Me: What do you think about what happened in Wisconsin? Him: What happened in Wisconsin?So as union steward I catch most of my time with people in the parking lot after work. Usually, they'll come up and talk about some issues going on in their area or I'll swing around and ask how things are going and they'll chitchat about any problems or issues. 5 minutes is about all I can hope for. This is an unbearably slow process.
Sometimes when I'm lucky and we reach a lull in issues on the shop floor I'll try to shift gears and talk about politics more broadly to get a feel for where people stand on issues.
Today I asked a coworker of mine what he thought about "everything that went on in Wisconsin?" "What happened in Wisconsin?," he asked in that very dry, "Jim you know I don't pay attention to politics" tone. "You know," I said with a slight pause, "the whole recall of the Governor?"
"Man, I don't have time to pay attention to that kind of stuff." He then went on to talk about the other job he has, planning for his wedding, working on his farm, and a list of other things taking up his time. The guys starting up a family, he's busy.
It was a great reminder of why I think Henwood's criticism of labor recently is on the ball:
Since 2000, unions have given over $700 million to Democrats—$45 million of it this year alone (Labor: Long-Term Contribution Trends). What do they have to show for it? Imagine if they’d spent that sort of money, say, lobbying for single-payer day-in, day-out, everywhere.
Everyday working class people don't have the time, energy, or interest to engage politics in massively in-depth ways. Rather than trying to participate in public relation spin wars--via efforts to help elect a President (cause face it, people know more about the candidates pets than they do their economic policy and the candidates WANT IT THAT WAY)--unions should be shifting that money downwards into the field engaging directly on the issues (such as increasing the minimum wage, ending right to work, gaining paid sick days), and on local political races where those voters have a vested interest and can and will want to make a meaningful impact via their vote and volunteer time.
Rather than endorse candidates who are our "friends" who will say the right thing in a room (quite often ONLY in a room when no one else is listening) labor should be identifying, nurturing, and grooming their own candidates for city council, board of education, or state house. Rather than waste a dime on the presidential race, we should let our education and organizing efforts at the grassroots trickle up in the form of a tweet on election day. Rather than getting working class union members focused on President which is abstract and beyond the realm of having a substantive impact lets redirect them towards whats going on in their own lives and empower them with the tools to fucking doing something about it!
I guarantee you, if someone is going to the polls because they WANT to vote in their local school board race, or support the local candidate fighting for workers rights, or vote in the state house race for the union candidate they know and support--they'll be voting up ballot and will likely listen to whom we say they should vote for in those (almost as important) up-ballot races too! Thats not a guarantee my union friends who want to spend a lot of time, money, and efforts helping Obama can give to candidates down ballot who are friends of labor. Believe me, the drop off in my state senate race didn't help my vote count. I got shellacked (and I don't even like Obama!).
Right now the idea that a truck driver, a nurse, or auto worker could become President isn't even imaginable. But if Brazil can have their Lula there is no reason why we can't build the infrastructure to develop and nurture our own politicians and political culture. And when we've created an environment where the idea that an everyday worker can become President, or Senator, we might very well see some more engagement from the apathetic and disengaged working class who don't vote and don't care to. Right now they don't have the time and resources to pay close attention and don't believe its even worth it if they did since they are so powerless and out of the loop.
But labor has the resources to build up the support systems to get them engaged and informed if we so choose to spend them that way. By training and running candidates from our own ranks non union voters will grow to understand that a vote for a union candidate is a vote for someone who will fight for their interests--unions have bad PR for a reason and we can only change that PR in the new low union density environment by providing non union voters something of substance. A farm team of working class politicians is substance. A farm time of union politicians working their way into Government institutions and party apparatus at the state and local level will introduce working class voters to a group of people they can vote for and trust will understand the harassment, exploitation, and manipulation that they face day in and day out on the job; who understand the resentment and frustration of watching 30 years of government policy transferring wealth up the income ladder--not through hard work and merit but through policy decisions.
But that takes the will to disengage from the Democratic Party. When working class union members in Wisconsin needed Obama, he was too busy wining and dining the 1% raising money to become President. That's what you have to do to become President right now, I get that.
But we need to take his lesson to Wisconsin workers --"you have to do it on your own, you have my support (here's a tweet), but you have to do it on your own" to heart. We have to stop expecting Democrats to come save labor (cause they won't), we have to start doing it ourselves--and I promise, we'll give a positive tweet or two on election day for those up ballot candidates whom we've endorsed that we didn't have the time or money to do much for (although they'll always be welcome to attend the events we're organizing for issue education and promoting down ballot local candidates).
I know for a fact that some in the labor movement get that--else my union wouldn't be sending me to the United for a Fair Economy Training at end of the week. But I think we have to start thinking and doing more long term movement building. We have to work alongside efforts of local #occupy groups. We have to harness the new social networking tools at our disposal to reach out to union and non union members alike.
Union members of this country unite--with a tweet on election day for Obama--we have nothing to lose but our dependency on a political class bought and paid for by the 1%.