There’s a rift in the American labor movement, and enterprising Republicans might be able to exploit it. Here’s Politico this week, documenting the disagreements between service-sector and labor unions as highlighted in a letter published recently by leading labor unions:
“The labor federation and many of its member unions have embraced environmentalism as a pillar of their progressive agenda, even as Building Trades unions claimed that the environmental movement often threatened the growth of well-paying union jobs.“
Though public-sector and trade unions might be aligned on some things like collective bargaining agreements, their interests could not be further apart on the question of economic development. Public employees and service-sector workers- represented by unions like the SEIU and NEA- operate in the intangible economy based on human relations and services. Construction workers and manufacturers, represented by unions like Teamsters and NABTU, work in the tangible economy of productivity and goods, or what I like to call the “Build-Stuff” economy.
Teamsters and NABTU rely on a heavily stuff-productive economy for their members’ wellbeing. SEIU and NEA do not- they would be just fine with a largely service-based system.
Normally this doesn’t create many rifts. You can have energy and manufacturing and construction alongside housecleaning and county clerking and policing. No conflict of interests there.
But when public-sector and service-sector unions line up with big green activists like Tom Steyer, whose advocacy is based on “de-carbonizing” the economy (and artificially destroying the jobs and industries that depend on carbon emissions) their former friends in the construction and manufacturing unions might have reason to pause. And billionaire green activists like Steyer increasingly dominate the Democratic Party of Jerry Brown, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. The construction unions that once solidly backed the Democrats are being pushed out into the cold, a sacrifice at the green altar of climate change prevention.
There should be a pro-productivity Republican Party out there awaiting them with open arms, ready to unite the interests of labor unions with those of construction, energy, manufacturing, and shipping industries that also make their money off of “building stuff.”
But there won’t be, because there’s decades of bad blood between the Republican Party and labor. That bad blood would complicate the already-tenuous debates labor-business cooperators usually have on issues from the minimum wage to insurance and benefits to overtime compensation. Still, it would seem that minor tweaks to the solidly pro-business agenda of the GOP- and possibly a return to the pre-1970s norm of “iron triangle” bargaining relations between business, labor, and government, as opposed to the post-1980s norm of “free-market” adversarial relations- could help the task of bringing more working-class voters into the GOP along with the unions in which they hold membership.
Republican reformers, I’m afraid, usually operate under the assumption that they know what’s best for workers- increased absolute GDP growth, tax credits, trickle-down “job creation,” and other tidbits of the Reformicon agenda embraced by many moderates in the party leadership. (To be sure, most Democratic government planners have the same disposition, from the opposite side of the spectrum.)
But in the spirit of representative government and self-determination, it would seem that it would be better to assume that workers know what is best for themselves– and that granting them political power through unionization is a better way to empower them to pursue their own interests, than making tweaks to their economic and legal environment and treating them as passive forces to be acted upon by policymakers and businesses.
So here’s a proposal. How about Republican candidates and elected officials start a dialogue with union members and businessmen about the common enemy of small business and labor- the encroaching regulatory state in Sacramento and Washington D.C., legitimized by the ecotopian whims of legislators like Nancy Pelosi and Kevin de Leon? How about we seek to forge a coalition of interested stakeholders committed to restoring America’s and California’s industrial might and productive capacities, pulling our economy out of its finance/services lull and putting it back on war footing? How about we kneecap the power of regulatory agencies and require them to repeal old rules every time they establish new ones? Why don’t we bring together all those interested in a strong productive core into the same tent, and send a message to the green “gentry” of the coasts that their de-growth and de-carbonizing schemes are unwelcome in a free country?
It’s a thought. As a candidate I’ll be experimenting with this, and it might blow up in my face. But it’s worth a shot. And in the year of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, anything is possible and worth trying.
About the Author: Senior Correspondent Luke Phillips is an International Relations major at the University of Southern California. His primary research interests include American foreign policy, geopolitics, grand strategy, political economy, and the Hamiltonian tradition in American politics. He maintains a personal blog on politics, religion and philosophy on www.abiasedperspective.wordpress.com and a weekly political newsletter at www.nationalconservativesblog.wordpress.com. He is a Campaign Assistant for the Duf Sundheim for Senate 2016 Campaign and a Research Associate at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.