Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Labor Is Back and Standing Tall

The rise in organizing efforts around the country have demonstrated Americans’ strong desire to be fairly compensated as workers and humans.
Harold Meyerson, screenshot from YouTube video.

Click to subscribe on: Apple / Spotify / Google PlayAmazon / YouTube / Rumble

Labor has once again emerged as a hot button issue in the United States, so much so that even the likes of Joe Biden and Donald Trump have been spotted lurking around picket lines and union events popping up across the country. To talk about the rise in the American labor movement, Harold Meyerson, editor at large for The American Prospect, joins host Robert Scheer on this episode of the Scheer Intelligence podcast. Meyerson has a distinguished career reporting on labor issues for multiple publications, among them the L.A. Times and Washington Post.

Meyerson says public support for unions is almost at an all time high and the proof is in the pudding when looking at the various industries organizing in real time across America. From the writer’s strike in Hollywood to the autoworkers in the Midwest to the assistant professors on numerous campuses, people are standing up for their rights as workers and recognizing their strength in numbers. “Gallup and Pew poll on [unions] every year and in the last few years, it’s been about 70% approval rating, which is, so far, in excess of the approval rating of virtually any other American institution,” Meyerson said.

Scheer makes sure to remind people of the successes of the labor movement in the past, most notably in one of America’s greatest exports, the entertainment industry, where even Ronald Reagan championed organizing. Along with the autoworkers, Scheer argues the two groups represented the models for unionization and the reason why America had a middle class.

The continued recognition of exploitation, greed and misrepresentation at the hands of past administrations, along with corporations reaping the benefits, has culminated in lessons learned from the 2008 financial crisis and previous organizing movements like Occupy. This has resulted in “a greater awareness of the economic inequality between major investors and CEOs on the one hand and regular people on the other hand,” as Meyerson put it.

In the case of teaching and research assistants on campus, Meyerson has seen an especially huge increase in their enthusiasm for organizing. Mentioning his access to voting data from the National Labor Relations Board, amongst unionized graduate students Meyerson has noted “it was at 89% Yes. That is a statement of generational approval of unions. These are all young people and the polls show that more than 80% of young people are pro-union. And these are workers who can’t be fired.”

Support our Independent Journalism — Donate Today!



Robert Scheer


Joshua Scheer


Diego Ramos


This transcript was produced by an automated transcription service. Please refer to the audio interview to ensure accuracy. 

Robert Scheer Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. People listening on KCRW in Los Angeles, they’ll know the guest better than they know me, Harold Meyerson, the very well-known local writer, grew up in Los Angeles, then went off to Columbia and is now editor at large for the American Prospect and wrote for everybody in the world, including the L.A. Times but you had a whole stint at The Washington Post, and it ended in 2016 when Bernie Sanders was running. And there’s some thought that maybe you were pushed out because you were too inclined towards Bernie Sanders. Is that possible? 

Harold Meyerson It’s possible, but actually it was a little before, it was 2015, and it was a little just before Bernie took off. But they certainly missed an opportunity since I had written a couple of years earlier. This is sort of before the rebirth of a larger American left. I had written that the only two Democratic Socialists in Washington, DC that I knew about were Bernie Sanders and the guy I saw in the mirror when I shaved. And maybe that was a cause for some apprehension, though I’m not certain. 

Scheer Is this before Bezos bought the paper? 

Meyerson No, it’s after Bezos spot the paper. But I really don’t think Bezos, I don’t think he got down in the weeds far enough to reach people like me. 

Scheer The reason I wanted to talk to you is because you are the best journalist writing about labor in America that I know of. So I want to get to that. But since you brought up this socialist label, let’s demystify it here. That could mean anything. And in the context of Germany right now, which is what I’m thinking about, it can mean something pretty nationalistic, conservative, even supporting the strong militarist position. And even the Greens who are in that kind of coalition, they, too, have changed. So tell me what the label means to you. 

