After the disappointing and frankly frightening results in this Tuesday's Wisconsin recall elections for someone like myself who has been a decades long union member and what it might mean for the future of the union movement if this emboldens Republicans to try to get rid of every union on the country, and the real possibility of seeing them push for putting a national right to work law on the books, I was glad to see at least one person leading a discussion on what's happened where we've got the working class voting against their own economic interests, and that was Ed Schultz.
If we had a few more discussions like this in our national media, rather than the constant union bashing we see instead, maybe more voters would be aware of the fact that pitting one group of workers against another just harms all of us. Sadly as Thomas Frank pointed out, this is something that's been going on for decades. And as E.J. Dionne noted, the severe decline in union membership on the United States has made it much easier for Republicans to play this game of divide and conquer with the working class.
This segment hit home for me particularly hard because it mirrored a conversation I had with a co-worker earlier the same day, who was asking me what I thought about what happened in Wisconsin and all the money poured in there and wondering how we've got so many within our own ranks who are union members and who are happy to have the security of that union membership when it comes to everything from decent wages, to health and retirement benefits, and some recourse with safety issues on the job to not worrying about being fired if they dare to speak up about problems in the work place, and yet consider themselves part of this ridiculous AstroTurf "tea party" movement.
Sadly I didn't have any good answers for him other than to make some of the same points made by Frank and Dionne here about the propaganda those members have been exposed to and the huge uphill battle we're facing to try to overcome that and the way unions are portrayed in the media.
Here's part of the conversation from Schultz's show where he was more or less following up on a discussion he'd had on MSNBC earlier that day on Alex Wagner's show and the need for union leadership to be doing more to educate their members. I agree with the points he made. The question is how do unions use the limited resources they have to potentially follow up on them when their ranks are under assault, which means their finances are as well.
SCHULTZ: What happened here? Is this another example of working class voters going against their own economic interests? What do you think?
FRANK: Well, come on Ed. This is like... that's the story of our times. Right? Going back thirty, forty years. This is what happens again and again and again. But what's going on lately, okay, in the last two, three years with the conservative movement is something really, really interesting, okay?
These guys have taken, as you know, a hard shift to the right, okay, and they've taken sort of the politics of say Herbert Hoover and made it the new politics for our hard times moment. We're in this terrible economic slump, this persistent economic slump that doesn't go away and they have made the sort of 19th century banker view of the world the remedy for all that ails us.
FRANK: It's an amazing accomplishment what they've done.
SCHULTZ: It is amazing and they've got the money to do more of it.
E.J. Dionne followed up with some really good points as well.
DIONNE: But I think there's some real problems we progressives have to deal with because conservatives take advantage of them. One of them is the decline in confidence in government's capacity to improve people's lives.
SCHULTZ: To do anything.
DIONNE: Right. And that's a real dagger pointed at the heart of progressivism, because we believe government can improve things. One of the reasons I wrote my new book, Our Divided Political Heart, was to talk about what government had done in our history to build up the country, to create institutions that made us all wealthier. And progressives have a lot of work to do in that area.
Secondly, there's a kind of spiral going on with the trade union movement. When I grew up, unions were a vital part of life. They were very important institutions, people were in unions or had friends who were in unions. It was just part of your community. With the decline in unionization there were fewer and fewer people who have the experience of unions.
And so it's easy, it's easier to run against them and with such a big share of the union population of public employee unions, the Republicans can split public and private workers against each other.