Harold Meyerson

Just What Workers Need: More Labor Civil War

AP Photo/Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Rachel Denny Clow
As a rule, most merger or affiliation announcements between two organizations tend to the celebratory: Each group brings a proud history and now have joined together to create an even prouder future, yadda yadda. But not last Thursday’s press release from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA), which proclaimed its affiliation with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in an announcement largely devoted to attacking the presumed perfidy of the Service Employees International Union, with which NUHW has been engaged in a prolonged blood feud that puts the Hatfields and McCoys to shame. Broadly speaking, SEIU and CNA are the nation’s two pre-eminent health-care worker unions, with CNA the leading organization of registered nurses and SEIU representing close to one million hospital orderlies and nursing home attendants. In 2009, after the two groups had waged a number of bitter organizing campaigns against each other for the right to represent the same...

All Hail Wall Street

Flickr/Wally Gobetz, Emmanuel Huybrechts
Flickr/Emmanuel Huybrechts I f the debate around the fiscal cliff and, particularly, the still-impending sequester demonstrates anything, it’s that Richard Nixon’s one plunge into economic theory—“We’re all Keynesians now,” the former president once said—still holds. Everyone acknowledges that laying off hundreds of thousands of government employees, including 800,000 civilian Defense Department workers, and stopping payment to government contractors will, by definition, destroy jobs, at least until the payments resume. It’s still Republican orthodoxy, to be sure, to deny that government spending actually creates jobs, but even they acknowledge that the cessation of government spending destroys them. Which illustrates that the problem with contemporary Republicanism isn’t confined to their indifference to empiricism but also their indifference to logic. Reasoning—either deductive or inductive—is either beyond them, beneath them or above them. A second Republican talking point called...

American Lefties

AP Photo/Henry Burroughs
Two books published in 2012 opened new windows on the history of the American left. Michael Kazin’s American Dreamers looked at social change movements and left parties from the abolitionists to the New Left and concluded that their most significant and enduring contributions came in changing the nation’s social and cultural attitudes. The left in America measurably diminished institutional racism and sexism. What it wasn’t so good at was building a lasting left movement in the United States akin to the social democratic parties of Europe – which has meant that American capitalism has less of a social character than its European counterpart. A less celebrated but eminently valuable book was Peter Dreier’s The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20 th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame. An extension of Dreier’s Nation magazine cover story on the 20 th century’s 50 leading American leftists, his book is an outstanding reference work that provides portraits of movement activists,...

Watching Wal-Mart’s Warehouses

AP Photo/Noah Berger
Friday’s Wall Street Journal reported that Wal-Mart “is planning to monitor subcontractors’ U.S. warehouses, in the same way it tries to police conditions at suppliers’ factories around the globe.” For the more than half-million Americans who work in warehouses like those that supply Wal-Mart—the Labor Department puts their number at 672,000—this is modestly good news. As the Prospect has been reporting since 2009, Wal-Mart and America’s other discount retailers don’t employ their warehouse workers directly. In the Ontario-Fontana exurbs of Los Angeles, where half the imports that come into the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors are trucked to be unloaded, arranged on pallets, and retrucked to Wal-Mart and kindred stores for a thousand miles around, the warehouses themselves are owned by property management companies, and they’re run by logistics companies with which Wal-Mart and other retailers contract. But the logistics companies aren’t the workers’ employers of record. Rather,...

For Unions, It Was a Very Bad Year

AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young
AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young Pro-union demonstrators crowd the Capitol Rotunda in Lansing, Michigan to protest "right to work" legislation being considered by the Republican-controlled legislature. A merican labor can begin the new year with thanks that 2012 is over. Not that the unions didn’t win some big victories in 2012. Their political programs in key swing states played a major role in President Obama’s re-election, both by turning out minority voters in record numbers in Ohio, Nevada, and Florida and by winning Obama a higher share of white, working-class voters in the industrial Midwest than he won in other regions. Their efforts also helped liberal Democrats hold key Senate seats in Ohio (Sherrod Brown) and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin), and pick up Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren). In California, the nation’s mega-state, unions beat back a ballot measure designed to cripple their political programs by a decisive 12.5-percent margin, turning out so many voters that they...

