On Tuesday, the AFL-CIO General Board voted “proudly and enthusiastically” to endorse President Obama for a second term. Of course, the board also still vowed to run an “independent program rooted not in parties or candidates but in helping working people build power.” But such claims aside, the bottom line remains that the nation’s largest labor federation has once again pledged to throw its weight behind a Democratic “friend” proven to be incapable and unwilling to deliver on the labor agenda.
Such a reality, though, seemingly matters little to the federation, as it readies to embark on its largest political effort to date. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the AFL-CIO plans to mobilize a total of 400,000 volunteers in the coming year to assist in the president’s reelection. (The federation mobilized 250,000 volunteers back in 2008.) And in all, the federation expects to spend upwards of $400 million on its electoral efforts.
When asked in a recent interview with In These Times just how the federation plans to mobilize such a formidable army of volunteers with widespread disillusionment hanging over working class voters, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka quickly moved to defend Mr. Obama. As Mr. Trumka stated:
First, let me start off by saying this: Sometimes we have disagreed with the president on strategy, but I know one thing, he’s a friend of the 99 percent. That is what I know for sure.
But some “friend” Mr. Obama has proven to be. After all, the president extended the Bush tax cuts; he signed the Colombian, Panamanian and South Korean free trade agreements; and he left the Employee Free Choice Act (labor’s biggest ask) to wither and die in the Congress. In other words, he repeatedly sided with the proverbial one percent and against his labor “friends.”
Moreover, despite promising to “walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America” while campaigning in 2007, Mr. Obama has remained conspicuously muted as workers have engaged in fights against anti-union legislation in statehouses the nation over.
But perhaps most damning of all, as longshoremen in Longview, Washington struggled to prevent an international conglomerate from breaking their long-held jurisdiction earlier this year, the president sided with management by readying to send in the Coast Guard against the workers. (The Longview dispute settled before it came to any such confrontation, with the longshoremen ultimately preserving their jurisdiction. Although, it should be noted, with no help from Mr. Trumka, who chose not to insert himself into the struggle.)
For Mr. Trumka and the national labor bureaucracy, though, the glass is apparently always half full when it comes to the Democrats. In describing the president’s record to In These Times, Mr. Trumka fawned:
Look at the things he has done. Look at where he has been, fighting for the American Jobs Act, extending unemployment insurance, recess appointments to the NLRB to keep it going. He has been fighting hard for working people, and we applaud that.
In addition to Mr. Trumka’s personal tribute, the AFL-CIO even went to the trouble of preparing an entire document touting all the president’s so-called accomplishments, which was published on their website Tuesday. The list of accomplishments—at times reading more like a case against the president than for him—includes some rather meager feats. For example, the list includes amongst the president’s accomplishments: his pledge to continue fighting for the American Jobs Act, along with his willingness to highlight the nation’s growing wealth inequality, witnessed in his speech made in Osawatomie, Kansas last year. The latter, of course, came well after Occupy Wall Street had already swept the country.
Nothing is perhaps more indicative of the bankrupt nature of the AFL-CIO leadership than the fact that such nonsense can be presented to its membership as motivation for the coming election.
Moreover, the dead American Jobs Act—which the AFL-CIO for some reason believes the president is still actively fighting for—was a rather flawed proposal to begin with. After all, sandwiched within the act was yet another payroll tax “holiday,” to be paid for by raiding the Social Security Trust Fund. (Unsurprisingly, President Obama mustered the political will to push this part of his jobs plan through the Congress.)
All such Social Security “reforms,” however, only serve to gradually decouple the program’s funding from the Trust Fund and further tie it to the general revenue stream. Needless to say, this only opens the door for a future “crisis” and thus future cuts. Or, to put it differently, it paves the way for President Obama to “save” Social Security in his second term by slashing benefits and raising the retirement age. And lest one doubt, the AFL-CIO shall be there to tout all of this as a great accomplishment from their man in the White House.
And then there is Mr. Obama’s disastrous imperial foreign policy, which can hardly be considered much in the way of “fighting hard for working people.” All wars, one ought to inform the leadership at the AFL-CIO, are class wars. But we should not be surprised here, for the AFL-CIO has a long and wretched history of supporting American imperialism.
In the end, then, the AFL-CIO’s endorsement of President Obama and its overall political strategy for 2012 is merely a continuation of an age-old racket. For the national labor leadership is once again readying to deliver the union vote to the Democratic Party—its trumpeted great “friend.”
Therefore, it ought to be increasingly clear that the only path toward building an independent national labor movement lies not only in freedom from the Democratic Party, but also in freedom from the opportunist leadership residing atop the AFL-CIO. A good start in this regard would be to refuse conscription into the federation’s army of Democratic campaign volunteers soon set to deploy.