The Role of Labor in Politics Labor unions constitute a major component of economic pressure groups that exist in a predominantly capitalistic system of production. Just like all the other components of economic pressure groups, labor unions also serve other functions as opposed to the primary role of lobbying. Such additional functions can either be of socioeconomic or political interests. The labor union is the most dominant single type of economic and political pressure group organization whose role in the political establishment cannot be ignored. It is not a preserve of gossip that there are several state democratic leaders that have ascended to office by simply acting as puppets of labor interests. It is with the same notion of labor electoral strength that Republicans view labor unions as not just another pressure group but a real determinant of enemy strength. From its nascence to the eventual maturity of labor unions as important institutions in the American historical landscape, the inextricable linkage between labor and politics marked the contours of the political position of the labor movement as an integral principal actor in American election politics through participation in political party campaigns, community mobilization and even participation in the local government.
When the history of labor unions is analyzed, one cannot downplay the interplay between the history of labor and the roles that workers who are constituents of labor institutions and the electoral politics arena. Between the years of 1914-1921, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) doubled its membership from less than 2 million members to more than 4 million members. The historical significance of labor in relation to political and economic objectives marked this duration of enlargement.
During the war the political and economic objective of the state relied heavily on the provision of adequate, reliable and unremitting labor because victory was almost solely dependent on provision of products necessary for winning the conflict. It is during this time that labor unions and organization gained great prominence because they had to be consulted and their cooperation had to be earned to ensure high unremitting labor turnover (Carroll 3). Ideally, workers became more sensitized as well as disaffected by the novel installations and cost accounting systems.
Labor became the instrument of authority and driver of political and economic policy like it had never been before. The resultant effect was that wages soared, though not proportionate to the rising cost of living. The President of the American Federation of Labor was sought by the political establishment, the industrial establishment and all other stakeholders who had the union members under their employment. The armistice led to the slump in the industry and naturally the unions were supportive of the maintenance of wages in the face of the economic adversity and because this was impossible under such a capitalistic system, unemployment rates skyrocketed and strikes became the byword. However, the unions attempt to hold workers to employment by dictating individual workers production output created resentment among the members hence the beginning of the democratization of labor federations in accordance the nationally accepted democratic principles. Contrary to popular belief the insistence on compulsory unionism should not be the bedrock of labor movements in the world even though they are widely embraced in the United States of America and in some countries in Europe. In line with democracy and the universal right of freedoms, labor movements should espouse the principle of voluntary membership if they were to be regarded as champions of universal workers rights. The onset of stringent management approach of labor unions has been the force behind the loss of considerable influence of labor unions.
The loss of strength can also be explained by the fact that legalization of compulsory membership has been responsible for the death of labor unionism spirit as members who belong to such organizations do not do so out of free will but legal coercion. Such is the case of dishonesty and corruption that currently bedevils labor unions because leaders do not have the incentive to act responsibly since workers do not chose to be members but are legally required to attain such membership(Goldwater et al 45). Even though the influence of labor unions on the American political landscape has considerably diminished, they still matter politically engaging deep into the nasty political scuffle. There have been arguments that the labor movement died a natural death inflicted by globalization and technological changes, however, it should be understood that in the beginning of 1970s, the vibrant and expanding corporate America which had initially maintained a cooperative relationship with the labor unions began to began to disenchant itself from that relationship hence spelling a death blow to the labor union movement which was the principal actor on organized labor. Moreover, political support of corporate America ensured that they employed both legal and sometimes illegal means to always keep the labor unions at bay. When this is coupled to the fact that conservative interest was a direct opposite of the labor union interests, the democrats remained the sole major supporter of trade unionism as a partial political entity. This explains the reason why the new democratic movement and the ascendancy of a democratic candidate as the 44th President of the United States of America has partly been facilitated by labor union support.
