you learn more from the commercials than you do from the program? Sorry, but nothing like “Give that guy the keys and a full tank of gas” ever entered my mind during the AFL-CIO’s tedious panderfest Tuesday night.

If you want politicians to do something nice for you and something nasty to somebody else, this was the show for you. Health care for everybody. Subsidized stadiums for whoever shows up. Jobs, jobs and more jobs. Joe Biden even asserted something that he couldn’t have plagiarized, namely, that “the presidential job is to create jobs.” The only thing they left out was bread and circuses, but I suppose those were implied.

Government has nothing to hand out except what it first rips off. Whatever it sticks its nose into never gets cheaper or better, and it already claims more than a third of all that we as a people produce. The growth of federal spending during the Bush years is a fiscal scandal but to those who gushed promises last night, Washington is just one big unfunded mandate.

Now we all know how the welfare state got its name. The politicians get well while everybody else pays the fare.

– Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.

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