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When Progressives Unilaterally Disarm: AFL-CIO Says EFCA Is Now an Insignificant 'Non Issue'

This week, Senator Bennet finally ended his silence on the Employee Free Choice Act by coming out against it. This is not surprising. What is surprising is the labor movement's messaging about Bennet's announcement.
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This week, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet (D) finally ended his silence on the Employee Free Choice Act by officially coming out against that legislation. While this is disappointing, it is not surprising -- unlike courageous pro-EFCA Colorado Democrats in tough districts (Perlmutter, Markey, etc.), Bennet has been trying to dance away from answering any questions on the issue for months.

What is surprising, however, is the labor movement's messaging about Bennet's announcement. Check this out from KDVR:

"It really is a non issue," said Matt Moseley, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO. "He has consistently indicated to us that he had concerns with the original language, he also consistently said to us that he would work to find a compromise should labor law reform legislation come up again in the future."

This is a perfect example of one of the big reasons the progressive movement loses so many legislative battles, even with a Democratic president and Congress. Unlike conservative groups who consistently push their agenda with the "it's never enough" message*, many major progressive organizations sacrifice their stated missions at the altar of partisanship. We've seen this from Washington progressive think tanks on trade issues, we've seen it from D.C.-based anti-war organizations, and now we are seeing it from labor. Instead of jealously pursuing their organizations' mission and agenda, progressive organizational leaders increasingly defend Democratic Party candidates even as those candidates trample their organizations' mission and agenda.

To be sure, Bennet would be better in the Senate than Republican nominee Ken Buck. But that's not the issue here -- the issue is organized labor's message.

It's one thing for labor leaders to say they are outraged/disappointed in Bennet's EFCA announcement, but that they are still backing him against Buck because Buck would be worse. That would make perfect sense. But it's quite another thing for labor leaders to make excuses for Bennet by insisting that labor's top legislative priority is a "non issue," no longer important, and perhaps worst of all, in need of yet more bill-weakening compromises.

In doing that, these labor leaders are publicly discrediting their own stated organizational mission in order to prop up a Democrat to labor union members. That's a betrayal both of labor's priorities and of labor union members that these labor leaders represent. It's also exactly why a bill like the Employee Free Choice Act will never pass. When organized labor leaders effectively tell Democratic politicians that labor will defend those Democrats even as those Democrats actively crush labor's agenda, those labor leaders are creating a dynamic that encourages Democrats to do just that.

* The best example of this is the mantra from conservative business groups that President Obama is "anti-business." This, despite the Obama administration's support of the bank bailout; its inclusion of massive tax breaks in the stimulus bill; it's weakening of the financial bill, and its opposition to the public option in the health care bill. But, then, that's the whole point: Conservative business groups know that they win when they continue to aggressively push the "it's never enough" message.