Lots of progressive Democrats, but very few are talking about labor

In 2016, Democrats were so incapable or unwilling to field candidates that Rep. Pete Sessions, a Dallas-area Republican whose district actually went for Hillary Clinton 49–46, did not even face a Democratic challenger in his re-election bid.

Now, in the midst of a surge of progressive energy in response to Trump, every Texas GOP incumbent in Congress and the state legislature, including those in rock-solid red districts, will face an opponent touting a message that is at least somewhere to the left of Atilla the Hun. In fact, most of Democratic candidates are running on unabashedly progressive platforms, touting Medicare-for-All, a $15 minimum wage and marijuana legalization, among other things.

But for two Democratic candidates in the Houston area, the AFL-CIO is calling bullshit. From the TX Observer:

Two Houston attorneys vying for state and federal office in the Democratic primary have run afoul of the labor movement. The Texas AFL-CIO has accused the two candidates of being on the wrong side of a 2016 trial pitting a janitorial services company against an international union group. In a letter sent January 13 to Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lillie Schechter, the Texas AFL-CIO said the candidates, who both work at the AZA law firm, were guilty of “undermining the rights and efforts of predominantly immigrant janitorial workers.”

The guy who is running for state legislature, Adam Milasincic, apparently was an active participant in the legal case in question. The lady running for Congress, Lizzie Fletcher, works at the law firm but had nothing to do with the case.

I don’t know what to say about the case in question. But for what it’s worth, I’m less upset about a couple candidates who have represented management in labor disputes than I am about the fact that very few Democratic candidates for Congress make any mention of labor rights in their platform. And that is despite the fact that unions remain a key part of the Democratic political apparatus, providing money and manpower for campaigns, lobbying and issue advocacy.

Both unions and the Democratic Party are to blame for the absence of labor from the national political dialogue. Having been unable to provide a compelling contrast to Reagan in the 80’s, Democrats instead sought to emulate him, shifting to the right on just about everything except reproductive rights. Those pushing that shift –– notably the Democratic Leadership Council –– saw unions as a remnant of the old paradigm that they were trying to sweep away. The more Democrats associated with labor, the harder it would be for them to curry favor from their prime target for votes –– suburban professionals –– as well as their prime target for donations: the business community. Unions, meanwhile, didn’t do much to counter the trend. While many have demanded loyalty on certain issues (teachers unions don’t like voucher schools, for instance), their support for candidates never seems to come with the expectation that the candidate will actively promote the labor movement by, say, encouraging workers to organize.

Take the 2011–12 recall elections in Wisconsin. Even though the elections were prompted entirely as a result of unions fighting back against Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on collective bargaining rights, the Democratic candidates –– notably gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett –– barely mentioned labor in their campaigns. When they did talk about unions, it was little more than a meek defense of the rights of public workers to collectively bargain, an argument that predictably fell flat for the 85% of workers in the state who were not unionized.

Despite the abundance of camo-clad individuals at the union protests in Wisconsin, many Democrats seemed to believe that collective bargaining was an issue that only resonated in liberal bastions. They didn’t see it as an opportunity to reconnect with the working class that had become culturally alienated from the party over the past 20 years.

The good news is some Democrats around the country appear to be waking up to the potential of labor as a way to connect with and inspire those who might not be otherwise inclined to support liberals.

For instance, Conor Lamb, the Marine who is running for the special election for Congress in Pennsylvania’s steel country, an area that was once a blue-collar Democratic bastion but in recent years has become solidly Republican. Lamb lists seven priorities on his campaign website: the heroin epidemic, jobs & infrastructure, health care, Social Security & Medicare, student loan debt, energy, and unions. Here’s what he says on the issue:

I support unions, and I’m proud to be endorsed by the AFL-CIO. I believe that all workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively for better wages, benefits and working conditions. And I know that when unions do the work, it gets done on time and on budget.
Union members in our district can count on me to be the most effective ally they have in fighting to protect their rights, support prevailing wages and Project Labor Agreements, and defeat the ideological extremists who want to put unions out of existence.

Not bad. I’d like to see a little more explanation of how unions can help those who currently aren’t represented one, but not bad.

Another example comes in Missouri, where Democrat Mike Revis just won a special election for State Senate in a district that Trump carried by 28 points. While Revis plays it conservative culturally, noting that he is a Christian and an NRA member (ugh, I wish he could have just said gun-owner), he plays it populist economically. Of the six issues he highlights on his website, “Defending the Rights of Working People” is #2:

Right-to-Work is a 60-year old bad idea, pushed by big corporations to lower wages. When it was passed by the Missouri General Assembly, I felt the call to take action and run for office. This constant assault on the rights of working men and women is funded by just a few multi-millionaires who buy influence with elected officials.

Unfortunately, these campaigns are the exception to the rule. Hopefully their success will lead to a change.