Fed Up But Nowhere To Go


The AFL-CIO has released the results of a very interesting survey of voters in last week’s Massachusetts special Senate election. It finds that Scott Brown, the Republican candidate, won on the strength of a “working class revolt” that gave him a 20-point margin of victory among non-college educated voters. In spite of the AFL-CIO’s efforts, Brown even scored a narrow 49%-46% majority of voters from union households according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Unsurprisingly, that bit of information didn’t make it into the union federation’s press release.

The rest of the major findings can be found in the AFL-CIO press release, so I won’t recapitulate them here. But the poll raises a very important question: what exactly are the Democrats and the official labor movement going to do to address the economic insecurities of the American working class? After the election, President Obama flew to Ohio to rail against “fat cat” bankers and call for tighter regulation of Wall Street, but will an administration that has spent the last year being Wall Street’s best friend abruptly change course? Perhaps the Democrats’ political survival instincts will overcome their fealty to capital, but I’m skeptical that this will happen in any significant fashion.

And I’m even less sanguine about the possibility of the labor movement putting workers in the streets to demand that the Democrats pursue a progressive economic agenda. After all, as Leo Gerard of the Steelworkers put it last year, “demonstrations are less needed in the United States…because often all that is needed is some expert lobbying in Washington to line up the support of a half-dozen senators.” The mainstream American labor movement has never been very good at pursuing the interests of workers as a class and I would be shocked if they saw the light now, especially with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress.

So we find ourselves in a very curious and frustrating situation. The working class is pissed off and potentially ready to be mobilized in support of a broadly progressive economic agenda, but is throwing its votes toward Republicans because there’s no genuine left alternative, and there probably won’t be one anytime soon.

We have so, so much work to do.

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  1. the government is seen as spending too much. they take 33% of your paycheck and have you on the hook for more. that outweighs any “justice” they allegedly provide to anyone. people want something cheaper, they’re voting with their wallets

  2. Great photo to accompany this article!

  3. The government does indeed spend too much — on everything except genuine social welfare programs which could benefit the entire population.

    I keep hoping that Greenhouse didn’t quote Gerard accurately — Gerard is one of the better labor tops, after all — but I suspect my hopes are in vain.

  4. It’s hard to draw many firm conclusions from that poll report – other than that the country is deeply divided. This follows from the fact that so many divisions were pretty close: on the order of 50% to 40%. I know a 10 point spread isn’t “close”, perhaps, to a political pundit, but it seems pretty close to me. But also, the reactions seemed a little all over the map, so it was hard to find a consistent ideological point of view even in the results that were more like a 2:1 ratio. But maybe this was just a fault of my one, quick reading.

    On thing that really did strike me, though, was this:

    “Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly say they want Scott Brown to be
    bipartisan and work with Obama and congressional Democrats, rather than
    stick to his conservative philosophy and work to defeat the Democrats’
    agenda: 76% to 21% among all voters and 61% to 36% among Brown’s own

    This means that about 30% of the total electorate (.5 x .61) assumed that the candidate would do whatever they wanted him to, when he got to Washington, instead of what he had said he would do, and what his record would indicate he would do. In other words, they voted from pure fantasy!

    In broader terms (and bringing in a few background assumptions), this suggests that, say, 1/4 to 1/3 of the U.S. electorate makes no deeper political analysis when voting than “I’m not happy, so I’ll vote for change,” with “change” interpreted as toggling parties. Given the close division of the more analytical portion of the electorate, this substantial minority of pure “know nothing” voters is more than enough to swing elections.

    It’s hard to conceive of a political strategy which would effectively address that problem. Maybe instant runoff voting, plus two or more left of center parties…

  5. “The government does indeed spend too much — on everything except genuine social welfare programs which could benefit the entire population.”

    we agree on something!

    and yes one thing that was lost in this was that coakley did get more than a million votes , she lost by what 100,000. and she was an awful candidate.

  6. It is true that some of the poll results are all over the place, which is par for the course for American voters (did you see some of the results in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling. Those were pretty contradictory). But they do show how terribly limited our country’s political/ideological framework is in offering people alternatives to the status quo. And if anything, I think the vast majority of the electorate typically votes on the basis of pure fantasy. Barack Obama is one of the best examples of that, I think.

  7. “Wealth is when small efforts produce big results. Poverty is when big efforts produce small results.” – George David

  8. Here’s Seymour’s two cents, but I’m afraid it’s rather empty advice too: http://leninology.blogspot.com/2010/01/obama-dream-dies.html

  9. was that olbermans blog?

  10. It’s the return of the Reagan Democrat phenomenon. Working class voters see a politician acting as if he’s genuinely interested in them personally and wants to “unleash their individual energy”. What this means, of course, is abandoning collective action for what is portrayed as the unleashing of creative energies. It’s feel-good, Tony Robbins kind of stuff. In most other nations, there’s a movement of fellow workers to pull the working class back from this (active labor unions, labor parties) and say “but what of your fellow man?” Absent of that, the siren song of the Myth of the Working Man Who Pulls Himself Up and Gets Filthy Rich takes over. It’s a romantic image that has no romantic competitor here, really.

  11. Does the problem involve fiat currency, the federal reserve, or not voting for Ron Paul?

  12. “But the poll raises a very important question: what exactly are the Democrats and the official labor movement going to do to address the economic insecurities of the American working class?”

    Nothing. They can do nothing. The Democrats are beholden to private capital, as is the official labor movement. Does this really need to be explained, especially now when the class war has become as naked and vicious as it has been in recent years? A truly working-class movement, irrespective of whether or not it is even socialist, can only come from outside the official channels.

    This is the reason there is no viable leftist alternative to the status quo in America. The left in America has suffers from a fear of failure. They would rather put their faith in the Democrats than take matters into their own hands. When, by his own admission, the Obama administration has “spent the last year being Wall Street’s best friend,” the author insults our intelligence by asking us whether or not their “survival instincts” will suddenly cause them to “overcome their fealty to capital.” The Democrats’ “survival instincts” are already on full display. It should be –or rather, is– obvious to everyone, except for the left which clings to the naive conviction that the Democrats are fit to govern. The idea that healthcare reform that is not positively regressive is even possible under our present political system is a useful fiction for the powers-that-be to employ in subordinating and otherwise emasculating the Left in America.

    • Well, right after the sentence you quote, I said “I’m skeptical that this will happen in any significant fashion,” so I don’t know how I have insulted your intelligence. And if you poke around on here you’ll see that all of us (including myself) have been highly critical of the healthcare “reform” that the Democrats have proposed and would like to build a political and labor movement outside of the official channels.

  13. I enjoy what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever
    work and coverage! Keep up the terrific works guys I’ve added you guys to our blogroll.

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