Nancy Pelosi, Same Job, Different Coalition

(Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds a news conference with newly elected Democratic House members on Capitol Hill. N ancy Pelosi has confounded expectation before. Following the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans recaptured the House on a wave of Tea Party indignation, Pelosi was widely, and unjustly, criticized for leading House Democrats to debacle. She had played a key role in enacting Obamacare, a program that the Obama administration chose not to defend as Election Day drew nigh. She had not paid enough attention to solving the recession, critics argued, though in fact House Democrats had passed additional stimulus measures that failed to surmount Senate filibusters. It was time, the critics said, for her to go. But Pelosi disagreed, and her House colleagues turned out to be in no mood to challenge her decision. Now, once again, she has surprised the Washington conventional wisdom by signing on for another two years atop the House...

Romney and the 0 Percent

AP Photo
My favorite exit-poll factoid this year comes near the end of the quadrennial Edison-Mitofsky questionnaire, as reported on the NBC News web site. The pollsters asked people leaving their voting places whether Barack Obama’s policies, and Mitt Romney’s policies, “generally favor[ed]” the rich, the middle class, or the poor—and respondents could give more than one answer. Among Obama supporters, 86 percent said that Obama’s policies favored the middle class, with another 25 percent saying that they favored the poor. Only 12 percent of Romney’s supporters, by contrast, believed that Obama’s policies favored the middle class while a whopping 74 percent said that they favored the poor—not a good thing in Romneyworld. But the interesting numbers come in the answers to the question on Romney’s policies. Not surprisingly, 87 percent of Obama supporters said the Mittster’s policies favored the rich, while 0 percent said they favored the poor. Among Romney’s own supporters, only 10 percent...

Get Out the Union Vote

(Flickr/Wisconsin AFL-CIO/Justin Geiger)
Despite setbacks in several states, the American labor movement came out a clear winner in Tuesday’s elections. Most important, they played a key role in ensuring the re-election of President Obama, and contributed significantly to Democratic Senate victories in hotly contested races in Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia. How effective were the unions’ massive voter-education and mobilization programs in the swing states? This year, for the first time, the network exit polling didn’t ask whether respondents were union members, though it did ask if there was a union member in their household. Historically, while union-household voters are more pro-Democratic than voters with no union members at home, the gap is smaller than that between actual union members and non-members. Also historically, union membership doesn’t make much of a difference among, say, African-American women, who are going to vote Democratic at a 95-percent rate whether or not they belong to a union. Where...

The Future of the White Man's Party

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
(AP Photo/Nick Ut) Former California governor Pete Wilson with his wife Gayle in 1995. During his tenure, Wilson promoted Proposition 187, which would have denied all public services to undocumented immigrants—a move that is credited with turning Latinos in the state against the GOP. O ver the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any...

Why the House Didn’t Flip

(AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
Here’s a paradox. The networks’ exit poll taken yesterday shows that 50 percent of voters cast their vote for Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives, while just 48 percent said they voted for Republican candidates. Yet even as President Barack Obama won re-election and Senate Democrats not only didn’t lose their majority but picked up one or two seats, House Republicans suffered no diminution of their power and may end up losing just a handful of seats, if any. The Democrats had hoped to pick up the 25 seats they needed to retake the House, but they fell depressingly short. This paradox grows starker when we look at individual states. Obama carried Pennsylvania, for instance, by a margin of 52 percent to 47 percent, and Democratic Senator Bob Casey defeated his Republican challenger by 53 percent to 45 percent. But Democrats won just 5 of the state’s 18 House seats, losing one incumbent in the process. In neighboring Ohio, the president carried the state by two points...

Follow the Money—Where?

