Whose Party Is It?

SAN FRANCISCO (08/14/2000) - When Los Angeles decided to do a preconvention preening last week, the mayor's office promoted a "high-tech roundtable" with EarthLink Network Inc.'s Sky Dayton, Amgen Inc.'s Gordon Binder and SunAmerica's Eli Broad. Internet, biotech, finance. Who was missing? Organized labor.

"They've got a whole PR machine going," complains Jessica Goodheart, research director for the labor-affiliated Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

Feeling shut out, Goodheart's group countered the roundtable with a study describing how, in Los Angeles, "poverty is worse than it was in 1990" and "inequality is worsening."

Like feuding cousins at a family reunion, high-tech leaders and organized labor will be in Los Angeles this week for the Democratic National Convention - each expecting preferential treatment from their favorite politicians. On the one hand will be devotees of the Democratic Leadership Council known as New Democrats, who proudly claim leadership in shaping new economy policies. On the other will be organized labor, still smarting from major defeats on normalized trade relations with China and high-tech worker visas.

Labor and the New Democrats remain largely in sync on many typically Democratic issues, such as expanding health care and educational opportunities. But obvious conflicts are brewing: for one, the so-called hour-glass effect. The term describes how America's middle class is being squeezed while the number of both the haves and have-nots increase - particularly in regions dependent on high technology, like Silicon Valley. There, says Bob Brownstein, policy director at Working Partnerships USA, a San Francisco Bay Area policy institute affiliated with the AFL-CIO, extraordinary wealth is doubling rents and forcing middle-class professionals like nurses and teachers out of the area.

Another area of dispute is how to organize employees at high-technology companies, which are largely nonunionized with the exception of some telecommunications firms. In recent months, labor has made progress in organizing America's low-paid service workers, under initiatives such as Justice for Janitors.

For high tech, whatever happens in Los Angeles, they can't lose in November.

Between Al Gore and George W. Bush, "It's a no-lose election," Brownstein says.

Labor, meanwhile, is wary of the Texas governor who thinks states should be able to opt out of the federal minimum wage law - and hopes a Gore administration would hear its voice in shaping economic policy. But when New Dems got together with tech executives to plan a convention week panel titled "Making the New Economy Grow," there was, once again, no seat for labor.

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