Political Action
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  • Hello Students, Welcome to our next lesson of LS-12 Building Strong Unions. This week we will study factors that lead to, or away from, member participation in the union’s political action. We’ll conclude by looking at the 10 rules for union political action. These rules, published by the AFL-CIO are derived from a publication Not Your Father’s Union Movement and containing the chapter titled, Informing and Empowering American Workers: Ten Rules for Political Action. These rules are extraordinarily simple and quite effective if they are followed.
  • Labor’s role in the political arena has significantly evolved in the last 100 years. Labor was significantly divided on whether it not should be involved in politics and influencing public policy. Over the years that division has all but disappeared, although now contemporary debate exists among labor leaders on how much time, effort and expense should be placed on politics compared to organizing. This debate continues, however unions in America understand the importance and are united in the belief that unions must be involved in the influencing public policy. Labor’s participation in politics is became one of chief factors that led to the success of the labor unions in America, albeit many argue that such success is waning. Labor is now involved in politics at unprecedented levels and most recently heavily contributed its financial and volunteer resources to the successful presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Labor’s greatest potential to succeed in influencing public policy and electing pro-labor candidates, through grass roots efforts, relies on membership commitment and participation in the political process. Financial support is not enough, success requires an army of committed union volunteers. The challenge is to gain this commitment. There are several factors that influence a member’s willingness to participate and become engaged in political activities. We’ll examine these factors.
  • Labor unions engagement in politics has two primary reasons. First unions attempt to influence who is elected by rewarding its political friends and punishing its political enemies. Essentially reward and punishment is accomplished by supporting and campaigning on behalf of union friendly candidates, and working and campaigning against unsupportive candidates. Secondly, unions work to shape public policy through the legislative arena. Success in both areas is directly proportional to the union’s ability to convince members to contribute their time and effort, and to a smaller degree, money.
  • There is evidence that a majority of members support labor’s political agenda and strategies. However a significant number of members do not. Estimates are 20-45% of union members fall into this category. This number is significant and can result in a political outcome that will not favor labor’s agenda. When this percentage of members oppose labor’s agenda it will have to work harder to convince members that labor’s involvement in politics is legitimate and necessary and that member involvement is crucial. To accomplish this unions will have to work at shaping the members political attitude which in turn can shape their political behavior.
  • The importance of CIO membership involvement and voter registration was recognized in this 1952 telegram.
  • Maximizing member support is crucial if a union is to be successful in achieving its political goals and objectives. A member’s support will be based upon their attitude about the union’s political agenda. There are key ways in which a member’s attitude about the union’s political program can be shaped. As it will be discussed in further detail in an upcoming lesson plan, communication and information can shape a member’s attitude. Of course information provided to member must be relevant. Some important information that can be offered is a demonstration of labor’s political achievements including the election of pro-labor candidates and the passage of important legislation that benefits the member and society as a whole. This is information that can be shared as part of a formal new member orientation program. The union should have no problem in impressing a new member with the labor movements historical legislative achievements and its contemporary efforts to make further gains. Influencing participation requires the union establish a culture within the union that creates and expectation that a member has responsibility to participate in the union’ political action endeavors. Another method that influences supportive attitudes about the unions political agenda is by imparting peer evidence of participation in, and support of, a union’s political efforts. This is particularly effective when it can be demonstrated that peer of a member whom the member deeply respects and looks up to is active and supportive of the union’s political action. Member’s also must feel their participation will make a difference. All of these methods can begin with member’s early orientation and socialization process.
  • One study has found that member’s level of commitment to the unions will directly affect the member’s beliefs about the propriety of the union’s involvement in politics. In other words the more committed the member is to the union the greater the likelihood they will believe the unions political activity is necessary and appropriate. On the opposite spectrum a member who lacks commitment to their union is unlikely to support the unions political efforts and endorsements. The study also found that the member’s perception of the union’s effectiveness in influencing positive economic and non-economic issues in the workplace also affects the member’s attitude towards their union’s political action. As you are no doubt discovering there is a circuitous relationship between a member’s attitude and their willingness to participate in union activities. The same holds true for political action. For instance if the union has been ineffective in its negotiations and representation in the eyes of the member may be strongly inclined not to support the union in a collective bargaining campaign. Unfortunately this has a spillover effect. If the member is unhappy about the unions ineffectiveness it is unlikely the member will reward the union by participating in the unions political action. As you can see union instrumentality, or its ability to get things done effectively can affect the attitude of the member. Another finding of this study found that female members are more supportive of the union’s political involvement than their male counterparts. This finding suggests that females would also be more supportive of political positions that the union takes. This points out that women should be considered a valuable political resource by their union. Over the last several years women have exploded on to the scene of American politics resulting in vast numbers of female activists that are working on behalf of their union’s political program.
