While unemployment numbers are never far from the headlines, organized labor in America only seems to be part of the story when its foundations are being vilified by politicians and pundits. What was once viewed as an American pillar and an essential step towards the American dream has turned into a scapegoat for ballooning federal and state budgets. Even the Tea Party--a group that purports to look out for the every day, working class citizen--has set the bite of its rhetorical bark on unions.
Enter new media outlet, the We Party Patriots. Launching today, the site "exists to counter and correct the excessive misinformation that is broadcast regarding the rights of the Modern American Worker and the needs of the New American Economy." Just in its beta phase, WePartyPatriots.com has found some success in creating the #1u hashtag (meaning "one union") to organize relevant media inside the Twitterverse. In a reality where Republicans take credit for successful local stimulus jobs while simultaneously organizing efforts to cut off that funding and leave projects unfinished and thousands of workers unemployed, We Party Patriots promises to fight through the rhetoric for the common good of the American worker. The mysteriously pseudonymed We Party creator and lead blogger "E.M. Ployd" answered some questions about the site's launch. (Full disclosure: I am friends with Ployd, and I've witheld his government name at his request. He prefers to keep his career separate from his advocacy for organized labor).
Part of the site's branding uses "Don't drink the Tea. Think with the We." Is the We Party pitting itself against the Tea Party?
We Party Patriots exists to counter the excessive misinformation out there. Often, this misinformation is disseminated through Tea Party Outlets such as Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Nation and Tea Party Express. While we embrace the individualism--what you might call BootStrapism--of the Tea Party movement, we believe that a collective spirit that inspires collective action is necessary to foster true and shared prosperity. That is what gives individuals the greatest opportunity to rebound and stay stable. With so much divisive rhetoric and political posturing dominating necessary and serious policy discussions, we hope to filter out and make sense of the noise.
As a media outlet, how do you avoid the political rhetoric that dominates everything? What does it take to be pro-worker without being defined as pro-left or pro-right?
It is a challenge. There is a limited amount of anti-left material coming from the Left and even less anti-right material coming from the Right. The strongest pro-union, anti-Democrat sentiments rally around the argument that Democrats are not doing enough for labor in return for union contributions to Democratic election efforts. But those stories, those memes, are few and far between. To be clear, there are Republicans who are friends of labor. The working class is of divided political DNA. When Republicans take a stand for labor, as was the case in Missouri last week, we amplify that. Believe me, the most valuable pieces of news for We Party Patriots, for union membership and for the working class as a whole, are those rare "center" stories; because that is what speaks to the middle and working classes. I like to call this the "chewy center" because these are folks (a majority of the country, mind you) who may disagree on social issues or international policies and principles, but they agree on the need for jobs and legislative provisions that give them a voice and empower them economically, so they're constantly being chewed up and spit back out in the political feast.
How do you organize that diverse group of workers into an online center?
It is difficult to identify a true "center" in the blogosphere. The medium seems naturally predisposed to the extremes. Sometimes traditional news outlets, at least in their basic reporting, can avoid this trend, but in the end they too are subject to intense scrutiny over their motives relating to downward pressure from ownership and upward pressure from the bottom line. While we can clearly identify a policy stance on each issue that we find benefits American workers the most, we recognize that union members are potentially the most politically and culturally diverse constituency in the nation. If you include the entire working class, this becomes even more true. As part of this effort, we launched the #1u hashtag on Twitter. The tag aims to sift through our political information that is circulated online because both progressive and conservative channels, who use the #p2 and #tcot hashtags, respectively, are so active that labor movement and worker-supportive activism is drowned out. The #1u tag, which stands for One Union, aims to represent the working class regardless of party. (You can read a further explanation here.)
Why does "union" have such a negative political connotation in the current landscape?
The demonization of unions by the Far Right has been incessant the past year, and at many moments in the country's history. It is well known that the information machine of the staunch conservative movement, which sometimes acts shamelessly as a misinformation machine, is more well-oiled online and offline than that of the folks who represent union and working class interests in the same spaces. The Far Right has a history of mass email smear campaigns and other connected, effective tactics for getting out of the gate on issues to spin them in an anti-union and anti-worker way for the mainstream. Most recently, these efforts have focused on misrepresenting the impact of public sector union pensions in state budget matters. These budget shortfalls are the result of years of state budget mismanagement. In New Jersey, for instance, the pension fund obligations of the state have not been met in a decade, yet when the time comes to pay the pension bill, long ago earned by these workers, Governor Christie has laid blame on the pensions themselves as if the employees had anything to do with the neglected fulfillment. This is happening in many states. It is a concerted, targeted media approach to weakening unions in the interest of lowering wages and diminishing benefit and safety standards on the local level. They double down on this effort by misrepresenting the pensions as excessive, pointing to the handful of cases where pensions are above $50,000/year when the average is right around the poverty line, more in the range of $14,000-$20,000/year. The labor movement has to figure out how to move earlier and more often on these matters, electronically.