Harold Meyerson

Why Democrats shouldn't pick one of those many senators for VP

Over the next two nights, we’ll see seven Democratic senators (counting Bernie Sanders as the Democrat he effectively is) on the debate stage. Not all of them, of course, are really running for president. The more obscure, the non-frontrunners, may have calculated that the exposure they are getting will set them up for a vice-presidential nod. (Some of the other candidates now polling at one percent appear to be running for a post on the level of deputy assistant secretary for Horseshoeing in the Department of Commerce.) Senators Michel Bennett, Kirsten Gilllibrand, and Amy Klobuchar might well have had Joe Biden’s old job in mind when they declared their candidacies.

Keep reading... Show less

What the Teacher Strikes Mean

Around seven years ago, I had a standard wisecrack to explain the standing of workers in the world’s two dominant economies: “China has strikes but no unions; America has unions but no strikes.”

Keep reading... Show less

Labor Organizer Paul Booth, 1943-2018

Six days ago, I was having an email exchange with the author of a piece I was editing on how Democrats can both turn out their base and reach out to voters outside their base in the 2018 midterms. We were going back and forth on three points in the piece—chiefly, on whether Latinos could be said to have realigned themselves more toward the Democrats during the 1990s (the author’s position) or whether so many new Latino voters came forth during that decade that their Democratic shift was more a surge than a realignment (my position).

Keep reading... Show less

Flying the Bloody Skies

While the videos of security cops dragging a bloodied physician down the aisle of a United Airlines plane clearly shocked the millions of people who viewed them, my guess is that, at some level, it didn’t surprise them. Indeed, the reason the videos were so damaging to United—and at some level, to the entire airline industry—is that everyone who’s flown in coach during the past several decades knows that the welfare of airline passengers, save for those who fly first- or business-class, is the least of the airlines’ concerns.

Keep reading... Show less

Corporate Media Really Has It Out for the Idea of Paying People a Decent Minimum Wage

Despite abundant empirical evidence that raising the minimum wage doesn’t lead to job loss, the idea that it does is an article of faith among right-wing economists, and all too often the media report their theological musings as fact. The latest example of such folly popped up in an article in the March 22 Financial Times, a paper that usually knows better than to publish this bushwah.

Keep reading... Show less

Why the Democrats' Challenge Is Far Greater Than Donald Trump

"I do understand power, whatever else may be said about me,” Lyndon Johnson once said. “I know where to look for it and how to use it.”

Keep reading... Show less

This Is the Year Economists Finally Figured Out What Everyone Else Long Understood About 'Free Trade'

This week, Bloomberg’s Noah Smith published a list of “ten excellent economics books and papers” that he read in 2016. Number three on his list was the now celebrated paper, “The China Shock: Learning from Labor-Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade,” by economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson. Here’s Smith’s summary of the work and its consequences:

Keep reading... Show less

Trump Presidency Could Kill Labor Unions

As Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin—states that once were the stronghold of the nation’s industrial union movement—dropped into Donald Trump’s column on election night, one longtime union staff member told me that Trump’s victory was “an extinction-level event for American labor.”

Keep reading... Show less

Trump's Refusal to Accept Election's Legitimacy Is No Surprise

Donald Trump’s Jeezus-Christ-Did-He-Really-Say-That Moment on Wednesday night—saying he wouldn’t guarantee that he’d accept the result of the impending presidential election—didn’t come out of the blue. Herewith, two explanations.

Keep reading... Show less

Is Millennials' Support for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson About Privilege?

On the afternoon of the opening session of this summer’s Democratic Convention, I was walking into the convention arena while hundreds of young demonstrators, many carrying signs backing Green Party candidate Jill Stein, shouted and occasionally hurled invectives at those entering the hall—an odd tactic, I thought, since more than 40 percent of the delegates entering the building were Bernie Sanders’. The friend I was walking in with—a Latino legislator from California—cast a cold eye on the demonstrators and noted, “They’re all white.”

