Growing up in Toledo, Ohio meant my childhood was in a bastion of organized labor. Being in a union was very common in Toledo and since we got a lot of our media from Detroit, we got a double-whammy of pro-union propaganda. When I was a kid it was a pretty bad idea for you to drive a “Jap car” around town, only American cars were allowed. Getting a union job at the local Toledo Jeep plant was the Holy Grail for kids not going to college, the ticket to lifelong employment and a comfortable living, but getting those jobs meant knowing the right people. The skilled tradespeople in town were almost all union: electricians, carpenters, plumbers, welders. They owned their home, had decent cars, were able to perhaps afford a little cabin on a lake “Up North” in Michigan and best of all could afford to send their kids to college so their kids didn’t have to work a union job.
Fast forward to 2019 and organized labor is on life-support. As right to work laws spread across the nation and fewer and fewer young workers are interested in being in a union, the labor movement is struggling. Gone are the days when labor was mostly people in skilled trades and factories. Now labor is government employees, especially teachers, and low wage and often immigrant service workers. A janitor making $9/hour is not paying nearly as much in union dues as an autoworker making $40/hour. That is what is really driving the “Fight For 15”. When union workers make more, the amount of revenue into union coffers goes up and the more the leadership can siphon off for themselves. Lest you think that is unfair, keep in mind that unions have been corrupt for as long as anyone alive can remember. The UAW is a giant slush fund to enrich the leadership. Just last week the FBI raided the home of new UAW President Gary Jones and past president Dennis Williams, as well as the UAW center on Black Lake in Michigan, very near where I spent my summer vacations on Black Lake as a kid. Unions and corruption have gone hand-in-hand for decades and labor ties with organized crime are common knowledge. It is so bad that the Detroit News is suggesting that the UAW might need to be put into court receivership.
Never has the gap between the rank-and-file union member and the leadership been greater. While the leadership of organized labor is still inflexibly sold out for the Democrats, the actual workers are clearly not and are just the opposite. Trump won big union states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the most pro-union state of all, Michigan. He won those states because labor showed up in droves to vote for him against the wishes of the leadership. This has not been lost on Democrats and for the most part they have stopped even pretending to court the labor vote. In the Labor Day parade today in Detroit, always a big deal, it sounds like none of the Democrats running for President will show up: Detroit Labor Day parade comes at critical time for beleaguered UAW.
There will be no presidential candidates shaking hands or giving speeches at Monday’s Labor Day parade in Detroit, bucking years of tradition in which those seeking office have appealed for votes in the stronghold of organized labor.
This year’s parade is shaping up to be a subdued affair, taking place under the cloud of a widening federal investigation into corruption within the leadership of the United Auto Workers. Barring last-minute changes, none of the 20-odd presidential candidates has announced an appearance. Nor is UAW leadership slated to speak just five days after the Canton home of the sitting president of the union was raided by federal agents — and less than two weeks before labor contracts with Detroit automakers expire.
Part of the absence of Democrats, even pseudo-socialist Bernie Sanders, is that they don’t want to be seen with union leadership just days after an embarrassing raid on the home of the UAW’s President but it is mostly because they just don’t care about organized labor anymore. Unions in Michigan and Ohio are too white and too Republicans. The Democrat message of unlimited low wage immigration, going after union heavy industries with new regulations, taxing working Americans to pay for benefits for illegals and perhaps worst of all, the insatiable desire for gun control of the entire Democrat field, are all toxic to white working class union workers. The days when Democrats were the party of the working class, concerned about wages and working conditions and the social safety net for working Americans, are over. Today the Democrats are all identity politics, all of the time. Their goal is to replace the once stalwart Democrat voters in the Midwest with mestizo immigrants that they assume will be easier to control and less likely to talk back.
The state of labor on this Labor Day 2019 is a mess. There are some exciting things happening in the labor force and unlimited opportunity for young people in the trades but the days of organized labor are coming to an end and not a moment too soon. Organized labor in America is an early 20th century movement that never moved past that era and has spent the last half century filling the pockets of union leaders and being a mouthpiece for the Democrats. American workers need advocates but they aren’t going to find them in the Democrat party or union leadership.