Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hilary's Union Problem

This is hardly surprising. Union leaders themselves are often involved in selling out their workers and helping companies downsize --or at least this is often characteristic of so-called responsible unions who co-operate in adjusting to competition that often continually erodes any gains unions may have made. NO doubt there is some conflict involved here but it may not be that acute. After all if he can advise Tony Blair a Labor Prime Minister he should be acceptable to a US labor movement that is probably more conservative than that in the UK.

Hillary's union problem

Hillary Clinton's top adviser is also the CEO of a company that
advises corporations on how to bust unions. Organised labour, anyone
home?

Mark Schmitt

May 15, 2007 7:00 PM [Guardian, UK]

An American presidential election has many layers. At the top, of
course, is the question of whether a Democrat or a Republican will win
the office in 2008. One layer below is the question of who will be the
nominee of each party - a question that is genuinely open in both
parties for the first time since the 1950s.

But below that rests one more crucial layer that is often unnoticed
but of great consequence: the battles for influence among advisors
within the individual campaigns.

In this campaign, a battle is starting to brew over the role of a man
said to be the de facto campaign manager for Senator Hillary Clinton,
and labeled by some "the most important man in Washington you've never
heard of": Mark Penn, a pollster who since getting into the business
as a Harvard undergraduate in 1975 has advised Bill Clinton, Tony
Blair, former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Italy's Silvio
Berlusconi. Penn is known for a particular approach to political
polling, identifying certain demographic groups as "swing voters," and
urging candidates to focus their attention exclusively on those
groups, usually middle-class suburbanites.

He's also brought those insights to many corporate clients, including
McDonald's and Ford Motor Company, and that is one of the things that
is beginning to draw him unwanted notice. There's nothing unusual
about a political pollster conducting consumer polls for corporate
clients, but for most it is a sideline. Penn's immersion in the
corporate world is so complete that after selling his polling firm to
public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, he became "world-wide
president and CEO" of the parent firm, the fifth-largest PR firm in
the universe,in 2005.

In this capacity Penn runs numerous corporate lobbying subsidiaries
that ought to give key Democratic constituencies pause: among his
underlings are a former chair of the Republican National Committee, a
former House Republican leader, and several other top Republican
lobbyists. Burson-Marsteller also has advertised its expertise in
"Labour Relations," making clear on its web site that labour relations
means keeping unions out.

"Companies cannot be caught unprepared by Organized Labour's
coordinated campaigns," the company said, advertising its close
relationship with a right-wing academic who has written about the
nefarious leftwing campaign against American companies, and a group of
operatives with Republican credentials. (The website was changed after
I called attention to it in The American Prospect.)

Organized labour is a central constituency of the Democratic Party,
and Senator Clinton certainly expects the support of some if not all
of the major labour unions. But why should they support someone who's
top campaign strategist also holds a full-time job at a company with a
union-busting operation? Shouldn't labour leaders be speaking out
about Penn's role in the Clinton campaign? Will they?

As more detail's about Penn and his firm's role begin to emerge - last
week, The Nation's Ari Berman revealed Burson-Marsteller's role in
blocking a major union organizing drive at the industrial laundry and
uniform firm Cintas - union leaders have said nothing publicly.

Perhaps they assume that Clinton is likely to be the next president,
and they don't want to alienate her by criticizing an advisor to whom
she is said to be personally very close. Perhaps they assume that if
they can get Clinton to endorse their specific policy positions in
exchange for their endorsement, her advisors don't matter. Or perhaps
labour is reassured by the presence of others they trust in Clinton's
circle, such as former President Bill Clinton or labour lawyer Harold
Ickes. But if labor ignores Penn's influence, they will have no
standing to complain when working Americans are ignored in the general
election or if Clinton becomes president. Let's hope that labor
leaders such as Andy Stern of the Service Employees International
Union and Bruce Raynor of the union that tried to organize Cintas are
calling Ickes and others and quietly pointing out that unless Penn's
role is visibly reduced, Senator Clinton should not expect labor
endorsements for 2008.

Even if there were no issues of conflict of interest raised by
simultaneously running Burson-Marsteller and the Clinton campaign,
labour and progressive Democrats should be worried about the brand of
politics Penn markets. It is a politics in which Democrats mouth
semi-populist slogans until they win the party's nomination, and then
retreat to safe appeals to affluent swing voters to win the general
election. Such a politics is uninspiring, conservative, and
inappropriate to an era when Americans are more deeply engaged in
politics than before and concern about economic inequality and
corporate power is growing. It is a politics that seems better suited
to the concerns of Burson-Marsteller's clients than to the moment.

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