Biden’s Embrace of Unions Is a Boon for Democracy

Biden’s alignment with organized labor isn’t just beneficial to the workers themselves. With most of the voting rights measures Democrats had hoped to pass dead in the Senate, labor organizing is now a vital plank in Biden’s pro-democracy platform. Unions are reasserting their traditional role as the organizers of the working class to counter the GOP’s faux-populist appeals and its efforts to subvert elections. As TNR contributor Steven Greenhouse explained, the labor leaders who have taken up the fight for democracy hold Biden in high regard: “While labor leaders often criticize Carter, Clinton, and Obama for not doing enough to strengthen unions, they give higher praise to Joe Biden. Biden and his administration seem eager to reverse the decline in union membership and union power, all while many Republicans are clearly intent on hastening labor’s decline.”

That the Biden administration has lent its shine to organized labor is good for the near-term concerns of both workers and our democratic system. But it’s also a wise and necessary step should a more dire future emerge. If history and polling are any guide, Democrats aren’t likely to fare well in the upcoming midterms; it could be that they’ll struggle to hold the White House in 2024. The power to enact progressive policies could end up shut off at the federal level for a number of years, perhaps a decade or more. Facing that possibility, Democrats should act to bolster labor’s hand as much as possible—soon enough, it might become the only game in town where liberal governance and activism is concerned.

The time is now for anyone who cares about the future of our democracy to support labor organizers on every front they’re currently fighting. If you look back to the activity of labor unions from last year’s “Striketober” to the current campaigns to win contracts at Amazon and Starbucks, you’ll see a wide variety of workers trying to forge a better future under the union banner: baristas and miners and teachers and journalists, retail workers and delivery drivers and meatpackers, employees from Amazon and John Deere and Kelloggs—a cross-section of the populace that truly looks like a United States of America, cutting across geography, race, and class; capable of solidarity, reconciliation, and unity. Here, we might find the roots of a future, among workers with better causes to fight for than the tawdry tribal politics of the moment, and better enemies to battle than one another. Something has to save democracy; perhaps we’ve found its champion.

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