Meyerson Well, what the label means to me has a little more of a domestic focus than a foreign policy focus. What it means is that the public has much greater control over economic life than the private sector. So not only does that mean things as Bernie Sanders champions, Medicare for all, but it also means that there are public institutions that can do things that the private institutions cannot do. There should be public banks that don’t sock everybody for this fee here and this fee there and that, you know, put loans out that are not discriminatory and actually help the public good, You know, institutions like private equity, which have bought up half of a damn country, should actually, since they’re basically devoted to gutting ongoing enterprises, I don’t think they should be legal. In other words, I think there should be significant public control over capital. And I think that makes me a socialist and I’m happy to be one. 

Scheer Okay, but I want to get to the label in terms of actually what does it mean? And first of all, let’s talk about the current situation. Labor seems to be on something of a rise. President Joe Biden, who has not always been such a great supporter of labor, although he claims it during elections and shows up in things, but he did actually, I think the first time a president has ever walked on a picket line. And I must say my own bias is such that my parents were garment workers in New York. And to this day, I don’t care who’s maintaining the picket line, I get tremors and shakes if I even think about crossing it. But that’s a culture that’s really been gone from this country. And yet now we see it. We actually saw it. Well, first of all, one of the ironies is the most heavily organized industry in this country is the entertainment industry in Hollywood, the musicians, the writers, even the directors, and is also America’s most successful export.

And Ronald Reagan, who actually contributed to busting up some unions, the air traffic controllers and others, was the head of SAG, which is now on strike. So everybody forgets when labor unions are thought to be counter prosperity and not modern, the fact is, America’s most significant day is still organized along old AFL, American Federation of Labor, even before the CIA, [inaudible] very, very successful. So we’re talking now in a week in which the Writers Guild has settled, these screen actors are still on strike, but you have a big strike now going on, I think for the first time in, what, 20 years with the auto industry and here the president, United States, went to join a picket line. And yet and even his opponent, likely opponent, Donald Trump, showed up and claimed to be supporting the striking workers. So let’s begin with that. Is this a moment of great optimism for labor? 

Meyerson Well, it’s a moment of cautious optimism for labor, because given the way the United States works, cautious optimism is about as good as it gets. I would point out that there are interesting similarities between what the screenwriters are dealing with and what the autoworkers are dealing with. In both cases, they are dealing with innovation in the product, which raised the question of whether workers would see the rewards for those innovations. In the case of the writers, they were getting totally shafted by the switch of the medium, mainly to streaming, for which there was really no formula for giving them residuals. In the case of the auto workers, they’re looking down the road at a transition to making electric vehicles, which require fewer workers than gas powered cars to make. And so in both instances, you have unions that are considered very different in some ways actually dealing with analogous problems.

And, you know, the Democrats, it’s not so much that Joe Biden has moved to a more pro-labor position, it’s that the Democratic Party has, largely because beginning with, you know, Occupy Wall Street and then the Bernie Sanders campaign, you have seen just a general rise in liberalism and support of social democracy. And, you know, coming off of the 2008 crash, which took millennials forever to recover from, you know, a greater awareness of the economic inequality between major investors and CEOs on the one hand and regular people on the other hand. And so all of that has pushed the Democrats somewhat to the left on economic issues. And, you know, we’ve seen that in what Joe Biden did on the picket line. But more than that, I would argue that if you get into the bowels of the Biden administration, he’s made some hugely pro-labor appointments, mainly at the National Labor Relations Board, which is really begun to change the rules of labor law, which have been the main obstacle to unionizing over the last 50 years, because corporations and employers have been permitted to violate that law and face no serious penalties, and they have routinely to thwart unionization campaigns.

There are a bunch of, I mean, I would say militant, pro-worker people at the NLRB who are really changing the rules at the Labor Department. You have the person in charge of the international portfolio who was the trade person at the AFL-CIO. You know, you have a host of people who are really trying to create a much more level playing field for unions and for workers. And, you know, so going out, going on the picket line is sort of a piece with this larger shift. And for all of Biden’s imperfections, I think it’s a shift we should all welcome. 

Scheer Yeah, and I by the way, I should mention you wrote an article about that for The American Prospect. And I’m pleased to say if you just sign up for it and you put your number and there isn’t a paywall so you can read it, which, my hat’s off to anybody who doesn’t have a pay wall. And but I do got to question. Yes. Okay. So that’s a victory and the Democrats are supposed to be pro-labor. But the fact is, if we look at income inequality in America and we have to go back to Bill Clinton. 

