In forging a strong bond with the Tea Party movement and corporations and businesses that want to use the Republicans’ 2010 mid-term election dominance to take care of the problem of unions once and for all, the Republicans have now been served notice: they could lose the support of police and firefighters’ unions:
Leaders from two unions known to support the Republican Party warned of serious repercussions for GOP candidates in the 2012 elections, saying the onslaught of anti-labor bills in state capitals has shifted their political allegiances.
Did GOPers figure this could happen? Or did they miscalculate?
“Our political principles are pretty straightforward. We’ll support those that support us,” Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, told HuffPost. “We tend to stick with those who stick with us.”
“There is a distinct possibility that the pro-labor candidate in the next election will be looked at much more favorably than their overall record,” Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, told HuffPost. “The vast majority of our membership will put other issues aside.”
The inclusion of police and fire unions in an Ohio bill that stripped collective bargaining rights from public employees may have been the last straw for the two conservative-leaning groups. But even in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker’s actions exempted them, cops and fire fighters marched shoulder to shoulder with teachers and other public workers.
The potential consequences can’t be overstated:
Now, the public safety unions are signaling what could be a tectonic shift in the political landscape, one that could result in a level of labor solidarity missing for recent elections.
“I don’t want to say we are unhappy with Republicans but we are very unhappy with the far-right wing of the party that seems to have taken the Republican Party hostage,” said Canterbury, whose union endorsed George W. Bush and John McCain in the last three presidential elections. “We are extremely unhappy with the snowball that rolled in in Ohio and we are traditionally a very conservative organization. We’ve been bipartisan…..But with the actions that have taken place, there’s going to be tremendous reprisals taken out at the polls” by police and their families.”They feel like their public officials turned their back on them.”
Why is this significant?
It’s clear that Republican governors and important and smart Republican strategists such as Karl Rove believed going after public employee unions would work as a kind of labor wedge issue — that the contrast between these workers and these unions would rally many voters and in particular independents to the Republican party’s side, defang part of Democratic party’s campaign mode bite by pulling out one of its most potent teeth, and shore up its business (and Koch brothers’) support.
But what seems to be happening now is:
FOOTNOTE: I worked as a reporter on two newspapers in the 80s into early 1990 that had union issues. In both cases, in the long run the unions lost their battles. Unions were perceived as on the wane, or easily co-optable by management. It could have been argued in January that American labor unions were on decline and that even among Democrats they were not what they used to be, let along among younger voters. No longer.
Oftentimes in politics an overreach sparks a big backlash that rallies people to work against a candidate and/or an issue This is what appears to be happening here — and to labor.
Suddenly labor matters to a lot of Americans now…including a chunk of voters who voted for Republicans.
Can the Republicans make up for the loss of support of these members of its coalition at a time when it also faces a growing challenge due to a lack of support among the country’s increasingly large — and politically potent — Hispanic population?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.