Keep reading... Show less

Gary Johnson Does Not Embrace Millennials' Interests

A version of this essay originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Keep reading... Show less

Bad News and Some Good From a New 50-State Poll: Third Party Candidates Are Hurting Clinton

We are all of us drowning in polls, but The Washington Post’s poll of each of the individual 50 states, posted online on Tuesday and presented in a special section of the paper’s print edition Wednesday, is something else again. The survey of 74,000 voters, compiled from August 9 through September 1, offers us two things that most national polls don’t: A window on the broader future of American politics, and a clear picture of how the third-party candidacies of Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein are affecting this year’s race.

Keep reading... Show less

How the Charter School Lobby Is Changing the Democratic Party

At a time when Democrats and their party are, by virtually every index, moving left, a powerful center-right pressure group within the liberal universe has nonetheless sprung up. Funded by billionaires and arrayed against unions, it is increasingly contesting for power in city halls and statehouses where Democrats already govern.

Keep reading... Show less

Why the Democrats Need to Sink the TPP

Of all the misfortunes that may befall Hillary Clinton and the Democrats at their upcoming convention, the one they have most reason to fear is a platform fight over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. By repudiating the TPP, which has yet to come before Congress, and promising to repudiate those trade deals already in effect, Donald Trump is clearly scoring points with voters in Rust Belt states whose support the Democrats have long counted on in presidential elections. Earlier this year, Clinton reversed her provisional endorsement of the TPP, thereby aligning her position not only more closely with those Rust Belt voters’, but also with Bernie Sanders’ and most of the Democratic establishment (unions, environmentalists, and a clear majority of Democratic members of Congress).

Keep reading... Show less

Harmony and Dissonance: Two Meetings of the Democrats and the Left

For Democrats and progressives concerned about whether their disparate forces can come together this November to defeat Donald Trump, and whether they can continue to prod the Democrats leftward in the coming months and years, two conferences held this past weekend offered some hopeful signs.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Bernie May Have a Better Shot at Winning in November Than Hillary

Much as I’ve liked Bernie Sanders, I never believed he’d be a stronger candidate than Hillary Clinton in the November run-off against the Republicans’ pick for president. I knew he polled better than her when pitted against the leading Republicans, but those polls didn’t factor in the red-baiting and hippie-baiting (Bernie being a child of both the ‘30s and ‘60s lefts) he’d be subjected to by a desperate GOP. 

Keep reading... Show less

Why Organized Labor is More Important Than Ever In An Era of Vast Economic Inequality

Imagine America without unions. This shouldn’t be hard. In much of America unions have already disappeared. In the rest of America they’re battling for their lives.

Keep reading... Show less

How the American South Drives the Low-Wage Economy

Santayana had it wrong: Even if we remember the past, we may be condemned to repeat it. Indeed, the more we learn about the conflict between the North and South that led to the Civil War, the more it becomes apparent that we are reliving that conflict today. The South’s current drive to impose on the rest of the nation its opposition to worker and minority rights—through the vehicle of a Southernized Republican Party—resembles nothing so much as the efforts of antebellum Southern political leaders to blunt the North’s opposition to the slave labor system. Correspondingly, in the recent actions of West Coast and Northeastern cities and states to raise labor standards and protect minority rights, there are echoes of the pre–Civil War frustrations that many Northerners felt at the failure of the federal government to defend and promote a free labor system, frustrations that—ironically—led them to found the Republican Party.

Keep reading... Show less

The Seeds of a New Labor Movement

This article is from the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine.

Keep reading... Show less

In the Wake of Ferguson, What Will It Take to Reshape America’s Police?

While the election of Barack Obama as president may have seemed to some to herald a new era in American race relations, the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, made clear that one of the venerable flash points in race relations—the police (or in the case of Sanford, self-appointed police) killings of young black men—is very much still with us. Discriminatory police treatment of African Americans remains one of the hardiest perennials in American life, as the “stop-and-frisk” tactic that New York’s police force employed against young blacks until just last year made clear.