Meyerson Oh, yeah. 

Scheer And really, since Bill Clinton, I mean, this is something Reagan couldn’t pull off. I’m sure he would have liked you, but it really starts with Clinton and his deregulation of Wall Street and everything else, that this is the period in which the glaring betrayal of de Tocqueville’s promise of… I mean after all, the big middle class was going to be basically labor. When I was growing up, you know, my relatives, you know, didn’t even think I should go to college. They were union workers, they were welders, they were machinists, tool and die makers. And, you know, Bobby, why do you want to go to college for? You know what? I’m going to go to college to study engineering. That’s another kind of way to get a job, you know, kind of thing. But, you know, and then that all changed. And what we see now with the autoworkers, I mean, it used to be these guys could make a decent living or women make a decent living, have a little boat in the driveway, get a house, and so are we… Is that going to be serious or betrayed again? Because when you deregulate Wall Street and you deregulate, as you point out, the equity funds and everything. Let me cut to the chase a bit in terms of international trade and because that’s really the pressure.

General Motors was like, well, we can’t do this because we have to compete. But the irony is Germany, which has been the most successful before China, car company business, they did pay decent wages. They have a strong labor movement. Right?. And it’s interesting, in all the talk about human rights elsewhere in the world, the right to form a union, to go on strike, to demand, is hardly ever mentioned. And so now you have a situation where people are making these electric cars in China are very good at it, and they’re competing now for German cars and that’s also extends into not only electric cars. And hardly anybody brings up the big issue, why don’t we focus more on whether Chinese workers have the right to join a union and what is happening to the right of German workers. So the old idea that maybe there should be an international standard for labor and that this is connected with human rights, it know sounds like some heretical notion that, you know, including the workers assembling iPhones. Some of us are now buying new iPhones. How much do the people make and then say, oh, well, we’re going to shift from China to India, or how much will they make in India? So why don’t you just discuss that big, big whole area? 

Meyerson Absolutely. Well, one of the complaints that labor correctly had about the trade agreements like NAFTA and PNTR, which was the trade agreement with China, after which American corporations said, okay, we can make it cheaper in China, we’ll go there. One of the big complaints was that those agreements ensured property rights and never said anything about labor rights. And this, you know, this was part of the neoliberalism which characterized the three Democratic presidents before Biden: Carter, Clinton and even Obama, who at the end of his term was pushing one such more agreement with Pacific Rim countries, though obviously that only helped Donald Trump win the 2016 election. So what is now the case is that there’s been this really interesting revision of NAFTA, which at the insistence of Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown when the bill was in Congress, that lets the Labor Department jointly intervene when there’s the suppression of a union in Mexico.

And as I reference the international person at the Labor Department who is a woman named Thea Lee, who was the chief trade person for the AFL-CIO, she has now conducted several such interventions which have led to the recognition of real unions, not the company unions and paper unions and unions affiliated with the old governing Mexican party, the PRI, but real unions that, you know, the GM plants that aren’t in Michigan but are in Mexico. So, yeah, I mean, you need more of that. You need more of that. But getting you look, honestly, the problems of American labor are horrific just within our own borders, not to mention the whole issue of low wage foreign competition. So, you know, they face a multi-level challenge.

Scheer But the rationalization for saying that American workers shouldn’t have strong unions that can go on strike is we have this competition and you just, I shouldn’t say like, I’m a big admirer, fan of your reporting. You just answered the biggest question I had about the rewrite of NAFTA, because ironically, it was under Donald Trump. 

Meyerson Right. 

Scheer NAFTA got rewritten and made better and part of that was there was a provision that the workers in Mexico I assume also in Canada, could go to the first of all, real courts with your case, and they could have real duties and they had to be paid $16 an hour, as I recall. I think I must be the only person in my crowd that bothered to read this whole thing. But they were supposed to be paid $16 an hour at least, which was at least by the standards of that part of Mexico, a real salary. And it had to be for 40% of the car. And I thought, where did this did? Did Donald Trump know he signed an improvement of NAFTA? 

