New Orleans There are some hard lessons that union organizers could share with political organizers these days about the consequences of the politics of conflict and the dangers of disgust, none of which are necessarily what people would like to hear. The tactical pressure cooker of controversy and counterclaims in an NLRB union election coupled with the fear of the threats to livelihood and the unknown can produce head scratching results that confound any understanding of simple self-interests.
What we learn, and that surveys have now amply documented, is that more than people want justice and a better life, they want peace at almost any price. Plain and simply, people hate conflict.
Oh, yeah, they applaud when the union rep gets in the company’s face or behind the scenes and far from the workplace there may be a lot of back slapping and attaboys about some zingers from the union that drew blood from the boss, but it doesn’t last to the ballot box, if the union loses control of the volume. Similar to what we are watching in Congress, workers understand that at the end of the day, there has to be a deal. Somehow a bargain must be achieved with that very same boss that will improve their lives and livelihoods.
Like virtually everyone, I am mystified at President Obama’s inability to fight for what’s right and negotiate fair settlements for the American people on critical issues. His weakness in the White House at this point is being interpreted everywhere by the sharks as blood in the water.
Nonetheless, what we learn in union elections is that passivity does not mean that Obama will necessarily lose the election. The very strident contentiousness of the Teapeople and the Republicans may in fact trigger such disgust that they, and their standard bearer, cannot be seen as viable alternatives for successful governance. Obama may underplay this hand to the degree that he convinces the vast majority of voters that he may be a good and decent man, but simply not a leader or the right leader in a time of crises in the country in which case people finally would desert the voting booth in indifference and disgust.
Too often workplace elections are lost by unions because in the chaos of conflict too many workers simply vote for the “devil they know, rather than the devil they don’t know.” Right now Obama could be the default choice if at least he stays in the fight, even if contemporary voters are mystified about when he will show up with a game face and at least get on the playing field.
The bottom line is that Obama does seem to understand that allowing the Republicans to be extreme, incompetent, and contentious plays to his strength, and that’s smart politics. Unfortunately, he needs to remind all of us that he has strengths pretty soon or he could be beaten by an old shaggy dog no matter how gnarly and ill tempered.