PHILADELPHIA — If there’s another big difference between the nation’s progressives — including labor unions — and far-right conservatives, besides issues and philosophy, it’s that the right plays a long game, not the progressives.
So says Fedrick Ingram, and he should know. He fought them in Florida for a decade and is still fighting them since becoming secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers in September 2020. The right, after all, has made public schools, their teachers and their program a key. “social issue” target.
‘It will take a decade or two plan’ to create and execute ways to transform Florida politically, Ingram said people’s world at the AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia. You could apply this lesson across the country, he added.
“Forget the ‘golden contender.’ Let’s talk about a strategy. Be ready to grind it.
“Florida will be a tough state, and it has become an incubator for the nation” politically in its “constant attrition” of new residents and its resulting political volatility.
His analogy for battling the right: The punishing ground game of Jim Kiick and Larry Csonka, the running backs who carried his favorite football team, the Miami Dolphins, to the NFL’s only undefeated, tie-free perfect season. 50 years ago.
Recent history confirms Ingram.
Analysts noted that the anti-abortion movement began several years before the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. Roe vs. Wade decision. He is now on the cusp of an ultimate triumph with an expected Republican majority court ruling in late July stripping that constitutional right, using a dark red Mississippi case as a vehicle.
And the corporate class began its campaign to destroy the left – students, workers, progressives and academics among them – with a little-noted but infamous memorandum by Lewis Powell, then a top consultant hired by the US Chamber of Commerce.
Powell’s 1971 memo called on the corporate class to build and establish an infrastructure of think tanks, radio, lawyers, lobbyists, etc. to advance their agenda and overwhelm the opposition, including anti-war protesters and trade unionists. They have since.
It was probably the most important document Powell ever wrote. Republican President Richard Nixon appointed him to the High Court later that year. His memo had more impact than any of his subsequent Supreme Court rulings.
Progressives, and that includes the unions, have done no such thing. Indeed, during the last electoral cycles, the federation has “reinvented the wheel” politically every two years.
But such a long-term plan should start with lower-level positions, for progressives to elect pro-worker officials who can then move up as they gain experience.
“We have races for the United States House, Senate and Governor, of course. But we really need to start with school boards, city and county commissions and build your bench as we go,” he explained. Get those “mid-level candidates” elected “and then move them up the ranks.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling people for a while,” Ingram explained. And often you have to accept partial victories, like building blocks.
To illustrate the length of the game, Ingram gave an example of a school board election: “You have an eight-candidate race” where all incumbents are Conservatives. Don’t try to “kill them all at once,” he warns.
If you do that, you spread your resources too thinly, you lose all the races, and people get discouraged. “So take them out one by one.”
What Ingram didn’t add is another benefit: Winning such elections often — but not always — is much less expensive than winning high-profile races.
And it also allows unions to get their message across and on board with workers and their allies. It matters because paying attention to politics has become a year-round need, he added.
The AFL-CIOs of New Jersey and Oregon in particular have developed schools and training for candidates. Hundreds of New Jersey union members were elected to local and county offices. And “climbing the ladder” produces results, at least in the Garden State.
At his peak: Rep. Donald Norcross, DN.J., an electrician, former state legislator, and former president of the South Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council. Oregon also had some success.