Meyerson No. In order to get the Democratic votes to get that through Congress, the Democrats put in these amendments mainly, as I said, Sherrod Brown, who, by the way, is up for, in a very tough reelection fight in Ohio next year, put this stuff in and somehow or other it wasn’t taken out. So, you know, I mean, we know Trump probably has never read a single bill that he signed, but, you know, there are people around him who are literate. And nonetheless, this stuff became the law. And now under Biden, you have a Labor Department that is, you know, determined to enforce it. And they are. 

Scheer Okay. And as I say, you cleared up a mystery because I kept thinking, wait a minute. How did we get a very important improvement in NAFTA under Donald Trump? And so at least he didn’t kill it. What is interesting is that the mass media, as far as I know, never even commented on it. It never came up. But in the life of people, I would take it, now going back to the Foxconn plants in China, and I take your point, you know that the government has to take place in each country. But the big argument against improvement is we’re supposed to be competing with low wage countries. Okay.

And so I would think and, you know, and by the way, I think I don’t know, I guess on NPR, I’m not supposed to endorse anybody or anything but Sherrod Brown has always been a very good senator, very concerned about all of these kind of issues. Ironically, I met him through Dennis Kucinich. Dennis Kucinich, who has certainly been very strong pro-labor told me Sherrod Brown was really a good, good man. And so I’m willing to give him that credit. But the fact of the matter is, a lot can be done to level this international playing field. And it does have an important effect on human rights, because clearly the right to make a decent wage and object to the exploitation and go on strike and so forth should be a very basic human right. And it has been forgotten. 

Meyerson So, you know, two things. We have our own version of low wage competition in this country. It’s called the South, you know, which was the case when your garment worker parents had lower wage competition in the south that was lower wage than the unionized shops in New York. So it still is a problem and one of the things I think that’s at stake in the autoworkers strike is if they win a good settlement and given the changes in the unionization law that the NLRB has now put forth, that they’re going to try again. So far, they have not been successful, but they’re going to try again to organize, you know, the Volkswagen and the Hyundai and the Toyota plants in the south, which are all nonunion. Also, you mentioned Foxconn and I want to digress on that for one moment.

You know, we’ve just had Elon Musk’s biography, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk has just come out, and it has one similarity to Isaacson’s earlier biography of Steve Jobs, and that is he never talks to a single employee who was working for jobs at the Foxconn plant, of whom there were a million exploited workers, many of whom were committing suicide. And he never talked to any of the workers in the Tesla plants who were working for Elon Musk. He talked to their colleagues, their professional colleagues, but he sort of forgot that these guys are huge employers. You know, it’s one thing to write a biography of Albert Einstein, which he has done, and not consider his employees because Einstein employees were probably just, you know, a cook and a, you know, a driver. But when you employ a million people at Foxconn and when you employ thousands of people making your Teslas, that should be part of what you cover. And Isaacson somehow missed that. So I’m digressing. But I you know, I need to say that.

Scheer You’re not digressing you’re talking about and let’s talk about this because I gave you a lot of credit at the beginning, and I’ve been a big fan of your writing, but you’re a rare bird that actually took Labor seriously, took Labor’s struggles seriously. And, you know, ironically, when you were doing some of this in Los Angeles, I was working at the L.A. Times and when I went to work there and I was there for almost 30 years in one capacity, my wife ended up being a vice president and boss, good woman. But still, I’ve tried to join the Newspaper Guild. I went to Harry Bernstein, our labor reporter, who actually was the only member of the guild or something. I think we had one typesetting shop that also had a union contract and he wouldn’t even let me join the union. He said, well, you know, I have it because I can’t cover labor in their conventions if I’m not in, you know, and he didn’t particularly like my writing and thought I was too radical was something.

And it was interesting, the L.A. Times now in its much reduced form, it has a union contract. And so I just think back to even in the media world and using the Hollywood example, we would have all benefited from having unions. And so, you know, I want to ask you, is there a new awareness of the value of unions or is this a fiction? And I’m thinking of Amazon plants, and yet the most important newspapers in terms of public policy is The Washington Post. It’s owned by somebody who is using his own money but still, that company certainly has done everything to prevent unions from coming in. And this billionaire model of how you get newspapers going again, I mean, how much sympathy is there among journalists, or the opportunity to even discuss this issue? 

Meyerson Yeah, well, I think there is a turn in journalism to unions, because not only that, the Times, which was, as you are very well aware, historically anti-union. 