Keep reading... Show less

The American Middle Class Was Destroyed by Design: How to Make It Strong Again

Once upon a time in a faraway land—the United States following World War II—workers reaped what they sowed. From 1947 through 1973, their income rose in lockstep with increases in productivity. Their median compensation (wages plus benefits) increased by 95 percent as their productivity increased by 97 percent. Then, abruptly, the rewards for greater productivity started going elsewhere—to shareholders, financiers, and top corporate executives. Today, for the vast majority of American workers, the link between their productivity and their compensation no longer exists.

Keep reading... Show less

One-Percent Justice: The Right's War on Labor and Consumers Takes an Ugly Turn

Should the Supreme Court uphold it, last Friday’s decision by three Reagan-appointees to the D.C. Circuit Appellate Court appears at first glance to rejigger the balance of power between Congress and the president. The appellate justices struck down three recess appointments that President Obama had made to the five-member National Labor Relations Board during the break between the 2011 and 2012 sessions of Congress partly on the grounds that Congress wasn’t formally in recess, since one and sometimes two Republicans showed up to nominally keep it in session for the sole reason of denying Obama the right to recess appointments. Two of the three justices went further, ruling that the president can’t really make recess appointments at all.

Keep reading... Show less

What Happens If Labor Dies?

Imagine America without unions. This shouldn’t be hard. In much of America unions have already disappeared. In the rest of America they’re battling for their lives.

Keep reading... Show less

Fed Up With Federalism

By accident of its birth -- a collection of separate colonies that slowly came together to form an independent union and revolted against the remote power of the British government -- the United States has an enduring bias toward localism, an aversion to centralized government that is part of its DNA. For some on the left, this has been seen as a positive. "It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country," Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote.

Keep reading... Show less

Open Doors, Closed Minds


The End of Solidarity?

The hardest thing to explain is how labor got here. How it reached the point where it now looks as if we may have two separate and distinct labor federations come September.

After all, it's not as if the two groups wanted to represent different elements within the work force, as was the case in 1935 when a largely white, Protestant (and Irish) AFL took a pass on representing the unskilled workers -- many from Eastern and Southern Europe -- in factories, and the CIO came forth to organize them. It's not as if the two groups had political or ideological differences.

Indeed, the differences within the new Change-To-Win Coalition (the thankfully provisional name of the group that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and UNITE-HERE, among others, have formed) may be sharper than those within labor as a whole, since the SEIU and UNITE-HERE are among the leftmost of unions, while the Teamsters and the Carpenters have a long history of flirting with Republicans. It's not as if one side had the unions that organized and the other the unions that didn't: Both sides have unions with great track records, and with god-awful ones.

And yet, here we are: The SEIU, the AFL-CIO's largest union, and the Teamsters, the third largest, have left, and the UFCW looks sure to follow. There's been a little more reticence of tone among the leaders of UNITE-HERE, the clothing and hotel workers union, since their union owns the Amalgamated Bank (in which unions deposit -- and from with they can withdraw -- their funds), and needs support from other unions when they're boycotting hotels. Terry O'Sullivan, who heads the Laborers' International Union of North America, has been the most circumspect of the dissidents, as his union depends on collegial relations with other building trades to get construction-site agreements.

But anything resembling middle ground is eroding fast. On Monday, when SEIU president Andy Stern and Teamster president Jim Hoffa announced their unions' disaffiliation, they began for the first time to outline what looks to be a rival federation. Hoffa pledged to direct half of the dues he'd otherwise pay to the AFL-CIO ($10 million) to the new entity, which apparently will develop an organizing staff of its own, much like the old CIO. The creation of a whole new entity will make it harder for unions whose leaders intended to maintain joint memberships to do so: Emotionally and financially, the costs of dual membership will be very high.

