Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, September 24, 2003  

Also in the Post, this news, which I find troubling.

With the AFL-CIO's prized endorsement dangling before them, several [Democratic presidential] candidates are sounding a more protectionist note as they side with labor unions in criticizing the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Clinton signed into law in December 1993, and warning that they will oppose future pacts if they do not include stricter and more enforceable labor and environmental standards. Critics warn that such standards could curtail U.S. trade because some nations cannot meet them.

Don't get me wrong--I'm enormously in favor of trade unions. There's always going to be a tension between profitability and worker payrolls, and trusting employers to look out for their employees' best interest is just foolish. On the other hand, unions aren't necessarily the best group to define trade policy. If employers are short-sighted about the benefit of happy employees, then unions are often short-sighted about the benefit of trade.

The reason candidates are sidling up to unions is simple: cash. Even with McCain-Feingold's restrictions, a union endorsement and union organization is regarded as critical to get traction in a primary with ten competitors, particularly now that Clark has stepped into the ring, Clinton rolodex in pocket.

From my perspective--the voter's perspective, that is--it's bad news. Unions want to protect jobs, and this call for labor and environmental standards has nothing to do with global economic justice--it's merely a way to covertly stop jobs from being exported to countries that can't possibly meet the standards. That's okay as far as it goes, but what are unions doing at home? The mass of workers sit behind computers or work retail jobs in employment cul-de-sacs like Wal-Mart and Hooters. Unions have alienated Americans because they're seen as trying to protect $30-an-hour skilled manufacturing jobs that almost no one has anymore.

And for the candidates, toeing the union line means ignoring trade policy that, for example, would support small business--where unions don't have a presence. Or ignoring other investments that would help business innovate so it can more readily compete in a global market. Or worrying so much about jobs that they ignore systemic problems like irresponsible corporations.

I hear this kind of thing, and I think of the Dems isolating themselves, kowtowing to a political minority (albeit a powerful one) and alienating a much larger group while supporting policies that, in the long run, won't benefit workers.

posted by Jeff | 6:56 AM |
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