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Hope and Change: AFL-CIO's Trumka Plans to Distance Labor From Democrats

2:30 PM, Aug 25, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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Big Labor is finally getting tired of being led on by Democrats. Politico reports:

The growing rift between labor and their Democratic allies was on full display Thursday, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters that labor groups are planning to scale back their involvement with the Democratic Party in advance of the 2012 elections.

Going forward, Trumka said, the labor movement will build up its own political structures and organizations rather than contribute to and depend on the Democratic Party’s political operation.

“We’re going to use a lot of our money to build structures that work for working people” Trumka said. “You’re going to see us give less money to build structures for others, and more of our money will be used to build our own structure.”

Frankly, I'm surprised it's taken unions long. There's an extensive recent history of unions spending hundreds of millions of dollars electing Democrats and getting almost nothing in return. While Obama has tried to appease unions -- there's been some significant executive orders, and his appointment of radicals to the National Labor Relations Board has paid some dividends to labor -- Democrats haven't done anything on card check or union pensions, the two issues that really threaten labor. (For an exhaustive accounting of the increasingly tense relationship between unions and Democrats, see my WEEKLY STANDARD piece from April.)

The reality is that both Democrats and unions are caught between a rock and a hard place. Democrats are heavily dependent on union campaign cash, but the things that unions -- which only represent about 8 percent of the private workforce -- demand to keep writing checks are politically poisonous.What this means for the next election is hard to say. Remember unions went all out for Obama in 2008, spending over $400 million that cycle. Nothing less than full-throated union support for Obama and Democrats could hurt a lot.

On the other hand, where are unions going to go? If they want to influence policy, they will probably have no choice but to continue to support Democratic candidates.

Still, any fraying of the close relationship that Democrats and unions have forged in the last election cycle is probably good news for Republicans.

Finally, note the following richly ironic development:

Trumka’s remarks follow the news that the AFL-CIO will set up a so-called super PAC, allowing the nation’s largest labor federation to spend unlimited amounts of money on political activity for next year’s elections and beyond. Trumka confirmed Thursday that the union is moving forward with plans to create the PAC.

Remember how Democrats screamed bloody murder about the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision? Recall that Democratic solution -- back when they still controlled Congress -- was something called the DISCLOSE Act, which would have cracked down on corporate campaign donations while exempting unions:

A Democratic amendment tucked into campaign finance legislation Wednesday night also drew fire from Republicans and their allies, who contend it gives special treatment to Democrat-allied labor unions. The language in question would exempt from disclosure requirements transfers of cash from dues-funded groups to their affiliates to pay for certain election ads. It was inserted into the bill by Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Administration Committee and a big union backer.

When the DISCLOSE Act failed in the Senate, largely because of the outrage over the blatant hypocrisy of exempting unions (who are  far and away the largest donors in our elections), the Obama administration proposed an executive order on campaign finance that would have again targeted corporations over unions.

I guess the creation of the AFL-CIO's super PAC is tacit admission by the AFL-CIO that Democrats don't have the backbone to implement their preferred campaign finance schemes. Free speech for the win.

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