For one thing, the departing dissidents leave in their wake some mightily pissed-off labor leaders, who believe that much of what Stern and his allies were calling for was in fact incorporated in the convention's resolutions. The positions ultimately backed by AFL-CIO president John Sweeney on, for instance, coordinated organizing, says American Federation of Teachers president Ed McElroy, "took their issues into consideration, and ours [the Teachers]. He didn't back anyone's ideas entirely. But there are a few leaders who want to dictate terms to the AFL-CIO with just 25 percent of the membership. I won't buy that; my union won't buy that. We won't have things dictated by a minority."

The mood in the Sweeney camp -- and even among some of the dissidents -- is even darker when they contemplate the damage the defections will do to the Federation. The fate of a joint Wal-Mart organizing project, backed by the Federation, with the UFCW and SEIU as the key internationals, is now a mystery. The International Affairs Department, probably the planet's most important proponent of a social-democratic model of globalization, has already been dismantled.

And the political program -- which both sides acknowledge is the glory of Sweeney's presidency and the one indispensable element in American progressive politics -- is clearly endangered. So much so that last Sunday, in between announcing the SEIU's non-attendance at the convention and its departure from the Federation altogether, Stern told me that he'd offered to have the SEIU continue to "help the AFL-CIO with its political program."

"They can keep some of the best aspects of our work," Stern said. "The AFL-CIO is making a huge mistake if it chooses not to work with us."

This policy of selective engagement, which renders the Sweeney people understandably ballistic, will be particularly tested in the central labor councils -- the city and county AFL-CIO bodies (of which the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is widely thought the most effective) that run labor's election-season political operations. Sweeney's position is that unions cannot choose to be part of, and benefit from, just those AFL-CIO programs they like, and he has said he'll enforce a ban on state and local participation by the defectors. But in California and Los Angeles, the dissident unions constitute roughly half of the AFL-CIO's membership. "Our state will be affected the most," says California Labor Federation Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski.

"We need these unions to do politics," says one L.A.-area labor leader. "But some unions are so angry, they'll say, 'Don't let 'em in the room. Fuck 'em.' "

The journey from "Solidarity Forever" to "Fuck 'em" remains hard to explain. I doubt if any of the dissident union leaders other than Stern -- whose SEIU is so large and successful that it can clearly stand alone -- figured that they would be where they are today. When I interviewed UFCW president Joe Hanson in February, he said he expected to support Sweeney's re-election. But mistrust and frustration have grown in both camps, despite the desire of many of the key players to avoid just this kind of crackup. "There's been a massive failure of leadership on both sides," one union leader close to both the Sweeney and dissident camps told me on Sunday. "The movement's already on life support. It's mind-boggling that we are where we are."

But we are.


Up to now America's largest employer has opposed every effort of its employees to form a union. Wal-Mart doesn't recognize unions; it doesn't even recognize "employees." The proper Wal-Mart name for its workers is "associates," a term that connotes higher status and collegiality and that actually means lower pay and workplace autocracy. For the privilege of associating themselves with Wal-Mart, its employees are paid so little that many can't afford the health insurance the company generously allows them to buy. One study of health care in Las Vegas revealed that a plurality of that city's employed Medicaid recipients worked at Wal-Mart.

But that was the old Wal-Mart. Last week Wal-Mart announced that if its associates wanted a union to represent them, that would be hunky-dory – as long as the union was affiliated with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, a body dominated by the Chinese Communist Party. The official statement was simple and seemingly unambiguous: "Should associates request formation of a union, Wal-Mart China would respect their wishes."

Wal-Mart America has made no such declaration, of course. Why it deems its 20,000 Chinese associates who work in its 40 Chinese stores worthy of representation while its million U.S. employees can't be trusted with the right to represent themselves is a good question. Whence the Sinophilia and Americaphobia?

We can, I think, dismiss suspicions of anti-anyone-but-Chinese racism as such. The answer, then, must lie in Wal-Mart's preference for old-line communist-dominated unions in authoritarian communist states over any other kinds of unions anywhere else. America's unions, which Wal-Mart despises, have a long history of anti-communism, and today's AFL-CIO is the staunchest defender on the American political scene of democratic rights in communist nations such as China. For that matter, unions affiliated with reformed or post-communist parties outside of the few remaining communist states have gotten nowhere with Wal-Mart either. Only in China, with its inimitable blend of Dickensian capitalism and authoritarian communism, has Wal-Mart found a union to its liking.

