Short-termism led the Democratic Party to let unions die, and now they've lost their base

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Historians debate this pretty fiercely. I think this is part of the problem. The culture wars didn’t help and indeed helped to contribute to the erosion the democratic powerbase. It’s really both.


With their embrace of neoliberalism, the Democratic party has stopped offering any positive reasons to vote for them to a large number of people. Is there any wonder that these people are now not bothering to turn up.


If anyone asked me why the democratic party lost their union support, I would point directly to Clinton’s handling of NAFTA in the 90’s. I grew up watching mine and the neighboring towns’ economies dry up under the rightfully perceived notion that most of the manufactoring jobs had moved overseas or to Mexico. Many of the Trump supporters I know harbor a deep hatred for the Clinton’s and for Mexicans, and feel theirs and Trump’s racism is validated because of this. I, on the otherhand, moved to a city and became a “bleeding-heart liberal”.

Oh, you didn’t ask me? Thank Jebus.


While I can generally agree with this. And it’s certainly a contributing factor.

A big, perhaps the big. Contributor to falling union rolls has been the erosion of manufacturing and other typically union trade jobs. The unions have failed to expand into the sort of industries that replaced factory work as the basis of the working class. That drop in membership made it much easier to both erode union influence in government and to block them from getting into now massive job fields. Its fairly obvious that retail and corporate food workers need and deserve a union. But it’s pretty easy to look at some white collar jobs and say the same thing. You look at all the horror stories out of the video game business and it’s really hard to say those people don’t need a union.


The GOP has done a great job making people hate unions - even people in unions hate unions. I don’t get it really - but the overwhelming sentiment is that unions just collect dues and enable lazy workers - the idea is pervasive and people don’t even understand what unions have done for the country. I’m not even talking young people - this is people who grew up with strong unions around them.

This groupthink would need to die before unions could make a comeback - politics is just the end game now that people don’t give a damn.


Definitely. It’s all part of a larger problem for the Dems since the last time a Clinton was in office: a combination of cowardice (borne out of the shock of Reaganism), complacency, and short-term thinking that comes out of letting greedpigs with MBAs get outsized influence on the decision-making process. In 2016 the Dem establishment was still living in an eternal 1992 at The End of History, and judging from their current actions (or lack thereof) many of them still are.


The unions had some misguided short-term thinking themselves. For example, The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization endorsed Reagan in 1980, and that really didn’t end well for them.


Quiet evenings at home? What?

So the Democrats should side with a minority against the population as a whole? How is that different than the Republicans siding with the fundies against everyone else?

that’s not what the meaning is… it’s discussing why the democratic party hemorrhaged the working class. It’s an analysis of political affiliation.


I think blaming unions’ very real problems on republican propaganda really only applies to people who have never been in one and haven’t seen how the sausage is made and the very real cost to people.

Thing is, that’s the past. The previous local I was in, the pictures on the wall were all 40 years old, the place felt old, the president spent his days staring at the wall but he couldn’t be voted out, and there was a palpable living in the past vibe. A typical editorial in the national paper was about how when they were coming up it was just a given you joined the union, and what was it with the kids these days. If that’s your sales pitch, you deserve to die. The idea that we should have loyalty to something because it did something useful 80 years ago makes no sense. Times change, either offer something of realistic, practical use now, or move on. The problem is that offering realistic, practical help requires leverage, which realistically hardly anyone has anymore, and getting that would require wading into the quagmire of nationalist protectionism.


Could that be because there are far less young people in the union and in positions of power in union organizations? This is a relatively common problem for older organizations, I think.

Yes, and it’s not always good changes. Far more people have jobs that don’t pay their bills and are much more insecure, lack benefits such as decent health care or pensions/retirement packages of some sort that are not tied to the increasingly volatile stock market.

Unions as institutions aren’t by any means perfect. They have real problems, as do any large scale bureaucratic institution. But given that more people are living much more precarious lives, some sort of collective workers movement needs to help people to make larger scale changes and shift the balance of power back from corporations at least some. That doesn’t mean unions need to look exactly as they do or did during the second half of the 20th century. But we need something or we’re all going to be living at the whims of corporations.


It wasn’t neccisarily short term thinking so much as being fooled/lied to. Reagan was a former union president who ran on a pro-union platform. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have bought it but there were plausible reasons to think Reagan would be good for unions, until you looked closer. He had the support a bunch of major unions and significant support among union members.

The unions have traditionally been a major back stop against the erosion of labor rights. For everybody not just their members. Their falling influence. And the lack of a serious push for union support within the DNC has been a huge exasperating factor in that whole income inequality thing. So go the unions so goes everyone from the working class down.

A problem that only got larger as there were fewer and fewer union positions for young people to even aspire to.


That is true, and is true of other large scale organizations. This is especially true as retirement became something that more and more people can never actually do.


Which hit the blue collar trades earlier than everywhere else. I know a lot of people in union protected jobs who simply kept working through their 70’s.

And then theres the baby boomers. There are just so god damn many of them that for a very long time it was simply impossible for younger generations to penetrate a lot of things. Whether its unions, or particular industries. Or politics.

There’s a confluence of circumstances, both avoidable and unavoidable that have sapped Unions of their presence in American life. The failure of the left to suitably defend them is part of it. But the concerted effort of the right to dismantle them. And failure of the Unions themselves to adapt or reform in anyway are major, major factors as well.


A surprising number of Americans don’t even know that Labor Day was created to celebrate and commemorate the Labor movement and not just as another excuse to have a three-day weekend with a barbecue.


Surprisingly fewer know that Labor Day was created as a distraction from the festivities of the first of May.


A specifically American distraction from now-international festivities inspired by a made-in-America labour incident:


The most plausible reason for their support of Reagan is why unions supported Nixon: they hated hippies and desegregation. That cultural wedge was also a reason why many Democrats turned ambivalent to organized labor.

A factor I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned so far has been the rise of the Sunbelt. The US still builds lots and lots of cars, but instead of Detroit its now in “right-to-work” states like Tennessee. Boeing recently did their own bit of union-busting by building their new plant in South Carolina.