Organized labor in America is an institution that is legally recognized by the government and its main role is voice the concerns of the workers to the government and to represent their interests. The institution is very vocal when it comes to bargaining for the welfare of the workers. It is the channel through which workers air their grievances to the government especially when their working conditions are deplorable for example low salaries and wages among others. Labor is indirectly involved in politics involved in politics. It never produces candidates to contest in an election but what it does is that it supports those candidates that promise to help them once they get in parliament. Therefore the role they play in politics cannot be underrated as they are able to influence the outcome of the elections.
This research paper is going to discuss the role that labor plays in politics and try to give reasons why labor should be involved in political campaigns. It will also analyze how it should involve itself in politics. The paper will give a short history about how these unions started and then proceed to discuss the key points. The paper ends with a conclusion which is basically a recap of the main points that have been discussed. In the last page is a list of the resources that have been consulted in conducting this research properly formatted in line with MLA formatting style.
The first labor union in the world was formed in 1828 in the United States however it failed to bring all the workers together into one independent party unlike in the United Kingdom where the unions were formed much later. In UK labor unions were formed during the Industrial Revolutions as the working conditions for workers continued to deteriorate. Unlike in US, the workers were able to form a national independent political party as early as in 1893. The UK’s labor unions were very instrumental in addressing the issues that were affecting the workers in factories, the union for example was very vocal in addressing the voting rights for workers but this was not the case in US as workers had been enfranchised long before and that was why it was hard to make them join one national political movement as they joined other regular parties. Another reason that prevented this was the fact that in US there has only one party system thus it was impossible for labor party to secure itself a place in the American politics like in the case with UK where parties depending on their population size would get representation in parliament. (Asher et al 198-199)
Today, almost all unions in US align themselves under the two big umbrellas that is; the AFL-CIO and Change to Win Federation. The two are geared towards the passage of registrations that are friendly to workers. Labor movements should be allowed to engage themselves in politics because it is their right to do so as long as they are not doing activities that are a threat to the national security. The government should not try to muzzle gag them because it is only through this that workers can bargain for improved working conditions. It should be understood that the main objective of the unions is not to influence the politics of the day but to use it as platform for expressing their grievances. Labor movements in agitating for their rights do this as a bloc and it is for this reason that politicians are attracted to use them to advance their politics as their members are already mobilized thus they do not have to go to the field to do the same. If these workers come with better terms then unions decide to support them in their political campaigns either by directly campaigning for them or by providing them with money needed for their campaigns on understading that if they win they would pressurize the government to make favorable changes. (Asher et al 212)
Labor is also involved in expressing its discontentment over bad legislations that are passed by the government. It does this by holding peaceful demonstration which often attracts the attention of the candidates that are vying for particular positions for example in 1930 they managed to make the government repeal and amend some legislations it had passed. Labor when they throw their weight behind one candidate they are likely to influence election’s outcome and thus politicians are much aware of their potential. That is why most of them align themselves with them so that they would be voted in. The labor takes advantage of these leaders and uses them as their mouth piece in parliaments once they are voted in.
Because of how labor movements were influencing politics, the federal government in 1940 passed legislations that outlawed financing of candidates in the election but this was not taken kindly by the labor which saw this as a move to kill them. In response, the labor movements formed what was known as the Political Action Committee (PAC) whose goal was to fight for this right and indeed it won. Since then, the unions have been providing their preferred candidates with money required for the campaigns. PACs mostly finance the incumbent politicians who are more likely to win than the first time contenders whose chances of winning are slim. (Asher 174) Candidates try to align themselves with these unions so that they would be financed and a good example of these candidates is today’s president elect Barrack Obama who refused the campaign money he was being given by the government and turned to the unions and other democrats for money for his campaign.
Organized labor is institution that is much aware of how it can advance itself if they would succeed in influencing legislators. They support candidates so that if they win they would help them in acquiring government contracts. Although politicians are aware of the conditions that they have to meet once they are elected, they cannot ignore the power unions command and that is why they align themselves with them for support. A case in hand to show that labor can influence the outcome is when Humphrey narrowly won the 1968’s presidential election despite the fact that he was unpopular because of his policies on Vietnam War. He almost defeated Richard Nixon in the elections after labor decided to support him. Again in 2002, Al Gore who was far much behind his rival George Bush almost defeated him overnight when labor threw its weight behind him. (Asher 175)
Also in 2008’s presidential election, when Obama promised to improve the working conditions of the workers for example he advocated for their freedom to work in a free environment and to form unions without being intimidated by their employees. This made him to win the support of the workers who in return promised to vote him in and indeed they supported him. This is something that was attested by the lines that stretched in various polling stations. Nobody forced them to take the course of action they took. Though they agreed to support him as a bloc, no one was forced to vote for him and thus labor union should not be prevented from being involved in politics because they do not influence one’s voting decision. The only thing they use is their collective power to mobilize people. (Asher et al 189)
To make things work, unions must also align themselves with various political parties. They look for those candidates who offer the best candidates with the best manifestos that address their needs if they are elected. This is because not all parties hold the same views they hold thus they have to support a specific party. It is for this reason that they rely on candidates they supported in election in fighting for their rights in the parliament. They count on them to pressurize the government to repeal some oppressive and unworkable legislations that inhibit them from progressing and to formulate others that are favorable to them. For this reason the government should not refuse them to participate in political campaigns if it is for their own good.
Labor unions are very vocal when it comes to fighting for human rights for example in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights Movement period, labor unions were not left behind, they were there to represent the interest of the workers and to advocate for better treatment in working places where most of their human rights were violated.
Labor unions should be allowed to play politics because it is the only way through which they could channel their concerns to the government. Workers do not have powers to enact legislations that would protect their interests and it is for this reason that they rely on politicians to do so. They choose those candidates who are likely to win and who would help them then they sponsor them in by financing their election campaigns like in the case of president elect, Barrack Obama who promised them good things and they financed his campaigns. Were it not for the tens of millions that they contributed perhaps he would not be the president of US. (Asher et al 212)
Labor should participate in politics where they would play the role of enlightening other people on how they would benefit if certain candidates were elected. Though worker’s voice seems to be one, one is free to choose whichever candidate one wants but the union should try to win all the votes for the workers. Unions should help their preferred candidates in mobilizing and organizing people at the grass root level to ensure they have the support that is needed
Labor unions being free and legalized institutions they should use whatever means at their disposal to advance themselves as long as they are not violating the laws. If organized labor is to achieve its objectives, then these movements should finance those candidates that would represent their interests in parliament and make new changes that are favorable to them. Good candidates lose elections because they cannot perform but for the simple reason that they are unable to finance their campaigns.
Asher, H.S., Heberlig, E.S. and Ripley, R.B. American Labor Unions in the Electoral
Arena. Rowman & Littlefield, 2001