With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama facing a crucial day in their campaign to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, organised labour is having its day in the limelight. With no viable or independent alternative on the horizon, US union leaders still hitch their wagon to the Democratic Party in the hope that they will have some influence when and if their nominee occupies the White House.
In Ohio, one of the industrial heartlands of the country now hit by the impact of globalisation, just 14% of workers are organised in trade unions. The division is between the older, skilled and white collar unions like the American Federation of Teachers and the machinists’ union who support Clinton on the one side, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which draws considerable support from African Americans on the other.
Unions like the SEIU, the powerful Teamsters Union, Unite Here (hotel workers) and the United Food and Commercial Workers broke away from the AFL-CIO [TUC] in 2005 to form the Change to Win coalition. With a few exceptions most of the Change to Win unions support Obama, with some key industrial unions like the United Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers remaining neutral. Most of the Change to Win unions see Obama’s ability to rise from obscurity and mobilise large numbers as an inspiration to breathe life into union recruitment, which, as in the UK, has been in general decline.
Surprisingly large numbers of Americans have become involved in political debate through the Clinton-Obama battle. Obama’s rhetoric, however empty most of the time, has given some expression to the underdog in American politics. Obama has cleverly crafted his politics to tap in to the disenchantment with the politics of the old establishment. In many states, Obama’s campaign seems to have come from nowhere to challenge Clinton’s veterans. Young first-timers as well as older volunteers are staffing offices in obscure towns, using laptops and the Internet to co-ordinate the campaign and mobilise support.
But we’d better not get carried away by the image-makers. Despite his claim to being a new broom that will sweep clean, there is no way Obama will truly challenge the real power behind the presidency in the United States. He has no intention of overturning the military-industrial complex behind Bush and his global wars.
Yet we can already feel the railroading into supporting the Democrats coming on. It’s sobering to observe how an anti-corporate campaigner like author Naomi Klein takes it for granted that Guardian readers will back Obama, making bleating pleas that he should use his campaign to stand up against “islamophobia” and take seriously his mission to “repair the world”.
The one candidate who has consistently challenged the corporations, Ralph Nader, is already under fire from liberals like Joshua Holland of the AlterNet Independent Media Institute. After demonstrating that – counter to Democratic Party propaganda - Nader was not responsible for handing over victory to Bush in Florida or elsewhere in 2000, and that he has the right to run, Holland then goes on to say that he won’t be voting for him, on the grounds that as an “independent liberal”, he needs to “beat down the reactionary right”. Another supposedly independent thinker, Timothy Noah of Slate takes a similar stance, saying that he disagrees with Nader that the Democrats and Republicans are too similar.
To say that we know the Democrats are grim but the Republicans are even grimmer is a truly hopeless political perspective. It seeks to force voters to remain within the two-party cycle, where Tweedledum and Tweedledee take turns in running the country on behalf of corporate power. After all, it was the Clinton presidency that opened the door for Bush and it is the Democrats who in Congress, despite their majority in both houses, sit on their hands and allow Bush free rein. As Nader once said, if the Democrats are indeed the lesser of two evils, they are still evil!
Secretary, A World to Win