Baby Blogger. This is my first post originally from Progressive Queer Flair.
Primary season is unavoidable. As Obama by the day becomes more and more the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, we begin to see many individuals of the Democratic progressive community coalesce around his candidacy. Today, Obama announced the support of both the Teamsters Union and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. This of course happening just days after the Service Employers International Union announced its endorsement of Senator Barack Obama. These unions will play a big role in trying to resolve this drawn out primary by attempting to project Obama to victory in the March 4th Texas/Ohio primaries.
Obama has a lot of labor-friendly support to thank thusfar and unions will be holding him to it if he can win the general.
We are at a critical point in the union movement and I cannot stress that enough. As unions endorse candidates, those same unions are heading into the 2008 elections and beyond as a growing movement. Just recently the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that, for the first time since 1979, membership in unions actually increased (link from Pride At Work):
Washington, DC- The Bureau of Labor Statistics released their annual union membership numbers, showing an overall increase of 311,000 union members in 2007, increasing union density from 12.0% to 12.1%. This is the largest increase in union membership since 1979. Today’s number shows a resurgence of labor activism in the face of tremendous corporate resistance and a broken National Labor Relations Board.
"These numbers are good news for all working people, but especially for
minorities, including women." said Nancy Wohlforth, Pride At Work Co-President and AFL-CIO Executive Council Member. "Over 201,000 women joined unions in 2007, nearly twice the amount of men. Women know that the best way to get the same pay as their male co-workers is through a union contract."
In the beginning of what looks like an expanded Democratic tide coming to the U.S. Congress and the White House, we are also seeing a resurgence of the traditional progressive institutions- along with new ones- that have been essential to the modern Democratic Party. These progressive institutions are what will keep Democrats from being Republican-lite and actually push them to be the progressive, REAL change that this country needs. It takes more than a D behind a candidate's name to know whether or not they can be called a friend of labor or a friend of the queer community. We've seen Democrats cave on pushing for single payer health care and we've seen them cave on supporting an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Democrats need a movement around them that is about accountability to their progressive constituients. Labor can become a component of a reconstituted movement for accountability, to ensure that Democrats represent their voting base before Corporate funders. Labor is a vehicle that will become more important as we face pressing economic times. This is why it is heartening to see that much of the growth in unions has been around traditionally underrepresented groups of people in the progressive movement: Private service sector Americans, women, racial/ethnic minorities and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals.
Pride At Work highlights the intersections of LGBT and Unionized Labor identity:
"For the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, these numbers should bring hope as we struggle for full equality," said T Santora, Pride At Work Co-President and President of CWA Local 9000. "In the last three years alone, we’ve seen 9 International Unions endorse an end to marriage discrimination, we’ve seen union activists band together to remove transgender exclusions from health care plans, and most recently we’ve seen union officials, members, and staff directly lobby Congress for an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would end workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation AND gender identity."
Organizing around traditionally excluded groups has benefited Labor immensely. By building these ties to under-represented communities, we've seen a rise in union membership by women and increased union activism by LGBT members as witnessed by the existance of Pride at Work and the work of countless LGBT labor organizers. Without a doubt this increased activism can be witnessed in many more under-represented communities, as every already disadvantaged communities prepares to face an economic downturn. Labor unions are increasingly there for us, we need to make sure that we return the favor.
Given the increasing support from unions to women, LGBT people and many other communities, it is hard to not see an expansion of unions nationally as a victory for civil rights and social justice on all levels. This is why in 2009, the Employee Free Choice Act will be a very dear- and indeed very queer- issue to me. MissLaura lays put the issue very precisely:
Workers will gain the ability to join unions - and unions bring higher wages, better
pensions, health insurance. Unions will be more able to organize workers,
leading to higher union density, which in turn raises the benefits of
unionization still more. And strong unions help the Democratic party.
In 2006, The labor movement, despite being more divided and depleted than it has been in decades, produced record participation in the 2006 campaign, contacting 13.4 million voters in 32 battleground states and supplying 187,000 volunteers to help Democrats match the GOP's get-out-the-vote machine, which was far better financed. Not only did organized labor put money and volunteers into Democratic campaigns, its members voted for Democrats: According to an AFL-CIO survey, 74% of union members voted Democratic.
Growth in Labor means a growth in the progressive machine that is a core component of today's Democratic Party. An increase in labor rises all boats, whether it be LGBT rights, womens' rights, immigrants' rights, racial justice etc. When I claim the Employee Free Choice Act as a queer issue, it's damn well because the union movement has chosen LGBT rights as a union issue. We all are each others issues. Let's organize around that and realize that a rising tide lifts all boats.
And as for our presumptive Democratic nominee, Change is a very powerful message, but us activists know quite well that sooner rather than later it will be us clamoring for change before you even warm up the White House chairs. It is not our candidates who bring change, but the movements behind them. Let's hold them accountable and push them towards a progressive future.