We have no idea if Republicans will capture the House in November, much less the Senate. We know Washington will look different next January 1. Republicans may not get all the 41 seats needed for a House majority, but they're headed for major gains in both houses that will force the president into compromises with the party he calmly ignores today. Democrats must now weigh how much they can do while they still have all the power. They have months left, but the clock is running.
Different interest groups are competing for space on Obama’s shrinking priority list, including labor. Labor spent $400 million to elect Obama and Democrats in 2008, and want their payback while the gettin’ is still good. Labor cares most about doing away with the secret ballot in union organizing elections; open elections enable union agents to pressure workers to sign up. And as Michael Barone writes, unions just spent $10 million more to defeat Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in her primary, because Lincoln last year decided now wasn’t the right time to eliminate secret ballots in union elections.
The unions wanted to eliminate Lincoln to show Obama and other Democrats they have the clout to push open voting up Obama’s priority list. But the union gamble backfired. Lincoln pulled off a surprise upset of the union-backed candidate. Lincoln’s victory means another interest group will gain priority over Obama’s agenda—at the unions’ expense.
It’s a tough time for unions, as their strength ebbs, and as people become more conscious of how unions hold back progress. Barone reports union membership dropped 771,000 between 2008 and 2009, and is down to 7.2% of the private workforce, with membership aging. While 17% of workers over 55 are union members, only 5% of those below 25 are. And for the first time, a majority of union members work for the government.
Democrats are hurting as the public learns more about how much public sector unions cost taxpayers each year, and how government is all about feeding itself, what Walter Russell Mead calls the “blue beast.” In France, where for 100 years public sector workers could blackmail the nation through general strikes (the last big one was in 1995), a very unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy is about to raise the public sector retirement age after unions could only muster 22,000 for a May public demonstration in opposition.
And back home, the amazing documentary “The Lottery” about how teachers unions battle charter schools and the parents who fight to get their children into them, could increase public disenchantment with unionized teachers. In the movie, low income parents—contrary to what unions constantly tell us—show through their actions they care desperately about their child’s education, even while denied the middle/upper class option of expensive private schools.
The parents are blocked at every turn by unions who control the schools. Unions even bus in paid outside agitators to disrupt public meetings where parents try to speak, and demonstrate outside the charter schools parents love. The blatant anti-child, anti-parent actions of New York’s American Federation of Teachers (the union that blocked Superintendent Michelle Rhee’s Washington DC reform efforts) are there for everyone to see.
Maybe the tide is finally going to turn against reactionary unionism. Four months.