Measuring the grassroots

| Thu Mar. 17, 2005 12:39 PM EST

ABC's The Note reports that the AFL-CIO, the large umbrella group for organized labor, is using its clout to push financial service firms away from phasing out Social Security:

Previous AFL-CIO protests led two firms, Waddell and Reed and Edwards Jones, to drop out of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, which is linked closely with the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce's efforts to promote personal retirement accounts. AWRS is funded in part by the Security Industries Association.

This is to some extent of course a publicity stunt, but it will probably be somewhat effective because these companies don't like the publicity and take pains already to distance themselves from endorsing any particular Social Security reform legislation.

AFL-CIO's biggest targets are Wachovia, with its millions of every-day customers, and Charles Schwab with its legions of small investors. They hope that by linking Schwab's name with Social Security privatization in the press, Schwab will disaffiliate from AWRS. Same thing with Wachovia. The marches will also target the credit card company MBNA and insurances companies who aren't part of the coalition but who have expressed support for personal accounts, like Cigna, MetLife and Prudential. …

The AFL-CIO's clout here is somewhat unusual for an organization in decline, but the President's allies haven't found a way to combat this particular tactic yet.

Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about the Social Security battle is that, unlike in any number of other battles, the Republicans don't have a populist group ready to battle hard for phase-out. This New York Times article yesterday claimed that "both sides" were planning "extensive grassroots efforts," but I didn't see mention of anything substantive from the phase-out side of the debate, besides a few groups planning immature smear campaigns against seniors.

Evangelical groups have never been particularly keen on doing away with the program, and the larger business groups would just as soon not draw attention to themselves. As best I can tell, this website is the GOP clearing-house for grassroots efforts, and it's not any more impressive than MoveOn.org or other progressive "netroots" movements. On the other side, the unions and AARP have been doing very impressive work of late.