Put Away the Chainsaw and Bring Out the Scalpel
A Possible Strategy for Organized Labor
Which of the following scenarios would be “most beneficial” to a society? Scenario A, where $100 million is spent by randomly mailing 100 million people a check for $1.00, or Scenario B, where that $100 million is spent to build a brand new modern library in a city that desperately needs one? Most of us would agree that concentrating those resources would have the more salutary effect.
If organized labor (i.e., Richard Trumka and the AFL-CIO) is sincere about wanting to assume a larger role in national and international politics, they need to stop behaving like ideological rubes, and get down to the serious business of becoming political “hit men.”
For openers, labor needs to stop pretending they represent God and country, or that they’re this respectable vanguard of social change. They need to reconnect not only with their history but with their mission, acknowledging that they are (and always have been) a rogue institution, despised and feared by those with money and power. The only difference between Labor Past and Labor Present is the lack of blood on the streets….and the size of their bank accounts.
In 2008, organized labor spent a reported $400 million getting Barack Obama and other Democrats elected. No matter how you cut it—whether you’re a Saudi oil sheik or a Wall Street hedge fund manager—that’s a considerable amount of money. Just think what could have been done with part of that sum—say $150 million—had it been spent judiciously.
What labor needs to do is think small. Put away the chainsaw and bring out the scalpel. One way to do that is to identify three or four particularly toxic Republican congressmen or senators, and go after them. Dedicate yourselves to defeating them.
We’re always hearing people say that money has too much influence in politics, that it’s corrosive and insidious, that it’s undermining our democracy. If that’s true (and who can dispute it?), then it’s incumbent upon labor to exploit that unfortunate fact. Labor needs to pour huge amounts of cash into a handful of targeted elections in order to change their outcome.
Organized labor may not have many friends these days, but one thing they still have—with approximately 14.7 million union members nationally—is plenty of money in their coffers. And that Citizens Unitedruling by the Supreme Court, although repugnant, now allows unions (and corporations) to contribute all the money they wish without having to reveal their identity.
Accordingly, instead of contributing to these sprawling, grandiose, across-the-board national campaigns that are so easily diluted and refracted, labor needs to draw up a “hit list” of its own. They need to pick out a few influential, anti-union, Republican congress members, home in on them with laser-like intensity, and defeat them. Destroy them. Ruin them.
Again, don’t try to re-populate Congress overnight, because that’s not going to happen. Think small. Pick three leaders who have an inordinate amount of influence and whose absence from Congress would make a difference. For example, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and Michelle Bachmann. If these three ideologues were defeated, their absence would be felt immediately. Their absence would create a tiny void. It wouldn’t change the country, but it would be a start.
Pick three Congress people to attack in 2012, and in 2014, pick three more. Chip away at the edifice. And don’t your waste time and money on “back benchers,” those politicians who don’t have the personalities or whiskers to gain a following. Go for the ones who make a difference. And if it costs you $50 million (or more) to unseat one of these people, so be it. It’s only money. The one thing you have plenty of.
DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at email@example.com