  • This figure demonstrates the two factors that influence member support for union involvement in political action. As explained in the previous slide. Union member commitment influences member support as does the member’s perception of the unions ability to resolve matters, instrumentality, that are important to them.
  • As it was pointed out in the lesson plan Union Orientation and Socialization a member’s early exposure to the union is important and an opportunity to make first impressions. Most new employees will arrive at a workplace with some political orientation. The worker could be, among others a democrat, republican, libertarian or independent. Independents or decline to state (DTS) are the fastest growing voter registrants in the nation. These same employees are also likely to bring with them their positions on various political issues. Because of the new member’s political orientation and positions on various issues unions would be wise to tread carefully when introducing the new member to its political agenda. Perhaps a brief orientation about the union’s political activities and accomplishments will suffice rather than a hard sell to solicit the member’s support. Instead the union may want to focus more of its orientation about the efforts and successes in improving wages and working conditions. Later, after the member has engaged in the unions socialization process and is acquainted and comfortable with the union, the union can engage in political dialogue with the member. A good time may be during a formal follow-up orientation session. It is important the union understand that political discussion may become volatile quickly if political topics are approached to soon and the member’s beliefs are at present inconsistent with the union’s.
  • Several studies verify that a majority of union members vote for union endorsed candidates. In fact one study points out that union members vote for endorsed candidates at a rate of 15 to 20% higher than nonmember. Nevertheless, a union can’t be content because a growing number of union members are ignoring the union’s endorsed candidates. Two studies suggest that that a significant percentage of union voters are not aware of the union’s endorsed candidate or the union’s endorsement was not a factor in their voting decision. In recent years unions have enjoyed greater success in convincing members to vote for union endorsed candidates. In 2008, 67% of union voters cast their ballot for union endorsed Barack Obama and of course we know the outcome of that election. Even at 67% labor recognizes it must become more effective. Influencing voter decisions remains the key to political effectiveness.
  • Research suggests that members will vote for candidates that will legislate positive and desirable outcomes on issues that are of interest to the member. Their attitude about unions, both generally and specifically also affect their voting decision. Members that possess positive attitudes toward unions are more likely to vote more a long the lines of the union endorsements. Respect for a peer, co-worker, or fellow member may also impact a member’s voting decision. A member may be inclined to vote similar to the way a person they deeply respect and look up to will.
  • Now let’s look at the impact that information has on voter turnout. Research finds that turnout among voters grows as voters become increasingly informed about the candidate and/or issues. These finding suggest the union should focus on union member voter education by providing adequate and relevant information about the candidates and issues. Providing a simple endorsement list will not suffice. The union must provide information and education that links the candidates stance on workplace issues. For instance a study of political beliefs of Pennsylvania union members was conducted. The members ranked wages first, standards of living second, jobs third, and workplace health and safety fourth as issues that influence their voting decisions. These findings demonstrate that if a union is to influence a member’s voting decision it will have to link the candidate to these important workplace issues. The union will need to demonstrate that by voting for the union’s endorsed candidate, a positive and desirable outcomes on work place issues are more likely.
  • Another factor union’s should understand is the role of normative belief. A normative belief is the influence a person whom we respect and value may have on us. For instance you may be someone that I look up to and respect and, applied to voting circumstances, you are well informed on the union’s candidates. If you approach me about voting for a candidate I am more likely to do so because of my respect and value that I have for you. This also points out that I don’t possess enough information to make my own voting decision so I rely on you to steer me. I trust you’re your judgment in lieu of my own. Unions can maximize the impact on union voters by influencing their members’ normative beliefs. How can this be done? First, Unions should recognize that a member’s attitude has been shaped by significant persons in our lives, most notably our family. But with age and experience that influence is likely to fade. Now persons in the work place may likely shape our attitudes. This is where the union can impact their members’ attitudes toward the union. This attitude can be extended to voting decisions. Second, unions can create a culture in union and the workplace that accepts, values, and encourages political involvement. Third, unions should take every opportunity to directly influence union members attitudes by conveying that others support the union’s endorsed candidates. The point here is the more union members that are informed and support the union’s endorsement the more likely that normative beliefs will play a role in voting decisions. The union can’t assume that all member’s will be informed and respect the union’s choice of candidates. It may, as a companion strategy, rely on its doubting union members to respect the opinion and choices of other union member that do support the union’s endorsement.
  • The success of electing pro-labor candidates depends not only on members voting for the union but also on member participation in the union’s political activities. There are four key factors a union should consider when developing the component of member participation into its political action program. First, the member must believe the issues addressed in the campaign are directly important to their lives. Second, the member must believe that their activism in the union’s political action will make a difference. Third, it is absolute essential that the member know about planned political action activities. And, Fourth, the member has the capacity to participate. Often members have barriers that affect the ability to participate because of other obligations such as child or elder care, or a variety of other reasons.
