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Conservatives for Labor

2020-09-08 10:27:08

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After decades of setbacks, the American labor movement has made some headway in the last few years.

Striking teachers have won better pay and working conditions in a few states. Air traffic controllers effectively ended a 2019 government shutdown by refusing to work without pay. The percentage of Americans who say they support unions has risen to 65 percent, according to Gallup.

And Joe Biden has sent signals that, if elected, he may make labor policy a higher priority than Barack Obama or Bill Clinton did. (Biden told A.F.L.-C.I.O. members yesterday that he would be “the strongest labor president you have ever had.”)

But the most intriguing sign of a potential union resurgence comes from the other side of the political spectrum. As conservative policy experts have begun imagining a post-Trump Republican Party, some are arguing that it should drop its longtime antipathy to unions.

Republicans now rely on working-class votes, these experts point out, and unions have a long record of lifting workers’ living standards. The decline of unions, on the other hand, has contributed to slow-growing living standards for most Americans. A stronger labor movement, according to this view, would be better than high taxes and big anti-poverty programs.

This past weekend — Labor Day weekend — a group of conservatives released a joint statement on the importance of unions. The group included Senator Marco Rubio and Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general.

“There are a lot of things we like about free markets,” Oren Cass, the executive director of American Compass, the think tank that organized the letter, told me. “But at the end of the day, those markets are a means to an actual substantive end — a flourishing society and healthy communities and families and a strong nation. And if markets aren’t doing that, then we have a problem.”

Cass emphasized that there was a lot he didn’t like about today’s unions. He is instead intrigued by industrywide unions, which negotiate pay for workers across multiple companies and are common in Europe. They can be more efficient than repeated union sign-up drives and contract negotiations at individual companies.

(Many progressives, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, also favor versions of the idea, known as sectoral bargaining. Some pro-business groups counter that it would stifle competition.)

Whatever the specific approach, Cass said that the key was reducing the power imbalance that exists today between management and workers.

For now, pro-union conservatives make up a tiny minority of the party’s office holders. The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to weaken worker bargaining power, often with support from congressional Republicans. So it is entirely possible that the party will remain opposed to unions for years to come.

But that’s not the only possible outcome.

Related: Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford all forged occasional alliances with unions, Steven Greenhouse, a longtime labor journalist, wrote in a Times Op-Ed.

On a regular opening weekend, a blockbuster directed by Christopher Nolan — the filmmaker behind “Inception,” “Dunkirk” and the “Dark Knight” trilogy — might sell more than $50 million worth of tickets in North America. But little about the movie business is normal right now.

Nolan’s latest movie — the time-bending spy thriller “Tenet” — has turned into a test of Americans’ willingness to go to theaters. The verdict: not great, not terrible. The movie grossed an estimated $20.2 million in North America over the holiday weekend. It was Hollywood’s best domestic result since mid-March, when the pandemic forced cinemas to close. “For now, this is as good as it gets,” one expert told The Times.

A large share of moviegoers chose to watch it on an Imax screen, Variety’s Rebecca Rubin noted. If they were going to venture out, she explained, they “opted to see it in the best quality possible.”

Related: Here’s what it’s like watching a movie in American theaters right now.


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