Some of the country’s most powerful labor unions have officially endorsed President Obama in the general election. Some tool from the CWA union was on Democracy Now this morning defending the reasons for the early union endorsement of the President: (1) that no matter who wins the Republican primary Obama is better on labor issues, and (2) to generate press and help keep Obama’s name in the media. Yes, he actually said that.
Labor journalist Mike Elk was also on the show. He likened the endorsements to Stockholm Syndrome, and pointed out that Obama was MIA in Wisconsin when unions, facing an existential threat under a radical Republican regime, camped out in the statehouse and initiated recalls of the governor and right-wing legislators. Obama has never made a single major speech on workers rights.* Adopting conservative talking points, Obama has conflated job growth with deficit reduction when job (and wage) growth would obviously reduce the deficit. Elk pointed out that as a campaigner, Obama said he would join a picket line (although no one would expect him to do so literally, a photo-op or a statement of solidarity would certainly speak volumes). And yet when Honeywell workers were on strike, Obama flew to India with the company president. Most egregiously, under the FAA provisions that Obama signed into law, federal workers’ rights are now worse than they ever were under George W. Bush. Elk also pointed out that it damages the credibility of labor leaders when they are scathingly critical (and justifiably so) of the President’s labor record in off election years, then turn around and endorse Obama so early in an election year.
Unions have been under relentless assault by the right wing in the U.S. for decades. Union membership has fallen dramatically. Real wages have remained stagnant. These are just facts. Each one compounds the effects the others, and taken together they are a powerful catalyst in the swirling middle class death spiral we see today.
Here is another fact: Barack Obama is a corporatist, moderately conservative president. But even if he were not, any politician who can take for granted the support of a particular constituency has no reason whatsoever to press for its agenda. Is the object lesson of the Tea Party takeover of the Republicans lost on union leaders, of all people? Apparently so. Then let me spell it out: the Tea Party withheld support from more moderate Republican candidates to the point that it was willing to lose elections, rather than let some party-endorsed candidate whose values they abhor win a congressional seat. (See, e.g. Christine O’Donnell in the Delaware Republican primary.) And what happened then? The Republican leadership saw a very real threat to its power, and thus the party moved even further right toward the positions of the Tea Party.
This story about Franklin Delano Roosevelt cannot be repeated often enough:
After his election in 1932, FDR met with Sidney Hillman and other labor leaders, many of them active Socialists with whom he had worked over the past decade or more. Hillman and his allies arrived with plans they wanted the new President to implement. Roosevelt told them: “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”
If you support politicians and parties that trample on the interests and issues that are important to you, you are in an abusive relationship. You are the enabler, and your abuser will never behave differently until that dynamic does. The only power you have in such a relationship is a credible threat to leave, and early endorsements with promises of mobilization and financial support are the opposite of that.
* Obama has never made a single speech on reproductive rights, either. But that’s another post or thousand.