AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will make a speech today in Washington where he will call for an independent labor movement that protects the interests of the working class and does not look out for one party or the other.
In a speech at the National Press Club, the head of the nation’s largest labor federation will say that unions intend to focus their 2012 political efforts not based on lawmakers’ party affiliation but rather their stance on issues near and dear to labor.
“We are looking hard at how we work in the nation’s political arena. We have listened hard, and what workers want is an independent labor movement that builds the power of working people — in the workplace and in political life,” Trumka will say, according to excerpts of his remarks. “Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.”
It’s practically a rite of passage for a labor leader to stress their independence from the Democratic Party. In the end, the alarm bells almost always go off, and labor runs back into the waiting arms of the Democrats. Not to mention that labor is intimately intertwined with the Democratic Party. They have seats on the DNC, fercryinoutloud. So will this time be any different?
One change from previous years is that labor faces an existential crisis in the states. To the extent that they won’t focus their work on national Democrats, it’s because they’re trying to save themselves in Wisconsin and Ohio and Florida and New Hampshire and across the country. They don’t have much of a choice.
The second thing is that it’s been pretty plain to see that labor got almost nothing for their efforts for national Democrats over the past few years. A progressive member of Congress told me this week that he would understand labor not making the same investment in the Democratic Party, because the return on that investment has been so nonexistent. This candid recognition at the highest levels signals that labor has made their position known. In addition, nobody is better positioned than labor to make the argument that the working class has lost all its traction and faces an assault from inequality, wage stagnation and an economy that only works for the rich. Democrats have abandoned that ideological battle, so labor must pick up the slack.
I’m still skeptical that much will change here. But labor my not just be in rebellion against Democrats at the federal level, they may just be preoccupied at the state level.