Unions: On the Outside Looking In At Political Power?

-By Warner Todd Huston

Since Obama began his run for the White House he has been Big Labor’s best friend. And they loved him for it, too. As Obama ran and as soon as he got into office the unions had stars in their eyes. They thought that with a bought and paid for president in their hip pocket, every long dreamed of union wish was about to be fulfilled.

You can’t really blame them, of course. Obama did nothing but work to let them believe he’d do everything they wanted once safely in the White House. They gave him millions of dollars and he gave them rosy promises. But they are starting to feel duped.

To be sure Obama has done more for Big Labor than any other president in American history. He’s stocked his entire regulatory edifice with union hacks, he’s issued executive orders to force federal contractors to pay union dues, wages, pensions and to work under union rules even when said companies aren’t unionized, and he’s used his powers to regulate to attack companies that dare to cross swords with Big Labor.

That seems like quite a lot of chips being cashed in, doesn’t it? It sure seems like Big Labor is riding high in the era of Obama, right?

While from the outside we can look at all the favors that Obama has doled out to Big Labor and imagine that unions have been given so very much, one has only to read what Big Labor itself has said about the Obama administration and you’ll find that all is not honey and roses in the land of Big Labor.

Take for instance the recent piece written by union author Randy Shaw. After scolding Big Labor for not putting any effort into fighting Obama’s signing of the debt deal, union writer Shaw lamented that the unions are so sold to the Democrat Party that they wont activate their members when the Democrats are pursuing policies bad for unions.

Shaw correctly notes that Big Labor has “lost” the big agenda that it went into the age of Obama expecting to see to fruition, namely the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Lamented Shaw, “EFCA died in 2009, immigration reform is off the political radar screen, and passage of job-killing free-trade deals candidate Obama once criticized will soon be the President’s next priority.”

Shaw also grumbles about Obama’s promotion of cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and his support of extending the Bush tax cuts, all issues that Big Labor generally opposed.

Because of these major failures, Shaw pointedly notes that if Big Labor began to note that the Democrats were failing them, it would begin a far reaching debate on whether labor should continue to support the Democrat Party.

So, why are labor’s most powerful leaders desperate to quash any dissent against the Democrats?

Labor stays loyal to Obama and Senate Democrats out of fear that what happened in Wisconsin could occur nationally if unions stay on the electoral sidelines and Republicans seize control of all three branches of government. Further, the Obama White House gives union leaders like Andy Stern and Richard Trumka “access,” which these officials confuse with actual power (to this end, Obama met with leaders of the AFL-CIO Executive Board on August 2 to reassure them that he is “the workers’ president.” The union leaders did not attack Obama’s anti-worker stances at the meeting).

Somewhat like a battered wife, unions come back again and agin to the Democrats smiling and asking for more.

This policy of sticking with Democrats no matter what is a “failed” strategy, Shaw says. Shaw urges Big Labor to abandon the Democrats-or-die policy and advises labor to campaign on issues and concentrate on organizing and growing their mightily depleted ranks.

Shaw is not alone in his feeling that Big Labor has lost its way. Long-time socialist and black activist Bill Fletcher has also been heard to slam the labor movement’s failings. During the height of the Service Employees International Union’s internal strife in California, Fletcher was unsparing in his criticism of SEIU leadership.

Shaw and Fletcher aren’t the only voices of complaint though. Despite his claim that Big Labor has refused to criticize Obama and the Democrats, some labor complaints have indeed reached the Old Media and some labor unions have acted on their displeasure.

In 2010 in North Carolina, for instance, the SEIU tried to start its own political party because it was upset at the failure of the Democrats to toe the union line. Also in 2010 The New York Times noted that labor was having major problems getting members out to rally for Democrats.

Not long ago, Bloomberg reported that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that his ardor for Obama’s re-election was fading. Trumka was also reported as pleading for unions to support Democrats in the late 2010 midterm elections knowing all along that it was a tough sell. And Trumka hasn’t been the only top labor leader decrying the failures under Obama and the Democrats.

So, despite all that Obama has done for labor, there are quite a lot of unhappy workers over on the far left. Quite a lot, indeed. Of course, it all tends to show another thing, too. It tends to show how voracious, how insatiable, and how ungrateful Big Labor really is.
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, BigHollywood.com, and BigJournalism.com, as well as RightWingNews.com, RightPundits.com, CanadaFreePress.com, StoptheACLU.com, AmericanDaily.com, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.

For a full bio, please CLICK HERE.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001