The 5 Letter Word that Scares Chuck Schumer

Democrats are in the midst of releasing their “better deal” economic platform this week. With the federal government enveloped in terrifying corruption and chaos, Democrats are perfectly poised to offer a clear, empowering alternative to the GOP’s current “platform” of greed, complicity and division.

And already, I worry that Democrats are letting this golden opportunity slip away, leaving activists like me pessimistic about our chances of restoring democracy and retaking the House of Representatives in 2018.

Case in point: In his op-ed earlier this week, Senator Charles Schumer managed to write an entire article about how Democrats plan to protect American workers without using the word “union” even once. And he’s not alone. Mainline Democratic leadership across the board seems to harbor a pathological fear of the U word- presumably out of fear of alienating their corporate donors. Nancy Pelosi wrote a similar “union” free article. Which leads me, a unionized public school teacher and nearly full time activist, to conclude that they still do not get it.

Take this paragraph from Schumer’s op-ed:

There used to be a basic bargain in this country that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could own a home, afford a car, put your kids through college and take a modest vacation every year while putting enough away for a comfortable retirement. In the second half of the 20th century, millions of Americans achieved this solid middle-class lifestyle. I should know — I grew up in that America.

But things have changed.

One would think that Senator Schumer knows what largely made that “basic bargain” possible: Unions. Yet the U word is nowhere to be found in this “better deal.”

(To be clear, I understand, as I hope Senator Schumer does too- that the bargain existed for primarily white men and that a better social contract would be first and foremost inclusive )  

Think of all those coal and manufacturing jobs that middle America, Donald Trump, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and just about everyone longs for- the only reason those were good jobs is because of collective bargaining and union power. The reason the abused factory workers of the turn of the century became the stable suburban middle class families of the 40s and 50s? Unions.

I oversimplify a bit, and admit I am not a labor historian.  But it is no coincidence that America was most equal when its’ unions were most powerful and pervasive. If Chuck Schumer and his cohorts really want to offer American workers a “better deal, they should start by restoring the “U” word to prominence, empowering unions and championing the organizing efforts of non-protected workers in the service, contract and domestic work industries.

As Nick Hanauer, Seattle based entrepreneur and living wage supporter, wrote in his brilliant article, “To My Fellow Plutocrats, We Can Cure Trumpism,”:

“There is no earthly reason why an entry-level job at low-wage employers like Walmart or McDonalds could not pay $15 or even $20 per hour with full benefits, the way an old factory job used to. There is nothing “unskilled” about a barista or a home health care worker, and no economic principle that prevents these workers from earning a living wage. The only difference between today’s service workers and yesterday’s manufacturing workers is that most service workers have no union, and thus have no power.”

Both public and private sector unions have been under attack by Democrats and Republicans for the last 40 years with union membership declining across the country. Republican controlled state governments have passed “right to work” laws to make it harder for workers to organize and remain in the middle class. Public school teachers- who remain one of the few remaining strong union forces in this country- have been viciously attacked and undermined by everyone and their grandmother in the last 20 years- from Arne Duncan, to Andrew Cuomo, Mike Bloomberg, George W. Bush, and yes, even Barack Obama.

If Democrats really want to put forth a positive, populist economic message that will truly benefit American workers, they need to do much more than restore common sense anti-trust laws and take on drug companies- or even raise the minimum wage.

To truly protect American workers- and I believe to win in 2018- Democrats must empower ALL workers- whether domestic employees, service workers, the growing corps of renewable energy laborers , contract workers and freelancers-  to negotiate for fair salaries, quality benefits, paid leave policies and job security while challenging the avarice of CEO’s that want to keep profits out of the hands of their employees. The way to do this is to stop ignoring and undermining union power, and reclaim the mantle of labor as a party. Get organized Democrats. The U word is back in style.