During the past few hours in California, the new model of Republican/Big Money campaign finance has become clear. It’s the Russian Doll model—every time you think you’re about to identify the source of a major contribution, you open it up and lo! There’s another doll that you have to open up and lo! There’s another … To move from the metaphoric to the actual, the contribution in question here was an $11 million check that came in several weeks ago to a Sacramento-based right-wing business organization called the Small Business Action Committee that is running a campaign against Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which would raise taxes chiefly on wealthy Californians in order to keep school and public-university budgets from falling through the floor, and the campaign for Proposition 32, which would make it much harder for unions to access their members’ dues for their political activities. The Sacramento organization, required by California law to reveal the source of the...

Can Unions Stop Romney?

(Flickr/Steve Rhodes)
Labor started early this year. America’s most politically active union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), first deployed staffers to Ohio and key battleground states in March, says SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, with whom I spoke by phone on Saturday afternoon as she walked precincts in Cleveland. SEIU hasn’t confined its outreach to its roughly 30,000 Ohio members: 151 members from other states have taken off from their jobs to work fulltime in Ohio, 140 paid canvassers were hired for a joint project with another voter mobilization group, Progress Ohio, and roughly 2,300 SEIU members have volunteered to walk and phone this weekend and on Monday and Tuesday All these campaign workers are focusing not just on SEIU members but on the state’s African-American and Latino voters as well. That focus reflects a high level of strategic coordination within what is still, formally, a divided labor movement. While SEIU has emphasized registering and mobilizing black and Latino...

In Nevada, Will Demographics Trump Ethics?

(AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Chad Lundquist)
(AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Chad Lundquist) Representative Shelley Berkley of Nevada during a news conference prior to her speech to the state legislature in Carson City, Nevada I f Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley still has a shot at ousting Republican Dean Heller from one of Nevada’s two senatorial seats next Tuesday, she should get none of the credit. Mired in scandal, under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, Berkley shouldn’t have a prayer in next week’s election. Yet she does—because Nevada’s burgeoning Latino population is moving the state leftward, because Heller trumpets his anti-immigrant stance, and because Barack Obama and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both have fearsome get-out-the-voter operations in the state that will get those Latinos to the polls. The Nevada race is one of five senatorial contests this year in which the Democrats have a chance to flip a seat that’s currently Republican. (The other four are in Maine, Massachusetts, Indiana, and...

How to Poll

California’s venerable Field Poll released the first in its final series of pre-election polls today, and in the process provided a wonderful example to all its fellow pollsters. At a moment when a number of polls have come under criticism for not employing interviewers who can speak Spanish, the Field Poll responded to California’s growing diversity by conducting its interviews in English and Spanish—and Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Vietnamese. The funding for these Asian-language interviews was provided by New American Media, which itself had received a grant for this project from the San Francisco Foundation. The poll itself measured support for the two rival tax hike/school spending measures on the California ballot next week—Proposition 30, backed by Governor Jerry Brown and teachers unions, among others, which would raise income taxes on the wealthy and impose a quarter-cent sales tax hike to provide $6 billion yearly to the state’s K-12 schools and its public colleges and...

Michael Barone's Tenditious History

Electoral historian and Fox News commentator Michael Barone, having long since made the trek from mainstream liberal to standard-issue conservative, is now endeavoring to pull the whole of American history along with him. In today’s Financial Times , he argues that Franklin Roosevelt never really won majority support for his key New Deal programs. Those programs now stand on the chopping block should Mitt Romney be elected president next Tuesday, Barone writes, and they lack popular support even if Barack Obama should prevail. As Barone sees it, “even in straitened economic circumstances, most Americans do not want and will not reward politically a vast expansion of the size and scope of government.” Since he is advancing a general thesis here, not merely an analysis of the Obama administration’s alleged overreach, he extends this argument backward to the 1930s. Roosevelt’s landslide re-election of 1936, in which he won 61 percent of the popular vote and carried every state save Maine...

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