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Why Emanuel's Not A Pro-Labor Mayor

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Why Emanuel's Not A Pro-Labor Mayor

If you’ve been reading what the financial publications have to say about Mayor Rahm Emanuel, you know that what they admire most about him is his willingness to take on the city’s public employee unions. Here’s the Wall Street Journal, in an article titled “Chicago Unions Test New Mayor”:

Unions have been on their guard about Mr. Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff who was once quoted by car czar Steven Rattner as disparaging the United Auto Workers. ("Eff the UAW"). The unions hedged their bets on endorsements during Mr. Emanuel's mayoral race against fellow Democrat Gary Chico.


And here’s an excerpt from Bloomberg Businessweek’s profile of Emanuel:

Emanuel’s willingness to confront organized labor hasn’t gone unnoticed outside of Chicago. “He is not a starry-eyed liberal,” says U.S. Representative Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who served with the mayor in Congress and considers him a friend. “He is going to a Democratic constituency and asking them to make sacrifices because it has to happen fiscally. Any rock-ribbed Republican would look at that and think, ‘That’s exactly right.’”

So why isn’t Emanuel receiving the same backlash for his union busting as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Ohio Gov. John Kasich? Is it because they’re Republicans -- members of a party traditionally hostile to unions -- while Emanuel is a Democrat? If that’s the case, then the people giving him a pass don’t understand what kind of Democrat is. He’s not only from a branch of the party that has no use for organized labor, he helped develop and fund that branch.

Bill Clinton, the first president Emanuel worked for, was from Arkansas, a state with a “right to work” clause in its constitution. Clinton advertised himself as a “New Democrat” who wouldn’t take orders from the special interests who had dominated the party for the previous 20 years: labor, minorities, environmentalists.

Clinton could do that because the constituency of the Democratic Party was changing. At one time, the disagreements between the two parties had been mainly economic. Then, the Republicans were the party of wealthy professionals, while the Democrats were the party of blue collar workingmen. But as the religious right gained influence in the GOP, after the election of Ronald Reagan, Americans began to define their political identities more by cultural values than economic interests. Plenty of rich people who might have been Republicans in an early era were now Democrats because they believed in abortion rights and evolution. Rahm Emanuel had their phone numbers. He badgered them for campaign contributions, and he fought for policies that would keep them in the Democratic Party. He was one of Clinton’s lobbyists for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was loathed by organized labor.

After Emanuel left the White House, the financial sector paid him back, with $18 million. When he ran for mayor, he raised most of his money from the liberal elites that Clinton helped bring into the Democratic Party: entertainers and bankers. It’s not hard to figure out why his loyalty lies with them, and not with working people.

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