And small wonder. Unions affiliated with the All-China Federation seldom push for wage increases or safer machinery. Indeed, the locals are often headed by someone from company management. Not that there isn't worker discontent in China: Every week brings accounts of spontaneous strikes, and now and then an occasional riot over such lifestyle impediments as unpaid wages. But the role of the state-sanctioned unions isn't to channel the discontent into achievable gains; it's to contain it to the employer's benefit.

The leaders of genuine workers' movements in China don't end up running the All-China Federation. They're to be found in prison, in exile, or in hiding.

Besides, truly democratic unions in China would run counter to the truly undemocratic, one-party state. Allowing a democratic union movement to form would threaten both Dickensian capitalism and authoritarian communism, and diminish some of China's competitive advantage over other low-wage but not authoritarian nations in Southeast Asia, Central America and elsewhere. Such a development would be anathema to both the Politburo and Wal-Mart's board of directors. It would introduce the concept of free choice and the prospects of higher living standards not just to Wal-Mart's 20,000 Chinese store employees but to the far larger number of Chinese workers laboring in poverty-wage servitude to stitch clothing for the contractors, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors whose products fill Wal-Mart's shelves.

When a company such as Wal-Mart is so plainly comfortable with authoritarianism abroad, it tells you something about that company's values at home. Bentonville regards the prospect of employee free association and organization within its stores with the same fear and loathing that Beijing feels at the prospect of free elections in China. Anti-union American employers can't imprison pro-union workers, but exile is a real possibility. Troublemakers are free to go. According to Cornell labor relations professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, at least 5 percent of workers involved in unionization campaigns are fired, which is both quite illegal and quite routine: Companies would rather pay the nominal fines than pay their workers higher wages and lose the absolute control they hold over the work lives of their employees.

The noblest of the Bush administration's goals, surely, is that of spreading democracy. If it's serious about that task, though, there are places closer to home than the Middle East that could use a little democracy-spreading, and the American workplace is high on that list. Strengthening labor law would make it harder for employers such as Wal-Mart to thwart their workers' desire for an organized voice on the job. When America's largest employer feels more affinity for the political legacy of Mao Zedong than for that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, it's time to start democratizing our own back yard.

Where's the Shame?

With Election Day almost upon us, it's not clear whether President Bush is running a campaign or plotting a coup d'etat. By all accounts, Republicans are spending these last precious days devoting nearly as much energy to suppressing the Democratic vote as they are to mobilizing their own.

Time was when Republicans were at least embarrassed by their efforts to keep African Americans from the polls. Republican consultant Ed Rollins was all but drummed out of the profession after his efforts to pay black ministers to keep their congregants from voting in a 1993 New Jersey election came to light.

For George W. Bush, Karl Rove, and their legion of genteel thugs, however, universal suffrage is just one more musty liberal ideal that threatens conservative rule. Today's Republicans have elevated vote suppression from a dirty secret to a public norm.

In Ohio, Republicans have recruited 3,600 poll monitors and assigned them disproportionately to such heavily black areas as inner-city Cleveland, where Democratic "527" groups have registered many tens of thousands of new voters. "The organized left's efforts to, quote unquote, register voters – I call them ringers – have created these problems" of potential massive vote fraud, Cuyahoga County Republican Chairman James P. Trakas recently told The New York Times.

Let's pass over the implication that a registration drive waged by a liberal group is inherently fraud-ridden, and look instead at that word "ringers."

Registration in Ohio is nonpartisan, but independent analysts estimate that roughly 400,000 new Democrats have been added to the rolls this year. Who does Trakas think they are? Have tens of thousands of African Americans been sneaking over the state lines from Pittsburgh and Detroit to vote in Cleveland – thus putting their own battleground states more at risk of a Republican victory? Is Shaker Heights suddenly filled with Parisians affecting American argot? Or are the Republicans simply terrified that a record number of minority voters will go to the polls next Tuesday? Have they decided to do anything to stop them – up to and including threatening to criminalize Voting While Black in a Battleground State?

