FIGHTING WORDS: PRIMARY EDITION

Harold Meyerson: “Next Tuesday, in fact, Connecticut Democrats will be doing exactly what small-d democratic theorists would have them do: decide an election by opting for one clear policy alternative, as personified by one candidate, over another personified by the incumbent. From a big-D Democratic perspective, Connecticut’s Democrats are doing what Democrats are hoping a clear majority of voters everywhere will do this November: reject incumbents who have supported the failed policies of this administration, the war most particularly.”

Mark Schmitt: “The real reason the Vietnam War divided and discredited Democrats and splintered the liberal consensus was because – let’s not be afraid to admit it — Democrats started that war.”

Nathan Newman: “In some ways, what Newt argued is not that different from what many in the netroots have argued — it’s just that many in the blogs are far more tepid in admiting ideas and ideology matter than old Newt. The blogs practice ideological warfare sporadically, but then seem somewhat embarassed when moderates call them on it, as if it’s something kind of dirty.”

A QUIET CONVENTION AFTER ALL?

The latest from the Change to Win Coalition is that there’s apparently a good chance that all six internationals will skip Monday’s AFL-CIO convention entirely. One leader told Harold Meyerson:

What’s the point of going when clearly there’s a majority that feels that they don’t want to make fundamental changes? We don’t want to fight with them. Why have a big fight?”

Thing is, they do want a fight over the future of the labor movement, and it’s a fight that’s sorely needed. It’s the Change to Win dissidents who’ve rightly been arguing to this point that contentious soul-searching, not superficial unity, is what the federation needs right now. So seems to me like showing up to the Chicago convention to argue for their ammendments and their vision is worth the trip, even if the deck is stacked against them We’ll see whether that happens.

Meanwhile, John Wilhelm has resigned as head of the AFL-CIO’s Immigration Committee, a post from which he built a unanimous consensus, in the face of strong initial opposition, behind the federation’s historic reversal in favor of the rights of undocumented immigrants. That change, which started out of vision and necessity in progressive locals around the country, has been and will be critical to the future of the movement. Wilhelm’s role in it demonstrates that one can and must fight for reform within the movement and for empowerment of the movement within society at the same time. His letter of resignation is here; John Sweeney responds here.

And yesterday, the Executive Board of the Teamsters voted unanimously to follow SEIU, UNITE HERE, and the Laborers in authorizing their leaders to leave the AFL-CIO:

The General President and the Presidents of the other CTWC Unions have been discussing these issues with the AFL-CIO and those discussions are continuing. It is apparent, however, that, without dramatic change in structure and leadership, the Federation and its affiliated Unions will be unable to accelerate the organizing necessary to reverse the downward trend in union membership and will be unable to protect existing contract standards that establish fair wages and working conditions for our members and the members of other responsible Unions.

If there is not substantial change at the AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters must chart its own, independent course, must work with the like-minded Unions that are part of the Change To Win Coalition, and must pursue our own programs to accelerate organizing, increase Union density in our core industries, rebuild the labor movement and insure a better future for workers and their families.

I’m headed off for the weekend to a libertarian seminar (no, I haven’t gone over to the dark side – I’m just willing to accept free room and board and senior essay fodder from them) – more on all this once I escape from Hayek-ville…

Earlier this week I got the chance to hear League of Conservation Voters President Deb Callahan present an impressively self-aware critique of the operation of LCV and other American environmentalist groups, in which she compared the 11 million Americans in environmental groups to the 13 million in unions and asked why the latter had representation that was so much more effective than the former. Her answer, in large part, was that the environmental movement needs to shift its resources from soft money campaigning into grassroots organizing. Amen to that. During the question period, I asked Callahan why a movement fighting injustices which disproportionately target people of color has membership and leadership that’s so overwhelmingly white. Her answer was part rationalization, part apology, and part putting forth the beginnings of a program to build a movement based around the people who, she argued, should be its real base: Harlem families whose kids all have athsma rather than wealthy liberals in San Francisco.

One step she mentioned was the funding and organizing LCV has invested in the past week in Barack Obama, the black state senator and former community organizer running in the heated Democratic Senate primary this Tuesday. Obama, who’s also been endorsed by SEIU, UNITE, and Jesse Jackson Jr., is a real progressive who’s pulled ahead of more conservative millionaires and demonstrated a strong chance of becoming the only African-American in the Senate come November. Check out his website here.

As Harold Meyerson argued Friday in the Washington Post, electing this man, according to all signs, would be a major victory not only for Illinois but for a revitalized Democratic party and America.

In this week’s American Prospect, Harold Meyerson considers the lessons of HERE’s triumph in making the Las Vegas hotels union business. Las Vegas is in today’s service economy what Detroit once was in an industrial economy: a demonstration that a strong labor movement is the route to a strong middle class. The approach Meyerson describes – directing resources towards organizing towards high density, creating broad-based organizing committees, training rank-and-file to shoulder responsibility, partnering with management for real vocational training – are at the heart of the New Unity Partnership HERE President John Wilhelm and others are pushing for the AFL-CIO.