Democrats Paid a Huge Price for Letting Unions Die

Filed in National by on January 28, 2018

There are a lot of villains in this story: Big Clinton, Union “Bosses”, Republicans, on and on.

The GOP understands how important labor unions are to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, historically, has not. If you want a two-sentence explanation for why the Midwest is turning red (and thus, why Donald Trump is president), you could do worse than that.

With its financial contributions and grassroots organizing, the labor movement helped give Democrats full control of the federal government three times in the last four decades. And all three of those times — under Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama — Democrats failed to pass labor law reforms that would to bolster the union cause. In hindsight, it’s clear that the Democratic Party didn’t merely betray organized labor with these failures, but also, itself.


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Jason330 is a deep cover double agent working for the GOP. Don't tell anybody.

Comments (30)

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  1. bamboozer says:

    I certainly agree, unions were part of the foundation of the party, the corporatist Dems turned their back on them and we now pay a big price. History is going to savage the Clinton Dems as the source of many problems that plague the party to this day. Never, ever in my youth would I imagine the Dems would lose their reputation as the party of the working man, the little guy, the average American. Be honest, is there anyone here who is not sick of the DNC and the Dem elite? Whoops, almost forgot what passes for Democrats in Delaware.

  2. puck says:

    Democratic voters dug their own economic graves by electing Reagan.

  3. jason330 says:

    I’m with bamboozer. Reagan, like Trump, was just the person he said he was going to be. Clinton put the knife in the back of the Democratic Party.

  4. Dave says:

    Unions paid a big price for letting unions die. They did it by being just as corrupt as the companies they were dealing with. In the past two years a total of 143 labor leaders and staffers have pleaded guilty or been convicted of federal crimes and including “embezzlement from hundreds of union offices nationwide over the past decade,” with cases at 300-plus union locations (US DOL statistics).

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating UAW corruption, which includes purchases of a $350,000 Ferrari 458 Spider, one private jet, two limited edition Mont Blanc pens costing $75,000, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements to private residences, among other expenses. UAW officials participated in a $4.5 million scheme that siphoned corporate training funds earmarked for blue-collar workers and spent the money on various luxuries. (

    While there are many unions have served their members with integrity, there are still a large number of unions whose leadership see the unions as their own personal bank account including exorbitant salaries (for multiple full time jobs). Unions live off the sweat of their members.

    It is no real mystery as to why union members are disillusioned with their leadership. I would suggest that the Democrats lost the working person vote in part because of the unions. The single exception seems to be government unions (with the exception of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) who dismissed four elected officials of the union’s Department of Labor (DOL) unit last October over allegations of improper expenditures and failure to honor the votes of members).

    The Democratic Party needs to engage with individuals not corrupt institutions. And the party needs to do a great deal of listening about the hopes and dreams of all its constituents. There is a perception (right or wrong) that the Democratic Party cares only for marginalized. They have done a pretty good job of representing the marginalized, but honestly, they have not very well with the silent middle. Or do you think the ranks of the independents have swelled due to defections only from the GOP?

  5. Alby says:

    “I would suggest that the Democrats lost the working person vote in part because of the unions.”

    I would agree. You can’t fight greed with more greed, and you can’t fight it with money, which is its fuel.

    “There is a perception (right or wrong) that the Democratic Party cares only for marginalized. ”

    This is what the rest of us have been trying to tell the social-justice seekers for several election cycles now. We agree about social justice, but if we lead with that we’re making a polarizing argument, not an inclusive one.

    Come for the jobs, stay for the social justice.

  6. jason330 says:

    The corrupt union boss stereotype is a handy bogeyman. It is potent. I mentioned them as one of the villains in this story. But like the Cadillac driving welfare queen, the stereotype doesn’t tell the complete story.

    There are many other union stories crowded out by the constant and deft use of the bogeymen. For example, my father was the first person in his family to go to college because his father was a member of a union.

  7. Alby says:

    The Cadillac-driving welfare queen actually existed — but she was one person who cashed all those checks by running a sophisticated scam that included kidnapping and murder. (Incredible story at that link, btw).

    That’s a lot less of a factual foundation than 143 union officials (to be fair, many of them just people in a position to embezzle funds) convicted in two years.

  8. Alby says:

    Ultimately my problem with this line of thinking is that it posits the need for some sort of organization to play the role on the left that big money plays on the right. Unions were a convenient existing organization for Democrats to use, nothing more.