This is civic life in the age of George W. Bush, in which politics has become a continuation of civil war by other means. In Bush's America, there's a war on – against a foreign enemy so evil that we can ignore the Geneva Conventions, against domestic liberals so insidious that we can ignore democratic norms. Only bleeding hearts with a pre-Sept. 11 mind-set still believe in voting rights.

For Bush and Rove, the domestic war predates the war on terrorism. From the first day of his presidency, Bush opted to govern from the right, to fan the flames of cultural resentment, to divide the American house against itself in the hope that cultural conservatism would create a stable Republican majority. The Sept. 11 attacks unified us, but Bush exploited those attacks to relentlessly partisan ends. As his foreign and domestic policies abjectly failed, Bush's reliance on identity politics only grew stronger. He anointed himself the standard-bearer for provincials and portrayed Kerry and his backers as arrogant cosmopolitans.

And so here we are, improbably enmeshed in a latter-day version of the election of 1928, when the Catholicism of Democratic presidential nominee Al Smith bitterly divided the nation along Protestant-Catholic and nativist-immigrant lines. To his credit, Smith's opponent (and eventual victor), Herbert Hoover, did not exploit this rift himself. Bush, by contrast, has not merely exploited the modernist-traditionalist tensions in America but helped create new ones and summoned old ones we could be forgiven for thinking were permanently interred. (Kerry will ban the Bible?)

Indeed, it's hard to think of another president more deliberately divisive than the current one. I can come up with only one other president who sought so assiduously to undermine the basic arrangements of American policy (as Bush has undermined the New Deal at home and the systems of post-World War II alliances abroad) with so little concern for the effect this would have on the comity and viability of the nation. And Jefferson Davis wasn't really a president of the United States.

After four years in the White House, George W. Bush's most significant contribution to American life is this pervasive bitterness, this division of the house into raging, feuding halves. We are two nations now, each with a culture that attacks the other. And politics, as the Republicans are openly playing it, need no longer concern itself with the most fundamental democratic norm: the universal right to vote.

As the campaign ends, Bush is playing to the right and Kerry to the center.

That foretells the course of the administrations that each would head. The essential difference between them is simply that, as a matter of strategy and temperament, Bush seeks to exploit our rifts and Kerry to narrow them. That, finally, is the choice before us next Tuesday: between one candidate who wants to pry this nation apart to his own advantage, and another who seeks to make it whole.

The Left's Well-Oiled Machine

ORLANDO, Florida – I have seen the present, and it works – I think.

I have spent the past week observing the official Democratic Party and unofficial 527 field operations in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida. And I have found something I've never before seen in my 36 or so years as a progressive activist and later as a journalist: an effective, fully functioning American left.

Those liberal organizations that already knew how to do politics – the AFL-CIO, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and a few others – are doing it better than they have before. Those liberal groups that stayed aloof from elections or phumphered ineffectually are now playing the game like seasoned pros. New organizations have arisen to mobilize sometime voters; the largest of them – America Coming Together (ACT) – will have 12,000 staffers in each of the three biggest battleground states (Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida) on Election Day.

And most amazingly, all the 527s – ACT, the AFL-CIO, the LCV, the Sierra Club, the NAACP, Emily's List, MoveOn and 25 others – are working together under the umbrella of a single coalition, America Votes. They meet together, plan together, divvy up turf, parcel out messages, coordinate their mailing and phone banking.

Here in Orlando, ACT is getting out the vote in the black and Latino communities, while the LCV targets more upscale white suburbs. The Sierra Club plays the LCV's role in Tampa, where it has a thriving chapter. "On the environmental side, we never figured out how to work together before," says Allan Oliver, who heads the LCV's Orlando operation. "Now, I'm on the phone to the Sierra Club every week; we say, how can we do this better?" The 527s even share their private polling – a common-sense pooling of knowledge that was utterly unthinkable before the prospect of four more years of George W. Bush concentrated the progressive mind.

