To no one’s surprise, organized labor stumbled in Tampa this week, as the Republican Party approved a platform aimed at dismantling the American labor movement, with a particular emphasis on public unions. I have no illusions about what the people who wrote the platform and the enormous money behind them want, which is to break, not just unions but the countervailing power of labor itself. That would enable “the malefactors of great wealth” (to use an old Republican’s term) to make even more money with even less regard for the conditions of the workforce. It’s almost like kicking a dead horse, thanks to the moribund nature of a labor movement in which under 12% of the workforce is unionized – and less than 7% of the private sector.
It may be cathartic to blame the bosses, but labor itself has much to answer for. In too many cases, it has stifled innovation, protected its power, and encouraged infiltration by the mob. It has been silent or recalcitrant on some of the most critical matters of the day. Its sole emphasis on jobs and wages has often made it antagonistic to environmental issues that may have more long-term impact on the workforce. It has reflexively opposed innovations that might improve public education. And it has offered little to the desperate plight of the inner cities, which once supplied the bulk of its membership. Labor needs to reform itself so that it can provide a broader vision to America's workers.