    We don’t need unions to organize politically; the weakness in that approach has been demonstrated. But we should understand that Republicans did not destroy unions because they hate labor, though they do. They destroyed them for the same reason they are always touting tort reform. They don’t hate trial lawyers, either — obviously, because they turn to them at the drop of a hat.

    They hate people who donate to Democrats, and will seek to destroy anything that attempts to organize them to do so. The answer is for individuals to donate to Democrats guerilla-style.

    I don’t even donate to candidates through Daily Kos anymore, because I don’t want that little shitstain taking credit for my donation. These games are about influence, which is what money represents in politics.

    You can’t fight greed with money.

  9. Dana Garrett says:

    The reason why unions are important and it’s politically advantageous to empower their growth is because union employees tend to make more money than non union employees in comparable jobs. Politicians reap the benefit of citizens enjoying a better standard of living and the ripple effect of more monied consumers participating in the economy looks good for elected officials as well. It’s not a coincidence that in the social democracies of developed nations, where citizens enjoy a better standard of living than US citizens, that there is far greater union representation in the private sector than the paltry 7% private sector union representation in the U.S. That’s an important factor in their enjoyment of a better quality of life than us.

  10. Gerry W says:

    So what do the Unions do for the worker? We are not talking about conditions that existed in mines in the 1900’s. We are not talking about demanding health care for workers in the 1930’s. We are not talking about 40 hour work weeks like in the 1960’s. Union apprenticeships are either non-existent or a joke. Union Halls can’t deliver an experienced qualified knowledgeable worker, all they can deliver is a threat of violence. The United Auto Workers gave away the starting wages of new workers to protect the pensions of older workers and retirees. The Starting salaries in Auto Plants and Subsidiary parts manufacturers are less than a dollar/hr better than the starting salaries at Amazon,( down from $24 ten years ago) then take out a serious chunk for dues and retirement. Is that a reason to vote Democrat? Vote for Clinton because she’s the Democrat – people said no. Vote for Clinton because the the Union shop steward told you to – No. Don’t think vote Democratic because we told you to – No. How about vote Democrat because they put up a choice or a better candidate.

  11. Mike Dinsmore says:

    $75,000.00 for a pen??? How much are the refills? Couldn’t they just have done with one of those free pens that the banks give away?

  12. Alby says:

    @Dana G: If you think about it, the theory isn’t much different from the right’s trickle-down idea. Empowering unions is a pretty roundabout way for non-union employees to get raises. The only difference is that union salaries actually do bring up others, while trickle-down never reaches the bottom.

    If we want someone to blame, we could go with the Democrats in the Senate who overrode Truman’s veto of Taft-Hartley.

  13. Liberal Elite says:

    I’m not sure the Democrats are the main culprits here…

    We’ve had 20 years of anti-union propaganda. That’s what Fox News has given America. That was perhaps their main schtick. Their raison d’etre.
    Looks like Dave and Gerry W above are well versed Fox News viewers, with the ability to spout off nearly useless and non0-seq

    With the demise (or should I say assassination) of the union, all worker wages in America have declined, and not just those in unions. The result is the dramatic rise of the gini index in America, showing how the wealthy got wealthier on the backs of everyone else.

  14. Rufus Y. Kneedog says:

    I think the Amazon reference is a good place to start. Those are physically demanding jobs, people are on their feet for a nine hour shift constantly walking from one end to another of a massive warehouse. I believe base pay is somewhere around $14.50 an hour. The problem is if they organize and force that higher, someone is going to invent a way to mechanize the whole process and all the jobs go away.
    All those assembly line UAW jobs and all those coal miner jobs are gone and not coming back in spite of Trumps campaign lies. We will have self driving trucks and no checkout stores in our lifetime and more blue collar jobs go away. This narrative misses the point, there has been a tectonic shift in the labor market in the last 40 years.
    I suppose the Ds could start lying too for votes but what’s the point?

  15. Dave says:


    Correlation does not indicate causation. Jimmy Hoffa predated Fox News by over a decade. And as long as we are talking about history, Taft Hartley (1947) (which also predated Fox) was supported by 106 out of 177 Democrats in the House, and 20 out of 42 Democrats in the Senate.

