As you might imagine, I have a number of strong opinions about this topic. Yet there is nothing I could compose that would be as articulate or effective as what our old friend David Groves at the WA St Labor Council had to say. Here is what Dave wrote:
"...[A Seattle Times] editorial was written regarding last week's Times story reporting that unions are not contributing to Democratic campaign funds because of unhappiness over the party leaders' agenda and performance in Olympia. The editorial suggests this 'is a kamikaze effort that works against the interests of the Democratic Party and the workers of Washington.' It goes on to point out that labor's legislative agenda -- from restoring unemployment benefits cut in 2003 to the passage of the Worker Privacy Act -- are misguided. That the conservative Seattle Times editorial board opposes labor's legislative agenda is nothing new. What is new here is the Times' concern about the Democrats' re-election prospects. As blogger David Goldstein points out, 'nobody is a bigger supporter of the Democratic Party than the Bush/Rossi/McGavick/ Reichert/Hutchison endorsing Times.'
Feel free to disagree with the WSLC's new political strategy -- which, as outlined here, is essentially to support legislators who support labor, as opposed to party organizations. Feel free to disagree with delegates representing WSLC's affiliated unions, who unanimously approved a convention resolution for the WSLC to make no campaign contributions in 2009 to anyone. Feel free to disagree that labor has a right to be upset after what happened in the last legislative session. But ask yourself this: to what extent is the Democratic Party entitled to labor contributions? We're talking about the withholding of contributions -- not a political attack or the funding of opponents -- the withholding of money. And it is being described as a 'kamikaze effort' that one former party chairman calls a 'strategy of self-destruction.' Who is threatening who here?
Meanwhile, we can't wait to read The Seattle Times exposés on the Sierra Club only contributing to pro-environment candidates or NARAL only supporting pro-choice candidates."
The Seattle Times' patronizing editorial aside, this isn't exactly a new story. The Puget Sound Buiness Journal reported back in May that labor was outraged with actions taken by the Legislature during the 2009 session. "Labor and other groups knew this session would be rough," wrote Deirdre Gregg, "given the scale of the budget shortfall. One thing that particularly frustrated labor was that bills with no price tag to the state — such as labor-friendly changes to unemployment insurance — also stumbled."
State workers, in particular, took a pounding this past session -- both in the budget as well as on policy issues. On one hand we understand elected officials have a right -- even a responsibility -- to do what they think is best regardless of whether or not WFSE members agree with their decision. On the other hand, we look pretty foolish if we continue to support elected officials that clearly have a different set of values than we do. [Note: Seven months later, as state revenues fall further into the red, some powerful voices in the Democratic caucuses are content to continue an all-cuts budget approach into the future.]
Naturaly, the rift between labor and legislative Democrats has incited some debate out in the blogosphere. The Northwest Progressive Institute argued "this change in support is a good object lesson for Washington's elected officials: If you take your supporters for granted, you may pay the price come election time." Meanwhile, the Washington Technology Industry Association thinks "the unions are the biggest bullies around" and "it is well known that you have to suck up to labor to get their endorsements and money and they will lord it over you if you are not with them 100% of the time."
Of course, the most provacative response is from Piper Scott at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation: "Well, all I can say to this effort by WSLC is PA-LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZE do it! And the sooner the better...Pa-leeeezzze, pa-leeeeeze, pa-leeeeze, pa-leeeze, pa-leeze! What a great way for them to marginalize their influence and free many in the Legislature from being under labor's domineering thumb!"
For the record, WFSE supports what the WA St Labor Council is doing. We have contributed to DIME PAC. And the WFSE Executive Board also adopted a resolution withholding support and contributions from any candidates or candidate committees for the time being.
The Seattle Times, the high tech industry, the EFF, and the other anti-union voices out there are all missing the real point. Labor is adapting and modernizing its political program: We are refocusing to ensure our endorsement and support is based on issues, not parties -- and that our support is more meaningful than ever. Certainly no strategy is flawless. But I think the labor movement is headed in the right direction.