A few legislative seats may change hands on November 8th, Save Jerseyans, but neither political party risks being labeled irrelevant on November 9th. There just aren’t enough competitive races for such a thing to happen. Thank you, Alan Rosenthal.
But that’s only part of this year’s biggest story. One formerly potent political force faces the very real prospect of permanent, irreversible political irrelevancy as polls close across the Garden State.
I’m referring to New Jersey’s labor unions.
2011 must at least feel like the end of days for Big Labor. The year began with massive demonstrations of labor unrest in Wisconsin before the flames quickly spread to other state capitals around the country. Union agitators were pushing back hard against newly elected conservatives of the 2010 GOP class and their pro-private sector reform initiatives. The
rallies riots were designed to temper GOP ambitions and they sure looked impressive from 30,000 feet, much like a once great boxer who can still fill out his trunks and throw serious heat albeit for limited lengths of time. And fatigue did indeed set in as Big Labor transformed to Old Man Labor. His progeny failed to take the Wisconsin legislature despite massive monetary and demographic advantages. It was all downhill from there.
Consider New Jersey, a place where an enterprising young Democrat politico couldn’t earn the right to run for dog catcher or even lick envelopes at party headquarters without union credentials. No more! We now live in a world where the son of a teamster heavyweight, George Norcross III, and a former ironworker himself, Steve Sweeney, lead a Democrat machine whose members conspicuously backed Governor Christie’s pension reforms in June before slamming the NJEA and embracing charter schools in July. It was nothing less than a slap in Old Man Labor’s wrinkled face.
Sure, the unions stomped their feet in response and withheld a few formal convention endorsements. You can even find an example or two of rogue actions like down in LD-1 where Republican David DeWeese won the FMBA/PBA nod last week.
Yet can anyone name one single Democrat elected official at either end of the GSP that has “fallen back into line” since pension reform went down and the threats began? Anyone on the left side of the aisle who is “afraid” of labor’s vengeful rhetoric? I can’t, folks, so I’m not surprised at all when even the ultra liberal Star-Ledger begins to worry out loud whether the phrase “union boss” has really become an oxymoron:
…it’s unclear what, if anything, unions can do to retaliate against Democrats this fall, when all 120 seats in the Legislature are up for election. After spending generations as a feared political force in Trenton, they may be only a paper tiger come election time.
“There’s certainly no incentive for the labor unions to come out in support of the Democratic leadership. The problem they face is, where else are they going to go?” said David Redlawsk, a Rutgers University political science professor.
Well, they can certainly pick a traitor off the line, sharpen their axes and make an example out of him, Professor Redlawsk.
Democrat incumbent Jeff Van Drew would be a logical target. The Senator’s vote for pension reform aroused a near mutiny among Democrats in his district. As I mentioned above, the police and firefighter unions have already walked away from him. I’m willing to bet that their decision in particular keeps Van Drew’s campaign staff up at night, too. His Democrat ticket needs to produce big turnout margins in Cumberland County, and Vineland specifically, to overcome a solid Republican vote total in Cape May County. How can he do it without a powerful GOTV plan fleshed out by union bodies?
The short answer is “he can’t,” and the labor unions would be wise to seize on Van Drew’s sudden vulnerability. They desperately need a Democrat scalp on Election Day 2011 to rescue their relevance, Save Jerseyans. Something to get their client politicians back in the fold taking orders. Otherwise, Old Man Labor might as well hang it up and file for Social Security.