    Further, it was the rapid increase in imports from labor intensive industries (steel, automobiles, electronics) that basically undercut American producers resulting in a large scale shift in employment. Factories either closed or moved in an attempt to lower labor costs. In short, it was globalization that played the greatest role in the reducing union membership by reducing employment in unionized industries. The nail in the coffin may well have been the wave of deregulation and free competition that happened in the late 70s and the 80s.

    You can see that the steep decline in union membership coincided with these market changes (

    Fox News did not show up until 1996.

    Research is the difference between spouting propaganda and actual information from which someone can form an intelligent opinion. Unions were corrupt. A globalized marketplace began. Public confidence in unions decreased. All of these things happened before Fox News.

    You would be better served to study how the decline in unionization can be reversed in a global economy, while still allowing free trade to occur from countries that use child labor. The clamor for cheap products doesn’t come from those who are obscenely wealthy, it comes from people like you who made WalMart what it is today because you can get it cheaper. In short, the people who benefited most from unions, were also partially responsible for the decline in unionization because they effectively supported non-union industries through their buying practices. There was and is multiple parties responsible for the decline in unionization.

    Finally, there are several truisms to keep in mind that applies to all institutions, including unions.
    1. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    2. The first objective of all institutions is to survive. Everything else is secondary.

    Unions throw workers under the bus when their survival or power is threatened. All this is common knowledge for those who have been involved with unions, lived the history I am referring to or have studied history if they are not old enough to live it. Obsessing over Fox News interferes with critical thinking. Don’t become a victim.

  16. Dana Garrett says:

    @Rufus, I worked at Amazon for almost three years. I was one of those who walked great distances at a fast pace picking out stored products. Amazon has already stated to use automated picking in some locations for bulky products. But it would be impossible for Amazon to fully automate all its jobs, even most of its jobs, because of the way it stores products and gathers them for shipment. I also believe that Amazon plants are unionized in Germany. If Amazon unionized in the U.S., nothing dramatic would happen except Besos might be worth a little less money and Amazon workers would get better pay, better work conditions, and more job security.

  17. Dave says:

    What keeps Amazon from being unionized in the U.S.? It is just a lack of organizing or surplus of labor?

  18. Dana Garrett says:

    aGerryW “So what do the Unions do for the worker? We are not talking about conditions that existed in mines in the 1900’s.”

    I’ll give you an example of what unions can do now. When I worked at Amazon and hurt my foot on the job, I was sent to the medical Center on the Amazon site. The first thing they did, even before they looked at my foot, is they brought me into an office and tried to get me to sign a document stating I did not hurt my foot on the job even though I clearly did. I refused, but I instinctively thought I could either use an attorney or a union rep to protect my interests. I had no intention of bringing a disability claim against them because I was certain that I’m short order my foot would heal. I only wanted to be excused from my hourly quota for a while since I wouldn’t be walking as fast. Instead of doing that, they decided to evaluate my performance while I was injured and I was expected to meet the same quota. It was totally unfair and a union rep could have protected me. Fortunately I happened to have a friend that found out that evaluating an injured workers performance was illegal. After telling them that, I was spared until I recovered. But if I didn’t have a friend who knew that, I would have been fired. There’s still a lot that happens on jobs that unions can do.

  19. Alby says:

    “Taft Hartley (1947) (which also predated Fox) was supported by 106 out of 177 Democrats in the House, and 20 out of 42 Democrats in the Senate.”

    Yes, that was my point in saying blame the Democrats. Of course, most were actually Dixiecrats, but naturally both Delaware’s senators voted to override. This has never been, and never will be, a liberal place.

  20. Ben says:

    Not with an attitude like that it wont be,

    Candidate X 2018!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. Alby says:

    @Ben: It has to do with where we get our money. Delaware, in case you hadn’t noticed, served as the model for all those island nations that let you incorporate at a very low price with very few restrictions. We are the nexus of corporate America, even more than Wall Street is, because we charter those companies and derive an incredibly high percentage of our revenue from it — historically, around 25%.

    To be actually “liberal” would mean reforming our corporate chartering laws, which would have the effect of immediately causing a 25% — over $1 billion — budget shortfall. If you think the citizens or legislators of this state would ever willingly do such a thing….well, I don’t think you do. Nobody does. Hence, we will never be a liberal state, unless and until we revoke the right of states to charter corporations and turn it over to federal jurisdiction. Which means unless and until we take that power from the states, Delaware will continue to be what it is.

