Home / General / Unions and Obama: A Strained Alliance

Unions and Obama: A Strained Alliance


I’ve generally supported Barack Obama’s labor strategies. His appointment of people like Craig Becker to the NLRB have made real changes in working people’s lives.

Yet Obama has been deafeningly quiet during the big labor struggles of his administration. The Employee Free Choice Act quickly fell to the bottom of his agenda after his election (though whether it could have passed anyway remains questionable). He did not speak out during the Wisconsin protests nor during the Verizon strike. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has not been a major player in creating economic policy. And Obama’s centrist moves have often seemed to be betraying labor goals. So while behind the scenes Obama has been good, in the public sphere, unions see him as ignoring their concerns.

This has created a strained alliance between organized labor and the Obama Administration. Eleanor Clift has more on this:

What bothers labor leaders more than legislative lapses is Obama’s failure to step up when he’s needed with words of encouragement. Except for one brief statement in support of unions in Wisconsin, Obama kept his distance from the demonstrations that roiled the state capitol for weeks over Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to slash employee benefits. Vice President Joe Biden, always an outspoken friend of labor, was supposed to speak in Wisconsin until the White House reportedly quashed the invitation. At least that’s what the unions believe. There were other strikes too, like last month’s walkout at Verizon, where “communications workers hoped for some encouraging words from the White House and there weren’t any,” says [Robert] Reich.

With the August jobs numbers the bleakest since 1945, Obama will need a whole lot more words and deeds to regain the confidence of the labor movement and its crucial ground troops.

While Obama continues to deploy plans to reach to the center and the elusive independent voter (as I understand his jobs speech will do tonight), he seriously needs to shore up his base. In the ends, Richard Trumka will marshal the AFL-CIO’s resources to support Obama and Democrats up and down the line. The alternative is too grim not to. But the level of support, of activism on the local level, of fundraising and making phone calls and going door to door, well, that’s likely to have decreased significantly since 2008.

I also wonder if Obama’s fear of embracing labor has to do with the fallout from Citizens United. I read a tweet last week from one of the big environmental writers, maybe someone at Grist, saying he had heard from a Senate staffer that the air standards decision was driven by fear of Citizens United money. Obama’s clear plan is to base his reelection on the raising of unprecedented amounts of money. Much of that he hopes will come from business and I guess through compromising on environmental issues and keeping labor at arm’s length, he’s hoping that money will come in. I don’t know. But I do know that I can hardly blame labor for being really pissed off at him right now.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
It is main inner container footer text