Obama & the Opportunism of the U.S. Labor Movement
| Written by Alberto C. Ruiz |
It was recently announced that John Sweeney, AFL-CIO President Emeritus (a ridiculous and pretentious title for a labor leader I note) is being awarded the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Among the other recipients announced are finance capitalist Warren Buffet and former President and CIA chief George H.W. Bush. Being from the labor movement myself, one might assume that I would be thrilled with this news, as current AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has stated he is in his glowing announcement to the press about this award.
However, I am not thrilled. Indeed, my first reaction, and my reaction now, is to be incensed – incensed at the cynicism Obama evidences in giving this award, and in the shameless obsequiousness Sweeney and Trumka demonstrate in accepting it.
Let's be clear. Obama and the Democrats, despite great expectations which came with the 2008 election victory, have done little to nothing for labor and working people. The much anticipated and promised Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for unions to organize, was dead on arrival and never even proposed as legislation at a time the Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress.
The Obama Administration, despite warnings from economists such as Paul Krugman, proposed a stimulus which was half the size it needed to be, thus allowing the economy to languish in this long drawn-out recession. While labor for years has wanted health care reform with at least a public option, if not a single payer plan altogether, Obama did not even propose such measures. Rather, he proposed, and the Democrats passed, a health care bill which further holds our failed health care system captive to the inefficient and costly insurance companies.
What Obama is saying is: "I know we have done nothing for you, and we certainly won't do anything for you now, but, in return for all of the money and foot soldiers you have given to help Democrats like myself get elected, here is a medal to one of your former leaders." Obama believes that such hollow gestures, like the pat on the head of a small child, will be sufficient to pacify at least the officialdom of big labor. And, sadly, he is absolutely correct in this assumption, and herein lies the problem.
And, it is for this reason that the AFL-CIO took the seemingly unfathomable action it did in siding with big business in supporting unlimited corporate spending in the brief it filed in the Supreme Court case of Citizens United – the case in which the Court held that corporations (and, by extension, unions) have the unlimited right to spend as much money as they please on certain kinds of election campaigning.
Again, too fearful of taking on its own government and its own capitalists – many of whom are engaged in the oppression of the workers in China – and instead of calling on the Obama Administration to better fund green energy jobs, the USW has decided that the safe course is simply to complain (largely in vain) about the ostensible foreign threat of China. Sadly, such anti-China campaigning has only served to fuel the growing xenophobic and racist sentiment in this country.