  22. Dave says:

    @Anyone. Question remains for someone who knows (I do not know). What is the primary obstacle(s) to organizing Amazon workers?

  23. Dana says:

    In the end, unions in private industries have to be partners with their companies. If unions do not, and try to push demands that cause the company to fail, then it doesn’t matter what wages they have won: $30 or $40 or $100 an hour, times zero hours, still equals a paycheck of $0.00.

    And thus we have workers in the private sector unionized at a whopping 6.5% rate, while public sector employees have a unionization rate of 34.4%. Since the public sector can’t fail, and ‘customers’ can’t take their business elsewhere, taxes being enforced by the police power of the state, public sector unions have fewer constraints, which is why you see teachers’ unions saying that taxes must be increased on people making far less than teachers to pay for increases in teachers’ salaries.

    The article our host quoted stated:

    At present, employers are prohibited from firing workers for organizing or threatening to close businesses if workers unionize — but the penalties for such violations are negligible.

    Remember when, right after the 2012 elections, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union struck against Hostess Brands, and the company shut down, declaring bankruptcy? Hostess reopened the next year, under reorganization as Hostess Brands LLC, as a non-union company.

    It’s pretty simple: in industries which have to remain local, unions can have some organizing clout. But if a company can shut down, either by declaring bankruptcy or moving its operations elsewhere, workers know that unionization is a dangerous business.

  24. Dana says:

    The real person who killed unionization in American manufacturing? It was Bill Gates!

    Why? Before computers, it took a lot of skilled welders to build a car. Today, it takes far fewer people, who do not have to be skilled welders themselves, to oversee and operate a bunch of welding robots.

    In the strangely prescient cartoon The Jetsons, George Jetson’s job job primarily required him to repeatedly push a single button (or on occasion a series of buttons) on a computer (named RUDI {Short for: Referential Universal Digital Indexer}). In one of the episodes, Mr Jetson complained of his heavy work load- having to push a button for one hour, two days a week.

    That series contemplated heavy automation; Mr Gates has made it possible to automate Mr Jetson’s job as well. The future? Unless you are Cosmo Spacely or Spencer Cogswell, and own your industry, you are unemployed.

  25. Alby says:

    @Dana: You have identified the problem. But because of your political persuasion, the problem has no solution for you, because you are wedded to the notion that if people don’t work they don’t get to eat.

  26. Dave says:

    After thinking about his for 2 seconds, it occurred to me that one primary obstacle to organizing a company like Amazon is what I call the Walmart Effect. People are wedded to their Amazon Prime and unionizing Amazon would require some measure of public support which might require them to not rely on Amazon as heavily as they do. Walmart destroyed downtowns because the public wanted what Walmart provided, regardless of the cost to their community. And let’s face it, Amazon enjoys a much better reputation than unions. For which unions bear some responsibility.

    In the final analysis, I’m afraid that unions simply are unable to recover from their reputation, the evolution of global markets, and decline of jobs that were the lifeblood of unions.

    To me, the more important question should be, what replaces unions? What provides protection for workers. Government cannot shoulder the entire burden. They have neither the capacity of the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities to cover the entire gamut of industry. This is question that liberals and the Democratic Party should be pondering. We will never reindustrialize to the extent that we had during Industrial Revolution and the factory system, with its centralized workforce that could easily band together. This decentralization was partially a consequence of significant improvements in our transportation system, with multiple “Detroits” spreading workers all over (as an example).

    Anyway, liberals should be studying these issues with an eye towards the future rather than looking wistfully at the past, hoping that things can get back to the way they were.

  27. Alby says:

    “In the final analysis, I’m afraid that unions simply are unable to recover from their reputation, the evolution of global markets, and decline of jobs that were the lifeblood of unions.”

    Then explain Germany.

  28. mouse says:

    The corporate DNC sponsored members of congress have substituted narrow special interest issues that don’t hurt them with their contributors like endless sexual issues in place of working for things that benefit a majority of the nation’s workers.

  29. mouse says:

    The German government serves its people and has assured the continuance of a strong middle class.

  30. Alby says:

    I brought up Germany, where unions thrive, to make the point that there’s nothing intrinsically “wrong with” unions. They fail to thrive in this country because it has enacted laws that have the aim of crippling unions. It’s not unions, it’s us.