Labor's Big Day
Now that the election dust has settled, it's clear that organized labor was a big winner, nationally and in several states.
Labor's campaigning nationally was done largely – and extensively – for victorious President Obama and Democrats who had hoped to substantially increase the party's narrow margin in the Senate and even regain control of the House.
But though they failed to elect enough labor friendly congressional Democrats who would back labor's political agenda, unions can correctly assume that Obama will be as friendly to labor in his second term as he was in his first four years in office. Pro-labor measures that unions might fail to push through Congress could very well be enacted through presidential executive orders, if not through presidential pressures on Congress.
Labor also backed measures that increased the minimum wage rates in Albuquerque, San Jose and Long Beach; helped pass a California measure that provided new education funds through taxes on the wealthy, and soundly defeated a measure that would have all but silenced labor's political voice in California and set a dangerous precedent for other states.
Also defeated was a measure in Illinois that would have changed the state's constitution to require a three-fifths majority vote by the legislature to increase public employee pensions, while requiring only a simple majority to make pension cuts. That would have supplanted collective bargaining over pension improvements at the state and local levels.
Unions played a major role in helping groups fighting voter suppression in Ohio and elsewhere, and in the successful re-election campaign of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, one of the Senate's most labor-friendly members.
Labor's political efforts obviously didn't end with the election. Unions already are planning drives to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from threatened benefit cuts.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says some Republican legislators and their Wall Street backers will be trying over the next two months to mobilize behind an attempt to raise the retirement age for Social Security and the eligibility requirements for Medicare and Medicaid.
Trumka has a better idea. He says Congress must let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans expire, and "make no cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid."
Those are among the most important of the many tough political issues facing unions and their supporters nationwide who, as Trumka says, will pit labor against "the same corporations and right-wing billionaires who spent record amounts trying to buy the election for Mitt Romney."
It certainly won't be easy. But, as the election proved beyond doubt, unions have what's needed to seriously challenge their opponents and in the process provide important help to us all.
Dick Meister is a San Francisco columnist who has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com