Labor’s unhappy marriage to the Democrats

Original article, an exceprt from Lance Selfa’s new book The Democrats: A Critical History via

After eight long years of George W. Bush, millions of people are counting the days to the inauguration of a Democratic president. But would a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Congress deliver on the promise of change that so many people want to see?

Lance Selfa is a columnist and editorial board member of the International Socialist Review. His new book, The Democrats: A Critical History, documents how, time after time, the party that claims to represent ordinary people has betrayed their aspirations of ordinary people while pursuing an agenda favorable to big business.

In this excerpt from the book, Lance examines the era when Franklin Roosevelt’s Democratic Party cemented its alliance with organized labor–with unions as the junior partner.

It’s a good read.  I’ve yet to get the book itself, so I can’t speak to the rest of it.  However, I think it’s well worthwhile to take a look at the Senior member of the duoparty firm, particularly at an era many of us look back at quite whistfully.

THE GREAT Depression marked the greatest crisis U.S. capitalism had faced since the Civil War. Political and business leaders worried that the country was ripe for upheaval–perhaps even for revolution. “I say to you, gentlemen, advisedly, that if something is not done and starvation is going to continue, the doors to revolt in this country are going to be thrown open,” an American Federation of Labor (AFL) official told Congress in 1932. Powerful movements of industrial workers grew up over the next few years, culminating in the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935 and a massive strike wave in 1936 and 1937.

Note: My emphasis.

We know that there was no real revolt.  We know that there was no real socialist revolution.  We also know that WW II was on the horizon.  This excerpt is a critique of the F D Roosevelt administration and it’s actions in response to the Great Depression.  The difference is, this critique comes from the left of Roosevelt.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had not taken office in 1933 with the intention of championing workers’ rights or of creating a welfare state. For much of his campaign against President Herbert Hoover, he attacked Hoover for “reckless” spending and pledged to balance the budget by cutting federal spending by 25 percent. The 1932 Democratic platform affirmed the call for a balanced budget, a 25 percent cut in the federal spending, and a call for the states to follow suit. In words familiar to free-market capitalists, it also called for “the removal of government from all fields of private enterprise except where necessary to develop public works and natural resources in the common interest.” What is perhaps more amazing is the fact that the platform said nothing about labor issues and did not even include the word “union.”

I’ll leave the rest for you to read.  What I can say is that it’s enlightening to see that Roosevelt was moved more by need than by any progressivism.  Much of what little remains of our social safety net came about through the need of the country, not because we had a great leader battering down the walls of a broken economic system from the start.  Perhaps we’re at such a point again.

I suspect that any ‘change’ to our current system will come about the same way.  We can always ‘hope’ so!

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