Wisconsin Sounds Labor’s Death Knell


Ezra Klein looks at labor’s loss in Wisconsin last night and sounds their death knell:

For a long time, a lot of the energy has been devoted to the question of “how do you revive the labor movement?” The truth is, at this point, you probably can’t. You can slow decline. And you can score isolated wins. But it’s hard to see a real turnaround in labor’s fortunes.

But if you take labor’s decline as a given, then another question presents itself: How do you limit the resulting corporate power over elections and legislators? And that’s much more possible, even in a post-Citizens United world. There’s legislation, like the Fair Elections Now Act, that could publicly finance elections. There’s legislation, like the DISCLOSE Act, that could force so much transparency on corporate spending that it ceases to be an attractive option.

Republicans have had great success arguing that organized labor has too much political power. So much success, in fact, that it seems clear that labor will soon have too little. But last night showed that Democrats aren’t going to get very far simply disputing Republican claims on this point. Rather, they should argue that all interest groups have too much political power, and unite behind legislation that would weaken them.

I think that’s about right. But Ezra himself points out the problem with this idea: as labor gets ever weaker and corporations get ever stronger, “Democrats will have to be that much more solicitous of business demands in order to keep from being spent into oblivion.” So where does the backing come from to pass legislation that would weaken corporate interests? This is perhaps the big political/institutional question of the next couple of decades: what replaces labor as a broad-based, nationwide countervailing force against the power of business? The answer, unfortunately, remains elusive.

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