By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
(Of course, if we started bombing Vietnam again, it would be the greatest source of a revival in antiwar action in a generation, too. That doesn’t make it a good idea to put in power people inclined to do it.)
Nader refers frequently to the increase in Sierra Club membership that resulted from the tenure of the rabidly anti-environment James Watt as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of interior — indeed, to the membership increases in many national progressive groups during that time. The Sierra Club is cognizant of its membership figures, of course, but, in the words of Dan Weiss, its national political director, “the view that we can afford four years of irreversible damage to our environment is naive at best, irresponsible at worst. It’s like saying we have to destroy the â village in order to save it.”
Thus the Sierra Club — and the League of Conservation Voters, and Friends of the Earth, and the National Abortion Rights Action League and the Human Rights Campaign and NOW and the NAACP, all groups whose membership might indeed increase if Bush wins — are moving heaven and earth to elect Al Gore. “We’ll all be totally on the defensive,” says Torie Osborn, executive director of the Liberty Hill Foundation and the former head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “We won’t be promoting our own agendas, we’ll be trying to save the achievements of past decades. For gays and lesbians, it will be back to survival, to defending our basic humanity.”
In Nader’s list of all the groups that increased their membership during those exciting Reagan years, there’s one category of organization that he rightly omits: unions. The membership of unions does not swell when an anti-union administration is in power, because the effect of such an administration has been to make it easier for employers to thwart their workers’ efforts to form or join unions. By the refusal of their Labor Board appointees to protect workers rights, Republican presidents since Nixon have accelerated the decades-long decline in union membership and power.
But George W. Bush has vowed to do a great deal more than just appoint anti-union activists to oversee workers rights. In his speeches, he routinely calls for “paycheck protection” — that is, for limiting the ability of unions to devote their resources to political campaigns (on which business currently outspends labor by an 11-to-1 margin). This proposal was essentially the substance of California’s Proposition 226, which state voters rejected in 1998.
In fact, busting unions will surely be the chief strategic political goal of a Bush administration. It’s only by virtue of the election-time activity of the newly revitalized labor movement that the Democrats have been able to pick up congressional seats since the 1994 debacle. More than that, though, unionists are one group of people whom the Great Uniter has never in any way included in his gubernatorial administration. W. is the first governor of Texas not to appoint a single union representative to the state’s boards overseeing occupational health and safety. And should congressional Republicans resurrect the TEAM Act — a bill they nearly got through Congress during Clinton’s presidency that would have allowed employers to set up their own “worker associations” to compete with genuine unions in the workplace — Bush would certainly sign it.
The damage to the American left from any of these actions would be huge. Since John Sweeney took the helm at the AFL-CIO in 1995, labor has become the sine qua non of American progressivism — the force behind the municipal living-wage movements and all efforts to raise the minimum wage, the chief opponent of for-profit HMOs and the chief advocate for universal health care and affordable prescription drugs, even the foremost champion of immigrant rights. Under Sweeney, the four-decade slide in union membership has finally stopped (last year was the first in the last 17 when the share of unionized workers did not decline), but the union share of the work force is still a very shaky 13.9 percent. If George W. Bush becomes president, there’s no doubt that labor will come under a fierce, and possibly terminal, attack, dragging a panoply of other worthy causes down with it.
So we have, in Ralph Nader, a candidate who personifies the spirit of Seattle — articulating a democratic vision counter to global order run by and for corporations. And we have, in American labor, the movement that is the linchpin of the Seattle coalition, that is the leading force, not just in the U.S. but in the entire world, for establishing global standards for worker rights. This November, progressives have to choose between the man and the movement. They have to choose between a party that will never become a vehicle for building the left (indeed, that already sets the left against itself) and a movement that has already given progressivism a new life in many cities, most especially our own, and without which no progressive American future can even be sketched.
This is really that hard a choice?
If the strategic rationales for the Nader campaign are ultimately spurious, there remains the claim from countless Nader supporters that they — presumably unlike anyone else — are voting their conscience. The assumption here is that you betray your conscience by settling for less than a candidate who champions and personifies your ideals. But I would think (at least, I would hope) you just as surely betray your conscience if the consequence of your vote is to impose avoidable hardship on others more vulnerable than you. Yet I get the sense from many Nader die-hards that since the intent of their vote is pure, the effect of their vote is really of little or no matter.
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