Members of Vermont’s AFL-CIO changed course mid-September and elected a slated of leaders that has vowed to be more progressive in its politics and less forgiving to those who do not toe their line.
The new leadership cohort has made the pledge to take its mission to its members in a grass-roots effort to expand its base through issues of social justice, economic inequality, and the environment.
So far, so good. No surprises.
The new president is David Van Deusen, and if you believe that an organization is only as good as the person leading it, and if you believe Marshall McLuhan’s saying that perception is the biggest party of reality, some clarifications are probably in order to help Mr. Van Deusen along in his worthy cause.
The story about his election said he was a “self-described anarchist.” That’s an interesting term for a labor leader. An anarchist is typically thought of as someone who argues for the absence of government, someone who “promotes disorder or excites revolt against an established rule, law, or custom.”
That’s a problem for someone who argues for a single payer health care system, a $15 minimum wage and stronger environmental regulations, just to name a few of the labor union’s priorities. None of them are achievable without a stronger governmental partnership than now exists. Much stronger, in fact.
Mr. Van Deusen responded to the description by saying: “...I would more accurately describe my personal politics as Libertarian-Socialist; libertarian on issues of personal freedom and concerning a desire for a more localized Town Meeting based democracy, and socialist on issues concerning programs like single payer healthcare and paid family medical leave...”
That doesn’t help much. A libertarian is still one who believes in maximizing the rights of the individual and minimizing the role of government. A libertarian is a couple of steps toward being an anarchist sans violence.
It’s a tricky two-step for the president of a 10,000 member union in Vermont to despise the government and all its social justice efforts on one hand, and welcome it with open arms on the other. What does he really represent?
If he intends to follow through on his pledge to represent the view of his members, he will have to completely repudiate his libertarian tendencies and allow his socialist priorities to take precedence.
Mr. Van Deusen may be the exact fit the AFL-CIO in Vermont needs, and his pledge to force action from the bottom up instead of the top down is laud- able. But for leaders to be effective, their followers must believe in the person, their beliefs, and their practices. Having Mr. Van Deusen be self described as an anarchist, or as a libertarian/socialist, makes one wonder whether the rank and file knew as much about him as they should have.
He’s got some ‘politicalsplaining’ to do.