03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Change We Deserve

It didn't take long for the anti-worker far right to try to spin the results of the 2009 elections as a mandate for their pro-corporate agenda.

According to conservative columnist Michael Barone, the biggest losers were not Democratic gubernatorial candidates Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds -- it was the "union agenda."

And the anti-union corporate lobbying group Workforce Fairness Institute claimed that Republican Bob McDonnell's opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act -- the pending bill in Congress that will make it easier for a worker to join a union and collectively bargain - was key to his victory in Virginia's gubernatorial race -- despite the fact that McDonnell's Web site didn't mention EFCA once.

More serious Republican strategists are more likely to chalk up their party's victories to a general anti-incumbent mood, weak Democratic campaigns and GOP candidates who stayed focused on the message of job creation. Exit polls showed that 71 percent of voters named health care or the economy as their top issues.

The reality is, in the one race where the right decided to make the Employee Free Choice Act a major issue -- in New York's highly contested special House election -- it blew up in the GOP's face, leaving the union-busters' agenda as the biggest loser.

The 23rd Congressional District hasn't sent a Democrat to Congress since the Civil War, but on Election Day it sent Democrat and Employee Free Choice Act supporter Bill Owens to the House of Representatives.

Owens' victory, along with John Garamendi's in California' 10th District, added two additional congressional votes for health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act -- both at the top of the labor movement's policy agenda.

The root of the GOP's collapse in New York was the flood of out-of-state money directed at taking down the Republican's original candidate, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava.

For conservative leaders like former House majority leader Dick Armey and extreme-right groups like the Club for Growth -- which funneled more than a million dollars to Scozzafava's Conservative Party opponent Doug Hoffman -- the assemblywoman's unpardonable sin was her largely pro-labor record and her vocal support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Dennis Affinati, business manager of IBEW Local 910 in Scozzafava's hometown said:

Dede knows and cares about our community ... It's a shame that ultra-conservative business interests got away with forcing a real good person out of the race.

She ended up endorsing Owens, deciding there wasn't much room for her left in the GOP.

I remember when there used to be room in the Republican Party for politicians who respected the role of the labor movement in American life and saw the right to organize and collectively bargain as a fundamental right.

Past GOP leaders like N.Y. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Pennsylvania Sen. John Heinz believed America worked best when labor and business could sit down at the table to make our economy work for everyone.

And that's what the Employee Free Choice Act is all about -- leveling the playing field between workers and their employers so we can get America back to work.

But the corporate funded lobbyists and ultra-right-wing activists now calling the shots in today's GOP have brought the pro-worker Republican to the verge of extinction, making unyielding hostility to workers' rights a litmus test no hopeful party candidate can afford to fail.

Voters aren't looking to restrict a worker's right to organize -- they want to see the economy turned around, an end to declining wages, disappearing jobs and crushing personal debt.

Despite what the pundits may say, most Americans aren't clamoring for a repeat of the worst excesses of the Bush administration -- which is all the Republican Party seems to be selling these days.

But many -- particularly first-time voters -- are starting to feel frustrated by the pace of progress in Washington and are wondering when the change that they voted for in 2008 is going to happen.

Unless they start seeing results, the danger is that they will stay home in 2010, as we saw in New Jersey and Virginia earlier this month.

The real lesson of 2009 is that passing health care reform, creating good jobs with decent pay and leveling the playing field between workers and corporate America is the best bet for forging a winning electoral strategy.