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Stewart Acuff

Stewart Acuff

Posted: November 17, 2009 12:08 AM

Lessons Learned from New Jersey and Virginia.

What's Your Reaction?

In this morning's Washington Post, DNC Chairman and Governor Tim Kaine criticized Creigh Deeds' gubernatorial campaign for abandoning the Democratic base.

The electoral losses on November 3, 2009 were disappointing to trade unionists, progressives, and Democrats. To lose a Governor's race in a solidly Democratic state like New Jersey was just bad. And to take a step back in Virginia which Barack Obama carried just a year ago was very disappointing.

There were many problems in these elections, not the least of which were that Virginia Democrat Creigh Deeds did not have a clean, consistent message and that Jon Corzine was deeply unpopular. There are lessons to learn from both New Jersey and Virginia.

The common message which the Democratic Party as a whole must get and get right now is that there is a populist rage in America building against destruction of the middle class lifestyle and the destruction of working families quality of life.

Like it or not, legitimate or not, President Obama's bailout of the banks and financial institutions coupled with corporate America's inability to stem the rise in unemployment - now officially at 10%
plus but probably closer to 18% when you include the underemployed and those who have given up looking altogether - and his inability to deliver on the promise of real change for the average American makes Democrats seem to be the party of the out of control status quo and the Republicans the party of perverse sanity in Washington.

The answer for Democrats is not retrenchment or timidity. It must be to fight hard for real, fundamental change that improves the quality of peoples lives,builds and strengthens the middle class, and provides more Americans with a ladder to climb from poverty to the middle class.

The answer for Democrats is not to shy away from policies like fundamental healthcare reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, Fair Trade , re-Industrialization and strong industrial policy to recreate middle class manufacturing jobs, and job creation plans with green technology and infrastructure development, but rather Democrats must embrace these policies and work as vigorously to enact them as they worked for corporate bailouts.

Strong economic, middle class and working family policies like those won the elections in 2006 and 2008 and those polices and messages can win the elections in 2010. Those pro-worker issues and the Labor movement allowed a progressive African-American to become president - a change I never thought possible. You might notice that these same policies are - and always have been - the policies and the message of America's labor movement. The labor movement is the voice for change and the voice of average Americans and America's working families. We have moved from defense to offense and we have so much opportunity for progess as a result.. America's labor movemennt is connected to a strong, aggressive, forward looking agenda of fundamental change to a continually growing political effectiveness.

These two developments -growing political effectiveness and an aggressive policy agenda of change - give us the best chance we have had to end the roll back of 30 years of corporate and political assault on workers and unions, growing inequality, rightwing ascendancy, falling standards of living, deepening recessions and economic crisis, and corporate domination of our lives and government.

But the labor movement must do all it can to push the change and drive political change. And that means continuing to have an efficient political program.

Politics and political effectiveness in American and in all political democracies are the most readily available and accessible means to achieve power.

And while average Americans shy away from thinking about and talking about power, power is how you get things done. Power is how you change things. Enemies of Labor think about power every day. They wake up thinking about power. Given Labor's aggressive policy agenda for progress, Labor must to all it can to continue to develop the wherewithal to drive and enact its agenda.

Building Labor's political capacity begins with education and mobilization of union members so that they are engaged in both the policy fights and the political fights so that they are deeply aware
of the implications and ramifications of political action. In fact, political action should flow directly and seamlessly in policy action as we have worked to do this year in our action and fights to enact
real, fundamental healthcare reform and the Employee Free Choice Act.

Building political capacity also means developing financial power - political money, war chests, political action committees - which when coupled with educated and mobilized union members and a policy agenda of hope and change that lifts the standard of living and quality of live for working families - will allow us to effectively compete with the radical rightwing and the corporate masters and legions of lobbyists.

It is abundantly clear not that the labor movement is the most powerful voice and political tool that average Americans have. The labor movement is also Americans greatest hope for ending and rolling
back 30 years of greed and corporate domination, trickle down economics, the starving and stressing of the middle class, weakening and/or destroying the standard of living and quality of life of
millions of Americans.

The labor movement is the best and most effective tool to rebuild America, to restore collective bargaining rights through the Employee Free Choice Act so that we can restore consumer demand and put enough wages in workers' pockets to once again drive the great American economic engine.

So it is not just our narrow self interest that the labor movement needs to builds political capacity, a mobilized rank-and-file membership and large and strong political action committees -- it is
also in America's interest.

You simply cannot sustain a healthy political democracy when and if average people don't have enough political power to compete with those at the top of the society.

For 30 years those at the top drove our politics and policy, destroying lives and communities and unions and jobs and ultimately our economy. The American people are waking up. It is the responsibility of our labor movement to develop maximum political capacity and political action funds to be the most effective voice and power tool to restore America's economy, to win the kind of
fundamental change that can improve the quality of people's lives, to narrow the obscene income and wealth gap between the rich and the rest of us. and restore collective bargaining rights through the Employee Free Choice Act in order to restore consumer demand and end our current economic crisis.

There is no institution, organization, or movement in America with the opportunity the American labor movement has to change America.

It is America's interest that we use every bit of that opportunity to educate and mobilize our members and develop powerful political action funds for change.