P'Tachk! At times I get really tired of hearing goofy comments like this:
>I, and a few friends I know, consider voting NDP but end up not doing so partly because we're leery of the political debt the party might feel it owes to unions"
I'm sick of people referring the historic link between the NDP and the labour movement as some sort of liability, as if Canadian unions are somehow up to no good, or are "special interests" (that's a laugh) and therefore shouldn't be trusted.
Such statements defy history. Anyone who looks at the history of evolution and struggle for liberties, democracy, social justice, universal well-being and community building, anywhere, can't help but notice the critical role played by workers organizing together in various ways into cooperative associations or other joint activity--in other words the labour movement: unions of various kinds.
So, the labour movement is organically linked to socialistic movements and political campaigns: the co-operative movements of Europe, both agrarian and industrial, such as the communes and cooperative townships, were supported by and involved with the labour movement. This includes to a large degree farmers.
As for social movements, for the most part, history shows that it is less a case of these movements (environmental, women, civil rights, etc.) influencing labour than it is these movements, at least in part, growing from the labour movement.
For example, while today in North America much of the environmental organizations are linked to corporate funding and yuppie intellectuals, the much older ecology movements in Europe spring from resources workers, such as miners and smelter workers. The same is true to a large extent with civil rights and democracy.
And the right to equal pay for work of equal value started long before the feminist movement. It was a European battle cry in the last century. Even International Women's Day's history is much more associated with labour than with feminism.
In Canada, the CCF started off with not only farmers, but trade unionist as well, along with socialist activists from previous organizations (Socialist Party of Canada, Wobblies, OBU, etc.) and social gospel "Christian" socialists.
This is largely where the innovation to start setting up cooperatives, credit unions and community-based ventures came from.
Since then, it's been labour that has championed causes like human rights, universal health care and education, social security, workers' compensation, small business development, consumer protection laws, FOI laws, pensions, and on and on.
So, why is being associated with union such a problem for some people? Obviously, those who are anti-union and opposed, or at least not happy with, these legacies and victories won't vote NDP.
But supposed "progressives" (that another funny term) who claim to support these things shouldn't have a problem with it.
Of course there are bad as politics that happen at times in the labour movement, as there are in every organization. But this is for the most part minimal compared to the power politics of the corporate boardrooms.
I think the link between the NDP and the labour movement has been grossly under-utilized--sometimes being reduced to simply and fund-raising exercise instead of education and raising awareness among working people. As for outreach, the labour movement does plenty to this to non-union workers, including some unions offering advise and help as much as possible, as well as working with charities, United Way etc.
I know this article talks about the US. But in Canada, it appears to me that in many respects it is the social progressives and their various politically correct hang-ups and incorrect assessments of history that are slowing the labour movement down--not the other way around.