Unions, Allies Warm Up for Election at 'One Nation' Rally

A kickoff march on Wall Street for the October 2 One Nation rally. Photo: One Nation Working Together NY.

Are there more of us than there are of the Tea Party? The One Nation Working Together rally in Washington October 2 is the union movement’s answer to the Tea Party-Glenn Beck types, says Steve Kramer, a vice president in the union that launched the idea. 1199SEIU, the East Coast health care union, hopes to send 50,000 members on buses to D.C.

“We voted by majority in 2008,” says Kramer, “we’re still the majority, and the change we voted for is the change we demand to have.”

“We” are union members, the NAACP, and 150 endorsers ranging from Brooklyn for Peace to the National Baptist Convention, all committed to “putting America back to work and pulling America back together.”

The One Nation message couldn’t be further from the Tea Party’s anti-government stance—the demonstrators want government to be more active, not less, especially to create jobs. And they reject the Tea Party’s politics of division, its “appeals to racism and hatred as a motivating force,” as an NAACP statement puts it.

But make no mistake—union members are angry, says Bobby Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. They feel the same frustration and lack of opportunity, he says, that have helped swell the Tea Party’s ranks.


One Nation is meant to motivate the troops—the union and community activists who are likely to get out the vote this fall.

But once back home, how will One Nation organizers contend with the anger Washington politicians—Democrat and Republican alike—have stirred up outside the Beltway? Tea Partyers aren’t the only ones angry that politicians responded to the biggest economic crisis of our lives by rewarding bankers for their failure and leaving the rest of us out in the cold.

Jeff Crosby is president of an IUE-CWA local outside Boston with a factory-worker membership that’s heavily white, male, and older. Crosby says it’s much more difficult now than in 2008 to motivate members to take a weekend out to knock on doors for a “generic Democrat” in New Hampshire.



Give $10 a month or more and get our "Fight the Boss, Build the Union" T-shirt.

Crosby blames the Democrats for turning off their own base. “Once they got in office, they sat down to systematically attack the coalition that elected them,” he argues, pointing to an expanded Afghan war, teachers fired en masse in Rhode Island, and a weak-kneed approach to reining in the corporate class that devastated the economy.

In an activist local like his, he sees little attraction for the Tea Party but predicts the overall gap between union members and non-union members in party preference will grow even wider. President Obama beat John McCain by 18 points among white males with a union card in 2008, while he lost by 16 points among white male non-union voters.

The moment, he says, cries out for a more fundamental discussion by unions about the economy, rather than just calling for “jobs” and letting the other side claim a monopoly on anger.


The One Nation rally is also, of course, a way to say to the Democrats, “We’re still backing you but we want more.” Union leaders are alarmed about the way their agenda was shelved over the last 20 months, and scared about their loss of influence over Democratic policy despite their huge financial and foot-soldier contributions. (With more on the way: the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and other unions have committed to spending $100 million for the midterm elections.)

But the spectacle of Rich Trumka being summoned to the White House to sign off on taxing union members’ health care benefits must have been a bitter pill. October 2 is a way to say labor is still a force to be reckoned with.

That message is undermined, though, as unions simultaneously back-pedal on earlier pledges not to back anti-labor Democrats this November. Which is it—“we demand the change we voted for” or “keep all Democrats in office no matter their record”? Follow the crowds on October 2, but follow the money, too.

Union leaders are right to be nervous. No matter how they try to dress them up, leaders will have a hard time convincing members that some Democrats are anything but a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #379, October 2010. Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.