Checkmate: The Democratic Party’s honeymoon is over

Wall Street Opinion Journal Kimberley A. Strassel March 2, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

For Big Labor, this week’s “card check” victory marked the ultimate payoff for past Democratic election support. For House Democrats, it marked the end of the honeymoon.

Democrats won in November in part by playing down their special interest patrons–unions, environmentalists, trial lawyers–and by playing up a new commitment to the moderate middle class. The big question was whether the party had the nerve to govern the way it campaigned, and card check was the first test. The answer? AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney isn’t smiling for nothing.

Up to now, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had kept her troops in line and her party’s liberal wing in check. The vaunted first “100 hours” was run like a military operation, and revolved around a carefully chosen legislative agenda that would unify every faction in her party. It was small potatoes, but it worked, and it was a lesson in how Democrats can practice smart politics.

The card check, in contrast, is a lesson in how the party’s liberal base forces Democrats to back political losers. The legislation’s only purpose is to give unions an unfair advantage in organizing, namely by eliminating the secret ballot in union elections and instead allowing thugs to openly bully workers into joining up. Americans understand and despise this, with polls showing 90% of the public thinks card check is a racket.

Democrats therefore left themselves wide open for their first public drubbing. The card check gave Republicans a rare opening to beat the daylights out of the new majority, successfully accusing it of trashing democratic elections and shutting down free speech. It unified the business community, which put aside its disagreements on health care and immigration to instead team up to make the vote as painful as possible for Ms. Pelosi’s moderate wing. Even the liberal press jumped ship.

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2 thoughts on “Checkmate: The Democratic Party’s honeymoon is over”

  1. Instead of seeking to score cheap points against Democrats, the Wall Street Journal should have used this vote an the opportunity to explore the role of Labor Unions in our more competitive, global economy. There are strong cases to be made both for and against organized labor.

    The case for organized labor goes like this:

    the real problem in the American economy is not that workers have too much bargaining power. It’s that they have too little. Corporate profits have exploded in recent years, while wages for average workers have barely budged. It’s obviously great that business is doing so well. What we need are a few measures to help divvy up the pie just a bit more evenly. Anything that helps to slow down the massive erosion of unions is one of those sensible, small steps.

    Why so threatened by a union card?

    Europe on the other hand, offers us examples of what can happen when Unions get too strong:

    – A thirty-five hour work week that torpedoed French productivity (which on an hourly basis is at the same level as the US
    – A university system stretched out such that students do not look for employment until the latter part of their twenties.
    -Unions that deal with the government instead of the companies directly, since the state is a minority partner in the ownership of the enterprise
    – Unions that are impermeable to government forced arbitration, particularly the transport unions that can shut down the country.
    – Employment contracts that make firing extremely expensive, so companies are enticed to dislocate to warmer labor climates.

    I’ve listened to small businessmen complain bitterly about the blackmail they have been subjected to by unions, to pay truly exorbitant hourly rates or go out of business. Also, while the mission of the union should be raise all workers up, often by blocking any and all personnel action directed at non-productive workers, they end up promoting the lowest common denominator instead.

    Economist Mark Thoma (whose web site I really like, asks:

    Unions are one potential answer for workers at the lower end of the income distribution, but is a return to unions the best solution to the market power imbalance? Should we return to the past, or should we try to use the changing political landscape as an opportunity to build better institutions for both workers and firms, institutions that offer workers the same degree of bargaining power that unions provide, and the the same degree of income, health, and retirement security, but do so more efficiently? We already know how unions work, pretty much, but can we do better?

  2. A Key reason that the Wall Street Journal hates Unions is that they give a political voice to ordinary working people:

    Ezra Klein writes:

    Another important role that unions play is that they give working people a voice in politics.

    Conservatives sometimes claim that workers don’t [need] unions anymore because government laws now protect workers.

    This seems to assume that the government and employers enacted these laws without any prompting from unions and working people mobilizing to vote. It also assumes that corporations don’t try to weaken or eliminate these laws at every opportunity. And it assumes that if unions didn’t exist that the GOP wouldn’t get rid of those laws for their corporate clients.

    Unions are also an important counterveiling force against the power of corporations in the political arena.

    ..Absent a healthy union movement, the competition between the interest groups that actually govern our nation becomes merely a vying of different business interests, with few powerful forces advocating specifically for the interests of the working class. There is, of course, a free rider issue in the way unions work, wherein the entire working class — of which only 8% are unionized — can benefit from the health care expansions and worker safety regulations and guaranteed maternity leave benefits and all the other worker-friendly legislation the labor movement convinces the Democrats to pass, even as the average American doesn’t realize it’s unions doing the bulk of the organizing behind these measures.

    The Wall Street Journal doesn’t want us ordinary working folks gettin all uppity now.

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