>Published on Thursday, August 17, 2000 in Newsday
>Labor's Love for Gore May Be Lost
>by David Moberg
>'I'M LOOKING at the most powerful people in America," Gerald McEntee,
>president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal
>Employees Union, told union-member delegates on the eve of the Democratic
>"You can decide the outcome of this presidential election." It was not
>entirely hyperbole to fire up the la- bor troops, who make up 30 percent of
>convention delegates. Unions provided vital early primary election muscle
>against Sen. Bill Bradley, and this November they will have to turn out
>voters disproportionately from union households for Al Gore to win
>essential midwestern swing states, such as Michigan and Ohio.
>By the normal calculus of politics, Gore would then owe working people-and
>their unions-a big debt of gratitude. Their reward certainly should go
>beyond what Clinton delivered. Al- though wages at the bottom of the job
>hierarchy have risen recently, as a result of minimum wage hikes and a
>tight labor market, most moderate-income workers gained relatively little
>from the Clinton boom, and the gap between the corporate elite and everyone
>Luckily for Gore, he could satisfy his union family supporters with a few
>strategic moves that would also be both good public policy and a boost to
>the Democratic Party.
>But those same moves might not satisfy the corporate funders much in
>evidence as the convention opened, such as SBC (Telecom), Blue Cross
>(insurance), Raytheon (military hardware) and the National Restaurant
>Association (opponents of the minimum wage). Though some unions, like
>McEntee's, are big contributors, all unions together have given only about
>10 percent of the money the Democratic Party itself has raised.
>But if Gore wanted to reverse the nation's growing inequality, he could,
>first of all, promote legislation to make it easier for workers to organize
>unions and harder for employers to interfere with their choice, for
>example, by granting union recognition simply when a majority of workers
>sign union cards.
>Though getting comprehensive labor law reform through Congress now seems
>unlikely, Gore - and other labor-backed politicians -could still show up at
>office buildings and factories where workers are organizing to support them
>and oppose employer harassment of pro- union workers.
>Gore could also make sure that no federal money is used, even indirectly,
>to fund anti-union campaigns, as happens so often now, and treat persistent
>corporate labor law violators as "irresponsible contractors" that can be
>barred from federal bidding. He could also change federal policy toward
>recent immigrants, one of the most promising groups for union organizing,
>by establishing a new amnesty program for those who have been here for
>years without proper papers and by protecting workplace rights of
>immigrants rather than harassing them.
>If more workers organize, they will have greater power to reverse the
>decline in income equality that started in the early 1970s, which will be
>good for the economy as a whole. That will also help to better enforce
>existing workplace laws and give a voice to workers, helping to democratize
>Politically, it would also help the Democrats, whose slippage - especially
>as a progressive party -tracks closely the decline of organized labor. But
>it might upset Jonathan Tisch, the chief executive of the Loews hotel chain
>and a major Democratic Party contributor, whose luxury Santa Monica hotel
>was the target of a major rally supporting workers who are trying to
>organize in the face of the company's anti-union campaign.
>Second, Gore could use public policy directly to reduce the income gap.
>Beyond preventing privatization of Social Security and raising the minimum
>wage, the most urgent need for working people is national health insurance.
>That would essentially mean expanding an improved Medicare program to the
>entire population, starting -if Gore insists on small steps -with coverage
>of all children.
>But he could also begin to reclaim the notion that federal monetary and
>budgetary policy should aim to keep unemployment low, not just fight
>inflation or reduce the debt. If Gore simply re-read the 1992 Clinton-Gore
>tract, "Putting People First," he would find better ideas for public
>investment than either his debt-reduction plan or the Republicans' proposed
>Finally, Gore needs to deliver on his promises to make workers' rights and
>environmental protection part of all global economic agreements. The
>growing power of multinational corporations in a global economy has been a
>major factor in the trend toward economic inequality and the silencing of
>workers' voices on the job. Increasingly, the rights and standards of
>American workers are linked to the fate of working people in other countries.
>Moreover, the political future of the Democratic Party hinges on its
>adopting a new approach to globalization, an issue where Clinton and Gore
>have been out of step with most of the public, especially union workers.
>Instead of continuing to act as a global apologist for the biggest banks
>and corporations, Gore should be arguing for the same kind of regulation of
>corporations in the global economy that progressive reformers won
>domestically over the past century.
>While Gore's strategists, busy trying to inoculate his campaign against the
>Republican campaign's character attacks, would scoff at the idea of running
>for president on such a bold platform, polls generally indicate that these
>three strategic initatives would have wide popular support.
>Will Gore seize the chance to reward the union workers who put him in
>office with sound policies that are politically popular and would
>strengthen the Democratic Party? His labor backers hope so, but the growing
>corporate influence in the Democratic Party certainly makes it less likely,
>even if they have the power, as McEntee argued, to determine who will
>become president this fall.
>David Moberg is a senior editor at In These Times and a senior fellow of
>The Nation Institute.
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