The Union Bug and Local Party Politics  

I’m a member of the DC party. In my capacity, I sit and listen (for the most part, when my mind isn’t wandering) to a litany of “I can’t do this…” and “No one knows what we’re trying to achieve…” and my favorite, “No one cares about statehood…” It can be down right frustrating. But I find it frustrating and MORE infuriating to discuss union issues with fellow Democrats.

Right now, the group is planning an event, a fundraiser. I’m not participating and I don’t even intend to go despite having been offered free tickets to attend. My unwillingness to attend revolves around the Chairperson’s lack of understanding of labor issues, what a union bug is AND her instance on relying on the “old guard” of the party who use with increasing regularity the idea that “wonderful breakfasts at the convention” is a selling point for my attendance at the fundraisers.

Today, though, I’m a little more interested in the party. Mostly, this has to do with the after meeting get together that we had over drinks and some nice bar foods at M&S grill. You see, Fred wore his Teamster hat. It’s a small thing to most people. I have a feeling most wouldn’t even recognize the symbol. But I did. I may not recall my old local number from Cleveland (likely local 407), but I still look to the Teamsters as my brothers and sisters and when I saw Fred’s hat, I knew that I needed to start the conversation about how unhappy I’ve been with our Chairperson asking for “labor” to provide funds to the party without ever looking to what she can do to help build the movement.

So, I opened my mouth.

I know this seems odd to those who know me, but it’s true, I’ve been fairly silent on these issues with everyone except a select few. I find that among some party faithful, there’s no understanding of what it means to be a brother or sister or to be involved in the movement. So, I wanted to make sure that everyone at the table (about 15 of us) knew how unhappy I was about the Peru “free” trade agreement soon to head to the floor for a vote. I also wanted to make sure that Colombia’s negotiated agreement NEVER makes it to the floor.

The opening came from my own mouth, “Fred, I thought you worked for the AFL-CIO. That’s a Teamster hat, they’re Change to Win.”

Fred: They’re my union and the one I signed my card with.
Me: Wow. They’re my union, too, when I lived in Cleveland. I just never remember my local. I think it had a 1 in it, but it’s been so long ago and I was a member for all of about a minute. Doesn’t matter to me, one a Teamster, always a Teamster.
Fred : I think it might be local 409, maybe, but there are a few in Cleveland.
Me: Fred, I’ve been a little frustrated with our chair lately. She doesn’t seem to understand what a union bug is. The last fundraiser she held, she printed in house flyers and there was NO BUG on them!! I told her about this and some others (Jeff and Kris nod like their heads about to fall off and both of them look bemused by my little tirade) and I am just so frustrated with her always looking for Labor to fund her and this party when she doesn’t even know what a union bug is!!
Fred: [with a grin] I know, she wanted to put out table tents that she’d printed at home and I had to tell her that she couldn’t put those out at the event.

We talked a great deal more and included the discussion of the Peru trade agreement when another voice piped in about the trade agreement and that it didn’t seem that bad.

Me: The reason it’s bad is because we install more toothless provisions into the agreement and will end up paying for it later the way we are now with having to continue to fight the Mexican truck provisions from NAFTA. Mexico isn’t meeting the requirements of NAFTA, but this administration is still pushing pilots and other initiatives to get their trucks on the roads. Anyone who’s driven a truck knows that the rocking motion makes you sleepy so mandatory rest periods are vital.

I think when I speak in these groups my friends’ worry that I’m sticking my foot in my mouth. I think I haven’t done enough into I can cram my ass in there as well! In this discussion, I have a captive audience and I have an ally, I have Fred. I have 15 other people around the table and they may be Democrats, but they are of varying degrees of understanding when it comes to working issues. Many don’t understand that there are people like me LOOKING FOR THE UNION BUG. Since I did have a captive audience, I also made it possible for Fred to talk about the union bug and why it and trade are issues we should be talking about at every level of the party.

So, despite my frustrations and anger with some in the local party structure, I also know now that I’m not alone. I’m not alone in my frustrations and I’m also not alone in how we address these frustrations. My hope now, is that moving forward, those people at the table learned from the discussion and will think just a little more about workers rights and workers issues.

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