Scheer You mean, The L.A. Times.

Meyerson Yeah, yeah. The Chicago Tribune, which was also historically anti-union. I mean that was the paper Franklin Roosevelt hated the most, you know, that they unionized as well. But I think this is part and parcel of something of two things. First of all, public support for unions is really pretty much an all time high. Gallup and Pew poll on this every year in Gallup’s case, in every other year in Pew’s case, and it’s in the last few years, it’s been about 70% approval rating, which is so far in excess of the approval rating of virtually any other American institution. You know, and it hasn’t been this high since the 1960s. So that’s one thing. The other thing is that the one category of workers who even under the National Labor Relations Act, which was, you know, a piece of cheese in which the holes are bigger than the cheese for the companies to go through, workers who can’t be fired during organizing drives, that’s who’s been unionizing up the wazoo. If you’re a worker at a factory and it’s nonunion and you’re trying to unionize, the company just comes in and fires you because they can get your replacement easily and there are no serious penalties under the law for breaking the law, which says you can’t do this.

But if you’re looking at a union of professionals, you can’t assume that there’s a ready worker to come in and replace them. And so you’ve seen huge unionization among the teaching assistants and research assistants at universities. I did a little calculation, the National Labor Relations Board PR person sends me the votes every time these grad students have unionized, and I totaled up all the votes in the last year and a half on university and college campuses for unionizing, and it was at 89% Yes. That is a statement of generational approval of unions. These are all young people. And the polls show that more than 80% of young people are pro-union. And these are workers who can’t be fired. The workers at think tanks have unionized here in DC, at Brookings and the Urban Institute. Brookings have been around for 107 years. All of this is in the last you know, the last period. You’re seeing hospital residents and interns unionizing. What makes these workers different from assembly line workers, from retail clerks and so on, is that the companies can’t fire them while they’re unionizing because, you know, they’re not easily replaced.

Whereas, you know, most workers are easily replaced. And so you’re seeing much of the growth of unions over the last year and a half, two years has been among these professionals. And, you know, the challenge for the Teamsters now that they won UPS and are now looking at Amazon, and that’s the challenge for the autoworkers after they win something with the big three and then look south to all of those nonunion factories, you know, below the Mason-Dixon line, is can they unionize those kind of workers to try, given the new rules and given the momentum they will have? We shall see. 

Scheer Yeah, We should point out one of the big achievements is not with the professionals, but really the most exploited workers that are organized by the SEIU and others and here and I forget. But we’ve seen that in Los Angeles and other places, and it cuts through the whole. And I know you’re limited for time, but God, we hardly ever talk about labor. So let me stretch this a little bit. But it really comes through the immigration debate because, in fact, the way you can exploit workers who are immigrant is they don’t have status, they don’t have rights, they can’t go on strike and so forth. And this came up and so it’s really quite terrific that that’s precisely the group of workers that SEIU has been effective in organizing and getting some rights and getting some legal representation. So you don’t pit the undocumented against the documented when it comes to a job. We had another mystery since you cleared up my mystery on NAFTA, maybe you can clear this one up. It’s one of the reasons why I do this by the way, I do learn, believe it or not, from the people I talk to. And we had a program in California that I did cover for the Los Angeles Times called the TIP Program.

And it was developed when, oh, my goodness, Pete Wilson, the Republican, was the governor, and he got into all kinds of trouble being anti-immigrant after. But he started out as kind of a moderate Republican who had been the mayor of San Diego and so forth. And he had a department store executive, Victoria Bradshaw, I think, was her name, that he had appointed as secretary of labor. And Victoria Bradshaw, along with Jose Mian, who was then the Labor commissioner. She moved up, hire a brilliant lawyer, a young lawyer here in Los Angeles. They came up with something called the TIP program. I forget what it stood for, but targeted intervention, protection, something. And what it said is and I went with them on many of these raids, and they exposed the use of slave labor in El Monte, Thai workers and so forth. It’s really quite a terrific program. And they would go into a plant or into the field and say, we’re not immigration, we’re not here to arrest you. You are potential witnesses. We will protect you. We just want to get your story. Are you being paid in real wages? Is there a bathroom? Do you get a break? And these were all laws on the book, right, that were being ignored, including federal laws. And Robert Reich, who was then the secretary of labor, to say something positive about the Clinton administration is that you see. 

