Obama Needs Labor – Again
Organized labor, which played a major role in President Obama's 2008 election campaign, thankfully has launched what seems certain to become an even greater and perhaps decisive effort in behalf of Obama's re-election this year.
We should all be thankful for that, given the reactionary policies Mitt Romney and his Republican cohorts promise to put in place should they win, and the positive reforms Obama and the Democrats promise.
Four years ago, 250,000 AFL-CIO activists campaigned for Obama's election. But the AFL-CIO says the number of union volunteers campaigning for Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress this year will reach at least 400,000, and be waged among union and non-union members alike.
That's not an unrealistic expectation, considering what happened in 2008. One-fifth of all voters that year were union members or in union households, and fully two-thirds of them supported Obama, and the ratio was even higher in so-called battleground states.
The AFL-CIO calculates that union volunteers knocked on some 10 million doors to make their pitch for Obama in 2008, handed out 27 million leaflets and mailed out 57 million more. The number of union voters alone reached a record high of more than 3 million.
The AFL-CIO claims its campaign "made the difference in critical states." Maybe it did, maybe not. But it is clear that organized labor significantly influenced the vote everywhere – and undoubtedly will do so again.
The AFL-CIO is certainly not going to match the billions being spent on the campaigns of Romney and his big business allies. But labor has the ground troops that can and will spread the pro-Democratic and pro-labor message widely, however much unions are outspent.
It's true enough that labor has been unhappy with Obama's failure to deliver on many of the promises he made to unions during the 2008 campaign, primarily his failure to overcome Congressional opposition to pro-labor reforms he's proposed or supported.
But there's no doubt Obama's administration has been a pro-labor administration. Federal agencies dealing with collective bargaining, job safety and other labor matters have been labor-friendly, in sharp contrast to their clearly anti-labor positions under George Bush. What's more, Obama has spoken out forcefully to the country in behalf of unions, their demands and their needs.
He's urged passage of virtually every measure advocated by labor in Congress. That includes bills guaranteeing millions of Americans the right to unionization that has long been denied them, prohibiting employers from permanently replacing strikers, raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation so it would rise as the cost-of-living rises. Bush rarely even uttered the word, "union," much less voiced any pro-union sentiments or support for such union-backed measures.
People on the political left continue to clamor for more from Obama, and they should. But they must realize he's the best we can reasonably expect in today's political and economic climate. Give him four more years and who knows?
Yes, Barack Obama is not Franklin Roosevelt. But neither is he George Bush – or Mitt Romney.
Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based columnist who has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.