The groups draw as well from a pool of progressive activists, who have journeyed from all across the nation to Ohio, Florida and other battleground states; I was reminded – minus the ideology – of the migration of leftist young men to Spain in 1936. The Orlando headquarters of the LCV was overflowing with preponderantly young staffers and volunteers on Monday afternoon, two-thirds of them, by Oliver's count, from out of state. Matt, one of four people mapping out the Orlando get-out-the-vote program, came here from Oregon State during spring break. He's still here.

In the Cleveland office of ACT, I met Ed Cyr, who came out from Boston on October 18 and, with his experience in voter mobilization in Cambridge city elections, found himself coordinating Election Day transportation in Cleveland. ("We've rented every minivan in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania," Ed says.) Carolyn Jackson arrived in early October from New York's Upper West Side ("no need to preach to the choir," she notes), and is now running the office. Every time the phone bankers recruit a new Election Day operative, Carolyn sees to it that a bell – the kind they used to put on registration desks at hotels – is rung. For the 20 minutes that I'm in the office, the place sounds like a pinball machine.

The Democrats will have lots of people – party people, 527 people – getting out their vote in Ohio on Election Day. Putting together the estimates of the various party and non-party groups, I got a total of somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000. For a state of 10 million, with a potential electorate of 5 million, having 50,000 people to get those Kerry voters who need an extra zetz to the polls is nothing short of astounding. Partly due to these groups' efforts, Kerry has already pulled ahead in Ohio, and I'm confident he'll take the state next Tuesday.

The effect of these operations in the field was wondrous to behold. Last Friday, I went on a precinct walk through Garfield Heights, a white working-class Cleveland suburb, with members of a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local. Among other things, the walk revealed the potency of what AFL-CIO national political director Karen Ackerman had termed "our secret weapon" – an unheralded program called Working America.

Working America is the first genuine realization of labor's "associate member" program. Canvassers recruit members by going door-to-door in neighborhoods where many union members live; for a nominal dues payment – routinely waived during this election season – members affiliate directly with the AFL-CIO, receive repeated phone calls and mailings on such causes as Bush's war on overtime pay, and send post cards or e-mails to their members of Congress to oppose this potential change. These days, they receive election-related mail and calls from the AFL-CIO as well.

The AFL-CIO inaugurated this program in three states last year – not coincidentally, Florida, Ohio and Missouri. The goal was to open a line of communication with the nonunion white working class, and by the evidence of the AFL-CIO's numbers and my Garfield Heights walk, the goal has been reached and then some. The three Ohio canvass operations have recruited 541,000 members – a clear majority of whom support John Kerry, according to the federation's polls. In Garfield Heights, fully half the persons listed on the SEIU's walk sheets were Working America members (the other half were either regular union members or retirees). Though it was just midafternoon, a number of working-age men were home. Asked what issue mattered to them most, they said jobs; asked their candidate preference, they said Kerry. Take Ohio's unemployment rate, add the activities of ACT, Working America and other such groups, and you understand why this is one Bush-2000 state that won't be Bush-2004.

If John Kerry is elected next Tuesday, the tsunami of volunteer activity within the independent groups will be in large part responsible. Whether this tsunami can be bottled – whether this coalition will take on a permanent life of its own, become an enduring progressive presence in American politics – is a question of resources, opportunity, Zeitgeist and even law (the legal status of the 527s may be under attack if Bush wins). But the leaders of progressive organizations, Democratic elected officials, and the hundreds of thousands of phone bankers and precinct walkers, each for their own reasons, want the outpouring of 2004 to become a fixture of American politics. "Progressives have been waiting for decades for a citizen-based movement to happen," says Ed Cyr. "One that's independent of the party, that's integrated, that's effective."

"This is it," says Cyr. "It's happened."