Labor and the 2012 Election – Confidence Gained, Challenges ahead


Organized labor will be among President Barack Obama’s most determined supporters in 2012. Obama’s return to office will be regarded as a matter of life and death for the labor movement. However, labor will be aiming higher in 2012 than in 2008. For American workers, organized and unorganized, the 2012 election will be about much more than the race for the White House, as important as that will be.

Now, let’s consider the statement you have just read. What would prompt this writer to make this prediction with such confidence more than a year before the event?
First the Obama Administration has, over the last two plus years, accomplished much on behalf of working people. We have seen the passage of a stimulus package that prevented the Great Recession from deteriorating into a second Great Depression. We have seen the passage of health care legislation that expands affordable coverage to millions of working Americans and their families. And we have seen Presidential appointments to the Supreme Court, to the Cabinet and to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that all have the potential to change the environment in which American workers struggle. We have been encouraged by the President’s recent pledge that Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare would not be cut while he was in the White House. And we can point to other recent developments that underline the significance of the changes that have occurred since the departure of George W. Bush from the White House.
Most recently, for example, action by NLRB general counsel and Obama appointee Lafe Solomon to try to block the Boeing Corporation's planned expansion of aircraft production at its South Carolina plant with non-union workers has drawn wide press attention and sent shock waves through the corporate community. Solomon described Boeing's move as an "illegal retaliation" against unionized workers in its Washington state plants. Indeed the quick and extensive coverage in the corporate media suggests how high the stakes are for American workers. The Wall Street Journal said the ruling would set “a terrible precedent … and undercut the right-to-work statutes in 22 American states.” On the other hand the New York Times, citing statistics on declining union density over recent decades, called the board’s action “a welcome effort to defend workers’ right to collective bargaining.” The point here is that this action by the NLRB would have been unthinkable during the Bush years.
So maybe that is the good news. Of course much of the news has not been so good. The conservative assault on the rights of the nation’s working people is so widespread and intense that labor is faced with enormous challenges in state after state across the country as well in the struggle to change the make-up of Congress in DC. Labor’s effort in 2012 is likely to be more determined and focused more on developing its own political independence than it was in 2008. The recent stunning developments in the Midwest, in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio in the first place, show clearly how intense the contest will be and what workers are ready to do bring a positive outcome. The workers of our country, in both the public and private sectors, have by all indications gained considerable confidence, consciousness and understanding over the last couple of years.
There is no question that we have had some major disappointments. The Employee Free Choice Act, once considered so close to passage, is still not the law of the land and remains unfinished union business. The health care law, as big a step forward as it is, lacks a public option. And most serious of all, unemployment remains stubbornly high, and as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently observed, “successful job creation is the key to making long-term deficit reduction both easier and more politically achievable.” And he went on to say, “President Obama does not yet have the balance right between spending cuts and new revenue …” as he warned against “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class.”
And it is clear that there remain deep disagreements between certain sections of the labor movement and the Administration. For instance, to the teachers’ unions, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” looks too much like the universally rejected “No Child Left Behind” initiative which characterized the Bush years.
What needs to be emphasized is that the disagreements and the disappointments should not dampen labor’s support for Obama in 2012. If anything, these experiences will strengthen labor’s determination to flex its muscle, to struggle to defeat conservative and reactionary anti-people candidates, and to build and expand its own independent role in our nation’s politics. This will require labor to reach out and build alliances with other core forces with renewed determination. This has been the message from labor speakers at rallies across the country this spring. As Patrick Eiding, President of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO told a rally against education cuts on April 4, “We are coming together as working people, union and non-union. We have to spread the word that we will not let corporate leaders steal our country.” Or as Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) told the same rally honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, “King walked to bring together the labor community and the civil rights community; we need to bring them together as never before.”
As we celebrate May Day 2011 this has to be the vision of the American labor movement. That will be preparation for 2012.

Photo couresty AFL-CIO/Flickr

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • Obama can be a great president if Labor and it's progressive allies push him and the rest of the Democratic Party to worry more about what WE want than what the Conservatives want. Roosevelt needed an active and vocal Left and so does Obama.

    Posted by Jim Bains, 05/03/2011 3:41pm (11 years ago)

  • Please, please, let's run labor candidates who will support working people 100%. Enough already with the Democrats who serve as many corporate masters as the Republicans.

    Posted by Henry Noble, 05/03/2011 12:47pm (11 years ago)

  • The Democratic Party has taken working people and their unions for granted for far too long. I think it is time for unions to make more demands before guaranteeing their financial support.

    In terms of income, I'm definitely lower middle class. Nevertheless, I did contribute to Obama's campaign in the last election and to some local candidates as well. As a result, I'm now being besieged by email and snail mail requests from Obama's campaign and the state and national Democratic Party for contributions. I answer each request this response: "I've grown weary of the Democratic Party taking labor for granted. So this year I'm only contributing to the election campaigns of truly pro-labor candidates. Thus all of my donations will be made to union PACs."

    Posted by Rev. Paul White, 05/03/2011 10:58am (11 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments