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.