Last week Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tried to give his faltering presidential campaign a boost by proposing to essentially get rid of unions in the U.S. His proposals included banning government-employee unions, abolishing the National Labor Relations Board, creating a federal anti-union “right-to-work” law and eliminating overtime pay for many workers.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains that Walker’s position is not exactly new in “Walker’s renewed emphasis on unions not getting traction,” which notes that “Scott Walker has made busting up unions a signature element of his campaign.”
Matthew Yglesias explains Walker’s proposals at Vox, in “Scott Walker’s plan to crush American labor unions”: explained,
Walker would make it harder to organize new unions, but also substantially change the status of existing unions to give them many fewer legal and financial resources to advance their vision of workers’ interests.
… The plan can be broken down into eight main elements:
● A national right to work law.
● Disbanding the National Labor Relations Board and disbursing its functions.
● Eliminate labor unions of federal employees.
● Eliminate unions’ rights to serve as exclusive bargaining agents.
● Bar the use of union dues for political activities.
● Shift the rules of union-organizing elections.
● Repeal the Obama administration’s overtime rule.
● Repeal the Davis-Bacon “prevailing wage” rule for federal contracts.
The last two of these are issues that are important to American unions, but the first six really strike at the heart of organized labor’s role in American society. In combination, they would create a world in which collective bargaining as we know it does not exist and in which unions’ role in lobbying and electioneering is drastically curtailed.
Labor More Popular Than Walker, Republicans In General
So why the union-bashing? Walker got into the Republican Presidential race as the candidate to beat. In June he was on the top. The Hill at that time headlined, “Walker leads nationally in a new poll“:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leads a tight field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling.
Walker is alone in first place in the poll with 17 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 15 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) at 13 percent, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 12 percent and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 11 percent.
But then The Donald entered the race, saying terrible things about Mexicans, women and Muslims, and thereby capturing the hearts of Republicans. Walker slipped back into the trailing pack, along with Jeb! Bush and Marco Rubio. His polling kept falling. This is why he rolled out his anti-union proposals in an attempt to gain attention.
Scott Walker is betting that promises to destroy unions will gain him popularity over Trump’s. But Walker is taking on a popular opponent. According to Gallup, labor union public approval this year is at 58 percent.
Did the anti-union effort help Walker overcome Trump’s racism and misogyny with the Republican base? Not so much. Madison, Wis. television station WKOW reports: “A new national poll shows Governor Scott Walker polling at 0 percent in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.”
So promising to destroy unions failed to bring Walker up in the polls. In fact, it looks like it took him down to a big, fat zero. Oops.
Meanwhile, how do Republicans in Congress, who are almost universally anti-union, compare to labor’s 58 percent approval ratings? Again, not so well.
In a Quinnipiac poll of registered voters on August 20-25, 2015, 81 percent of voters disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are doing their job and 58 percent give the Republican Party an unfavorable rating. (By comparison, 66 percent of voters disapprove of the job Congressional Democrats are doing and 50 percent give the party an unfavorable rating. In that same poll the Tea Party got a 45 percent unfavorable rating.)
How do Republicans generally – outside of Congress – compare to labor’s 58 percent approval rating? This headline says it all: “Poll: Republican Party approval ratings lowest in decades.”
Only 32 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion on the Republican Party in a new Pew Research Center poll published Thursday — the lowest number Pew has reported at any point since 1992, though there have been a couple of 33 percent ratings during that time.
Taking on unions might be a great idea if you are trying to gain the support of big corporations and billionaires. But taking on unions is taking on working people. And there are a lot more working people than people who live off of dividends and capital gains.
Walker’s failure is not only because Trump’s appeals to racism and misogyny hold greater appeal with the Republican base. Walker is also failing because he’s peddling something even less popular than he is. His campaign is obviously much more about attracting corporate and billionaire donors than votes.