California Labor Decides It Likes Billionaires After All

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

This is the era of billionaires. If you’re a company or a nonprofit or a politician, you probably spend a lot of time searching for one rich person to fund you – or tending to the rich person who already does.

The one exception to this was the House of Labor. The unions could tap their members for money, and so they could call b.s. on billionaires. Sometimes, they felt like the only people who could do so.

They also sought political advantage. Recently, teachers’ union messaging in the state has been all about being anti-billionaire.

But that’s over. Maybe it’s because the U.S. Supreme Court seems likely to take a big financial bite out of labor. Or maybe it’s because labor has its own billionaire.

His name is Tom Steyer, and his alliance with labor is probably the most significant development on the left of the past year (with the possible exception of mindless and content less jihad in favor of single-payer healthcare). The latest news is that Steyer and labor are teaming up to target Republicans in vulnerable California districts, with the goal of taking back the U.S. House of Representatives for the Democrats.

Money-wise, the Steyer-Labor Alliance is a power. But one wonders if an alliance with a billionaire undercuts labor’s messaging about workers, the middle class, and income inequality. You can see that concern expressed in Steyer’s latest public push, which included an LA Times oped, arguing that his taxes be raised (and that Trump’s tax-cuts-for-the-rich framework be rejected).

Perhaps such steps will inoculate Steyer-Labor. Or maybe it will just reinforce a message that we non-billionaires get every time we look at California politics: since it is a game exclusively for the rich, why should the rest of us bother playing?

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