Meyerson Opposition from within in the Clinton. 

Scheer  And so he joined this thing. And it was incredibly effective. And then under a Democratic governor, Gray Davis, they killed the program. They killed the program. I never can get anybody to tell me how this happened and accept that, oh, there were some contributors that have owned the garment factories and then there were some in the farm community own the farm owners that made a big opposition to it, and they just went away. And as a journalist, I thought, wow, I saw this was an incredibly effective program because they could grab all the material, the garments over there to close down the shop until it was adjudicated. People were told their rights. There’s even a Smithsonian exhibit, a permanent exhibit of what happened in El Monte, closing down a slave, I happened to be on that raid. So you covered all this stuff and here was an example where the Democrats killed a very good program. 

Meyerson Well, Gray Davis was always unduly responsive to campaign contributors. That was one of his his issues. But Wilson, you know, you’re right that Wilson had, for a Republican, a pretty moderate stances, but then he was afraid of losing the 1994, his reelection campaign. And there was this Prop 187 on the ballot, which would have, you know, essentially closed all public services, even the right to attend school. Public school K through 12… 

Scheer It was horrible. 

Meyerson …to undocumented immigrants. And he realized that if he was going to get reelected, he had to be the leading spokesperson for Prop 187. And that pretty much, you know, in a way that really hastened the demise of the entire Republican Party in California. Because once Latinos started voting, you know, the Republican Party has sort of faded into near extinction in California. So but, yeah, I mean, there were occasional programs. And if you go back, look, I mean, you know, in 19, I think 86, you know, Reagan signed a bill which legalized 3 million previously undocumented immigrants. Republicans were not necessarily, at that time, weren’t the rabid white nationalists that they have since become. Some of them always were. But, you know, the number of them were not. But these days, most of them who were not are no longer in elected office. Also on the Monterey raid, you know, the lawyer for the workers, there is. 

Scheer El Monte. 

Meyerson El Monte, excuse me, there was Julie Su, who is now the acting secretary of labor and who every Republican will vote against in the Senate and including good ole Mr. Joe Manchin. And so she’s not been confirmed, as you know, Biden’s nominee as labor secretary, but because she was a deputy secretary when her predecessor quit, she is essentially the de facto labor secretary. So she got her start with that raid as well. 

Scheer And she was the one of the heroes. 

Meyerson Yes, sure was. 

Scheer Let let me. Okay. I know your time is limited, you got a few more minutes?

Meyerson Maybe one more question, one more answer. 

Scheer Well, okay. And we could do this again, because it evolves. Okay, my last question. Trying to understand Ronald Reagan. Both of us have, as journalists have tried to understand it. And I, by the way, full confession. I am a retired, but still a member of whatever, a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild. And I must say, though, working in that, I was forced to join. Yes. Because you couldn’t work on the project unless and I welcomed it. And I never met anybody ever in that industry who complained about our having these unions because it gave you great whatever stability you could have in a profession that otherwise had no stability. People are out of work all the time. And then we had at least this union card that you could get in on. And that was true of my relatives growing up in New York. The union was the stability, whether it was the Steelworkers union or the Teamsters. My goodness, the Teamsters were the most admired union until the US government decided to smear them and destroy them. But, you know, my parents always felt envy of Teamsters, they could make a living wage.

But I want to just say one last thing about understanding Ronald Reagan, because I wrote about this. I interviewed him, talked about him. Reagan really believed in the union. Okay. The Screen Actors Guild. And then he got sold a bill of goods when he went around working for GE. Right. And GE was a fairly enlightened company and GE had a strong union. The old UE, the United Electrical Workers, which was a leftist right union, was even red baited. Then the IUE came in and everything. But what convinced Reagan was he went to all of these plants and he said, Hey, these are great plants. People make good wages, but they were unionized. But he drank the Kool-Aid that somehow the company was responsible for the progress, not the union. That’s always the big issue. Does the union make the company less efficient or more efficient? The argument for Apple and Foxconn, for Amazon is the union will make us inefficient and that will hurt consumers. And in the case of United Electric Workers, they went downhill after the unions got weaker and they became basically a bank and the GE capital or whatever and got all the housing stuff. Ironically, when Reagan was president, he saw the savings and loan scandal. He saw these shenanigans, and he actually pushed through some legislation on controlling these companies that was more progressive than what Clinton went for when he came in. My last question, it’s a complex one, but do what you can with it. 

