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Ralph Nader ran as an outsider who was going to drag the dissatisfied left into a new progressive party. But he may have accomplished exactly the opposite — strengthening the nascent coalition of union and environmental groups and pushing it more toward the Democratic Party because of what it perceived to be Nader’s political sabotage of candidate Al Gore. In the end, the unionists and environmentalists — a fragile pairing fueled by a desire for tangible results — are nearly uniform in their assessment of the election: Nader’s strategy was wrong. “If the Florida count goes to Bush, then the divisions between the labor people and the Nader people will grow,” says Pharis Harvey, executive director of the International Labor Rights Fund. “I think it will be difficult for them to solve.” Both sides hope to continue to nurture the alliance, which has been led by groups such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the AFL-CIO, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club. There are bruised feelings and even anger about the role that Nader’s candidacy played in the as-yet-undecided 2000 election that will take some careful work to assuage. But leaders in both the labor and environmental movements are insistent that Nader’s “spoiler effect” isn’t going to turn the two sides against each other. “Nader is Nader. He is not the environmental movement,” says Ann Hoffman, legislative director of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). “I would say the bond is as good as ever, if not stronger.” Adds Steve Rosenthal, political director for the AFL-CIO: “I don’t think Nader speaks for all the groups we are working with.” THE PEOPLE, UNITED What Nader may in fact have achieved is to cut himself out of any opportunity to play a role in that coalition. “I don’t believe you will run into a single progressive organization in the D.C. nonprofit community who is defending Nader,” says Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters. “I think he has certainly damaged himself.” A labor-environment super-movement has been the hope of progressives since the infamous Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization. The defining image from the Seattle streets was the Turtles and the Teamsters — hippy environmentalist do-gooders and blue collar laborers locked arm in arm against corporations. Since then, both sides have been trying to emphasize their common goals — fair trade and protecting workers. Progressive activists have been cheering for a far left coalition that would shift the Democratic Party away from the centrist and triangulation policies of the New Democrats. Nader’s candidacy was meant to be an outgrowth of the movement. His campaign championed those progressive issues — fair trade, publicly financed elections, no nukes, a living wage, and an end to global warming. He savaged both candidates and both parties, saying there was no difference between the two. He berated the Democrats and Republicans for their corporate ties. He took on Al Gore’s environmental record and, in his assessment, found it severely lacking. Most of all, Nader made his candidacy about idealism. He made no promises that he could win, and he and his campaign acknowledged that a Nader movement could throw the election to Republican George W. Bush. That didn’t seem to make much of a difference to him. First, the Nader camp argued there was little difference between Gore and Bush. Then they argued that perhaps a Bush presidency would not be such a bad thing because it might mobilize the progressive ranks. But while Nader was talking ideals and protest votes, he was running headlong into a progressive movement that thinks in distinctly pragmatic terms. Nader was unable to garner endorsements from any of the three major environmental groups that back candidates: the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club. And while his campaign endorsed some of the principles dear to labor’s heart, he did not win the endorsement of either the AFL-CIO or the Teamsters. All of those groups endorsed Gore — a candidate who sometimes won only their grudging support, but one who they all knew had a realistic chance at winning the presidency. Nader did pick up the backing of smaller environmental and labor groups, such as the California Nurses Association and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, known as the UE. “In a factual assessment of the record, both [Bush and Gore] are so close on the issues that we made a decision to support a person who supported our issues,” says Chris Townsend, political action director of the UE. “We had a choice this time. We wanted someone who would rein in corporate power.” And although Nader failed to pick up the formal endorsements from the leaders of the environmental and labor movements, he still had some strong resonance with some of their members. “The reality here is that Ralph Nader raised issues in this campaign that were important for working families,” says Bret Caldwell, communications director for the Teamsters. “We believe Ralph Nader helped to move Al Gore to talk about the issues that were important to us.” Nader’s campaign office did not return several phone calls seeking comment. Indeed, Nader showed in the Nov. 7 election that he has support. It’s not the 5 percent of the population he hoped for, but it was significant enough to help create the too-close-to-call election situation the United States is now waiting through. In Florida, if Nader’s estimated 96,900 votes had gone to Gore, he would clearly be the president today. And as the nation waited last week for Florida’s votes to be counted, progressive groups were united in their condemnation of Nader. What seemed to anger them most is the notion that a Republican administration would help the progressive cause. To the unions, at least, it smacks of elitism. “If I work in a poultry plant, you are going to tell me that you are going to make my job worse in the meantime to make things better?” says Greg Denier, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. “That is real easy for Ralph Nader to say. But if you are the one whose life is going to be impacted, that doesn’t sound like such an intriguing strategy.” Environmental groups say they agree. In the wake of the election, in fact, their common anger at Nader could prove to be one factor that helps keep labor and the environmentalists together. “No one believes the idea that things will be better for progressives under President Bush,” says Daniel Weiss, political director of the Sierra Club, an environmental group that endorsed Gore. In the last few days of the campaign, the Sierra Club joined labor on the AFL-CIO bus campaigning in Michigan. “That’s like saying: Let’s destroy the environment to save it. Nobody but Nader and his supporters believe that, and he has a handful of supporters.” SPLITS ON THE LEFT But what all this talk of Nader also shows is that the left is not nearly as unified as they may try to present. There are still some unions that don’t feel welcome in the environmental movement. “We have tried, but they make a litmus test of global warming — that if you don’t believe in everything they say about global warming, they want to exclude you from the group,” says Ande Abbott, legislative director for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers. “We consider ourselves very environmentally orientated.” For now, labor and the environment remain a pragmatic coalition, and where the two can team up in specific races or on specific issues they will. But there remain potentially strong divides. “The question that divides the environmentalists from labor is when environmental legislation costs jobs. That is where the rubber meets the road in this coalition,” says Seth Harris, a New York Law School professor and former official in the Clinton Department of Labor. “A mature coalition could negotiate some common interests with respect to environmental regulation and economic development. It doesn’t seem to me that they are there yet.” And big business doesn’t think the coalition is there yet either. They see a weak group that finds common ground on some very specific issues, but that’s it. And observers say the liberals’ rejection of Nader is definitely not a move to the center, but a play to make the Democratic party itself more left-leaning. “I think Gore moved to the left to accommodate them,” says William Kilberg, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Los Angeles’ Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who represents management clients. “They will tug the Democratic Party to the left and make it hard for a Democrat to run, as Clinton originally did in 1992, as a New Democrat. I think that is what Gore saw in this election.” And that’s in fact what many are hoping to do: nudge the Democratic party to the left from the inside, rather than take the gamble on an outside-the-system strategy. “I say to colleagues who are interested in a third party, if we have the money and the energy and the capacity to build a third party, we have the energy, money, and capacity to build a movement in the Democratic party,” says UNITE’s Hoffman. “It’s easier to take over what already exists than to start from the beginning.”

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