Navigation Bar

Home -> Political Action -> Capitol Hill Shop Steward


Capitol Hill Shop Steward

The Democratic Leadership Council
Big Business's
Best Friends

As featured in
Labor Party Press

Even wonder why the Democratic Party has moved to the center of the political spectrum ... and why the Democrats have left working people's interests in the dust? Then you should read this ...

Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a senior member of Congress from Ohio. During our brief chat in his office, he complained to me that the source of labor’s problem was that "too many union members don’t support the Democrats." To which I replied, "The problem is, all Democrats are not created equal." And then he confessed, "You’re right, the DLC has taken care of that."

The DLC he refers to is the Democratic Leadership Council. Over the years I have occasionally mentioned the DLC in this column, and you may have heard of it long before that. The DLC had a big burst of free publicity back in 1992 when Clinton and Gore were elected, since these guys were (and still are) loyal DLCers. Both got in on the ground floor of the DLC’s "New Democrat" wave fifteen years ago.

Another splash of media attention was showered on the DLC when Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) was selected as the vice-presidential running mate last year. Lieberman was DLC chairman at the time. The DLC made news earlier this year when it loudly criticized Al Gore for losing the presidential election to Bush. As far as the DLC is concerned, Gore blew the election by catering to union members and working people at the expense of winning the votes of "information age" and "affluent" voters.

Who Are These People?

It’s pretty obvious that the DLC — and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute — has been growing in size and influence. But do we really know what this means? Where did the DLC come from, what does it stand for, who belongs to it, and where is it taking the Democratic Party?

The DLC was born out of the ash heap of the Mondale presidential campaign in 1984. Some of you may remember that whole sections of the Democratic Party officialdom and apparatus sat out the election, effectively going on a political strike, allowing Ronald Reagan to be reelected in a landslide. While organized labor worked itself to a frazzle trying to elect Mondale, many Democrats refused to work for Mondale because he was "too liberal to win." In early 1985, several conservative and moderate Democratic Party officials from the West and South created the DLC, "with the express purpose of pushing the party to the center, out of the clutches of liberal interest groups, most notably organized labor," noted Robert Kuttner in his 1987 book The Life of the Party.

As for what the DLC stands for, the Winter 2001 issue of its publication Blueprint spells it out pretty clearly. Listed as "Ten Big Ideas — A New Democrat Agenda for Governing," the DLC program covers exciting territory such as "boosting new growth economics," along with "achieving universal health insurance," "finishing the welfare revolution," — and my favorite — "promoting free trade in the Americas." Roughly translated, the DLC program is to give big business pretty much whatever it wants, in the hope — but not promise — that the profits will trickle down to us little people.

And if you were led to believe by the headline that the DLC supports real health care reform, ‘tain’t so. A reading of their section on "achieving universal health insurance" reveals that their solution is some kind of "refundable tax credit" and "group purchasing arrangements," all to deliberately avoid a national health care system. If you’d like to see more of these inspirational nuggets, check out the DLC website at (link opens new browser window).

Star Players

The star players in the DLC today are numerous congressional Democrats, including Evan Bayh, senator from Indiana and DLC chairman; and Rep. Ellen Tauscher from California, the vice-chair. A total of 72 Democrats in the House and 19 senators are DLCers. A good number of state and local Democrats are also members of the "New Democrat" coalition. The founder and CEO of the DLC is a guy by the name of Al From, a lifetime inhabitant of Capitol Hill. He began as a congressional staffer, graduated to director of the House Democratic Caucus, and helped start the DLC in ’85. From has been on the DLC payroll ever since. His online bio boasts, among other things, that he is "a member of the Board of Directors for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce National Chamber Foundation." No, I’m not making this up.

The DLC Scheme

And as for where the DLC is taking the Democratic Party, that’s yet to be seen. Or more correctly, it’s not clear if they’ll get away with it. The DLC has a pretty good scheme, and a steadily growing number of Democrats are buying it. It all fits together: 

  1. Join the DLC;

  2. let the DLC do your thinking for you;

  3. let the DLC help you raise campaign money from rich people and big business by introducing you as a "New Democrat" who is friendly to business and not "held hostage to special interests" (like unions); and

  4. enjoy the best of both worlds as you win election and reelection.

Democrats vote for you because you are less awful than a full-blown Republican, and significant numbers of Republicans vote for you because you are sufficiently horrible to pass the test. Working people get left in the dust.

So there’s the DLC in a nutshell. I’ll have more on the DLC and its prominent personalities in future issues.

One parting thought: Let’s not blame the DLC. It is doing exactly what any group of comfortable-to-rich folks would do given the situation they find. They have a goal, they have a plan, and they are putting their plan in motion. They are making progress: The Democratic Party is significantly less sympathetic and useful to working people since the DLC was founded. The question for us is, "What plan does the labor movement have?" The other question is one you should ask of your coworkers: "Would you like to join the Labor Party?"

Chris Townsend is political action director of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).

Home -> Political Action -> Capitol Hill Shop Steward

Home • About UE • Organize! • Independent Unions • Search • Site Guide • What's New • Contact UE
UE News • Political Action • Info for Workers • Resources • Education • Health & Safety • International • Links