Decades ago, organized labor had an overwhelming influence on elections, primarily in support of Democratic candidates and in opposition to Republicans; but that was then.
Today, unions have lost their political knockout punch, in part because the ones that have been successful -- such as those representing public employees -- seem to spur as much envy as working class solidarity. This may have been decisive in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's ability to withstand an all-out recall effort because of his anti-union, anti-collective bargaining decisions after taking office in 2011.
The failure of unions and their supporters to oust him might also just represent an aversion among many voters toward recall efforts in general, but the fact is Mr. Walker is still governor and now Republicans in that state are touting their chances against President Obama in November.
Another long-term factor that has reduced the influence of unions is the loss of so many working class jobs that once had strong union representation -- especially in the industrial and construction trades sectors. Unions have been unable to protect workers or stop the flow of jobs to other areas and other countries.
And there is the fact that the Democrats are no longer the party of the working class -- not the way they were from the early decades of the 20th century through the 1980s. Their lack of support on key issues for non-college educated workers who do not toil in classrooms or offices has helped Republicans peel off that support. They have done so by harping on social issues like gay marriage and abortion and charging that Democrats are soft on defense.
None of these trends is new, which makes it surprising that the unions and their supporters even attempted to recall a sitting governor -- not an easy task when there is no question of illegal or immoral activity on the governor's part.
What did come out of the effort, though, and from the Occupy movement, is that there is an abundance of anger out there over economic inequalities and over the power and influence of wealthy campaign donors and large corporations.
Unions still can provide a powerful organizing advantage in political races, and they might be more successful in helping President Obama in November in Wisconsin and other key states. But the low- to moderately skilled working person needs something more in the 21st century, something that can better express and support his or her economic interests.
Whether a third party or a national organization, or groups or parties operating in regions of the U.S. or individual states, something is missing and someone needs to come up with a better answer than is apparent anywhere today.