“Labor has no place to go.” – Chris Hayes
WHAT WOULD Democrats be without labor? Where would they be?
What would the American middle class look like without unions? Before we met, my own husband was in a situation for many years in Nevada where the threat of unionization in the company where he worked solidified his living wage and benefits.
So, why, in the middle of a union fight in Wisconsin, did Pres. Obama decide to not only sidestep the discussion, but stay well away from offering anything but the most perfunctory support?
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Democrats in Wisconsin fielded a candidate against Scott Walker who said he wasn’t a union man. Except that wouldn’t stop the President from making the argument about Gov. Scott Walker’s governorship stripping workers of a path to middle class prosperity by gutting collective bargaining. Pres. Obama’s numbers with blue collar workers aren’t exactly great, so it could have benefited every Democrat. Instead all we got from the leader of the Democratic Party as labor went to battle was one tweet.
Now we get what’s about to play out this week. Pres. Obama will accept his party’s nomination in the most anti-union state in the country, North Carolina. It will be done in Bank of America stadium, though Democrats are dancing around this reality trying to avert everyone’s attention by acting like that’s not its name.
Perhaps it’s all triangulation that will be addressed by Pres. Obama in a shot heard throughout the country, as he rails against corporations carving out the way to upward mobility by neutering the only means by which this has been done in our country throughout history. Obama raising a call to support organized labor. We can dream, hope, though that’s not worked out very well for workers since the Bush recession hit.
All of this takes place as a new study from the National Employment Law Project reported by the New York Times reveals the reality of workers’ wages since the recession hit in 2008, which is that a living wage has been replaced by low wage jobs.
We find that during the recession (2008 Q1 to 2010 Q1), employment losses occurred throughout the economy, but were concentrated in mid-wage occupations. By contrast, during the recovery (2010 Q1 to 2012 Q1), employment gains have been concentrated in lower-wage occupations, which
grew 2.7 times as fast as mid-wage and higher-wage occupations. Specifically:
Lower-wage occupations constituted 21 percent of recession losses, but 58 percent of recovery growth.
Mid-wage occupations constituted 60 percent of recession losses, but only 22 percent of recovery growth.
Higher-wage occupations constituted 19 percent of recession job losses, and 20 percent of recovery growth.
Moreover, the unbalanced recession and recovery have meant that the long-term rise in inequality in the U.S. continues. The good jobs deficit is
now deeper than it was at the start of the century:
Since the first quarter of 2001, employment has grown by 8.7 percent in lower-wage occupations and by 6.6 percent in higher-wage occupations.
By contrast, employment in mid-wage occupations has fallen by 7.3 percent.
What makes these numbers worse is that, as the panel on “Up” with Chris Hayes discussed, some employees are being fired from their job that pays a living wage, say $50,000, then being rehired at a much lower rate for the same job, without benefits. With unemployment as it is today and desperation to remain employed or risk being permanently unemployable, workers are taking whatever they can get. Without organized labor in the picture they have no champion.
Van Jones, a former Obama official and founder of Rebuild the Dream, said it perfectly.
“I think this is part of a broader problem we have. Now, suddenly, us not fighting to defend our friends when now our enemies are coming for us turns out to be a bad strategy.” – Van Jones
As The Nation’s John Nichols reminds viewers, in Ohio, labor beat Gov. John Kasich by organizing and mobilizing, which caused him to back down. “Labor led,” it wasn’t the Democratic Party, because they’d been knee-capped in 2010. It’s no coincidence that in that state Sen. Sherrod Brown continues to earn his support from the voters by doggedly never backing down from the call to rally ’round and with organized labor, which should be the model across the country for Democrats, but unfortunately isn’t anymore.
But as Neera Tanden rightly adds, Pres. Obama shows strong support for labor in his American jobs proposal, backing teachers, firefighters and other unionized professions. Obama knows that the firing of public sector workers is part of what has stalled the economy.
However, no one can offer cover for Pres. Obama letting the Employees Free Choice Act “wither on the vine,” as Chris Hayes reviews it. EFCA was organized labor’s priority. It brings us back to the quote at the top. Union supporters have no place to go, so Obama wasn’t exactly worried about repercussions. Even after AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka said he was distancing himself from the Democratic Party, he eventually did a very predictable thing by endorsing Pres. Obama for 2012. Still, whereas unions spent $8.5 million in 2004 in Denver, there will be no skyboxes or events hosted, with voter registration their goal and financial focus instead. This still helps Democrats, obviously, but it’s a strategy now moored in building the profile of labor unions versus backing a politician who simply hasn’t been there when they were up against it.
The federal pay freeze didn’t do much for Pres. Obama’s image with organized labor either.
But here in Virginia, Recovery Act signs have been seen since it went into action, sending a big message that jobs were brought here by Obama.
Former Clintonite and now Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis sells the issue inside the Obama world. It should also not be underestimated what Pres. Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB, National Labor Relations Board, back in January of this year meant and the signal it sent to organized labor.
We commend the President for exercising his constitutional authority to ensure that crucially important agencies protecting workers and consumers are not shut down by Republican obstructionism. Working families and consumers should not pay the price for political ploys that have repeatedly undercut the enforcement of rules against Wall Street abuses and the rights of working people. – AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka
To place parts for comparison up against one another, yes, Pres. Obama stayed out of the Wisconsin battle after his own party put up an anti-union candidate, but the NLRB appointments gave organizes labor something they wanted very much, even if they didn’t get squat from the President on EFCA.
The approach Pres. Obama has utilized with organized labor is almost a carrot and stick philosophy. It’s Obama’s reluctance to go to the mat for the middle class until his own skin’s in the game that has people as important as Van Jones saying that “not fighting to defend our friends when now our enemies are coming for us turns out to be a bad strategy.”
It’s certainly one reason progressives may vote for Pres. Obama, but there is a large number who don’t intend to go to the mat for him either. None of these people want a Romney presidency, but they’re also very aware that in a second term there are other things that will come down that progressives won’t like. The first of which is the “grand bargain,” which Obama has already dangled in front of Speaker John Boehner’s nose before.