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Est. April 5, 2002
March 14, 2019 - Issue 780

Will Public-Sector Unions
Hold 2020 Democratic Candidates

"Democratic success in the 2020 presidential election
may well hinge on whether unions and Democrats can
establish an effective unified, get-out-the-vote coalition
to defeat Trump.  Otherwise, there will be a
repeat of the 2016 Hillary Clinton debacle."

Unions have a decision to make as to whether they will hold 2020 Democratic presidential candidates accountable to their preferred workplace, economic, and educational policies--the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, CWA, UAW, SEIU, NEA, AFT, and other smaller unions who represent a sizeable number of organized ‘working people’ who personify the dignity of work. Since 2000, when Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore selected Joe Lieberman as his Vice Presidential running mate, the prime movers and shakers of the Democrats’ labor base have turned the other cheek as their ticket has routinely abused them by voting for public-sector privatization strategies time and again.

Lieberman, a dyed in the wool advocate for transferring public entities to the corporate sector, diplomatically pushed for privatization remedies to the challenges of public education in urban, low-income majority-minority school districts. He was able to pull the wool over the eyes of the Congressional Black Caucus at a “come to Jesus meeting,” hastily arranged by Al Gore, to calm the waters at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

The subsequent defeat of the Gore-Lieberman ticket did not actually result in unions being less well off since the two of them would have pursued many of President George W. Bush’s educational policies had they prevailed. When Obama succeeded Bush, U.S. education and labor policies worsened while labor took it on the chin again.

Currently, more than half of the announced and unannounced 2020 Democratic presidential aspirants have supported anti-public education and/or other noxious education, anti-labor, and criminal justice policies. In an effort to reinforce their Democratic allies, a researcher and an activist for the Cartel of private-sector education reformers reported, in a March 8th Wall Street Journal op-ed essay, that Democrats already control the contemporary education reform movement.

They base their findings on results of the documented financial contributions of staff members of education reform organizations funded by the Gates, Walton, and Gates Foundations to Democrats during election cycles in the last decade. Their report examining these political preferences was released last Monday.

These revelations are designed to box in Democrats, who have supported existing corporate charter and voucher schools, educational savings accounts, and similar initiatives, behind a platform that they will be forced to share with President Trump in 2020 as he outlines major cuts to public and higher education and the overall public sector. By categorizing Democrats as being on the same privatization political page as Republicans prevents them from using it as a wedge issue in the upcoming presidential contest.

Thus, the existing and prospective 2020 Democratic field present enormous challenges to the labor movement. Teachers and education support personnel have already aggressively demonstrated their angst against public school privatization policies—charters, vouchers, under-funding of K-12 public education, reductions in class size, and lack of funding for education support staff.

These were the key factors motivating the 2019 strikes and protests from coast to coast. And labor also has to be on the lookout for the expansion of the Janus decision among workers in local, state, and federal governmental agencies as Republicans are convinced they can further rein in agency fees and check-off dues in collective bargaining agreements.

Therefore, it is imperative that labor unions demand accountability from their supposed Democratic allies to carry the agenda they had previously committed to back. However, since they have rarely been held responsible for their votes to privatize public services, Democratic elected officials have acquired a comfort level in ignoring the wishes of the most loyal and active members of their base.

Now that Trump has placed two right-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, more than a 30 conservative judges on the Appellate Courts, and more than 50 on U.S. District Courts, the Republican plan is to use the Courts to transfer public sector benefits and options into the hands of the private sector especially with respect to labor and public education. The recent tax cuts are prime examples of how Trump and his Congressional bootlickers have transferred massive amounts of wealth to the one percent all-white elite while the nation is on track to becoming majority-minority, creating a modern day system of American Apartheid.

In their earnestness to advance more unequal economic opportunity and uneven social, political, and gender playing fields for the nation’s minorities, Trump and his elected Republican supplicants are hell-bent on removing one of the last pillars of opposition to the creation of an authoritarian autocracy. Race and gender are at the core of this effort to eliminate labor unions.

However, the paramount threat to unions and Democratic officeholders is the rise of ‘worker voices’ that are emerging to promote worker rights and desires outside of the traditional, political and union orbits in which they hold membership. The strikes in California, Colorado, Virginia, and West Virginia were spearheaded by individual teachers outside of their state affiliates who joined with them after groups of teachers and other public education cohorts pushed for change in their work conditions.

As a consequence, Democratic success in the 2020 presidential election may well hinge on whether unions and Democrats can establish an effective unified, get-out-the-vote coalition to defeat Trump. Otherwise, there will be a repeat of the 2016 Hillary Clinton debacle. In the coming weeks, the Farrell Report will drill down on individual 2020 Democratic candidates’ privatization and other political baggage that is antithetical to the values and objectives of the Democratic Party.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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