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Dis-Union in Iowa By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 20, 2004



Despite the polls, pundits had assured America, in this strong union state labor would prevail by marching in the minions under its command to dominate these lightly-attended gatherings of neighbors.

The blue collar unions had bet their chips on longtime AFL-CIO partisan Rep. Richard Gephardt of neighboring Missouri. The mostly-government-employee white collar unions AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) and SEIU (the Service Employees International Union), after much soul-searching, bet their credibility and future on former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. (Shortly after endorsing Dean, one of the leaders of AFSCME declared at a New York City conference, “We are fighting for socialism.”)

Both union sides lost badly on Monday night, watching as their chosen candidates were rejected by the overwhelming majority of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers. Their much-vaunted muscle never materialized. The resulting display of union impotence was worse than humiliating. These caucuses have revealed to millions of Americans that the once-formidible power of organized labor that half a century ago represented nearly half of American workers is now nearly spent.

Today more Americans are employed by government at some level than are employed manufacturing things. The only growing part of the labor movement – which altogether now represents less than 14 percent of American workers – has been the unionizing of government workers, the bureaucrats and others who live parasitically on us taxpayers.

Government workers never worry that their jobs might get shipped off to Taiwan or Malaysia. They see their future success in making government bigger and taxes higher. This puts these white-collar bureaucrats, most of whom shuffle paper in air-conditioned offices, at odds with blue collar workers.

Millions of blue collar industrial workers were lifted to middle class incomes and lifestyles by older unions, and because of this they now feel a Republican-like resentment at seeing the fruits of their labor snatched by greedy governments and big-government advocates.

And most of these workers want a different life for their children. The power of labor unions backed by Democrat-run government was, after all, merely the power of monopoly backed by both the force of law and the threat of force.

This monopoly, along with tariffs and other barriers to prevent the importation of cheaper and better competing products, has forced American consumers to pay artificially high prices for goods made by uneducated workers whose unions extorted $20, $30, $50 dollars or more in hourly wages and benefits from companies. It was a socialist system paid for by the coercion that exploited and robbed consumers. It was a system inherently incompatible with, and unable to compete in, a free society.

This is why in the long run organized labor is doomed, a doom sealed for all to see on Monday night in Iowa.

Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of blue collar union workers nowadays vote Republican. If allowed, without fear of retaliation, to direct the share of their union dues now laundered back to Democratic politicians, these union members could sink what remains of the sorts of unions that supported Gephardt, who after Monday night’s catastrophe has become a politically-extinct species of Big Labor.

If the Iowa caucus-goers rejected Gephardt and Dean, what did they endorse by overwhelmingly favoring Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards?  For one thing, they favored candidates less prone to the rhetoric of class warfare.

Both Senators Kerry and Dean have been members of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council and of the rhetorically-centrist Senate New Democrat Coalition.

Kerry in particular in 2000 signed the Hyde Park “Third Way” Declaration that supports “expanding trade and investment because we must be a party of economic progress, not economic reaction….the Democratic Party’s mission is to expand opportunity, not government.”

Senator Kerry denounced Howard Dean as a protectionist, defended the North American Free Trade Agreement, voted for “Fast Track” trade authority for President Bill Clinton, and voted to support extending free trade in the Andes, Vietnam, China and the Third World. These are not necessarily positions favored by organized labor.

Senator Edwards has been less friendly towards NAFTA and “fast track,” at least as an authority for President Bush, but on the other free trade issues above he voted as Senator Kerry did.

Both these Iowa winners give voice to the default laborite positions of the Democratic Party, as we might expect, on a range of job and regulatory issues.

But these two politicians were deemed too weak or tepid on labor issues to win major union endorsements. Those endorsements, which went instead to Gephardt and Dean, have proven to be worth far less politically than we were misled to believe. Pay no attention to that wizard behind the union curtain. The power of organized labor to command or to intimidate was shown Monday in Iowa to be largely an illusion. Its Democrat minions no longer do as the union fat cats command.

It would be surprising to see either Kerry or Edwards grovel for union support in the wake of their Iowa wins and labor’s Iowa defeat. It is now the unions that will come hat in hand to make peace with Kerry and Edwards.

And with this shift in power, we might on Monday have seen American politics change forever.  It’s time for organized labor to repudiate socialism, disentangle itself from the Democratic Party and recommit itself to what was good in its origins -- or die.

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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