It is historically evident that labor has made modest political successes by ensuring that the candidates they endorse are victors. Organized labor has been a useful tool in electing and reelecting leaders to office especially democrats with active union political activity. The role of labor in determining the identity of a presidential nominee has been a very influential role that purposes to install only those individuals with the capacity to endorse or advance the labor union agenda. Notable candidates in the race to the White House who relied heavily on labor union endorsement and subsequent mobilization are Bill Clinton, the former President of the United States of America and the 44th President-elect Barrack Obama. In the run up to the Bush- Al Gore presidential tussle, Aflo-CIO endorsed Gore early on in the electioneering process. This was followed by the UAW and the Teamsters who endorsed him later on. Despite the unsuccessful attempt by the democrats to clinch the presidential seat, the message of trade unionism remained utterly clear and their unwavering support is still expected to be supportive of democratic principles even in future political electoral processes. The inextricable linkage between labor and politics is an economically modeled linkage since the labor product is but a by product of the industrial activities that form the nations economic backbone.
Because employees deserve a right to earn a living and that right is mainly a product of the political establishment responsible for economic reforms, it follows that the interrelatedness of industrialization and labor unions have the capacity to model the political establishment. This connection can be traced to the earlier decades of labor union movement when labor unions abandoned their primary legislative agenda of collective bargaining with employees on workers rights, freedoms, liberties and responsibilities and instead concentrated on the political front. Such political orientations were responsible for the relative political instability during the era of America’s earlier labor unions.
The realignment of labor unions towards their primary legislative agenda has been the cause of the relative political stability in recent years. It is also this paradigm shift that saw unions deeply concentrate in engaging directly with the employers hence voluntary union membership because only the employers had the capacity to force their employees into union membership. It is historically evident that labor unions only retained their weight in the political struggle only after they had abandoned earlier political inclinations that had converted them to political organizations. The institution of compulsory union membership through the Wagner Act stimulated the drastic increase in membership enrollments. After this the union realized that they had a potential to play a more definitive role in politics. It is not very certain how a country such as the United States of America succeeded in instituting compulsory membership of unions while remaining steadfast in the pursuit of democratic principles. All in all, the magnitude of union membership and the adherence of members to the union constitution, values, goals, and strategic objectives are the bedrock upon which political influence is built.
As employers campaigned for employee loyalty through expansion of anti-union strategies, the power of the labor unions which had been established as the protector of the employees began to wane. To offers a more integrated approach to collective bargaining, unions began to adopt a more management oriented approach where employee loyalty was gained through establishment of welfare capitalistic programs. It is at this point where political cooperation became a necessity to ensure that the primary responsibility of protecting workers from employer exploitation was achieved. These comprehensive progressive political goals that had once been pursued by the labor organizations became replaced by a more tolerant model of economic voluntarism where the union acts as an independent agency for the achievement of economic objectives which are distinct from political objectives and goals (Jong Oh Ra 19). This revival has been the factor towards the relative harmony existing between capital and labor.
This analysis of the existing linkage between labor and politics justifies the involvement of the labor unions in political campaigns. Just like other notable economic pressure groups, the labor movement possess an innate responsibility to redress the wrongs perpetuated by the capitalistic system through the adoption and championing of democratic rights as well as equitable representation in the political sphere. The political establishment is the only component that is able to institute a believable stimulus aimed at ensuring that fundamental rights of workers are respected and upheld. It is therefore a necessity that the labor unions possess part of the ability to institute such a reform stimulus through participation in political campaigns through staffing, financing and deliberately pushing for the election of political candidates that espouse the same beliefs as the labor unions.Works CitedAsher, B.
Herbert, Heberlig, S. Eric., Ripley, B. Randall. American Labor Unions in the Electoral Arena.
Rowman ; Littlefield. 2001. p. 166-168Caroll, R. Mollie.
Labor and Politics. Ayer Publishing. 1969. p. 3-5Goldwater, C.C., Will, F.
George., Kennedy, F. Robert (Jar). The Conscience of a Conservative. Princeton University Press. 2007.