  • Much of the information contained in Chapter 5 of the text is restated or reinforced in different context and I have chosen not to repeat the same points. However, I do want to conclude by stating and reinforcing the 10 rules for political action. In my opinion, given 30 years of political activism and campaigning on behalf of union endorse candidates these 10 rules should not be ignored. They are derived from a commissioned study and published the AFL-CIO publication. They are simple yet brilliant. They are published and available with commentary in the lesson block. Reading these rules with commentary is required. Let’s look at these rules now on this and two additional slides. Issues comes first, candidates and parties second In election campaigns unions need to provide members with information not voting instructions Presenting information in a credible and objective manner is critical for overcoming member cynicism and distrust regarding politics. Unions must downplay partisan rhetoric in favor of stressing their role as an independent voice for working people.
  • Unions should be watchdogs who approach politicians with healthy skepticism and work to hold the politicians accountable Members want unions to represent them as workers by addressing issues that directly affect them on the job and by advancing a populist economic agenda Union political action should always be of, by, and for the members.
  • Mobilization is not fundamentally different from persuasion. Informing members is the key to increasing participation Members must be reached by modern communication methods. Effectiveness is enhanced by addressing the concerns of specific union audiences instead of relying on a one size fits all approach. Further explanation about each of these rules is available in your lesson block.
  • This concludes this lecture. In the next lesson plan we will look at the importance and impacts of the grievance procedure.

Political Action Political Action Presentation Transcript

  • Political Action Member Commitment and Participation
  • Public Policy
    • Critical Factor Affecting Success of American Unions
    • Political action influences public policy
    • Labor Movement united that labor organizations be involved in political process
    • Less united in strategic plans to maximize effectiveness in political process
  • Political Action Focus
    • Influence election outcomes
    • Support candidates that support union
    • Campaign against candidates opposed to union
    • Shape public policy in legislative arena
    • Success proportionate to member participation
  • Member Participation
    • Majority of members support political action
    • Significant minority don’t support political program
    • Minority’s significant numbers can affect outcome
    • Political attitudes shape political behavior
  • 1952 Telegram
  • Influencing Participation
    • Provide member’s with relevant information
    • List major legislative accomplishments
    • Create political culture
    • Provide evidence of peer support
    • Convince member participation makes difference
  • Research Findings
    • Commitment to union affects member’s beliefs
    • Perception of union instrumentality impact
    • Females more supportive
  • Two Factors to Support Union Member Commitment Member Perception of Union Instrumentality Member Support for Union Involvement
  • Early Exposure
    • New employees usually have some political orientation
    • New employees will arrive at workplace with some positions on issues
    • Unions should be cautious about early exposure to the union’s political agenda.
    • Provide time and opportunity to demonstrate that union is effective in the workplace
    • Specific discussion about political agenda can be discussed later
  • Support for Political Candidates
    • Union voters vote for endorsed candidates 15-20% higher than non-union voters
    • Unfortunately union membership represents a small and diminishing percentage of the electorate
    • There has been a gradual decline in union member support for endorsed candidates
    • Many members are not aware of the unions endorsement
    • If aware members often ignore endorsement
  • Candidate Support
    • Members vote for candidates that support their issues
    • Attitude toward union affects member vote
    • Positive attitude likely to support endorsements
    • Member’s look to people (peers) they view positively
  • Role of Information
    • Turnout grows as voters become more informed
    • Union focus on voter education
    • Voter information should not be limited to a simple endorsement list
    • Candidates must be linked to support for work place issues
  • Role of Normative Beliefs
    • Individual voters are influenced by beliefs of people they trust (normative belief)
    • Individuals committed to voting but lack sufficient information often follow the advice of individual they trust
    • Unions can maximize impact on union voters by influencing normative beliefs
  • Member Participation Factors
    • Member believes the issues involved are important to their lives
    • Member believes that their participation will make a difference
    • Member knows that opportunities to participate exist
    • Member has the capacity to participate
  • Ten Rules for Union Political Action
    • Issues come first, candidates and parties second.
    • In election campaigns, unions need to provide members with information not voting instructions.
    • Presenting information in a credible and objective manner is critical for overcoming members’ cynicism and distrust regarding politics.
    • Unions must downplay partisan rhetoric in favor of stressing their role as an independent voice for working people.
  • Ten Rules
    • Unions should be “watchdogs ” who approach politicians with healthy skepticism and work to hold them accountable.
    • Members want unions to represent them as workers, by addressing issues that directly affect them on the job and by advancing a populist economic agenda.
    • Union political action should always be of, by, and for the members.
  • Ten Rules
    • Mobilization is not fundamentally different from persuasion—informing members is also key to increasing participation.
    • Members must be reached by modern communication methods
    • Effectiveness is enhanced by addressing the concerns of specific union audiences, instead of relying on a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
    Source: Garin and Molyneux, 1998 Not Your Father’s Union Anymore
  • Conclusion