I’m sure we’ll have a lot of reports at FDL about the dissent outside the DNC convention in Charlotte. Some of the protests could prove interesting. There should be a bigger Occupy presence in Charlotte than there was in Tampa for the RNC convention, and the Undocubus, filled with undocumented immigrants who plan to challenge the Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform (which is in the platform in a rather full-throated way), could make some waves.
But the protest of about 800 in the streets of Charlotte last night, which was smaller than anticipated, did not give me much hope for a real breakthrough. That’s especially true because of the pre-ordained position of some of the protesters.
Union activists walked a political tightrope on Monday — voicing support for President Barack Obama’s re-election bid while lamenting adversarial attitudes toward organized labor in the state Democrats chose for the presidential nominating convention.
More than 300 people marched in the Charlotte Labor Day Parade a day before the kickoff of the Democratic National Convention, carrying signs, wearing matching shirts and chanting. In contrast to a protest the previous day, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly pro-Obama, family-friendly and generally low-key. The police presence was much lighter.
North Carolina has the lowest percentage of union members in the nation, for one reason – they are a right-to-work state that bans collective bargaining with public employees. The fact that the DNC chose this state to hold their event, and non-union hotels to house their delegates, caused a lot of commotion when announced. Labor has a smaller presence at the DNC than in previous years.
Still, when your protesters support the man whose party you are ostensibly protesting, don’t expect anything to come from your protest. There’s no way to exact any price when you up front announce an endorsement. Rich Trumka “declared political independence” last year and then the AFL-CIO endorsed Obama. They can do what they want, but they’re not going to get a single thing out of the Administration if they announce support up front.
For example, let’s look at the party platform on labor issues. “Democrats believe the right to organize and collectively bargain is a fundamental American value,” the platform reads, and it makes promises to “fight for labor laws that provide a fair process for workers to choose union representation, that facilitate the collective bargaining process, and that strengthen remedies for violations of the law,” a rough description of the Employee Free Choice Act without saying the words “Employee Free Choice Act.” The platform also vows “to vigorously oppose ‘Right to Work’ and ‘paycheck protection’ efforts, and so-called ‘Save our Secret Ballot’ measures whenever they are proposed.” But at the same time, the platform touts the passage of three corporate-written trade laws, at two points in the document. It highlights the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a “NAFTA for Asia” trade agreement written in secret with the input of corporate lobbyists, as a key part of its agenda, albeit with pro forma language about labor and environmental standards. And just the setting of Charlotte shows a less-than-vigorous opposition to right to work.
“North Carolina has the lowest number of organized union members,” said Jaribu Hill of Greenville, Miss., who represented the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights. “This state is woefully backwards and anti-union, anti-working people and most viscerally the working poor. The wages are blindingly low. The poverty is stunning and cyclical in every community where the working poor find themselves. To come here and not know that or act like you don’t know it is unforgivable.”
The President is accepting the nomination at Bank of America Stadium, not Walter Reuther Park, put it that way. (That’s subject to change, incidentally, owing to the potential for bad weather. They may move the whole thing inside.)
Union leaders are well within their rights to prefer Obama over Romney. They believe that an Obama Presidency would be better for union workers, and one can easily agree. But then you put down the “protest signs,” because there’s nothing going on that looks anything like protest here. Don’t insult everyone’s intelligence.