GBLC Breakfast

The leadership and activists of most Boston-based labor unions have moved strongly into the Governor campaign during this, the last ten days of it. A few, SEIU especially, were already there, all-in as eaarly as before the Primary. Now most of the other unions have joined them.

The question is, “why ?” Why now ?

It’s too late, most likely, and too little, to change the outcome. One union activist likes to tell me that in last year’s Boston Mayor election Marty Walsh’s labor supporters knocked on 30,000 doors. But they started their effort much earlier, and faced an electorate 150,000 strong. In the Governor election, 2,000,000 people will vote. A proportionate labor effort would require them to knock on 400,000 doors.

They know the math as well as do the Governor candidates. So why are they doing it ? Why all the physical effort to influence, at best, about 20,000 votes ?

The answer : 2016. The Presidential campiagn has already begun. In it, labor unions are determined to have a major say in — even to choose — which Democrat is nominated. In last year’s Mayor election, the determination of union labor (not all, but most) to choose a labor man as Mayor, and to attack his equally Democratic, but decidedly Clintonian, opponent in the event, almost split the Massachusetts Democratic party. That, and the split between Democrats for Education Reform and teachers’ unions, set a stage — as I forecasted then in several Here and Sphere columns — now moves to the next step.

That step beagn on Friday, as Hillary Clointon took the speaker’s podium at park plaza hotel. She came here ostensibly on behalf of the local Democratic ticket, but, more likely, on behalf of herself. And if she runs, she now looks unstoppable. Polls accord her from 58 to 67 percent of Democratic Primary voters, Vice President Joe Biden about 14 percent. And then there’s Senator Elizabeth Warren — whom few Massachusetts voters want to see run for President. As if sentiment could caution ambition.

Which of these becomes the nominee matters hugely bto labor unions. As we see, the wages of most workers have stagnated or fallen since ten to fifteen years ago, while the salaries of top managers and CEOs has boomed exponentially. Most wage earners can’t do much more these days than pay the necessities. Many live one pay check from broke. The Boston building boom, like the Big Dig before it, has put big wages into the budgets of building trades unionists; but for service workers and most industrial unions, wages are losing ground to living costs; unfair labor practices abound too; and the nation’s labor laws have lost much of their sting through weak, even non-existent enforcement.

No labor union leader wants these conditions to worsen, nor to continue. They want a better deal; justice says they should have it; but economic justice wull be hard to win. thus the battle for it has to begin now, and it has.

The Governor race has seen the effect of labor’s urgency. Many unions might well have endorsed Charlie Baker, who as overseer of the Big Dig, was a good friend to construction workers. The Hotel Workers endorsed Bill Weld in 1990. They might have done so this time too : Baker has, since May, put a proposal out to sell state owned land, in Boston especially, to developers at a small price in order to generate the building of affordable housing. He says of his plan, “Mayor Walsh is making permitting easier; labor will always be expensive, but there’s no reason why land acquisition should be.” Note the words about labor. To my ears, that is an offer : under Baker’s plan, everything will be made easy so that construction workers can “always” earn “expensive” wages.

I think that what has happened since, between labor unions and the Governor campaign, is this ; because labor unions are trying to dominate the Democratic party for 2016, they can’t very well bolt it by endorsing Baker. But they can, and have, withheld commitment to the Democratic ticket until very late; so late that their campaign will advance their influence within the party while not changing the Beacon Hill outcome. If I’m right, it’s a very smart move, one that suggests some — not all — labor leaders have learned how to naviagate political waters bigger than their footprint but liquid enough to be redirected to the right economic beach.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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