Criticizing the watered-down Senate version of the health reform bill, two high-profile national union leaders - AFL-CIO’s Rich Trumpka and SEIU’s Andy Stern - brought the Labor Movement to the front of the debate last week.
The well-covered story, of course, is that their remarks reflect a fracturing of the health reform coalition and represent a genuine threat that progressive Democrats will peel off.
We’ll know soon where Labor and other critically important Democratic constituency groups end up on the issue. But this week’s spotlight on Trumpka and Stern points to the difficulty faced by union activists to generate significant media attention and traction for their well-organized hard work on behalf of genuine reform.
While over-the-top expressions of outrage by Tea Party operatives are part of the “national conversation,” camera-ready actions by labor activists, including a coast-to-coast campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience at insurance company headquarters, has barely made a blip or a buzz.
It could be argued that these single payer advocates were cut off at the knees from the beginning because that position was not seriously considered by the administration or congress.
But are the angry and contrived outbursts of Obama-haters really that much more interesting and vital to the debate than the principled actions of rank and file union militants?
On Saturday, a local paper in Louisiana reported on a “24-hour rally” by union members on behalf of reform. While this demonstration seems to endorse the Senate bill, it received little national attention. And a campaign in California for a state-run single payer program (SB 810), gaining support from union activists in Los Angeles, will not be in gear until the federal legislation is settled one way or another.
Nevertheless, it may be that the general perception that Labor is an “inside player” in national politics, preempted the impact of its activities on-the-ground.
With the fate of reform now hostage to the “rule of 60,” Labor’s only leverage at this point are threats by its high-profile leaders to withdraw support.
That doesn’t preclude a union-led insurgency in 2010 on behalf of working-class interests. The question is whether it can match the fervor of the Tea Party movement and get the media - and ordinary Americans - to pay attention.