Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Laboring for American Workers

Laboring for American Workers
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, August 31, 2022, p. A5

Where have all the workers gone? And what can Democrats do about it next Monday?

Had Democrats stuck with the coalition Franklin Roosevelt bequeathed them they would today be winning by wide margins every election from the local schoolhouse to the White House.

That coalition carries forward in the name, “the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party.” Not incidentally, that party controls half of Minnesota's U.S. House seats, both U.S. Senate seats, the lower house of the state legislature, and the governorship.

Both parties have watched the cost of presidential and congressional campaign expenses go from $23 million in 1952 ($257 million in 2020 dollars) to $14.4 billion in 2020 – a 56 fold increase.

In response, the Democrats tried to build a national political party with money from the east coast and voters on the left coast. The result? Flyover country became fly away country. When workers asked, “What have you done for us lately?” all they heard was crickets.

By the 2020 election 83 percent of the 3112 U.S. counties studied were solid Republican. Iowa Democrats’ results were worse: 94 percent of the counties went for Trump. (Democrats picked up the three counties with state universities plus Polk, Linn, and Scott.)

The pay and benefits of union jobs that had enabled workers to enjoy the middle-class rewards of homes, cars, boats and college-educated kids had largely disappeared. When the air traffic controllers went on strike in 1981 President Reagan shut out the union and fired 3,000 members. His message to industry leaders? Union busting is OK.

In the 1950s 35 percent of private sector workers belonged to unions. By 2012, after a half-century of Republicans’ successful efforts at union busting, it had fallen to 6.6 percent. [Photo credit: The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.]

Union members were not just a source of funds and votes. They also used to do the most significant share of the heavy lifting – door knocking, leaflet distribution, phone calling, and taking voters to the polls.

Today much of that person-to-person campaigning goes undone.

I recall (but can’t find) a Wall Street Journal item in the early 1960s about a firm in California that claimed it could elect anyone to any office with a $100,000 TV-only campaign. With no TV competition they were quite successful. During 2019-2020 political TV, radio and digital advertising reached $8.5 billion.

But today’s TV effectiveness is not what it used to be. And mastery of political use of social media has yet to occur.

Democrats can’t magic wand their party’s problems away.

Meanwhile, what Democrats can do is to seize the ultimate teachable moment each Labor Day offers the party – starting with next Monday.

They can organize Labor Day Democratic party celebrations and rallies in communities and neighborhoods around the country. They can emphasize what the party’s elected officials have delivered to working people over the past century. Not today’s candidates’ promises. What Republicans have done to oppose them, further enriching the wealthy while ignoring, or opposing, workers’ interests.

It's no cure-all, but it sure would be a good start.
Nicholas Johnson was a board member, DNC Harriman Communications Center.

Minnesota DFL. “Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party,” Wikipedia, (“It is currently the state's favored party, controlling half of Minnesota's U.S. House seats, both U.S. Senate seats, the lower house of the state legislature, and the governorship.”)

Campaigns cost. “$23 Million for 1952 Campaigns,” CQ Almanac [Congressional Quarterly], 1953, (“GOP Reports $13,814,997, Democrats $6,159,844 For White House, Capital Races; CQ Lists Spending Reports Of 133 Groups, Names $5,000 Donors In 30 States

The 1952 campaign, Presidential and Congressional, cost the two major parties and other national political groups $23 million, according to reports filed with the Clerk of the House by political organizations. The total includes expenditures for Congressional campaigns. (For detailed analysis of Congressional campaign spending, see page 40.)

Republican Congressional candidates and national and special political committees spent a total of $13.8 million. Democratic groups and candidates spent $6.2 million. The remaining $3 million was recorded as expenditures by labor groups, minor parties and unaffiliated political groups.”)

Karl Evers-Hillstrom, “Most Expensive Ever: 2020 Election Cost $14.4 Billion,” Open Secrets, Feb. 11, 2021, (“Political spending in the 2020 election totaled $14.4 billion, . . .. While the presidential election drew a record $5.7 billion, congressional races saw a stunning $8.7 billion in total spending.”)

“$1 in 1952 is Worth $11.18 Today,” CPI Inflation Calculator,,cumulative%20price%20increase%20of%201%2C018.02%25 [based on U.S. Bureau of Statistics data] (“Value of $1 from 1952 to 2022. $1 in 1952 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $11.18 today, an increase of $10.18 over 70 years. The dollar had an average inflation rate of 3.51% per year between 1952 and today, producing a cumulative price increase of 1,018.02%.”) [Thus, the 2020 value of $23 million in 1952 would be $257 million.]

Republican counties. Samuel Wonacott, “87% of Americans Live in a County That Has Voted For the Same Party in the Past Three presidential Elections,” Ballotpedia News, (“After the 2020 presidential election, 288 million Americans lived in either a Solid Democratic or Republican county, 87.2% of the 330 million covered in this analysis.” map of counties; 459 solid Democratic, 2368 solid Republican)

“Donald Trump Won in Iowa,” Politico, Jan. 6, 2021, (map showing counties)

Percentage in unions. Mike Collins, “The Decline Of Unions Is A Middle Class Problem,” Forbes, Mar. 19, 2015, (“President Reagan - Reagan Kicked off the era of union busting by successfully shutting out the air traffic controllers union in 1981. After a nationwide strike 3,000 workers were dismissed by Reagan. This was a signal to industry that union busting was o.k. It was also a signal to future presidents and politicians that taking an anti-union stance was not necessarily a political liability.”

“In 2013 the unionized workforce in America hit a 97 year low. Only 11.3% of all workers were unionized. In the private sector unionization fell to 6.6%, down from a peak of 35% in the 1950s. American corporations have made a concerted effort to get rid of unions and reduce labor costs since 1980, and they have been very successful.”)

“Unions by the Numbers,” Barnes & Thornburg, Jan. 24, 2022, (“In 2021, the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions continued to decline (-241,000) to 14.0 million, and the percent who were members of unions was 10.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The rate is down from 10.8 percent in 2020 . . ..” crediting U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

TV ads. Howard Homonoff, “2020 Political Ad Spending Exploded: Did It Work?” Forbes, Dec. 8, 2020, (“In the 2019-2020 election cycle, total political advertising spending reached $8.5 billion across TV, radio and digital media. This was 30% higher than the $6.7 billion projected earlier this year, and 108% more than spending in 2017-2018, which was a record at that time. We saw 9.3 million of TV ads alone in more than 4300 federal, state and local elections ….”)
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