Meyerson Okay. Well, Reagan. You know, is is at some level. I remember I forget who the guy who wrote the biography of Teddy Roosevelt tried to do a biography of Reagan and realized he simply could not penetrate the guy’s thought processes. So maybe there’s a conundrum at the center of the mystery of Ronald Reagan and and unions. But yeah, he did obviously, you know, start out as a self-proclaimed new dealer and ended up, as, you know, the enemy of whatever was left of the New Deal. But, you know, there is a new book out, a terrific book on the Clinton administration by, I think, really our greatest current labor historian who’s up in Santa Barbara. Nelson Lichtenstein has a new book out on the Clinton administration and how it ended up going, you know, way to the right on free trade, on deregulation, you name it. 

Scheer You know the title of the book? 

Meyerson Of I have it right here. It’s a fabulous… 

Scheer Show us cover, maybe we should get them on the show.

Meyerson A Fabulous Failure: The Clinton Presidency and the Transformation of American Capitalism. Wow. And Nelson is brilliant. And he he coauthored it by taking over a project that the another great historian, Judith Stein, had started. But then she died. And then Nelson took what she had done and added most of the book himself. It’s just come out. The publisher is somebody who… 

Scheer A Fabulous Failure.

Meyerson It’s the Princeton University Press and the Oxford University Press. So anyway, it’s a great book and it really explains how the Democrats ended up veering to the right. And, you know, part of this is simply the weakening of unions. You know, it’s both cause and effect. As unions grew weaker and smaller, they became a less of a part of the Democratic Party universe. And, you know, then you’ve got a couple of presidents in particular, Carter and Clinton, who had no background with unions coming from Georgia and Arkansas, respectively. And, look, the Democrats have been trying to reform labor law so that it actually, you know, restores workers rights again. They’ve been trying to do that since Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, when they were trying to get rid of the right to work stuff. And they failed every time. Every time they’ve had both houses of Congress, they’ve been able to pass the House and never get anything over the Senate 60 vote cloture threshold. And, you know, this is, again, the case with Biden. They had the Pro Act, which is a very good act, and that went nowhere since the Democrats have been nowhere near 60 votes during Biden’s first year. 

Scheer Joe Biden was never strong on labor. 

Meyerson He wasn’t but he definitely has become so because the party has become so. 

Scheer Listen, we’re going to wrap this up because you have to go. But I do want to say this has to be explored more. The mass media never did because the mass media was never favorable to labor and regarded it as a problem. So the red baiting, the destruction associated with organized crime, all the stuff that was done about labor was quite bad. I do want to say last thing, I asked Ronald Reagan at some length about this. And, you know, Ronald Reagan had written a book about where is the left to me. And he said, I never left the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me. I asked him, what did you really mean by that? And Ronald Reagan was very clear. He said, my family was saved by the New Deal. My family was saved by those labor laws, he said. And I was a serious union president and I’m very proud of it. And then he felt it got off into other issues.

I think he drank the Kool-Aid at GE didn’t like and so forth. But I know towards the very end of his life because I would see him and I did interview him for the L.A. Times and others. And he was very clear that strong unions were absolutely consistent with the rise and success of America and American workers. So there was this sort of an odd contradiction. Yet he did betray that very spirit, particularly with the air traffic control. Thank you, Harold Meyerson, American Prospect. Read the man’s work and we’re going all going to read this book. We’re going to make this our big project that you mentioned. And I want to thank you for doing this. I want to thank Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho at KCRW. These might be people Harold knows. He’s done work with the station for hosting these shows. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer, who insisted I interview you on all this, he’s a big fan of yours. Diego Ramos, who writes the intro, Max Jones, who does the video and the JKW Foundation in the memory of Jean Stein, a terrific independent writer for helping fund these shows. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required
CC-BY-NC-ND is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license. CC-BY-NC-ND only applies to ORIGINAL ScheerPost content.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments