Well the Democratic sulking is ending, and the thinking and planning and strategizing is beginning in earnest. Tom Geoghegan, one of the sharper minds and better writers amongst the lefties, has a fascinating piece in The Nation. It is his proposed game plan for the Democrats post-election. He says, Take It to the Blue States. Geoghegan concedes that he is miserable that Bush won, but he is not sitting around crying over spilt milk. He is trying to formulate a counter-attack for the Ds.
Geoghegan’s long-time belief has been that the way for the Democrats to regain power is to restart the Labor Movement. His older book Which Side are You On? is a good read. I notice it is not on Amazon, sadly. But you can get it for $2.87, literally, on www.bookfinder.com. Worth reading. So, how to do this?
Geoghegan says: Make Blue State elections about wages and benefits, with the Republicans as the stingy bad guys. His bet is there are enough voters who are wage-earners that this would work. His proposals include the following. ” Let people, individually, one by one, sign up as union members, and not only as part of a ‘bargaining unit.'” Make this attractive by offering counseling and legal advice to union associates when they are fired or demoted. If this were popular, it would put a large population in touch with organized labor who are nowhere near it now.
Next, and this is rather ingenious, Geoghegan says repeal the ancient common law rule of employment at will, which means that the basic rule is that an employee can be fired without cause. Have Blue State legislatures pass a law that says simply: “Nobody can be fired, except for just cause.” The purpose:
Any law in a Blue State that knocks out employment at will would do more for organizing in that Blue State than eking out a win over Bush and the right. How? Simple. It bulletproofs the people who want to join a union. When the boss tries to bust a union by firing Norma Rae without cause, she can go to court. Get a jury. Damages. Even an injunction. Contempt. With this law, if we had organizing drives, we could get some cover for our people. If poor Norma Rae is fired now, all we can do is file charges with the NLRB. If we prove antiunion motive, maybe the board will act. There are no sanctions and no discovery, and it takes forever. Believe me, it would be much easier, and worse for employers, to go into a court under a state law and take depositions. As we lawyers like to say, let’s poke around their house.
Geoghegan also suggests that the Democrats are too vague and too scared to just throw some hard punches when they claim to be “for working families” or “for labor”. The Democrat needs to be concrete and specific. Mandatory paid maternity leave, three months. Mandatory paid vacation, one week annually. Mandatory four paid sick days annually. Mandatory severance pay, one week for every year of work. Now that is specific. Tangible transfers of money from employers to employees, by law, in the Blue States. Grab the boss by the ankles, turn him upside down, and shake the money out of his pockets.
Geoghegan wants to make this program the centerpiece of the Democrat resurgence: “Let’s plan, now, for 2006. In every Blue State, we should have each new benefit, separately, with a separate box, on the voter’s Blue State ballot. Paid maternity leave. Paid vacation. Paid sick leave. Real severance pay.” He goes on:
Oh yes, be sure to say: We will give assistance to small business. Then maybe, after a while, go to paid maternity leave of four months. Same with vacation. Let’s start with seven days. Then maybe go to ten. And what will the GOP say, No? Let them say no. Let the Heritage Foundation scream. We want the screaming so loud, it wakes up people in the pews. Let the Republicans go to the voters and say no. Let’s have a big, noisy battle in every one of the Blue States. I can hardly wait.
His conclusion is that millions of voters would realize that they were Democrats after all.
This is an interesting program. Possibly one that could be effective for the Democrats. Especially if we are in a recession by 2006. I think the maternity leave provision would be popular and pass easily in Illinois, for example. There are people who have agreements with their employers about some amount of maternity leave, but they don’t dare take it all. If it were a matter of law, more people would take the whole thing. This would unite white collar and blue collar workers I think repealing employment at will would be very popular. I suspect most people don’t even know this is the law and would be outraged if they did. These proposals may have particular appeal to some lower income workers who might be with the GOP on the war or other issues, Hispanic voters in particular.
The Democrats have lost two elections in a row fighting on some vague populism, “I’ll fight for you”. I think I was not alone in scratching my head over what that actually meant. They could do worse than adopting Geoghegan’s approach over the next four years, and coming out with a specific, gloves-off, 1930s style populist Laborite anti-business platform.
What have they got to lose? At least both sides would know for sure what they are arguing about.
(Jonathan and I had an argument about this article. I think it could be politically effective. He thinks it would be a big failure, politically.)