Labor’s strategic role to play

Ronald Reagan came to be the ultimate embodiment of conservative deity for adherents of that movement, so one could safely assume that the union-busting behavior we’ve lately seen has been engaged in with full confidence that it would rate a thumbs up from the Gipper, recalling his famous shootout with air traffic controllers back in the 1980s. Perhaps the most barefaced of these recent confrontations with labor, as we’ve noted here before, is in Wisconsin, where the upstart Republican governor, Scott Walker, stripped state workers of bargaining rights — a move that has him facing a recall vote in June.

Labor leaders see the actions of Walker and others who have signed on to this open war on workers as a shot in the arm for their membership. Time will tell whether the unions, one of whose primary resources, apart from their war chests, is the ability to put thousands of troops into the streets during a campaign, will help provide the kind of pushback necessary to thwart the stiff challenge being mounted by well-heeled forces on the right.

In that sense the Wisconsin story is a window on the national scene. Among the biggest contributors to Governor Walker’s campaign to avoid recall, reportedly, are Charles and David Koch, the paper products industrialists who make no secret of their support for right-wing causes. “If the unions win the recall,” David Koch was quoted in the New York Times, “there will be no stopping union power.” Not just unions, one might deduce, but any and everything that smacks of progressive bent or affiliation meets with instant Koch opposition. Hence the robust funding of a super PAC intended to help defeat President Obama and other Democrats this year.

The Koch brothers have drawn the ire of folks on another front as well. A petition drive now making the Internet rounds asks for a boycott of Koch brothers paper products because, it is alleged, the brothers are major donors to the fund set up to pay for notorious George Zimmerman’s defense in Florida. Those Koch brothers causes do have to fit a certain profile, don’t they?

If the unions have calculated correctly, it has taken this right-side aggressiveness to fire up their own forces who, they say, had perhaps grown lethargic. We’ll see whether this wakeup call is loud and insistent enough to be the sort of across-the-board rally cry that could be crucial to Obama in battleground states. There’s no denying that within blue-collar America there’s the bête noir of race with which Obama must necessarily contend. In 2008, with an economic downturn of epic proportions about to hit the country and with John McCain clearly showing he had nary a clue as to its resolution, the pocketbook issue and a demonstrated grasp of it by Obama helped to tip the scales in his favor in a number of toss-up contests. Four years later the big question is whether the counterrevolution that began with the mid-term elections in 2010 has enough sustainability to withstand whatever unions and others on the progressive side of the divide can muster.

Many observers are seeing this 2012 election as a watershed, in terms of the classic battle lines being drawn between working class folk and those appreciably better off in the society. Not that this tension between the two hasn’t existed before, but there’s a push now toward unprecedented action, and with the confidence, to boot, that such legislative initiatives are all constitutionally in order. Initiatives like states enacting their own immigration laws, for example. Seeing that these policy moves have come from conservative/Republican governors or state legislatures, one cannot exclude from the equation that the country’s Supreme Court, if it gets drawn into the mix, is perceived as having a conservative majority membership.

This year’s election battles will see, except in the case of the president’s reelection bid, Democrats being handily outspent by the other side – a throwback to the days when this was a routine happening. Presidential campaigns always saw Republicans leaving Democratic opponents in the dust, as far as what funds had been amassed to go into battle. Dukakis as the Democratic nominee in 1988 made the numbers more respectable than they had been, but it was Clinton four years later who got level with and even surpassed incumbent George H.W. Bush, setting the stage for the historic fundraising blitz of the Obama campaign in ’08. Obama’s bulging coffers this time around won’t be reflected in other Democrats’ races, apparently, with conservative sources and their big-business allies ramping up efforts to out-gun Democrats in the spending wars.

In Wisconsin, should Walker be recalled, he’ll no doubt have the Koch brothers and a whole bunch of other confederates armed to the teeth to get him back on his horse come November. Labor unions, the big ones at least, boast some impressive coffers of their own, but more importantly they have people power. Right now it looks very much like that’s the Democrats’ best bet for stemming the tidal wave of money the conservative/Tea Party crowd plans to throw into this dogfight. It’s probably not very likely, but if the union bashing from Wisconsin’s Walker, New Jersey’s Christie and others manages to bring labor to a single-minded focus on what constitutes the real enemy, that “tough guy” Republican moxie would in effect have been their big-time stepping up to the plate…on Democrats’ behalf.