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Guest Thinkers

Are the Democrats Losing Big Labor?

Incumbent senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AK) narrowly managed to hold off a labor-backed challenge in the Democratic primaries from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Ben Smith reports that after the election a senior white house official called him to dismiss organized labor’s opposition to Lincoln as a total waste: “Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise. If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.”

“Labor isn’t an arm of the Democratic Party,” AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale shot back. “If that’s their take on this, then they severely misread how the electorate feels and how we’re running our political program…. When they say we should have targeted our money among some key house races among Blue Dog Democrats—that ain’t happening.”

Organized labor isn’t happy and feels that the Democratic Party takes its support for granted. They weren’t simply making a point in opposing Lincoln. Not only did Lincoln threaten to filibuster the public option—which for labor generally supported—but she has also been vocal in her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to form. Nor has labor’s challenge been a total waste. In response to the challenge from Halter, Lincoln proposed tough new regulation on financial derivatives as a sop to their interests. And organized labor has sent a message to Democrats that they can’t take their support for granted. Jane Hamsher, who supported Halter, wrote that Ben Smiths’ anonymous senior White House Official could “suck on it,” telling the Democrats that “Labor is not your bitch, and their money isn’t yours to direct. They’re supposed to take what, another six years of black eyes from Blanche Lincoln just because you say so? If their $8 million buys derivatives legislation and limits the damage that the Masters of the Universe can do to the world economy in the future, it’s not only a bargain, it also means that a bunch of nurses and janitors have done more to rein in the banks than you and your entire pack of servile, visionless Wall Street lackeys has done since you took office.”

The Democrats have to be careful here. Labor is not likely to suddenly shift its support to the Republican Party. But national unions won’t hesitate to pull their support if they feel their voice isn’t being heard. They weren’t happy that the Democratic leadership backed Lincoln—especially when some analysts thought Halter might actually have had a better chance of winning the general election. And, as Jed Lewison writes, now is not the time for the Democrats to antagonize labor. On Twitter, Ezra Klein quipped, “A few more statements like that one, and bet Labor will launch some more ‘pointless exercises.'” Markos Moulitsas has already predicted that the national unions won’t back Lincoln in the fall as it is. Since Lincoln won’t have the support of the Chamber of Commerce in the general election, Moulitsas says we can “say hello to Sen. John Boozman, the next senator from the great state of Arkansas.”


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