There is a great article up at Alternet (probably the best political news site). It's a shortened version of a segment by Rachel Maddow in which she declares that Dwight Eisenhower would be seen as a raging progressive today. There was a great segment in there about unions that I think would provide some clarity:
You want to talk about red meat for the base? Listen to some of the language the president used. "Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. And a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society." Wow.
How about this one? "Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of their right to join the union of their choice."
The reason why this has so much trouble applying to today is because, as this society has became rooted in consumerism, unions have become a totally different entity. The Economist wrote an excellent article in which it contrasted the vast social differences between the unions of old and the unions of today: "this time, the defenders of vested interests are not brawny miners spouting Trotsky, but nice middle-class women, often hiding behind useful-sounding groups like the National Education Association (American teachers) or the British Medical Association."
That fits very properly into the debate Genghis, myself and others are having at TPM. The United States still has a blue collar population (and may well have more of one if things continue on the current path), and they can be found everywhere from Oakland, California to rural Pennsylvania. Despite scrounging for pennies and feeling the hurt of globalization, the blue collar worker is bamboozled into adopting the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. I suspect Limbaugh knows this dynamic is at work, because he has ominously started including terms like "the ruling class" in his diatribes. This dynamic also keeps modern day Huey Longs from rising and trying to really shake up the system.
Unions are no longer independent organizations of angry workers demanding decency, they are now the guilds of the comfortable. In California, a state beset with fiscal havoc, new, shinier prisons continue to be built with the potent political influence of organizations like the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which endorsed Jerry Brown in the last election. (Their influence should help explain why Dianne Feinstein was a fierce opponent of marijuana legalization.)
Just as a prison-industrial complex has been fueled by people who have a direct interest in keeping it going, so too has an educational complex been fueled by a class that has a direct stake in keeping the status quo going. While the American public school system was set up to lift up a wave of early twentieth century immigrants and give them the same tools that native citizens had, it now seems to be holding them back from competing properly with other countries. The fact that any sort of restructuring, be it an increase in charter schools, mayoral control, vouchers or reduction of school size, is met with a reactionary accusation of being "market-based" or "conservative" is really bizarre.
There is a fantastic book that everyone should read - The Quest for Community by Robert Nisbet. (The book is available for sale through the Amazon widgets to the right.) In it, he asserts that the trade union has long been the vanguard for community and its erosion plays a strong role in the rise of a more alienated society. With unions looking more like the establishment that Trotskyists fought against, it's no wonder that the middle class is able to fall for the persecution politics of Beck and Limbaugh.